The Zayande River

Copyright Ms96

The Zayande River (Zayanderud) is the largest river in central Iran’s Iranian Plateau. Its genesis is in the Zard-Kuh subrange of the Zagros Mountains, near the southwestern corner of Iran. It ends in the Gavkhouni swamp, east of Isfahan.

The river flows for 249 miles (400 kilometers).

Copyright ظهیری

People have lived along the Zayande for over 50,000 years. The Qaleh Bozi cave complex was home to our Neanderthal cousins, as evidenced by their bones, stone tools, and animal bones. They had a marvellous view of both the river and the plain from their caves.

They were attracted to the area by the permanent river, good sunlight, and a variety of landscapes offering many different types of game and edible plants.

Copyright Alireza Javaheri

Next on the scene was the Zayande River Civilisation, which flourished in the 6th millennium BCE. They lived concurrently to other great ancient civilisations, such as Sumeria and the Indus Valley Civilisation.

Further archaeological expeditions are planned to uncover more details about both this civilisation and the Neanderthals. They’ll focus on two historic hills, in the Gavkhouni swamp and midway alongside the Zayande.

Copyright Alireza Javaheri

Many historic bridges from the Safavid era (1501–1736) cross the river. Isfahan alone has four—Siosepol, Marnan, Joui, and Khaju. There’s also a much-older bridge, Shahrestan, whose foundations date back to the third century BCE. Its top was renovated in the 10th and 11th centuries.


Khaju, Copyright Saeed Majidi

Siosepol, Copyright آرش

The Zayande used to flow through many parks, but much of the river has sadly dried up in recent years. Isfahan was an oasis settlement for centuries, and got its wealth and fertile lands from the Zayande, whose name means “life-giver.”

The water wasn’t used for much outside of agriculture till the 1960s, but a higher cost of living, increased population, and the creation of large steel plants and other modern industries changed everything.

Chadegan Dam, Copyright Meghdad thrust

Chadegan Dam (formerly Shah Abbas Dam), built from 1967–71, has helped to stabilise water flow, create electricity, and prevent seasonal flooding. During Nowruz, the Persian New Year (20, 21, or 22 March), water discharge is upped so as to let the Zayande flow through Isfahan for the holiday.

Today, 80% of the Zayande is used for agriculture, 10% for human consumption, 7% for industry, and 3% for miscellany.

Sadly, the river’s lower reaches are dried-up. Humans caused this drought by poor planning and populist politics which led to overuse and misuse.

Copyright Adam Jones; Source

In Isfahan, where the Zayande still flows, there are many nearby cafés, teahouses, restaurants, parks, and paddle boat rentals.

The Zayande is on Iran’s Natural Heritage List, a project of their Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts, and Tourism Organisation.

Copyright Amin.salehi.16

My characters Inna Zhirinovskaya and Mrs. Brezhneva escape to Isfahan with 40 children and 10 other employees of their orphanage in 1937, during the Great Terror. Inna also takes her little niece Velira, and is soon joined by her younger brother Vitya.

Also in Isfahan is Arkasha Orlov, a former prince whom they met during a brief stop in Aden. Arkasha is smitten with Inna almost from the start, and makes no secret of his romantic interest in her.

On Inna’s 31st birthday in October, they go for a walk along the Siosepol at night, and Inna lets Arkasha kiss her. Arkasha has awakened something inside her, and made her rethink her conviction that she’s meant to be a spinster.

Copyright Babak Farrokhi; Source

I’m still planning to visit Iran to do firsthand research for the final draft of Journey Through a Dark Forest. Americans can apply for Iranian visas through the Pakistan Embassy. It’s a beautiful country, with wonderful people, in spite of how the media portrays it.

The protests which began in December 2017 prove how deeply many Iranians want change. They’re tired of living under a repressive theocracy, and want to return to being a modern, democratic country.

Many protestors have been killed, arrested, or tortured, but that hasn’t stopped them from taking a stand. Change never happened because people sat down and just accepted the status quo. Freedom is never free.

Isfahan, Iran


Sheikh Lotf Allah Mosque; image by Khazaei.

The Armenian Vank Cathedral.

Isfahan (sometimes spelt Esfahan) is Iran’s third-largest city, at 1,900,000 residents. From 1598-1722, it was Persia’s capital. Archaeological evidence has shown it’s been inhabited continuously since the Stone Age. Its original name was Aspandana, or Ispandana. The city has long been very ethnically diverse, with many different groups of people living not only in the city, but in the greater Isfahan Province.

Isfahan is nestled in the foothills of the beautiful Zagros Mountains, with the Zayandeh River peacefully flowing through the heart of the city. Because of the river, the city is full of beautiful old bridges, examples of some of Isfahan’s most breathtaking architecture. One of these eleven bridges, Siosepol (the Bridge of 33 Arches), was built in the 17th century by Chancellor Allahverdi Khan Undiladze, one of Persia’s many Georgians.

Khaju Bridge at night, image by Shervin Afshar.

Detail of Khaju Bridge, image by Apcbg.

Shahrestan Bridge.

Isfahan is one of the two main settings in the Iranian chapters and sections of my WIP, Journey Through a Dark Forest (the other main setting being the Fereydan region). My original notes from 2001 had had former orphanage girl Inna Zhirinovskaya, now the orphanage co-director, and her old orphanage mother Mrs. Brezhneva escaping in 1937 with some of the children into Austria. Upon revisiting my notes when starting to write my third Russian novel in November 2012, I realised that just wouldn’t be realistic.

When I decided to bring back former orphanage girls Alina Petropashvili, Ohanna Zouranjian, and Izabella Nahigian, and Izabella’s very young mother Maral (none of whom I’d planned to use again), the idea of them escaping into the newly-renamed Iran became so obvious. Iran is just a stone’s throw away from Georgia and Armenia, and they could make their way there over the Alborz Mountains instead of risking a sea voyage and splitting up. Alina and her friends settled in Fereydan, and Inna, Mrs. Brezhneva, and the children settled in the more metropolitan Isfahan.

My original idea was to settle all of them in Tehran, but I quickly realised that would be too cliché and expected. It’s like writing about Chinese immigrants in San Francisco or Jewish immigrants in the Lower East Side. Boring. Moving the action to Isfahan Province gave me the chance to do a lot of awesome research into a beautiful place most Westerners have never heard of. It also made my workload a lot lighter when I found out that Isfahan was never occupied or attacked during the Anglo-Soviet invasion of Iran which was launched in August 1941. It was so safe that the Pahlavis fled there (apart from the soon-deposed Shah and the Crown Prince).

Imam Square; original image by Bramstercate; cropped by مانفی.

Chehel Sotoun (Forty Columns) Palace, image by Fabien Dany –

Isfahan has lots of beautiful old mosques, tombs, mausolea, minarets, schools, and palaces, along with many Armenian churches. The Armenian Diaspora has long had a huge presence in Iran, and Isfahan is no exception. The main Armenian neighbourhood is New Julfa (Julfa Quarter), established in 1606 and going strong to this day.

Isfahan also has an old Zoroastrian fire temple and at least one synagogue. Iran used to have a fairly large Russian Diaspora, in large part precipitated by the Revolution and Civil War, but my research hasn’t turned up any Russian Orthodox churches in Iran in general or Isfahan in particular which are still active today. The vast majority of Russian immigrants have probably long since left.

One of the many entrances to the Grand Bazaar, image by Fabien Dany –

The Grand Bazaar is one of the oldest and largest bazaars of the Middle East. All sorts of arts, crafts, and food can be purchased here. Your trip to the Middle East isn’t complete until you’ve been to a bazaar or shuk.

Persian cooking is awesome, and Isfahan has several dishes which are native to the area—the nougat candy gazfesenjan stew, made of pomegranate sryup, ground walnuts, and some type of meat (or sometimes no meat); pulaki candy; khoresht-e mast, a yoghurt stew; and beryuni, minced mutton and lungs. I wish more Persian food were vegetarian or vegan, but at least it’s not completely carnivorous.

Entrance to the Abbasi Mosque, image by Mr.minoque.

Sheikh Lotf Allah Mosque, Naqsh-e Jahan Square, image by Ladsgroup.

More information:

Fereydunshahr, Iran


Moalem Park, Copyright Ooggs00995.

Copyright Ooggs00995.

Georgian lettering in Fereydunshahr, Copyright Ooggs00995.

Copyright Ooggs00995.

Fereydunshahr is the eponymous capital of Fereydunshahr County, in the Fereydan region of Iran’s Isfahan Province, and features frequently in the Iranian chapters and sections of my WIP. The Fereydan region was chosen for my Georgian character Alina and her Armenian friends to settle in after escaping the USSR in 1937, because in addition to having a large Armenian population, it’s also notable as Iran’s largest concentration of Georgians. Not only that, but these Georgian-Persians have preserved their native language. The other Georgians of Iran speak Persian.

Fereydunshahr is home to about 13,500 people, and is tucked into the beautiful Zagros Mountains. Iran has a lot of amazing, gorgeous mountains, as I hope to discover in person when I take my trip there within the next few years. Within the greater Fereydan region, apart from Fereydunshahr, there are about ten Georgian villages and towns, which still preserve the Georgian language and customs. However, these people have long since converted to Islam, and there are no Georgian Orthodox churches which I know of in Iran.

The highest of the Zagros Mountains in Fereydunshahr is Mount Shahan Kun, about 13,254 feet high. In the foothill of the mountain, many people gather to ski, hike, picnic, take pictures, walk, and just admire Nature. Until the construction of the Sardab Dam, the city was also home to the beautiful Baba Ahmad Spring. In the Western part of the city is the Punezar Waterfall.

Fereydunshahr has a ski resort, part of an active Winter sports culture. Since Iran has so many mountains, many people enjoy skiing. The skiing season lasts from November to April. In addition to skiing, the city also draws many other Winter tourists.

It’s not as well-known as a city like Tehran, Isfahan, or Tabriz, but I’m really looking forward to visiting and seeing the natural beauty and convergence of many cultures for myself.

Moalem Park, image by Ooggs00995.

Moalem Park, image by Ooggs00995.

Moalem Park, image by Ooggs00995.

More information:
and_Narration_of_History_A_Case_of_Emic_Coherence (lots of beautiful pictures!)

My beautiful dream destination

Dream destination

Lexa Cain and Julie Flanders are hosting the Dream Destination Blog-Hop, in celebration of the release of their respective books Soul Cutter and The Ghosts of Aquinnah. Some pretty awesome prizes are available by signing up on the Rafflecopter.

Here are just a few pictures of the gorgeous country I’m hoping to visit within the next few years.

Iran, one of the most beautiful, hospitable countries in the world!

It really makes me sad that so many Westerners, particularly Americans, are terrified of the mere idea of traveling to Iran, and that some people, like my walking DSM ex, think I’ll automatically, immediately be arrested or killed there. Don’t believe the media stereotypes. About 1,500 Americans tour Iran every year, and speak glowingly of the awesome time they had there, and about how warmly they were welcomed. A lot of Iranians are impressed that Americans actually want to visit their country, and went to so much trouble to do so.

While writing my WIP, my third Russian/North American historical novel, Journey Through a Dark Forest: Lyuba and Ivan in the Age of Anxiety, I felt compelled to bring back some of my favourite former orphanage girls Alina Petropashvili, Ohanna Zouranjian, and Izabella Nahigian, and Izabella’s very young mother Maral. They escape to Fereydan over the Alborz Mountains during the Great Terror of 1937.

Former orphanage girl Inna Zhirinovskaya, now the co-director, also flees to Iran with their now-elderly orphanage mother Mrs. Brezhneva, some employees, and 50 of the children. They settle in nearby Isfahan, instead of, as originally planned, Austria.

While writing the chapters and sections set in Iran, I fell totally in love with Iranian history, culture, architecture, food, and geography. Not only that, I was inspired to visit Iran for some firsthand research for the future second draft. Not only would I visit Isfahan and Fereydan, but also the Caspian Sea, Tabriz, Qom, Tehran, Kish Island, Bandar Abbas, Bushehr Province, Chabahar, Shiraz, Lake Urmia, all the beautiful cities and beaches I’ve read about and admired pictures of. I’ve never felt so confident and passionate about visiting any place, and feel completely unafraid.

Even though the U.S. doesn’t currently have diplomatic relations with Iran, it’s still possible to go. You have to go through a tour, not on your own, and apply for a visa through a special department in the Pakistani Embassy. Since I plan to visit Eretz Yisrael again within the next ten years, and my passport needs renewal in June 2014, I’ll simply get two passports. Perfectly legal, and avoids a lot of trouble with Iranian or Israeli customs if the country of one sees the stamp of the other in your passport.

My parents and I were dear friends with an Iranian family when I was growing up in the Eighties and early Nineties. It was so fun to help them with celebrating Norouz, the Iranian New Year, and to eat their food. At one point many years ago, I knew some Persian, though the only word I can remember them teaching me now is “Peef!,” an exclamation you utter when something smells bad. They were extremely intelligent, educated, secular, Westernised people.

Most Iranian women wear pants, and many don’t even cover their hair in public all the time. Only in more religious, traditional cities, or at mosques, will you tend to find women extremely covered-up. Iranian women are very highly-educated, in spite of obvious limited opportunities. A lot of Americans don’t realise that before the Revolution, Iran was an extremely modern, Westernised country, and that the Iran of today has come a long way from the reality of 30 years ago.

Of course there are precautions to take as a Western tourist, and national laws to be followed, but if you don’t make trouble and aren’t a journalist, politician, etc., the visit should be fine. I actually think it’ll be fun to wear a jilbab and hijab while I’m there, like trying on a special uniform and assuming a new identity for a little while.