The Cultural Landscape of Maymand covers a dry desert valley in Central Iran, which is home to semi-nomadic people. They practice a three phase transhumance system.
In winter, they live in troglodytic houses carved out of soft stone rocks. The designated area contains houses, animal shelters, water collection points, agro-pastoral systems and rock-art.
Map of Maymand
Our visit to Maymand was certainly less traumatic than that of the previous reviewer! It was interesting and pleasant enough but, on reflection, we didn’t perhaps really get to see enough of what gives the site its OUV. OK – we saw the troglodyte dwellings but the “Cultural Landscape” inscription covered rather more than these.
We reached the village after a 2.5hr drive from Kerman. N.b It seems best approached from the south via Shah-e Babak even though maps might suggest reaching it from the North by turning off highway 84 at Ahmadabad. A small group of foreign tourists was already there - the Kerman to Yazd journey is a major stage on the “Central Iran” tour circuit and, in all honesty, there isn’t a great deal else to see along it so, I suspect that Maymand is quite well positioned to benefit as a stop over, not too far off the direct route. As noted by the previous reviewer, the village already seems to have been well set up to receive tourists, with bilingual signs and explanatory notices outside the main points of interest, plus a number of UNESCO signs and also a plaque for the “International Melina Mercouri Prize for the Safeguarding and Management of Cultural Landscapes” – awarded as long ago as 2005 by “UNESCO - Greece” and 10 years before the village gained inscription. See - http://whc.unesco.org/en/activities/511. Apparently it brought with it a prize of US $20k which presumably provided some “seed corn” to develop the site. This document from 2009 provides yet more evidence of the long term strategy for the development and preservation of Maymand which eventually bore fruit in 2015 - http://www.witpress.com/Secure/elibrary/papers/SDP09/SDP09037FU1.pdf
We visited the following “points of interest” (all are in caves) – the “Museum of Anthropology”, the Hosseyniyeh (A Shia congregation hall), the Mosque, the School and a historic “Public Bath”. The former was a nicely presented little facility and the Mosque was, I guess “unusual” for being entirely underground! The rest were nothing that “special”.
Outside the first 3 were also large posters containing quotations from Ayatollah Khomeini in Farsi and English. We asked our local “Museum guide” and honey seller (!!) why the one in his museum was there – “We were told we had to put it up” he replied. We didn’t explore further! The words were certainly less “hostile” than those we had seen a few days earlier outside Pasargadae. Here is a “flavour” –
a. “Why does the power structure in the World want Islamic thought to be marginalised and remain latent?”
b. “Have you ever asked yourself how and on the basis of which values Islam established the greatest scientific and intellectual civilization of the World?”
c. “The Historians of the US and Europe are ashamed of slavery, embarrassed by the colonial period and chagrined at the oppression of peoples of color and non Christian”
In addition you will “welcomed” into one of the cave dwellings (or “Kiches”) and, once inside, be “invited” to buy artefacts or the local honey! We visited 2 other “villages” on Iran’s tourist circuit which were far more of a hassle - Kandovan (another “cave town”) and Abyaneh. Both were VERY popular with Iranians and possibly foretell the future of what Maymand might become with or without overseas tourists. As it was, once we had escaped our honey seller, we wandered around largely undisturbed and made a tour of the “cirque” into which the majority of the dwellings have been dug (photo).
On the way round we were lucky enough to meet a couple of English speaking Iranians who, as one of them had family connections there, were staying in one of the Kiches. We were invited inside for tea and “ajil” (A very “Iranian” snack offering in the form of a dish of assorted nuts) and were able to have an interesting conversation totally free of “tourist sales-talk”!! The room, with its Persian rugs, was surprisingly “cosy”. Time was too short but we were able to explore an important aspect of Maymand which neither the museum, nor the buildings we had entered, had actually addressed - that of “Transhumance”. This, after all, was the aspect on which ICOMOS recommended “Inscription” (“Criterion V. Maymand reflects a three phase transhumance system with unusual troglodytic winter housing”….. ICOMOS considers that this....has been justified”).
Our visit to Maymand was at the end of April – still “Spring” in that part of Iran. Prior to our conversation I hadn’t appreciated that the first “move” of the year from the winter quarters at Maymand was actually DOWN, out of the valley onto the plain which we had passed on our way in without even really noticing it. On our way out we were able to notice that, almost imperceptibly, the plain had, as we had approached the Maymand valley, acquired a green tint compared with the brown desert we had been passing through earlier. This “green” provided the feed for the villagers’ herds/flocks of cattle, sheep and goats for a few spring weeks and explained why that initial move was to take the animals there. This also explained why Maymand village seemed to have almost no inhabitants - they were “out on the plain”! Unfortunately the full Nomination File from 2015 still hadn’t appeared on the UNESCO Web site before we had departed, but the AB Evaluation did describe some aspects of the way of life beyond the village itself. E.g “Sar-e Aghol are settlements used from the end of winter until late spring”. On the way out we were indeed able to identify these settlements scattered across the plain and recognise the various structures within them as described by ICOMOS in its evaluation.
Despite this, I have a slight feeling of disappointment that we weren’t able fully to visit all the elements of the Cultural Landscape - in particular actually to enter a Sar-e Aghol or to visit a summer area. This latter was partly our fault. When we asked about the old water mills the honey seller said we would have to go elsewhere and this turned out to require a 20 minute drive on dirt roads. Short of time, we declined this and, in hindsight, that was a mistake!! Similarly our driver was a bit reluctant to drive the dirt road into a Sar-e Aghol and we had already spent almost 2.5 hours at Maymand. If you want to see Maymand in this level of detail, an overnight stay and some walking in the surrounding hills are probably required!
My visit to Maymand was a bizarre experience that is unlikely to be replicated by others, so my review should not be taken to be especially representative of the typical experience. I arrived via chartered taxi around 5:30pm, because the driver assured me it would only be 1.5 hours drive from Kerman and thus refused to leave earlier. This was very obviously wrong, and it took closer to 3.5. This wasn’t catastrophic, given sunset wasn’t until after 7:30, so there was still plenty of time to look around.
The entrance to the village is rife with triumphant UNESCO decoration and English-language touristy signage, as it has evidently become a part of the tour group circuit during the day. When I arrived, however, all the doors to all the cave-houses were closed, and the village was essentially deserted apart from a confused-seeming old man who very insistently tried to give me a bundle of blank CDs. This set the tone of my experience.
Eventually an old woman was found, though she seemed annoyed by my presence. I thought accommodation had been organised in advance by my hotel in Kerman, but this did not seem to hold much sway. A room was procured, notably not anywhere near the heavily signed Guesthouse on the other side of the small river. The ‘bed’ was a slab of plywood.
Wandering through the village itself around sunset was rather pretty, and it was nice to see some friendly dogs around for once (Iran seems to almost lack dogs entirely). However, with all the main caves barricaded closed and thus unable to be visited, I do not think I really got the proper experience. The mosque, at least, was open, and was quite picturesque.
Things turned weird at dinner, when the confused man appeared in the eating area, sitting blankly and staring at the wall while repeatedly being angrily offered tea by the old lady. When I eventually stood up with my driver to leave after eating and paying, both locals appeared very agitated, and we left quickly to our room to sleep. From somewhere within the cave system (it wasn’t the one directly next to mine, at least), a group of seemingly very drunk people starting yelling, singing, and playing loud music from a phone. By 2am, this had not stopped, and my driver declared that we were leaving. With a hearty ‘Maymand no good!’, I was bundled off into the taxi to drive away, sleeping on the back seat while driving who-knows-where (to eventually wake at 7am at the closed gates of Pasargadae).
I think the moral of the story is make sure you come here with someone who speaks Farsi and English, if you intend to stay the night. I’m sure it’s perfectly fine during the day, though unlikely to be super thrilling.
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