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A trip to Mahallat


By Syma Sayyah, Tehran


Sometimes real life stories are stranger and even better than the stories one could make up. Here, I share with you the story of my trip to Mahallat which is famous for its hot springs and flowers.  They hold a flower festival every year in September and November.  Mahallat is located close to the mountains so it enjoys the mountain air and weather.  It has a cool wind in spring and summer which makes it an ideal place for those who want to escape from the heat of Tehran, Isfahan, Qom or Kashan and enjoy the gentle breeze of the yelagh there. 



Mahallat is about 360 kilometers from Tehran, south of Qom, east of Arak and west of Delijan.  It is near Khomoyn in the center of Iran.  It is famous for several natural products including flowers (carnations and chrysanthemums among others) and all kinds of different stone for building, especially marble and travertine.  Mahallat was an important place as far as the Zoroastrians were concerned and it is also well known for its connection to the Safavieh dynasty and the Ismailieh movement.  Mahallat's illustrious man of letters was Haj Sayyah[1] who was born there in 1836 and the journal of his 18 years travels and adventures in the West is one of the best diaries ever written by an Iranian[2] . 



I went to Mahallat last month to see the lady called Pari who had a lot to do with what became my name.  Pari was my mother's best friend when I was born, and so my mother wanted to name me such that she would always remember Pari, and her friendship and kindness to her during her pregnancy.  Many names were suggested, until they found PariSyma-my full first name, and named me as such. I called Pari joon[3] my Aunt Pari and it was very exciting to us when she moved to England with her husband over 40 years ago. We always thought of her very kindly and when I was in England as a student, I visited her a few times.



My mother during her last years especially when she came to London to visit my sisters met her old friend Pari and they caught up with their life stories as old friends usually do.  Pari also visited my mum on the rare occasions that she came to Tehran and early last year my mum told me that she was back and has bought a place in Mahallat and we all had an open invitation to go there.   My mother never visited her in Mahallat before she passed away last September and when Pari came to our wedding in England in March,  I promised to visit her there next time she was in Mahallat.  I also mentioned that I had wanted to go there for another reason. 



The other reason that I wanted to go to Mahallat was to visit a lady who had moved there whom I had met at a party last year.  She is a trained opera singer and musician, who studied in Vienna and lived in Spain for many years until she decided to come back to Iran and had moved to this small town.  I had met Shahla at my good friend and doctor Mahin's dinner party last year.  Shahla had told me that, since she can not bear the noise and pollution in Tehran, she searched many places and eventually found a wonderfully nice and quiet refuge in Mahallat.  She said that she is involved with flowers, which Mahallat is famous for and is busy with the work she does in that respect.  I was impressed and promised her that as soon as I could, I would go and visit her.  My mother's illness and her passing and later my wedding postponed this trip for a year.


I was very curious that two women from different parts of the world, one having lived in London most of her adult life and the other, in Europe would choose to go and live in the same place.


When we went to visit her during Norouz in London, Pari joon mentioned that she would be in Mahallat in April.  Paul and I decided to make plans and go and visit her there during the short time that he would be in Tehran in April. 



Our Tehran social life is a very busy one (this time in particular) but eventually we found a day that suited everybody to go there.   We booked a taxi to go and come back the same day, as due to a recent operation I could not move my arm well and could not drive.  I called Mahin, my friend to get Shahla's number to arrange about visiting her too and told her that I was going there to see my auntie there as well.


Pari joon wanted us to stay overnight and enjoy the lovely clean air there but I told her that we could not stay overnight as I had to have my stitches removed the next day.  When Shahla called to confirm our meeting, we realized that Shahla was Pari joons niece!    I was stunned, what a small world! it had never occurred to me that they were related, even though Pari joon had mentioned that she bought a house there because of her niece.


We were talking about this throughout the journey down which started at 5.00 am.  We enjoyed the beautiful early quiet of Tehran as we headed our way on to the highway towards Qom, then we took the road to Delijan and Khomayn before reaching Mahallat.  The scenery was pleasant and the air was clean.  We got there earlier than expected and so we went to visit the hot springs, which I have written a separate short report about.



We met Pari joon and then went to see her niece Shahla who invited us into this beautifully decorated house with many original art pieces, including original paintings by Mr. Katouzian and Shakiba. We looked at her lovely patio with its colorful cactus flowers.  She told us that she has busied herself with bringing life through flowers into the streets around her house as well as several schools here.  She said that she wanted to be near the kavir (desert), and that she has visited all Iranian deserts and loves Yazd in particular.  Her husband who travels to see her at the weekends from Tehran, where he has his practice, was unhappy with Yazd being beautiful yet too far.  So almost by accident, she came here and stayed on to start a new healthy life and devoted her time to nursing flowers and making the different parts of her neighborhood and city look beautiful with her flowers and plants, provided for all at her own cost.  I said 'but this is too much' she replied 'but I enjoy it and enjoy others enjoying it too'.


She has also been an inspiration to the city to clean the walls with permission from the authorities.  Her simple landscape architecture has brought a simple beauty to the parts that have been touched by her zest and efforts. She has an enthusiasm like a young girl which I had not seen for a long time.  When she first came to Mahallat she tried to set up an orphanage but this project is still waiting to come to fruition.  She now is thinking of working on the hot-springs with local business partners, they are waiting for a loan from the Ministry of Tourism. They want to clean them to a high standard and make them attractive. We hope they succeed.  Here are some pictures from her work in Mahallat.


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[1]    He may be related to me but I have not quite worked it out yet


[3]    Joon means dear in Persian


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