Iranian Men climbing toward Baba langar historical sites, near sabzevar, iran

“War is Senseless” – the message of Iran’s History
A visit of priceless structures spanning three millenniums and a lesson on our temporal predicaments


NEAR SABZEVAR, IRAN – “You should be petrified when you come here,” the man who just climbed out of a hole told me, “because it becomes so obvious that nothing lasts. You come and go, no matter who you are and how powerful you are.”

Thus began my lesson in existentialism from my two guides on a visit to a complex of historical sites not mentioned in any travel books.

To the ignorant—or the American spy satellites that watch this land—it’s just a hillside dirt hole, barely big enough to enter.

To the Iranians who’ve lived here for thousands of years, however, it’s a message from the past, a testament to how their ancestors managed to survive countless conquerors.

Baba langar historical sites, near sabzevar, iran
Archaeologist Hassan Abdullahzadeh stepping out of a 900-year-old wartime shelter. Part of complex of historical religious and municipal sites near the Baba Langar village from above, 81 km NE of Sabzevar, Razavi Khorasan Province, Iran.

A 900-year-old man-made cave to hide

The hole is actually the entrance to a 900-year-old man-made cave created to hide from the enemy. There is another hidden entrance from the above and there’s a tunnel in the back that leads to other caves dug over centuries as multiple escape routes.

There are probably hundreds of such wartime shelters just in this part of Iran and countless others all over Iran, most of them long forgotten to time and sand.

“It’s like a maze of rat holes in there,” archaeologist Hassan Abdullahzadeh tells me as we began to climb the hill shortly after sunrise, sleepy-eyed and thirsty. It’s 20th day of the Ramadan and I can’t eat or drink, at least not in the public, and clueless about the history lesson I was about to receive.

Baba langar historical sites, near sabzevar, iran
Inside wartime shelter, with multiple passages, including a secret one in the back. Part of complex of historical religious and municipal sites near the Baba Langar village from above, 81 km NE of Sabzevar, Razavi Khorasan Province, Iran.

“Over the centuries, they figured out that they need to allow for anything that the enemy could think of. Even if the enemy found the cave and poured fire on them from above, there was still a way out,” says Abdullahzadeh, who works at the office of the Cultural Heritage Ministry in Sabzevar, 81 kilometers away and 700 km east of Tehran.

“And it wasn’t just a cave. Inside we’ve found bedrooms, kitchens, works of art on the walls, sophisticated pottery.

“We found a bowl-shaped oil lamp with holes on the side; we suspect it was made to throw soft shadows on the walls in order to relax the occupants.

“Over time hiding in the caves wasn’t just about survival but a lifestyle. They found ways to live down there in tranquility to outlast the enemy.”

The lesson to the future enemies should be that Iranians “are tough survivors,” Abdullahzadeh goes on.

“Throughout history they’ve given refuge to travelers. After all, they were living on a crossroad of continents and learned to deal with foreigners of all types.”

There are indications that most foreigners came in peace and found hospitality here. There is even evidence that foreigners felt comfortable enough to leave their dead here to continue on their journey, Abdullahzadeh says.

“But vow to the outsider when the Iranian chooses to resist,” chimes in my other guide, Dr. Abdulreza Soleimani, art historian, college professor and a former head of Cultural Heritage office in Sabzevar. “One way or another, the foreigner either leaves or gets absorbed into the culture.

Baba langar historical sites, near sabzevar, iran
Art historian Abdulreza Soleimani examining a 2500-year-old Achaemenidian stone crypt. Part of complex of historical religious and municipal sites near the Baba Langar village from above, 81 km NE of Sabzevar, Razavi Khorasan Province, Iran.

“The Iranians have been at this game for thousands of years; it’s in their blood now.”

I am in an area known as Baba Langar, named after the 14th century Sufi spiritualist buried further up the hill. What used to be the Silk Road is now an asphalt highway 20 kilometers away, busy as ever, with Eastern European and Turkish trucks zooming by to and from Central Asia.

Below us, old men and boys tend to the fields and herds of sheep and goat. Giggling children jostle to be photographed by me, the latest newcomer; the women smile but nervously turn away at the sight of a camera.

To the archaeologists here and abroad, though, this area is home to a remarkable array of priceless structures spanning three millenniums and—because this area has always been a thoroughfare—of many origins and beliefs. Muslims, Zoroastrians and even the Anahitas (pre-Zoroastrians dating back to 1000 BCE) left their mark here.

Baba langar historical sites, near sabzevar, iran
The view from inside the stone structure over Cheshmeh Shafah, from 1000 BCE. Part of complex of historical religious and municipal sites near the Baba Langar village from above, 81 km NE of Sabzevar, Razavi Khorasan Province, Iran.

Even Buddhists went through here on their pilgrimages to the east, Abdullahzadeh writes in his latest of four books.

To climb the hill is like climbing into a time machine.

Just a stone’s throw from the shelter, there’s an Achaemenid (650 to 330 BCE) stone and mortar crypt, which most likely holds the remains of as many as 30 members of royalty.

“It’s too precious to ever dig it up and archaeology has moved on from the let’s-dig-up-everything mentality,” Abdullahzadeh says.

Baba langar historical sites, near sabzevar, iran
Inside the Zoroastrian temple built by the Achaemenids (650 to 330 BCE). Part of complex of historical religious and municipal sites near the Baba Langar village from above, 81 km NE of Sabzevar, Razavi Khorasan Province, Iran.

And further up the hill I am led into the intact remains of a Zoroastrian temple, also built by the Achaemenids, where fire probably burned ceaselessly for centuries.

Besides the temple is an underground water reservoir and stone walls built into the side of the hill to keep the soil from washing away. All those were left by the Achaemenids too.

Baba langar historical sites, near sabzevar, iran
Local man who guards the historical religious and municipal sites near the Baba Langar village from above, 81 km NE of Sabzevar, Razavi Khorasan Province, Iran.

“You’re looking at a 2500-year-old wall and it’s still standing!” Abdullahzadeh exclaims. “They truly cared about their environment and worked to conserve it.”

Still further up the hill, and by now we’re panting and sweating under the puffy clouds that gently sail over us, we get to the mausoleum of Baba Langar, built during the Safavid Dynasty (1501-1736 CE) and the tomb of Haj Baba Tavakol, another Sufi, this one from the 13th-century Ilkhanate Dynasty. Two structures a few meters from each other but centuries apart.

Baba langar historical sites, near sabzevar, iran
The mausoleums of Sufis Baba Langer and Haj Baba Tavakol—two adjoining structures but centuries apart. Part of complex of historical religious and municipal sites near the Baba Langar village from above, 81 km NE of Sabzevar, Razavi Khorasan Province, Iran.

Then we turn to the east and descend down the hill to the natural spring of Cheshmeh Shafah—literally “fountain of healing”. The followers of Anahita believed its water, still slowly gathering in a pool inside a chamber, had healing properties.

Pilgrims still tie pieces of cloth on the tree branches nearby as symbols of their prayers.

There’s so much more, including yet another Zoroastrian temple, a bathhouse and even a prison, all from different periods in history, all within what must be two or three square kilometers.

Abdullahzadeh is analytical now:

“When you come here you should be petrified,” he says as we descend back to the village, “because it becomes so obvious that nothing lasts. You come and go, no matter who you are and how powerful you are.

“There’s a higher power that directs us to be friends and share our resources, not fight over them.

Baba langar historical sites, near sabzevar, iran
“When you come here you should be petrified,” says archaeologist Hassan Abdullahzadeh, “because it becomes so obvious that nothing lasts.”

“We want to send the world this message, to say, ‘look, this is what happened here. This is what history teaches us. We already know using force doesn’t work. So let’s set aside the fighting and live in peace.

To me Abdullahzadeh’s statement sounds a bit naïve. Instead of being angry about possible attack by the same nation that initiated the bloodbath in Iraq 18 years ago, both of my guides are calling for peace and cooperation.

The baba langar village from above, 81 km ne of sabzevar, razav
The Baba Langar village from above.
Qanat water is pooled above farmland for irrigation, as it has b
Qanat water is pooled above farmland for irrigation, as it has been done for thousands of years. The Baba Langar village from above, 81 km NE of Sabzevar, Iran.

There’s no resentment here. They say there’s enough for everyone to share.

“They have things we need and we have things they need,” Soleimani says. “It just doesn’t make sense to fight.

“But if they choose to attack, well to me the outcome is already known,” he adds. “Just look around you. Iranians survived all this time. Why would it be different this time?”

I think of the arrogant men and women in Washington who would scoff at this kind of talk; their faith is in their guided missiles and their uncanny ability to wag the dog’s tail.

I recalled hearing Ronald Reagan during a televised speech referring to Americans as “people born to lead the world.”

Soleimani doesn’t lose a beat. He swings toward me, looks me in the eyes, and responds as the quintessential Iranian, with a poem:

“Baad avardeh rah, Baadash bord.”

The best translation: “Easy come, easy go”

More pics:


Ali and Saeideh plan their Iran roadtrips from their home in Mashhad. More about us here >>

Other dioramas in the category of Authentic Travel in Iran

The Khargerd Ghiasieh complex near Khaaf, Razavi Khorasan Province, in northeast Iran. Copyright Ali Torkzadeh,

650-year-old Air-Conditioning in Iranian University
The AC still works. No one cares.

The exterior of the Shah Mosque, the quintessential Persian mosque, located in Isfahan, Iran. Copyright Ali Torkzadeh,

The Architecture of the Persian Mosque for the Iran visitor
Terminology & purpose explained for tourists

Iranian woman street scene tehran escapefromtehran com (1 of 1) 2

The struggle of the Iranian woman
“I’m tired of fighting …”

Fall colors along the river running through the Valley of Purple (Valley of Arghawan) near Mashhad, Razavi Khorsan province, Copyright Ali Torkzadeh,

Mashhad Day Trip: Purple Valley

Young female shephard, Near Bisheh, Lorestan, Iran

Bisheh Town & Bisheh Waterfall
More Beauty of Western Lorestan

Mountains of Lorestan

Sefid Dasht Area of Lorestan
Mind bogglingly Beautiful Mountainous Terrain

Ethnography Museum at Falak-ol-Aflak Castle, Khorramabad, Lorestan, Iran

Ethnography Museum at Falak-ol-Aflak Castle
Iran’s Largest Ethnography Museum in Khorramabad, Lorestan

Kamarmaghbola Petroglyphs near Torghabe, Mashhad, northeast Iran. Copyright Ali Torkzadeh, Escapefromtehran com

Touring History in Iran: Ancient rock art in my backyard
This time we find 4000-year-old petroglyphs 2 kilometers from our apartment

Samane Ehsaninia, 39, an Iranian quadriplegic visual artist

Samane Ehsaninia: A brave Iranian artist

IranAir Airbus A330, Frankfurt to Tehran, photo by Ali Torkzadeh,

Is Iran safe for tourists? (Part 3)

Disneys capt jack sparrow in iranian bedrooms iran mall tehran 1

Is Iran safe for travel? (Part 4)

on our traveling by train in Iran we are going to Tehran railway station entrance

Is Iran safe for visitors? (Part 2)

Roadside cardboard depiction of police vehicle in Iranian desert to – I’m not joking – to scare drivers into slowing down. Copyright Ali Torkzadeh,

Is Iran safe for travel? (Part 1)
NO! But not for the reasons you think

mazandaran shephard seyyed mahmud abolghasemi iran from village of ghaleh sar

Our Iran Road Trip > Meeting a shepherd
The hard life of a shepherd in Iran

Badab Soort or Surt mineral springs in southeastern Mazandaran, Iran travel tourism coastal copyright ali torkzadeh

Badab Soort hot springs of north Iran
Iran’s Answer To Yellowstone’s Hot Springs

alandan or alendan lake deep inside the forest mazandaran iran tourism travel road trip

Camping in Iran: Alendan of Mazandaran
Fresh water lake at 1200 meters above sea level

in our Iran adventure we met ali zabei former racketeer mosbster turned moslem servant sari mazandaran iran copyright ali torkzadeh

Mobster turned Moslem servant
“Mortician, wash my dead body calmly”

on our train trip in Iran Our Fadak train host helping us finding our sits at the Mashhad train station

A Perfect Train trip in Iran
The Tehran to Mashhad “Fadak” line is comfortable and relatively inexpensive

destruction of historical monuments in Iran - the towers at Seyyed Zein Al-Abedin Hoseiniye Sari Mazandaran Iran

Tour of Caspian Coast: City of Sari
The northernmost province of Iran

travel tourism village home in Seyyed Mahalleh near Sari Mazandaran province iran

Waking in a traditional Iranian village home
Deep unscientific analysis of sleeping on the floor in Iran

travel for real mahali local food in iran breakfast in filband mazandaran iran

North Iran Tour: Fantastic local food
And avoiding Iranian hotels on our 4th day of escape from Tehran

An island in an ocean of clouds, Filiband, Mazandaran. A strange world and yet jsut just a daytrip from Tehran

Touring Iran’s Caspian Region: Filband
Day 3 of our aimless escape to the highest point in Iran’s Mazandaran

filband village mazandaran above clouds daytrip from tehran-001

Iran Caspian Trip: Journey into the clouds
The journey to Filband, Mazandran’s highest point

View of the Haraz River one of countless restaurants on the infamous Haraz Road, which links Tehran to Amol, Mazandaran. Copyright Ali Torkzadeh,

Iran road travel: Tehran to Caspian Sea trip
On the infamous & alluring Haraz Road

Waking up iranian countryside touring travel outside daytrip tehran iran

Iran Road Tour: Mt. Damāvand’s first sighting
Escaping from Tehran keeps paying off

Road outside tehran iran tour tourism travel in iran road trips tourists

How to plan a road tour of Iran
First night of an unorganized trip

Touring Iran's countryside, Scene in the village of Lāsem, in Bala Larijan Rural District, Larijan District, Amol County, Mazandaran Province, Iran. Copyright Ali Torkzadeh,

Touring Iran’s countryside: Our first night
Iranian village stay on Day 2 of our trip to Khorasan

Shittes, Shia Moslem men Men waiting to be fed as part of commemoration of Ashura in Iran

Religious Holidays in Iran: Lots of Free Food!
Tasty free food is bonus of religious holidays in Iran

Day 1 of trip tehran to mashhad, through the caspian sea region escapefromtehran com 006

Our Iran road trip is really an Escape
And another lesson on Tehran’s ills

The karat tower or karet minaret near town of taybad

Iran’s Towers: “Lighthouses of the desert”
Iranians kept fires burning on these minarets to direct desert traffic

bidel musician jamming setar ali pourataei mashhad iran folklore khorasan music

Music Tourism in Iran: classic Persian Music
This is why I live in Iran!

Cooking sholeh for the commemoration observance of the death of Zahra Fatemeh, daughter of Prophet Muhammad. Copyright Ali Torkzadeh,

Iran’s Religious Holidays: When men cook
I helped cook more than a ton of an 800-year-old recipe

Nissan patrol, a favorite 4WD in Iran countryside mashhad khorasan razavi copyright ali torkzadeh escapefromtehran com

A tank is just right for Road Trip In Iran
Hunting for rocks and history on our last country stay in northeast Iran

Iranian female photographing outdoors, Golmakan area, one hour outside Mashhad, Khorasan-e Razavi Province, northeast Iran. Copyright Ali Torkzadeh,

Tour of Iran’s countryside: full of surprises
The famous Persian hospitality on our weekend trip in northeast Iran

Country home near village of Payeh, Golmakan area, one hour outside Mashhad, Khorasan-e Razavi Province, northeast Iran. Copyright Ali Torkzadeh,

A perfect Iran Vacation: sleeping on the floor
In northeast Iran, a simpler traditional living is a short drive away

Mausoleum tomb of abol hasan kharaghani aboul hassan shahrud iran tourism destination mystic sufi 010

Mausoleums of Iran: Sheikh Kharaghani
Abol-Hasan Kharaghani still draws fans from all over the world

Scilla donati european swiss tourist touring iran travel mashhad khorasan ali torkzadeh, escapefromtehran com

Iran visitor: “Totally unexpected generosity”
“It should be the other way around!”

Two irans on a single stroll - Instagram model, Sohanak Iran

Iran Trip Surprises: vast Class & Culture Differences
“Bacon” snacks & joyful shoe shiner; Irony everywhere

Using mobile internet on tehran iran freeway escapefromtehran com

Internet in Iran: Tips for Tourists
Plan ahead before your arrival to stay in touch

Iranair flight airbus a330 Ali Torkzadeh,

Priceless Theatre flying to Iran
Flying IranAir teaches the Persian mindset

Skyline of Freiburg, Germany, Photo by Ali Torkzadeh,

Nervous Going to Iran
Why am I nervous If I was happy in Iran?

Hercules and Cacus in Florence

Too much history in Italy & Aching for Iran

Charcoal samavar iranian hospitality babak castle azarbaijan escapefromtehran com charcoal samavar

Travel in East Azarbaijan: Persian Hospitality
Sometimes it’s impossible to walk away from Iranians making an offer you can’t refuse

Ejad nader veteran of iran iraq war bumehen iran copyright ali torkzadeh escapefromtehran com 2646

Memories of War: “It will never let me go”
The story of one Iranian exposed to Saddam Hussein’s mustard gas

Iranian village near sabzevar northeast iran copyright ali torkzadeh escapefromtehran com 7934

Plastic Palm Trees and Korean Soaps on the Ruins of Silk Road
A stunning example of globalization in Iran

Example of persians adopting engish

Iranian attitude to the West: Intoxicated!
Despite the state’s best efforts, Farsi is as Westernized as ever because acculturation is a way of life in Iran

Sultan Amir Ahmad Bathhouse Kashan Iran Ali Torkzadeh Escapefromtehran

Unearthing Iran’s Past, One Mansion at a Time
Restoration of Kashan’s historical mansions is the work of dedicated artists and architects.

Birjand's old town, architecture trips and tourism, South Khorsan Province, northeast Iran

Birjand’s Old Town: nighttime alley Diving

Nartitee Ecolodge, Taft, Yazd Province, Iran

Fresh from Farm is Real in Iran
With the right connections, eating locally-produced is possible and affordable

Nanvaii (breadmaking Shop) In Central Mashhad, Iran

The Splendor of Fresh Iranian Bread
You seek it out like your life depends on it

Qanat Of Shafiabad, On The Edge Of Dasht E Lut Desert, Kerman Province, Iran

Village of Shafiabad, Dasht-e Lut Desert – in pictures
Pics from our stay on the edge of the Dasht-e Lut desert

Featured Image Mostafa Pour Aliabadi Shafiabad Kerman Iran Ali Torkzadeh Com

From Manual Laborer to Tourism Boss
“Whatever you put out, comes back to you.”

Aliakbar Dandashti, Shepherd From The Village Of Kardak E Khajer

Shepherds of Iran: Aliakbar
“Without kids you’re like a blind man”

Village Of Naiband, South Khorasan Province, Iran

Getting High & Low in Naiband, Part III
Our lesson on quest for “authentic travel”

Village Of Naiband, South Khorasan Province, Iran

Getting High & Low in Naiband, Part II
The vanity of authentic travel: we want real experiences but not the discomforts

Village Of Naiband, South Khorasan Province, Iran

Getting High & Low in Naiband, Part I
We travel to connect to locals not hotel staff

Featured Image Asiatic Cheetah Central Iran Ali Torkzadeh Com (100 Of 1)

The Loneliness of the Wildlife Ranger
“You can really go mad doing this job.”

Featured Image Shepherds Of Iran Central Iran Ali Torkzadeh Com (100 Of 1)

Shepherds of Iran: Marziyeh & Ali

Caravansarai, off Highway 91, near Kuh-e Denband, north of Ravar, Kerman Province, Iran

Another (Abandoned) Caravanserai
Exhilaration and sorrow upon finding another jewel of the desert

Gonabad Museum Of Anthropology, Razavi Khorasan Province, Iran

Massive Glory in Sleepy Town
We find glorious antiquity even in tiny Gonabad

Iran qanat: Ghasabe Qanats Of Gonabad, Razavi Khorasan Province, Iran

Iran Qanat: Swimming & wonder under the desert
Cooling off in an ancient qanat is a treat

Dakhmeh Featured Yazd Ali Torkzadeh Com

The Zoroastrian Dakhma (cemetery) of Yazd
Here the carrion birds feasted on the dead

A Chador Photo Session, Outside Nain, Isfahan Province, Iran

The Chador in the Desert
Photographing a cooperative hijabi can be a lot of fun

Nartitee Ecolodge, Taft, Yazd Province, Iran

Persian Hospitality vs. Iranian Hotel Fiascos
Nartitee Ecolodge is an example of a “homestay” option outshining typical Iranian hotel.

Maybod Yazd Province Narin Fort Iran Ali Torkzadeh Com 100 7

How Not to Visit a 7,000-Year-Old City
I arrived in Meybod ignorant and rushed and missed out on the best

Ibrahim, 72, A Shephard In Iran

Shepherds of Iran: Ibrahim

Persian Host Hospitality Home Nowruz Mashhad Ali Torkzadeh Com

The Anatomy of a Conservative Persian Home Visit

Shopping in and around Jome (JOE-meh) Bazaar, on Tehran's Jomhouri Ave.

Ten-dollar Nightgowns & $5 Gucci Glasses
Tehran’s Friday Bazaar Crowded & Bizarre

Tehran's famed Naderi (NAW-deri) Cafe, established 1927, on Jomhouri Ave.

Naderi Cafe of Tehran
A Tehran Institution Lives On

Naqsh-e Rustam (Necropolis), near Persepolis, near Shiraz, Iran

Ants in the World’s Most Stunning Graveyard
The scale at Naqsh-e Rustam is so huge, the tourists below appear like tiny ants.

Persepolis, near Shiraz, Iran

Melancholy at Persepolis
Are we evolving or devolving one wonders after seeing Persepolis

Vakil Historical Bath, Shiraz, Iran

Vakil Historical Public Bath

Mostafa Rahemi, Attari (Persian traditional medicine man) in Shiraz

The Last Medicine Man

Free Airline Food – Not a Mirage in Iran

Free Airline Food – Not a Mirage in Iran
Flying in Iran is relatively inexpensive. But the best part is the free hot meals.

Sculptor Ahad Hosseini, Tabriz Museum, Tabriz, iran

Hate and Love Spew Out in Articles about Iran Travel

Iran's unsafe roads Snowy road in khorasan razavi province iran outside mashhad copyright ali torkzadeh escapefromtehran com portrait

Travel in Iran carries the risk of going to jail – WRONG!
It’s far deadlier and not for what you think

Iranian road police, Travel Tour Iran Ali Torkzadeh Com 3363

Final thoughts on the road trip through northwest Iran
I’ve learned so much more about this complex land

Babak Castle East Azerbaijan Ali Torkzadeh Com 2645

Trek to Babak Castle
A Visit to the Home of an Iranian Anti-Arab Hero

Sometimes ducks rule the roads in Lorestan, Iran

Escaping Tehran Once Again
Why we come here reluctantly and leave excitedly

Naval Museum Bandar E Anzali Gilan Province Iran Ali Torkzadeh Com 3124

Museum of Weapons at Shah’s Former Summer Pad
Bandar Anzali, Iran

The abandoned caravansarai of Zafaraniyeh, near Sabzevar, Iran

Waiting in Iran, for 400 years
The day I fell in love with an abandoned caravansarai

Child at the Village of Zafaraniyeh, near Sabzevar, Iran

Stumbling Upon Antiquities in Iran
Highway boredom leads to a day of marveling Iran’s past

“I’ve known people all over Iran and discovered that with people, it’s only their heart that’s big or small,” shepherd Mohammed Motamedi told us.

Extreme Persian Generosity
My Endearing Experiences with the People of Lorestan

The Wailing Wall at Iman Reza Shrine Dar-al Hojjeh, Mashhad, Iran

Iran’s Wailing Wall
Strangely soothing even to a mere spectator

Window of Steel, aka Fulad Window at Imam Reza Shrine, Mashhad, Iran

The Window of Steel
Where Shia Pilgrims Come for Healing

Imāmzādeh Sāleh Mausoleum, Tajrish, Tehran

Imāmzādeh Sāleh Mausoleum
Tajrish, Tehran, Iran

Tajrish Bazaar, Tehran, Iran

Tajrish Bazaar in North Tehran
Great Place to People Watch and Philosophize

Touring picture-perfect Lorestan, Iran

Tour of Western Iran: Three Days in Lorestan
An Unforgettable Exercise in Alternative Touring


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Copyright © 2006 – 2024