The Balochi men circled each other, twirling their hardened cudgels in controlled flourishes as they whirled and spun in a circle. They struck out at each other, weapons cracking in perfect time to the frenetic beat of the music. Beads of sweat stood out on their furrowed brows, but still they smiled. We watched from the floor, waiting for the inevitable slip, the sickening thump of wood on skin, but it never happened. This was a dance they had performed countless times before.
We were at the Zein-o-Din caravan-serai, a restored Silk Road-era trading stop built to appease Shah Abbas in the 16th century. One of 999 such stops along the Road, Zein-o-din is one of the most well restored, functioning now as an inn for tourists instead of traders.
Dinner had been a lavish affair: a buffet with soups, stews, meats, and salads, along with copious amounts of tea. We were full to the point of bursting, lounging now on carpets and cushions in an adjoining room as the staff–all local Baloch people employed by the inn–performed a traditional martial dance.
As you would expect, the woman had nothing else to say and exited the room, allowing our guide to translate the gist of the conversation for us.
The rest of the Iranian group trickled out, and we were left to reflect on the day. It had been a long drive from the town of Abarkooh, but we had managed to arrive just in time to see a magnificent sunset from the top of the caravan-serai.
We stayed up there for a spell, chortling like schoolkids over some awkward and hilarious stories from tours the others had been on. When at last we retired to the sleeping quarters, most of the guests had already gone to bed. Somewhere, down the hall, someone snored–and it shook the world.
We left early the next morning. I tried to take my time leaving, walking once more around the circular area where, hundreds of years ago, camels had been tied as their owners dined and slept inside.
Arched doorways shrouded by curtains, spiraling stairs leading to the roof–I felt like I had stepped into the pages of a story. I didn’t want to leave.
We drove away in a cloud of dust, barreling across the desert towards the ancient city of Yazd. As had been the trend for the trip so far, it would only get better.