Khorasan; Mashad, Torbat i-Jam, Tus, Sarakhs, Torbat-i-Heydarieh, Nishapur.
We had become a spectacle, the entertainment of the day; a host of foreign women struggling with chadors despite the best efforts and ministrations of the pilgrim guides sent to help us. We were in Mashad, outside the shrine of Reza, the Shi'a's 8th Imam, the only one to be buried in Iran. Non-Muslims while not allowed inside the shrine itself can visit the other buildings and courtyards in the vast complex which includes museums, a huge library with hundreds of thousands of manuscripts, books and historical documents, several institutes of learning in Islamic sciences, and mosques. People were giving away hard candy, a tradition at shrines on a holiday commemorating the death of one of the Prophet's family, women hugged and kissed us, unleashing a torrent of unintelligible (to us) Persian when they heard we were from the United States, and all the while our over-long chadors were being trampled by this throng of well-wishers, and kept falling off our heads exposing strands of hair, an absolute taboo here, and we were not even inside the shrine yet.
“The noble sanctuary is surmounted by a great dome inside a hospice, with a college, and a mosque adjoining it. All these buildings are of elegant construction, their walls being colourfully decorated with Qashani tiles. Over the tomb is a wooden staging coated with plaques of silver, with a silver candelabra suspended above it. The threshold of the door of the dome-chamber is of silver, and over the door itself is a curtain of gold-embroidered silk. The chamber is carpeted with different sorts of rugs. Facing this tomb is the tomb of Harun al-Rashid, the Commander of the Faithful and over it is a staging on which they place candlesticks. When a Rafidi enters to visit the tomb of al-Reza, he kicks the tomb of al-Rashid with his foot and pronounces a blessing on al-Reza.”