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Village holds folk who choose to live in past.

There is a small village in Alborz province where you can literally step back in time to the 19th Century.

The village leaders have banned cellphones and newspapers and the Internet. They have no electricity or piped water. There is no school, as parents are expected to educate their own children.

This shouldn't seem odd to Americans. The United States has seen such back-to-nature movements hundreds of times since the dawn of the industrial era--from isolated Shaker communities two centuries ago to the hippie villages of Vermont only a few decades ago.

This particular village in Iran is different in that it is completely surrounded by a mud brick wall so that it is literally cut off from the rest of the world. There are doors in the wall and a cord to pull to ring a bell and alert the villagers that someone from the other world is there.

There is also one concession to modernity--a Nissan pickup to use for emergencies, as when medical help is needed.

The village is named Ista, which means "static," an appropriate name for a community that wants to remain in the unchanged past. It is in Taleqan County in Alborz province, which was formed several years ago by whacking off the western part of Tehran province.


The daily Shahrvand recently sent a reporter to ring the bell and see if he could report on life long ago.

At the village's entrance, there is a white gate on which a no-trespassing sign grabs your attention, Shahrvand found. Beyond this gate, a group of people who originated in Tabriz lives behind the windowless mud brick wall.

Some 30 years ago, these Tabrizis made up their minds, packed their belongings and left all the instruments of modernity behind to lead a simple life in the foothills of a soaring mountain and inside low-ceilinged houses on the bank of the Shahrud River. There are bells hanging at the door of every house, but silence is the most striking characteristic in this village.

According to their own words, they are the followers of Mirza Sadeq Tabrizi, the religious leader of Iran's constitutional period who issued the sternest fatvas against modernism and its blandishments. In an attempt to follow his path, the residents of this village have abandoned modern technology.

The village is surrounded by that mud brick wall on which nine wooden doors have been mounted at regular intervals. The doors, without names or numbers, are all similar in height, shape and color, except for two bigger doors, which are the public entrance and exit of the village.

A door opens and an old man appears in a white knee-length shirt and a buff-colored pair of linen pants. He is holding a red basket and pulls down his straw hat while turning a deaf ear to the first hello. The second hello was acknowledged, though without enthusiasm.

He says there are nine households living inside the wall and that's all.

"False rumors are widespread about us. They say we are aggressive and combative; far from the truth!"

The families own 15 hectares (37 acres) of farmland and live in houses as big as 1,000 square meters (11,000 square feet).

He pointed to the simple life that people lead and said, "We avoid using ready-made stuff as much as we can, and only on rare occasions do we have to buy things from outside the village--for example, a piece of cloth."

He said the children of the village learn to read and write and become familiar with the Qoran, the theology of Twelver Shiism, and actions that according to Islamic law are halal (permissible) or haram (forbidden).

Girls marry under the Shiite system, namely around the age of 15 or 16.

Because of the lanterns hanging on the doors of every house, with light shimmering through the night, neighboring villages used to call it Fanoos Abad (Place of Lanterns). Many years ago, a researcher named Hossain Asgari wrote a book about this village and suggested Ista (Static) as a name for it, which stuck.

For men, communicating with girls and women who are non-mahram to them (girls and women other than a mother, sister, aunt and mother-in-law) is taken as a red line.

"Girls and women of the village won't come out of their homes or leave the village unless it is necessary; for example, for some medical needs that are beyond our capabilities to deal with," he said.

The villagers never buy food products. For other basic requirements, he said, "Once every few months one of the men in the village does the shopping for the rest of the households."

The old man explains that they did not have any cars in the village until five years ago when they bought the Nissan pickup out of necessity. "The pickup belongs to all the people of the village and comes in handy in emergencies," he said.

He argued that their way of life is as simple as it was in old times and said, "We are not strange. Life was like this before, you have changed too much and now you can't accept our way of life."

In response to a question about how the people of the village wash without electricity and piped water, he said, "What did your ancestors do? We chop up wood, build a fire and heat water for bathing!"

Residents of the village look into the sky to measure the passage of time by the movement of the sun. When it reached the middle of the sky, the old man knew it was prayer time. He turned away from his visitor and walked toward the mosque in short steps.
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Title Annotation:Culture: From then to now
Publication:Iran Times International (Washington, DC)
Date:Oct 7, 2016
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