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Shibly Baba

This shrine pilgrimage site lies at the base of the hills, close to the town of Magtymguly. Just beyond the eastern outskirts of the town, take the asphalt road to the north, signposted for Shibly Baba. After a kilometre or so, turn left onto a rougher road, which heads towards the hills, reaching the Shibly Baba Mausoleum complex after about 11km. Shibly Baba, who is said to have been a wise and educated man from Baghdad, is the protector of the insane, and it is believed that a night here will cure the pilgrim of disorders of the mind. The long cloth-covered tomb of Shibly Baba lies in a recently reconstructed mausoleum; the caretaker told me that the tomb was lengthened after local people were told in a dream that the tall Shibly Baba was cramped and uncomfortable in his original grave.

The versatile Shibly Baba is also considered to offer protection against lightning and fires. One of the artefacts in the complex suggests a further set of demands placed upon him. This is a stone shaped like a rather stumpy phallus. It has a small hole in the top: women wanting a child reportedly pour yoghurt into this, and then spend the night next to the stone. Close by is a small area in which mandrake is cultivated. I asked the caretaker what this was used for. Nothing, he claimed: they grew it here because mandrake was known to have been one of the components of the sacred narcotic drink of Zoroastrian priests. It was therefore considered to be a sacred plant. But it was not, he said, put to similar purposes today - adding, plaintively, 'we don't know the recipe'. A twin-trunked tree on the edge of the complex is another focus of pilgrims' attention. It is said that the tree will physically prevent sinners from walking between the trunks.