Howdy all – Thursday means it’s time for me to take you to a place that in all likeliness you can’t get to right now, and recount my experiences for you. And today we look at the incredible Iran, a Middle Eastern country of some controversy in the last fifty years or so. Formerly known as ‘Persia’, and blessed with the friendliest people it has ever been my privilege to meet when travelling, Iran impressed and surprised me.
It’s been 16 years since I visited Iran, although last year I was awfully close in Turkmenistan – just over a range of mountains from Ashgabat is north-eastern Iran, a region I didn’t get to go to in 2004 but home to the holy city of Mashad. Iran is a large country, and although ground transport is pretty good – bus being the main method, although there are trains available on some routes – it was still a little too far away to cram into my itinerary.
I was in Iran for 28 days, I think my visa was for a month so I nearly used it up completely. I travelled in a different way back then, things were far more random and unplanned. I knew roughly the places I wanted to go and the route I wanted to take – I crossed Pakistan’s Baluchistan’s desert over night in a muggy bus and crossed the border in the morning, making my way by taxi from the border to Zahedan. It logically followed, as I was leaving via land to Turkey, that I would travel westward and northward through Kerman, Yazd, Shiraz, Esfahan, Tehran and Tabriz as I discovered the country, and that’s what I did. The historic city of Bam had suffered a massive earthquake not too long before I’d left Australia (December 2003) and it had been devastated so I did not visit. The bus went through, and I saw a number of photos whilst in Kerman, and it truly was destroyed.
Lonely Planet jokes a little about being ‘kidnapped’ in Iran by locals who look after you and don’t want you to leave, and that’s what happened to me immediately I crossed into Iran really. I met a nice guy who lived in Kerman and he invited me to stay with his family. During the next ten days there were festivities and celebrations and it was very hard to leave. Kerman itself is a very pleasant city, and I travelled through Iran in late April to early May, which it turned out was great for weather, never getting too hot or indeed cold.
The highlight though was being a sort of unintended ‘honoured guest’ and being ferried around town to have meals and tea at so many different houses around Kerman, heading to tea houses, and the like I had a camera full of photos of so many different people, some I remember and some I don’t because I met so many in those ten days. They even got me a birthday cake as I turned 29 – well actually a day or two after I left.
It wasn’t until I got out of Kerman that I actually became a real tourist in Iran. I was back under my own steam, staying at hotels and seeing the sights. It was actually a bit of a relief because I could have a bit of personal space again.
Yazd was my next stop, an amazing city made of mudbrick. The walls and lanes are brilliant, and I took a tour out into the desert to see a Zoroastrian temple in the mountains where an eternal flame burns. We also stopped in an abandoned village and a number of other spots, guide was friendly as was everyone we met – I was in a tour with other foreigners, just a small group.
From there Shiraz. It’s a brilliant, lively city where poets are remembered and there’s an old palace. It’s the stepping off place for visiting the ancient city of Persepolis, which is partially Roman and not to be missed. And these amazing tombs in the cliff faces are not too far away either and can be visited in the same day trip. The market in Shiraz is a great place to buy carpets, and I’d met an Aussie chap in his 80s called Charlie who I shared a room with and went out to the desert to some village and came back with a rug or two!
Esfahan is often people’s favourite Iranian city, and with good reason. It has this amazing square in the middle of town, with a market inside its walls and mosques and palaces incorporated too. It’s presently named after Khomeini, the man who brough the Islamic Revolution to Iran. There is a lovely river with amazing bridges which incorporate teahouse underneath, and more palaces and even a zoo. Again the people came from nowhere to chat to me and others I’d met.
Tehran is the capital, and it is a bit dull and grey honestly. Some like it though, and it has a magnificent backdrop of mountains which make it rather special when the smog clears enough so that you can see them. I didn’t linger long in Tehran, but even here I found people to chat with and a couple of decent museums.
Tabriz is another city famous for its poets. I went to one poets memorial and met a group of students and their teacher and spent the day with them. I also travelled from here to Kandovan, a village in the cliff face – hollowed out rocks, similar to Cappadocia in Turkey but not on the same scale. The spring water from the village is famous and people come here just to collect it and lug it home!
And so from Tabriz I took a bus over two nights all the way to Istanbul, Turkey. The border crossing was reached just before dawn broke, and the view across the mountains was my last, stunning look at Iran before heading towards Europe.
Iran was so friendly, it’s really hard to believe unless you’ve been there and experienced it yourself. Every place I went I met people and chatted, was shown around, and there was a surprisingly good level of English spoken as well. Right now, Iran is pretty hard to get to as is most of the world. Who knows the real extent Covid-19 hit Iran? So I wouldn’t be planning a trip there anytime soon, certainly not before the end of the year. You’ll want to know what you’re entering too and even next year and beyond the effects of Covid-19 will be felt in how we travel.
Thanks for reading today – hope you are well wherever you are! May the Journey Never End!