Getting on the highways of Iran was like a breath of fresh air, I could actually sit on it on a steady 100 km/h without having to dodge traffic, it was a long time since I could remember having that luxury. I was happy to be getting some decent miles behind me, the long stretches of highway cut through the desert with the occasional high pass that required me to slow down for icy conditions. Iran was a big country with some sizable distances between cities, however covering a few hundred km here was like a walk in the park compared to the Asian countries I had been riding through for the last few months. Now that I was out of Balochistan I was free from government escorts and the first city where I enjoyed my new found freedom was Bam. The little desert city was still recovering and rebuilding from a devastating earthquake in 2003 where most of the city was destroyed including the 2600 year old citadel Arg –e-Bam. The huge mud brick structure was turned to a pile of rubble by the earthquake, amazingly a restoration project has seen much of the citadel rebuilt using traditional building techniques, seeing the rebuilding process taking place is as impressive as seeing the citadel itself. While I was at bam I stayed at Akbars, guesthouse, a popular place to stay for overland travellers as it is one of the few places with English speaking staff. Akbar English as he is called by all the locals was a great host and he invited me to a local English school to help some of the students practice what they have learnt. Helping out with English classes is something I try to do whenever I get the chance on my travels, it’s a way to meet local people and it gets me out of my comfort zone as I hate public speaking. The class was a little shy to begin with but as usual once they found out that I had travelled from Australia on motorcycle and that I dived for a living their curiosity overshadowed their shyness and I was inundated with questions, all in all a really good evening.
From Bam my next destination was the city of Shiraz, with a name like that I was hoping I might discover a nice red wine but unfortunately it wasn’t to be. I hadn’t had a drink since I left Nepal as both Pakistan and Iran had bans on drinking alcohol and it just wasn’t readily available in much of Northern India, unless you wanted to sneak some cheap vodka into your hotel room and drink by yourself and I wasn’t quite at that point yet. One thing that helped me get over not finding a bottle of Shiraz in Shiraz was discovering how cheap the petrol prices were in Iran, at about US 30 cents a litre it was the cheapest I had come across yet, I couldn’t help but smile every time I filled up my tank ...... ching ching, money in the bank. Shiraz had some quality sights too see but most notable was the ancient city of Persepolis, once the capital of the might Persian Empire until it was plundered by Alexander the great during his epic march through Asia (I noticed they leave out the “great” around here). Construction of the city began in the 6th century BC by king Darius and completed by his son king Xerxes, yes, the same ones as in the movie”300”, who said Hollywood wasn’t a reliable source of historical information… LOL. Another thing of interest at Persepolis was the graffiti that dated back over 100 years ago, adventurous travellers who had visited the site years before had carved their names into the ancient stone work…. old school tagging.
One thing that I quickly noticed about being a tourist in Iran was that the people were incredibly friendly, they would walk up to me when I was sightseeing and ask with genuine interest where I was from and then offer to show me around their city or invite me to their homes for a meal. I quickly learned that it was important to speak clearly when I was asked where I was from “ Which country?’ would be the question and of I would answer “ I’m Australian” They would pause and look at me questioningly “Isralian?” and I would start waving my hand saying “NO, NO ,NO Australian!, you know, Kangaroo?” I could tell when they understood because the questioning look would turn to a big smile “ Ahhh, Australie” “Yes, Yes, Australie, Australie” I would say with relief. As much as the people of Iran seemed very friendly it probably wasn’t the best place to be mistaken for being Israeli. The hospitality of the people meant that couch surfing in Iran was very popular and many of the other travellers I met in the country had spent a few days with local families here and there. It had been a while since I spent time hanging out with other travellers so I decided to skip couch surfing and take the opportunity to stay at hostels while I was in the country. Most of the hostels I stayed in were traditional houses and staying in the old buildings was a great experience on its own, the owners of these guest houses and hostels would treat me like family which made the stay even more enjoyable. The traditional houses would all have a courtyard where guests would congregate and share stories, it was great to sit and listen to inspiring travel adventures of people that had been touring for years on bicycle or who had hitch hiked their way across Europe and Asia.
From Shiraz I made my way to desert city of Yazd, the unique architecture of the city made it a very interesting place to stay and I spent many hours exploring the labyrinth like streets and alleyways of the old city. The people in this area had lived in this harsh landscape for thousands of years and they had found ingenious ways to harness the limited water resources and combat the heat through the use of wind catchers and building styles that provided natural cooling. Yazd is also the modern epicentre of Zoroastrianism, as one of the world’s oldest religions its ideas are said to have influenced many other major western religions. It always amazes me that as an atheist I end up at so many religious destinations but you can’t help but find the history interesting. Zoroastrians are known for worshipping fire so I paid a visit to the fire temple and also the tower of silence where dead bodies would be left for excarnation by carrion birds.
I was visiting Iran in the middle of winter and the cold weather was definitely noticeable, there I was in Kashan, half way through a roof top tour of the city with a cool young guy named Hossein when would you believe it, it started snowing, yep, here I was in the middle of the desert and snow was falling, amazing. I had zero interest I riding my bike on snow covered roads so I spent the next few days exploring the old buildings of Kashan and getting familiar with many of the local tea houses while I waited for the weather to clear. I had been having a dream run as far as weather went, yeah it was cold but I hadn’t seen rain since Myanmar a few months earlier (knock on wood), my good luck kept up and the sun was shining as I made my way to Tehran, the countries capital. Large cities are never places I plan to spend much time but sometimes they take you by surprise and turn out to be real gems, it turned out that Tehran wasn’t one of those gems. I set about exploring the city’s main attractions but found that Tehran lacked all the character that was on display in the smaller cities to the south. It’s always good to visit some of the more off beat sights so when I found out that you could visit the old American embassy I had to have a look. The embassy was taken over by militant Iranian students in 1979 and 52 American diplomats were held hostage for 444 days, the event was depicted by the 2014 Film “Argo” so I was keen to go and have a look. These days the embassy is known as “The den of espionage” and the banner at the entrance gate boldly states “Museum of anti-arrogance”. As soon as I entered the grounds I was surrounded by posters declaring the US and Israel as terrorists, it’s interesting to see other countries views and worth noting that there are always at least two versions of every story but this seemed a bit much. The Iranians hailed the taking of the embassy as a great win for their revolution and many of the spying devices were on display to show that the US were manipulating the Middle East. I was less interested in the anti US propaganda that was throughout the building as I was with the old technology that was on display, seeing the intelligence gathering equipment that was used back then compared to the technology we have today was the real highlight of the museum. When I left I couldn’t help but be appalled by the government supported message of hatred that I witnessed, I’m not suggesting that the US government hasn’t had its sticky fingers around the world manipulating things for its own political gain but I’m definitely not comfortable with a blanket policy of hatred as a solution. I’m glad the rhetoric and propaganda I saw here doesn’t represent the views of most of the Iranian people I have met while I have travelled through the country.The north of Iran was an area I was looking forward to exploring since I arrived in the country, I had hoped to hike some of the trails of the Alborz Mountains which stretched to the Caspian Sea. Perhaps the most famous destination and certainly the one that had sparked my interest the most was Alamut castle and the Valley of the Assassins, once home to a cult of assassins known for killing prominent figures in the 11th century . As the story goes the leader of the cult would get his followers high on hashish (resulting in the name “Hashshashin”) and then surround them with pleasures like beautiful harem girls so they would believe they were in heaven, believing that they could find heaven on earth they would go out on their murderous missions free of fear. Unfortunately, I had to cut short my Northern Iran adventure due to the weather, with the forecast for the next few weeks not looking good I decided to make use of my window of good weather and make a break for the border of Turkey. As I made my way to the city of Tabriz I paralleled the Alborz mountain range and didn’t regret my decision to skip the ride through the icy mountain roads, things looked totally snowed in up there and I don’t think hiking was a realistic option, no matter, it’s always good to leave something to come back for, perhaps I’ll get to visit the valley of the assassins next time. I had a few days in Tabriz while I waited for the weather to clear and spent my time exploring the museums, mosques and bazaar of the historical city. I had never taken so much interest in precipitation levels, air humidity, cloud cover and expected temperature as I was now but here I was sitting in my guest house room studying the weather report for the next week, my window was small but finally things cleared up enough for me to make it across the border. I couldn’t have been more thankful of the great condition of the Iranian highway, snow was piled high on either side of the road but barely any ice on the tarmac, with the feeling in my hands all but gone due to the cold I was able to make it to my final stop before I passed into Turkey, the small border town of Bazargan. Tomorrow
|The wonderful colours of a mosque in Kashan|
|Gate of all nations, Persepolis|
|Some old school graffiti|
|Fire Temple, Yazd|
|Fire Temple, Yazd|
|Tower of Silence, Yazd|
|Snowing in Kashan|
|Spices in the Ishfahan Bazaar|
|Traditional House in Kashan|
|Old US Embassy|
|Anti US Graffiti|
|Old US Embassy, Spying Devices|
|Anti US and Israel Posters|
|Anti US Graffiti|