Iran - Part 1

When entering Iran it was the hardest thing to get out of Armenia. No one felt responsible and we were sent from counter to counter which then were not occupied. After one hour wrong way from A to B and back to A I go to the boss counter. 

After he turned my papers back and forth several times as if he had a hieroglyphic tablet in front of him, he actually took care of it and we were finally able to leave. The entry into Iran was then done in 15 minutes and even with the handling of the Carnet de Passage for the car someone knew. The woman was separated and was only allowed to get in again when everything was done, with headscarf of course, because this is obligatory for all women in the whole country.

Iran welcomes us with rain and cold. We exchange 100 Euro at the border and get 11.5 million Rial for it. On the way to Jolfa we first head for a petrol station and get 250 litres of diesel for 5 cents per litre. It's even 50% cheaper if you find a truck driver who lends you his fuel card.

 

It is already after 17:00 and slowly it gets dark. First we head for an overnight stay at a rest stop on the highway, but it is too loud for us. So we drive down the next exit and a few kilometers inland to a small village. There the road ends and we place ourselves on a free place. It takes less than 5 minutes and we are surrounded by people who want to do something good for all of us. Everyone wants to invite us to dinner or to park with him in the yard. It is raining cats and dogs which does not stop people from coming back with new suggestions. The whole thing culminates in 5 men bringing us bread and plates full of food. This hospitality is simply unbelievable. 

 

The first bigger city we visit is Tabriz with about 2 million inhabitants. In view of the traffic at least half of them have to travel by car. The way of driving is very adventurous. Basically, people drive close up and wrestle bitterly for every centimetre. I don't know why, but miraculously it still works.

We park MOMO on a free camping site not far from the center and take a taxi into the city. Tabriz has the largest roofed bazaar in the world and we want to have a look at it. A little lost we stroll through the huge area where you can buy everything you can imagine. Everywhere we are greeted with a friendly smile and "Welcome to Iran". The street scene is a bit strange. Almost all women wear a black chador where mostly only a part of the face looks out. At some point Ali suddenly speaks to us. He has been repairing sewing machines in his small shop for 55 years and invites us for tea. We have to sign his book, of which he already has eight. He has probably made it his hobby to appeal to every tourist. So if you are in Tabriz and want to know who else is in town, or who has been, go to Ali. Will you find him? No problem, he will find you, guaranteed. By the time we got away from Ali, the blue mosque was already closed and we take a taxi back in rush hour, but regret it after only two minutes. Our driver has no plan where we want to go and his way of driving becomes more and more aggressive. At some point we get out and prefer to walk the last kilometer. 

 

Big cities are not our thing and we are glad that we can leave the noise and stench behind us the next morning. We spend the night in the middle of nowhere, far away from all civilization where almost certainly nobody comes by and wants to invite us to dinner. The next day we are in Arbadil at noon. It is Friday, so to say Sunday in Iran and there is pleasantly little traffic. Everyone flocks to the mosque for lunch prayer and we are surprised that everyone is subjected to a body search at the entrance. The most important building of the city and also UNESCO world cultural heritage is the mausoleum of Sheikh Safi who died in 1334. Ismail left his successors in 1502 to conquer Iran and convert to Shia. The complex is really worth seeing and the buildings are artfully decorated with tiles. To visit the interior, which is completely covered with carpets, the shoes have to be taken off. After the sightseeing we stroll a little through the city and the bazaar and then drive further east. 

On the way we pass a small village where they are slaughtering, on the open road of course. The sheep wait patiently until it's their turn to be expertly dismantled. You can try the result at the grill next door.

For the night we stand a few hundred meters away from the road where no one actually goes. Think! At three o'clock it knocks. Three policemen stand armed with MP in front of the car. Nobody speaks English and after some discussion they want to see my identity card. After he has turned it several times in all directions and leafed through it I get it again and they drive away. I don't know what they wanted and how they found us.

On the way to Masuleh, according to the travel guide the most famous mountain village in Iran, it starts to rain. We have to go up to 2500m and then down again to 1000m. Shortly after the pass the tarred road ends and turns into a slippery mud road with 10-15% gradient and lots of hairpin bends. In addition there is fog and makes the descent a pure pleasure. Apart from us there is nobody on the way here and we are already looking forward to a deserted famous village. Wrong thought. The place is completely parked and a lot of local tourists are on their way. They all came from the other side. The houses are built on the steep slope and connected by stairs. Reminds a little of the mountain villages in Tuscany, or at the Amalfi coast in Italy.  In any case, even with pouring rain people meander up and down the stairs like ants, walking over the roofs of the houses below. 

We leave the next morning. Around noon the rain stops and when we arrive in Qazvin we even see some blue sky from time to time. The city was founded in the 3rd century and was even the capital of Persia around 1500 before it was moved to Isfahan in 1598. Worth seeing is the restored caravanserai Sa'd-al Saltane with beautiful vaults and many small galleries and cafes. The city used to be surrounded by a huge city wall, of which today only the huge decorated gates can be seen. We visit the mausoleum of Imamzadeh-ye Hossein. Here the tomb of a son of the 8th Imam Reza is worshipped. The entrances are separated for men and women and Karin has to wear a chador which is free at the entrance. The shrine has a blue dome, is decorated with mirror facets and very photogenic. 

It rains the whole night in streams and we decide to make some distance and drive 300km further south to the holy city Qom. Here the headscarf has to be tied even more tightly because it is no coincidence that the city is also called "Chador City".  The spiritual center of Qom is the tomb of Fatima which is visible from afar with its golden dome. We are in the city just for the anniversary of Reza's death and we are not alone. Reza is the eighth of 12 imams to come directly from Mohammed. A quarter of a million people are on the streets and we see Iranians, Pakistanis and people from Azerbaijan. But everything is surprisingly well organized and to visit the tomb we get an English-speaking guide by the side and are allowed to go with him into the inner courtyard. Only the shrine itself is taboo for unbelievers. The entrance is separated for men and women and Karin has to completely cover herself with a rental chador. Qom has over a hundred Koran schools and 70,000 men and 30,000 women study there. Directly opposite the mausoleum is the large mosque, which is also a real gem. Again and again we see parades with deafening music moving through the streets and the men scourging each other. In the late afternoon it gets more and more crowded and we take a taxi back to our car, which we left in the south of the city in a beautiful park.

On the way to Kashan we turn off a few kilometres before and make a detour into the Dash-e Kavir desert near Manjarab. The route is a 50 km hard washboard track, past an old caravanserai to a desert camp. But unfortunately we don't reach that for the time being.

 

On a narrow track we follow a herd of camels and take some nice pictures. But out of nowhere we suddenly slide into a hidden mud hole. In the back on the right we hang really deep in it. The camels line up in front of us and laugh. Not us, we feel more like crying. How on earth can we get out of here? We start digging, but quickly realize that it will probably not help. A few attempts to get out fail miserably with the result that we sink even deeper. At some point a few local guides come along and I can talk to an English speaker on the phone. He promises to send me a rescue team which will probably arrive tomorrow morning as the journey takes about 2 hours. So we spend our first night since 6.5 years in extreme sloping position and somehow do not sleep well. The next morning around 10 o'clock the rescue comes in the form of four strong young men who spread a lot of optimism and obviously know what they are doing. Meanwhile Amir tells me that they have already worked 10 days until they had one outside. That reassures us of course "immensely". He has lots of pictures of broken-in trucks, and that probably happens here several times a month. With three car jacks and two high lifts the vehicle is lifted bit by bit and the wheel is padded until we try our first attempt with sand plates and three jeeps, which pull one behind the other at the same time, after a good six hours of hard work. It really works. Now we are out, but we can't take the way forward. We'd be bagging in right away. So only the path goes backwards. But there is the huge crater we left behind. But also here the boys know remedy. The hole is scooped up, flattened with jeeps and a bridge built with sand plates. Then "only" backwards over it and a good kilometre on the narrow road to a halfway safe area. We have never been so glad to have solid ground under our feet again. We look for a quiet place for the night and sleep for ten hours. We really don't need that again. 

We're going on to Kashan. There is actually a laundry for which we have searched so far in Iran in vain. Until the laundry is ready we have enough time to visit the city. Kashan belongs to the longest populated places on the Iranian highlands and was an important trade route at the edge of the Kavir desert during the Seljuk period. True jewels are the traditional houses built by rich merchants and hidden behind high mud brick walls. One of the most beautiful is the Khan-e Tabatabei with its beautiful courtyards, stone reliefs and glass works. Also worth seeing is the 500 year old bathhouse, which has been excellently restored, and the view from the roof to the minarets of the city. We stroll through the huge historical bazaar and discover many beautiful corners. Finally we visit the Agha-Bozorg Mosque with its symmetric architecture, which is no longer used. Karin has to cover himself again and the guide gives us a taste of the acoustics under the big dome by calling for prayer like a muezzin.  Allahu akbar. Back at the car we are spoiled with food again. For two days we have been standing in the middle of a residential area and the neighbours probably think we are starving. On the first evening there is a bowl with beans and on the second day grilled corncobs. Unbelievably nice people and great encounters.  

Now we have to hurry because in two days Manfred's sister comes to Isfahan and drives a few days with us. You can find out what we are going to experience in the next blog. Until then have fun reading and looking at pictures. 

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