Beautiful Hills, Wonderful People - Shiraz to Bam

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August 2nd 2006
Published: August 25th 2006
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Whilst we were in Shiraz we got a message from the Swiss cyclists we had met in Yazd that there might be problems with getting a Pakistani visa in Zahedan. Our hearts fell and we phoned the Pakistan Consulate in Zahedan as soon as we could. They said that the policy had changed since the time we had previously phoned and that there was no way we could get a visa there, we must go to Tehran. We jumped on a bus that night and made it to the British Embassy for a letter of recommendation and then lodged our Pakistani application the next morning. Robin had to write a letter saying why we had not got our visa in London and we had a brief meeting with the Pakistani Consul. He underlined things like 10,000 miles and cycling in our letter, before telling us to come back the next day as he had to fax the letter to Islamabad. We successfully got a 3 month visa and they must have really liked us because the guy said that it was the first time in a year that they had issued a visa to a non-Iranian for longer than one month.
10,000 miles from home!10,000 miles from home!10,000 miles from home!

The middle of nowhere in Iran, so no champagne to celebrate either...:(

I can really recommend the route to Bam from Shiraz via Sirjan, Baft, and Jiroft. Although every Iranian will balk at your proposed route and some tell you it's dangerous, if you actually meet people from the area they will confirm it is stunning and safe. You could of course choose the boring desert and horribly busy main road through Kerman.

Every day out of Shiraz gave us different scenery and we were so happy to be cycling again. We were managing to get going at about 5.30 am each morning and this meant that we made good progress in the cool of the day. The scenery was great with beautiful salty lakes sliding by on a fast flat road to lovely not-too-steep mountains covered in fruit orchards. The hills around us had great big cracks in their sides and the morning light made every rock stand out. One big valley would merge into another but eventually after Estebhan we had to climb up and up, through loads of fig orchards. The road climbed forever in zigzags and the day was hot. We looked longingly at the shade shelters built in the orchards but kept going thinking the

How it looks after destruction in the earthquake. It was immaculate before though.. If you search online you can find before and after pics.
top could not be far. We were right and were rewarded by an absolutely fantastic view of the huge white Bakhtegan salt lake far down below. We were thankful that we had taken the high road over the mountains because we now had the view of the lake and we were up above its searing heat haze. Also we had fantastic cliffs soaring above us. We found a great bridge to shelter under for lunch and a few hours sleep. We were actually under the road and had a good view down to the salt lake below and a breeze came up to cool us just slightly. Onwards to Neyriz and a camp before the hills after town.

We had been warned about these hills and the switchbacks did look kind of intimidating from the bottom, but remembering that we had cycled up from the bottom of the earth at the Dead Sea put all this into perspective and we soon made our slow way up and up. Robin was just getting back on his bike after a pause when a motorbike decided to swerve over from the other side of the road and park practically on top of
The impressive natural waterfall at EstebhanThe impressive natural waterfall at EstebhanThe impressive natural waterfall at Estebhan

This had been signposted for about 50km as a major attraction, though the shade and water were nice.
him, causing him to fall off his bike. Worse however was the fact that he fell into the big storm ditch at the side of the road and his loaded bike fell on top of him. All the time the idiot on the motorbike just kept asking him where he came from, and was not helping him at all. Robin cut his hand in the fall and we had to dig out some plasters. Still he recovered well and we kept going up the lovely valley lined with small streams and relatively green scrub full of babblers and other birds to distract us from the climb. At the top of the hill Robin noticed that he had a problem with his largest chain ring. When we stopped at a truck stop he realised that in his and his bike's fall the chain ring had been damaged and some of the teeth were bent inwards. We were quite concerned but happily the guys at the truck stop soon helped out with some pliers and a file and within half an hour Robin had a working chain ring again!

Now we headed down and down to the edge of the desert and the small town of Ghatruyeh. I don't think any tourist has ever stopped in Ghatruyeh before. We were stocking up with supplies for the night and next morning since this was the last place for 100 km before Sirjan. In vain we cycled round the town looking for a water tap, before finally realising that the mosque would be open in the morning and we would have to fill up from there. We cycled out of town a mile or so and found a culvert to sleep under for the rest of the day. That night we were spotted going off the road by a local family who really wanted to put us up, but we refused realising that we needed an early night and a very early morning to cross the vast desert as early as possible. Still the family came back in their Paykan car bringing with them fruit for our pudding.

The early morning went very well the next day, the predawn light in the desert and the temperature then is wonderful. At about 7 am we also saw Iran's only endemic bird; a ground jay, it walked across the road in front of us and then did some posing for us in the small scrub. The first few hours of riding were OK the desert had a few ups and downs to keep us interested and we had a break and some fruit at the 55km mark in an old well. At least we were in the shade and there was even some water there! However after the break the going got tougher, even though the road was down hill the wind was now unrelenting and in our faces. The distant hills never seemed to get any closer, but after 7 long and hard hours we arrived in Sirjan and thankfully phoned a contact that we had been given by one of our Shiraz friends.
Niloofar came to meet us and she, her sister, brother and aunt put us up for two nights. We mostly slept. They fed us wonderfully and we were called over each night to meet her neighbours who had a nice big yard. Outside at night was the best temperature and we slept outside too like every one else.

The next 4 days just show the amazingness of Iranian hospitality. We left Niloofar with instructions to go to her
Monster DescentMonster DescentMonster Descent

Erika pauses to admire the view on the 2,300m descent from the Sardouyeh plateau in Kerman province.
family home in Baft where we could stay and be fed a huge feast. From there we were given a friend’s number to phone once we got to Bam and we had another number to phone for Jiroft. The road out of Baft was fantastic but it just kept going up and by the end of the day we were seriously tired. However on the road we met some students who stopped their car to talk to us, they said we could stay with them in Darb Behesht/Darb Mazar/Sardouyeh. At this point we realised that the town had 3 names! Eventually after a very long days ride we arrived. We were told that the town was at 2,700 metres, and we had come down hill to get there, no wonder we were tired! It was a great ride though and we were up on a very high plateau where the temperature was cool. We spent a really lovely evening with Gholam and Ehsan and found out that they studied Zoology and Geology. It was really good to have some common interests to talk about and Gholam got out his snake and reptile books for us to have a look at.
Ancient Handbag?Ancient Handbag?Ancient Handbag?

One of the ancient aretefacts from Jiroft, around 5-7,000 years old. nobody really knows what these stone 'bags' were used for. Erika reckons they were for dancing around....

The next day we plummeted 2,300 metres down to the plains that stretch to the Persian Gulf and the town of Jiroft. The road down was amazing lots of motorbikes were cruising down with us without their engines on either. However it was now very hot and humid. This was horrible heat; it was oppressive and it did not get any better at night, the only bearable thing to do is to find air conditioning or go up to the Sardouyeh plateau like the locals do in the summer! I would hate to try to cycle the road the other direction, this is an absolutely monster climb and it would seem like it would never stop, but I have heard of cyclists who have done it, amazing!

We stayed in Jiroft with Sedigheh and her family, who we had met the night before. She has two lovely little girls and a very nice big house. She took us to see some of the ancient cities that have been uncovered by archaeologists around Jiroft, and also to the Jiroft museum. Archaeologists now believe that Jiroft might be the earliest civilisation known and a predecessor of Mesopotamia. If you do

Finding a date in Bam is remarkably easy.
ever get a chance go to the Jiroft museum it is really impressive, some of the fantastic ancient pottery we wondered over in Tehran was found here and they have a really good collection of stuff. There is so much there to be uncovered still. We stayed 3 days with Sedigheh and enjoyed her wonderful cooking of fish, a luxury we had not had since Sinai.

After a day servicing the bikes we set off up the hills again to Bam. The first hour was hell. Even though it was 6am the humidity was awful, the heat was unbearable and there was not a breath of air or wind to cool us. We were going at 5 mph and the sweat was cascading off us. We stopped often just to let our hearts stop pounding so terribly (and we are very, very fit). We resorted to making up solutions of oral rehydration salts and the normally horrible drinks tasted good to our salt starved bodies. A truck driver gave us some iced water and then tunnels through the huge cliffs soon appeared, wonderfully giving us some shade from the sun. However with every rotation of the pedals we climbed
Bam 'House'Bam 'House'Bam 'House'

A typical home in Bam, temporary huts or containers are the new 'house', set amidst the rubble and mashed up contents of the former one.
higher. The higher we got the cooler it got - thank God. We were invited in for lunch with a family and picked fresh figs from their garden after enjoying a big feast. Eventually we got to the top, it was a great feeling and the ride up had been beautiful.

The promised downhill however was not great; it was not steep, not fast and we had a hot wind in our face slowing us down too. By the time we reached the main Bam-Kerman road we were really tired. We only had about 30 km to do on this main road, but we were glad we had taken the harder, more scenic route, because this has to be one of the worse main roads in Iran; there is no hard shoulder, the road is narrow and trucks hurtle past you at great speed. Soon however, after a rest for a zam-zam cola (a 6 pence glass bottle), we saw the acres and acres of date palms that Bam is famous for.

On the road into town we met a Dutch couple in a converted Toyota camper van. They wound down their window and offered us water whilst

The main shopping street. The shipping crates are the shops, closed for siesta at the time this was taken.
we were riding. We got into town and found a phone box to phone the contact we had been given but he was not answering. No matter, it was a bit weird anyway to turn up to people we did not know just because a friend gave you their number. So we set off to find the centre of town. Well it does not exist any more. Bam, once famous for dates, is now also famous for a massive earthquake that destroyed the entire city three years ago, killing around 36,000 people out of the population of about 100,000. The centre of the city is strange; the date palms survived but hardly any of the buildings did. Bam is now a city of trees and container boxes. People live in the containers and have set up shops in them also. It was hard to get our heads around the fact that this was a city - there is nothing left there. It feels more like a jungle of palm trees with people camped out amidst the rubble underneath. But the people are amazingly still smiling and we left Bam with a big message to the other tourists. Please keep coming, Bam is not dead, by coming the locals can see that there is hope for the future and they are really happy to have you there.

We found the only open guest house in the city - Akbar's, and got our own room round the back where we slept on the floor. Akbar is a great character and he is rebuilding his guest house - it was destroyed in the earthquake killing 3 people including 2 travellers. He says that Bam will be rebuilt better than any other city in Iran. It is unintelligible to imagine that every pile of rubble you see in Bam probably had a body under it. We got the story of the earthquake from Akbar, it lasted only 12 seconds but he said it was so strong you could not move. The damage was all done in the first 2-3 seconds; in this short space of time most of the city was levelled and a third of its people killed. Everyone here knows someone who died. I can not begin to understand the immense pain of these people. No one can ever know why, when Bam sits in a massive desert and has never ever known an earthquake in recorded history, did this massive quake hit the very centre of town and nowhere else. Villages only 10km away felt nothing.

In the guest house we met up again with the Dutch couple, Martine and Frank, and spent the next day touring the city and going to see what was left of the famous Arg (Citadel) of Bam. This is still a world heritage site and although nowhere near as impressive as before the earthquake, it is still an amazing building. It is a massive mud brick citadel which had survived for 3000 years almost undamaged. During the quake the ancient bricks simply melted into each other or turned to dust. Work is going on to shore up the ruins, but it is still an impressive building.

We had a good night cooking at the guest house and chatting about the road ahead. Frank and Martine were not looking forward to the next part of the journey; the long desert of Baluchistan and the road to Quetta in Pakistan. For us the idea of Quetta was too far ahead to contemplate fully, we were looking at 3 long hard days to Zahedan and then one day to the border to leave Iran exactly on the last day of our visa. The pressure was on.


4th September 2006

rock and roll handbags
Hi Erika and Robin! Great to read your blogs. Replying a bit late to this one but have been away myself - just got back from italy where i went overland by bus, though i was dreaming of cycling like yourselves - one day ... Amazed at your tales and discoveries, and great to read about the reality of life in Iran especially in contrast to all the rubbish spouted in the news etc. It was interesting to learn about the ancient iranian civilisation you mentioned might be the oldest in the world - I'm interested to look more into it.. I liked the ancient hand bag also. I like the rock and roll dancing theme idea - but it occured to me - maybe a more likely use might be as a 'weight' to hold down ropes for tents for example - ??? Seeing the pictures of the city of Bam also blew me away - the destruction that these people have endured - puts the small petty sufferings of western life into perspective. Looking at those pictures of houses in the rubble and container shops - they look like they've been forgotten by the outside world... but to see the optimism and endurance that you've witnessed is heartening.. I guess it must be the only thing that they have left.. It is perplexing though to think of an earthquake there out of nowhere... Good luck with the rest of your travels.

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