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Published: August 9th 2009
As many of you will know, our original plan had us heading from Syria into Turkey. Our intent was to then travel north to Moscow, in order to get some serious miles under our belt by taking the Trans-Siberian Railway
to Mongolia. Unfortunately, failure to obtain Russian visas rendered this impossible. Therefore we needed an alternative plan.
After a fair amount of research and deliberation we settled on doing what few people do and turning right when we get to Turkey. Our new route would take us through Iran and the “Stans” into China. On the positive side this would take us through an intriguing and little travelled part of the world. On the negative side we would need to obtain yet more visas and the route would be considerably slower than our original plan. Therefore, in order to take as little time as possible away from our plans for Australia and South America, we would need to travel a little faster than ideal.
The first victim of our increased pace of travelling was this blog. With us having more to report and less time in which to report it, things have got a little behind, but please bear
Our View of Turkey
Comfortable buses and snow capped mountains
with us while we play catch-up. The second casualty was to be Turkey. Given the relative ease with which we could visit at a future date, we opted not to stop and passed through as quickly as possible, not even spending a night in a hotel.
Our first leg of the journey took us from Damascus to Antakia (in Turkey) on an overnight bus, we say overnight but that is a little misleading as it actually arrived at 4am. We then spent 10 hours waiting at the bus station for a more accurately described overnight bus to ply the 19 hour journey to Erzerum.
Passing through Eastern Turkey we were surprised by the snow capped mountain scenery. Struck by the unexpected beauty of the region, albeit through a bus window, we vowed to return. Once in Erzerum we were soon aboard another bus for the seemingly short 4 hour bus journey to Dogubayazit and from there it was a short taxi ride to the Iranian border.
Border formalities were surprisingly smooth, save for the incredible number of fingerprints required by the Iranian authortities. From the border we took full advantage of being in such an oil rich
country (where at 7p a litre, petrol is literally half the price of water) and paid only £12 for a 300km taxi ride to Tabriz.
Upon entering Iran you are legally obliged to obey Sharia Law
. As a foreigner, providing you don’t have a rucksack full of bacon and whisky, this only impacts your stay by meaning you have to wear hejab
literally means modest dress and applies equally to both men and women. For Alex this was of little consequence, providing he kept his Borat Thong
safely stowed away until Kazakhstan. For Sarah however it meant not showing anything but hands, feet and face, something she was to curse in the, at times, stifling heat.
In Tabriz, a city that receives relatively few visitors, we enjoyed our first taste of Iran and were bowled over by the friendliness of its residents. We couldn’t walk more than a hundred yards down the street without someone stopping us to ask where we were from and welcome us to Iran.
As well as being some of the friendliest people we have encountered (something of a reoccurring theme for the axis of evil), the Iranians had a few other
surprises in store for us. Firstly the were far less conservative than we had expected, with the boundaries of hejab
being stretched to the absolute limits. Jeans and vast amounts of hair are regularly displayed by females of the younger generation. There was a real sense that a large proportion of the population were itching to break free, something that has been confirmed by recent events.
As well as wandering through the streets and souqs and generally providing a tourist attraction for the local people, we took a trip to the nearby town of Kandovan. Here the entire town is built into caves in the sandstone cliffs. It was here that we first noticed the Iranian’s national obsession with picnics. Wherever we went in the country, nearly every available piece of ground, be it a by a main road or on a roundabout, would be adorned with numerous families eating al fresco.
Our next stop was Tehran, which didn’t prove to be one of our favourite cities. Although there was nothing particularly wrong with it, the levels of pollution and overcrowding were sufficient to make it less than pleasant. However, it was a necessary stop for collecting visas.
Next we visited probably our favourite place in Iran, Esfahan, something of a showcase of Islamic architecture. The centrepiece of the city is the Imam Square, the second largest public square in the world, filled with fountains and surrounded by stunning buildings.
Our final stop in our briefer than ideal tour of Iran was Yazd, a baking hot city in the desert. Its desert location lent the city a slightly different look and feel to the other parts of Iran we had visited, with narrow passageways running between mud bulit buildings. One of the most notable features of the city is the wind towers that adorn almost every building. An ingenious idea, they are designed to capture even the slightest breath of air to ventilate the otherwise hot buildings.
On reflection we found Iran to be one of favourite countries that we have visited. The friendliness and openness of its people is a far cry from the images of Islamic extremism painted by the Western media. Fortunately it's sufficiently large for there to be enough we didn't see in order to justify a return visit, visas permitting.
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