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IRAN, A PLEASANT SURPRISE.
11/4/97
BAM

I was told that “when you enter Iran it will be very cold because of the altitude and time of the year”.  I am boiling hot as I am wearing my waterproof jacket and it is 30 deg c.  It’s not raining, it’s sanding!  Yet again we are in the middle of a sandstorm.  The wind is coming from our left at maybe 60 knots.  We’re leaning against it and 20 deg angle and try to stay within our section of the road.  We are halfway between Zahdan and Bam.  The map showed about 200 km of desert crossing between two mountain ranges.  Fuel consumption is high due to the wind and I find myself having to transfer fuel from the spare tank in the midst of all this. Standing with my back against the wind, I shield the tank to prevent sand entering the tank.  With a cotton scarf wrapped around my face, we set off again only to discover that I still won’t make it to Bam.  Fifteen km before Bam we transfer some fuel from  Charlie’s 36 litre tank. At arrival in Bam we fill up and look for the Tourist Guesthouse.  As usual, I go over the bike and discover that the front left hand side of the bike is nice and clean again.  I even lost some paint off the lower front fork - all due to the sandblasting effect during our ordeal today.

Iran is offering us a pleasant change - very good roads.  Signposted to the extreme, friendly people who give us space.  I bought 24 litres of petrol and paid 4,600 rials - Aust $1.20 and 1kg of dates for about the same price!

Police interrogation, danger, unfriendly people, veiled women who walk 6 paces behind their husbands, no women’s rights, terrorists, security services, Middle East troublemakers, religious fanatics - all words used by the Western press to make this Country look bad.  Before my journey started, I conveyed to many people the route that I would be taking.  Almost without exception I always heard negative comments about Iran.

Well, let me make some truthful comments of my experiences so far covering approximately 2,000 km and 6 days.  Yes - after crossing the border we were stopped by the police many times (at roadblocks) to check our  passports. Afterwards,  nearly all of them enthusiastically enquired about  the land of Australia.  They often asked if we  would like to have tea with them.  One particular day we stopped in the middle of a small town for lunch about 50 yards from the Police Station.  After lunch we were asked to show our passports to the Police Chief who greeted us with “Welcome to Iran.” and sent us away with “Please say hello from us to the people of your Country!”  When we enter a  large city, sometimes the police salute us!.

Danger? Yes, we have experienced danger and regularly have to run for our lives.  However, the danger comes from a different angle.  Although traffic is only very light compared with India, the Iranian drivers observe generally one rule, which is, “We drive on the right hand side of the road.”  To which I might add, “Fast, slow, left hand middle or right hand lane or wander from lane to lane - all without indicating!”.  We still haven’t worked out who gives way to whom and when.  Roundabouts are a real challenge and there are plenty of them.

Pedestrian Crossings - No one knows what they are used for.  If we slow down or give way to pedestrians, both pedestrians and drivers look at us in disbelief.  The only way for us to cross is to run (for our lives).

People are extremely friendly.  Whenever we stop they want to talk and to shake hands. They show us the way to wherever we want to go. They are never hostile, always helpful, often to the extreme.  So far we have not seen even one woman wearing the face veil.  We saw plenty of them in Pakistan.  However, they do wear the black “chador”, a long toga like contraption, somewhat like a nun’s habit.  But, underneath you see jeans and joggers.  We have heard that the majority don’t like to wear the black chador, but it is the law.  In Esfahan I noticed some coloured ones with coloured headscarves.  I even saw a woman wearing a leather jacket over the top of all this and carrying a matching leather briefcase!

 Iran is more modern that I anticipated.  In Shiraz and Esfahan there are modern shopping malls and clean streets.  The road system is very good.  Petrol is amazingly cheap.  I filled up my tank plus 5 litre spare tank for less than one Aus $1.00.  The price is 160 riyals per litre which is equal to 2 cents.  If you buy “diesel” you pay of that.

Food is also amazingly cheap.  Beyond all of this, Iran has on offer some breathtaking tourist attractions.  The country offers a variety of landscapes - vast sandy deserts, snow capped mountains.  Adobe villages where they bake clay in open furnaces to make bricks.  Then there are the ancient sights of Persopolis and other places where you can visit the ruins  of bygone eras.

Anyway one of the first interesting plcaes is the city of BAM, or actually the ancient city of Bam situated right next to modern Bam. The town is surrounded by a very high wall with just one city gate.It just feels like walking around in the biggest sandcastle of the world. A good way to find out how people lived centuries ago.

Shiraz

On entering Shiraz we could not find our way to the tourist information as everything is signwritten in Farsi (like Arabic), we stopped at an intersection to ask for directions when a young man stepped forward. I will lead you there he said, if you make some place on one of the bikes.  He quickly went inside the barbershop where he worked and made arrangements to have the rest of the afternoon off. Soon we arrived at the tourist information and were redirected to a square where there were supposed to be 6 hotels, however there was not one in sight. The word Hotel is written as a long Farsi word which is unreadable for us, however as soon as we were told what the word looked like we could read the script as a sort of picture, from there on there were no more problems.

Mohammed lead us to a hotel and negotiated a good deal after which he left us and said that he would be back after 7 so we could have something to eat. How nice !t about 7 Mohammed arrived in a taxi and proceeded to show us the city sights after we first we offered a meal for which he insisted that he should pay,as we were his guests. The following day we visited Persepolis under his guidence, we had a most enjoyable and interesting day together. Persepolis was a sight to behold, what a shame Alexander burnt it down in May 330 BC it must have been a most magnificent place.Back in Shiraz he proceedd to show us more famous tombs, fountains and what not.

Late at night when we arrived back at the hotel we told Mohammed that we would be leaving early in the morning. Mohammed lingerd on in our room, tears were showing in his eyes, he had truly enjoyed our company and so had we enkoyed his. What a nice experience, something we can learn from in the west.

I visited to tombs of Cyrus the Great, it was a highlight for me as I actully touched places where Aleaxander the Great once stood, I meant literally as Alexander once entered the narrow doorway leading into the tomb I actually sat on the steps leading up to the doorway.We visted the tombs  of Artaxerxes and Darius, all around 2,500 years old - it makes you pause and think about life.

Via a narrow not wel travelled inland route we arrived at Esphahan late that day, a most beatifull place, just as I had expected it, the main square is one of the mist beatifull and largest in the world. What make Espahan very special are its old (brick) two story bridges and the beautifull tiles mosques (everywhere else the are mostly white)

Via Kermashah we proceeded to travel north through Iranian Kurdistan. The women look more colourful as they wear bright coloured dresses.

As we now traveling parellel to the Iraqi border in an area what used to be war zone we were passing checkpoint every 15 km or less. It slowed us down but overal they were easy , the soldiers just wanted to have a look at our bikes or at least that is the imporession we got.

We approaced a Y junction and were stopped at yet another checkpoint, this we were asked to unload our bike and show all our papers. Charlie made jokes about the equipment we carried,the little red pertrol canister for our cooker for instance. He was asked what it was the which he replied whils making a throwing movement with his arm: it's a bomb.Silence at first but then we all laughed. I man approached us who said that he was from the police, he wasn't wearing a uniform so we were not sure. Follow me he said and took place on the back of a small motorcycle. Thinking back about it I think he must have been from the secret police. After a while we arrived at a fortified army camp surrounded by high walls. The dark faced soldiers were all heavily armed, all carrying automatic wapons.  Our pasports were taken inside, we were asked to wait outside. Soon we we surounded by soldiers, if a journalist would have photgraphed us he would have had a field day, I can just image the headlines

"AUSSIE BIKERS ARRESTED IN IRAN".    

We had nothing to hide and had nothing done which was not right, our visas were up to date and we had not been told that we were not allowed in this area. looking at the soldiers I soon realised that the fearsome look was just the outside of a boy who may be bored to death where the arrival of foreign bikes proved an interesting change to daily routine. We filled the time with eating the little food we had and waited patiently,

It took a long hour for the man to return, you can go now! he said whilst handing over our passports. We quickly got ready and departed, we had nothing to hide so we should behave like that too. We slowly rode of into town and stopped at the first available rstaurant for a meal of bread and soup.

As we had no idea which way we had travelled we rode back along the same way as we had come until be reached the same checkpoint again. Again we were asked to stop and get of. Not again !! I thought, apparently a change of the guards had taken place and no one recognised us. We got of the bikes again and entered the small office.

Passports! a man demanded, no one spoke English. At the same time a soldier entered the office, look at us and daid something to the man no holding our passports.He looked at us, mumbled something in Farsi and habded back our passports. Outside we had a look at the map and decided to get away from the border earea as soon as we could, we road back to the junction and took the road north towards Tabriz.

A few days later we reached the border of Iran-Turkey. We had faced another surprise, the road had gaining altitude to over 2000 meter and the temp had dived to 0 degrees C., formalities we easy and quick, about 1 hour leter we crossed into Turkey

Indeed, Iran is an unexpected gem in a necklace of rocks.  Certainly a place to visit again.

Some facts about Iran (from Irian website)

I found it one of the safest countries to travel in.The roads are in good condition, all is signposted well, often in 2 languages. The people are friendly and helpfull. The road manners of car drivers is terrible so watch out.

Petrol is only a few cents per litre, food and accomodation is fairly cheap.

The exchange on the street is good and bad in the banks, as a matter of fact when i made a comment about that in a bank the lady behind the counter recommended that I should just change a little and change moast of my money on the black market.

Climate

The climate ranges from subtropical to very cold. In winter a high-pressure belt, centered in Siberia, slashes west and south to the interior of the Iranian Plateau, and low pressures develop over the warm waters of the Caspian Sea, the Persian Gulf, and the Mediterranean Sea. In summer, one of the world's lowest pressure centers prevails in the south. Altitude, latitude, maritime influences, seasonal winds, and proximity to mountain ranges or deserts play a significant role in the fluctuation of temperature, which varies from a high of 131 F (55 C) in Khuzestan province at the head of the Persian Gulf to a low of -35 F (-37 C) in the province of Azerbaijan in the northwest. Precipitation also varies widely, from less than two inches (50 millimeters) in the southeast to about 78 inches in the Caspian region. The annual average is about 16 inches. The northern and western parts of Iran have four distinct seasons. Moving south and east, spring a

Broadly speaking, the further south you go the warmer it becomes. The regions along the mountainous parts of the country have milder summers and colder winters. In summer, the central and southern parts of Tehran are hot, dry and stuffy, but you only have to make a short bus ride up to the foothills of Damavand to cool down by several degrees. However, it is not humid, and the evenings are cool and refreshing. Winters in the capital can be very chilly, extremely so at night, although any snow usually disappears by early march. Showers are frequent between November and mid May, but rare in summer.

Spring and autumn are the ideal times to tour Iran, but summer or winter can be OK, so long as you do a little planning and take a few precautions. The northwest of the country is generally the coldest and among the rainiest parts of the country. The winters in Azarbaijan and Kurdestan can be severe: temperatures sometimes fall as low as -20 degrees centigrade. Snow frequently remains until early spring, or even later in the mountains.

The Caspian coast is damp all year round and provides a pleasant contrast with the dryness of plateaus, which are only a few hours away by road. However, the temperatures are rarely excessive. Rain is frequent, vegetation is exuberant, and the prevailing wind comes from the sea.Altogether, the Iranian climate varies considerably from the rainy north and snowy northwest and west to the southern Sunbelt, so consider this as you pack your suitcase. In summer take lightweight and easily washed clothes of natural fabrics, a cardigan or pullover for the cooler nights, a pair of sunglasses and (only if you are male) a hat which will protect your face from the sun.

In spring and autumn, take a sensible compromise, according to the conditions in the places you are going to visit. For men, a suit will only be necessary if you are travelling on business or planning to mix in the higher reaches of Iranian society; a smart jacket is useful but rarely essential.

Do's and Don'ts for Tourists

Do obey every law. Don't be surprised if you are physically searched by customs officials when entering Iran; they look carefully for prohibited items. Do take off your shoes when entering a carpeted area, even if you're excused from doing so...Don't shake hands with members of the opposite sex...Do bring a small gift if you're invited for dinner (candy, flowers). Remember, though, that it's thought polite for someone to refuse a gift a few times before accepting...Don't show affection in public for a member of the opposite sex...Don't slouch, stretch your legs or reveal the soles of your shoes when in company. Sticking out your thumb is considered vulgar...Don't take photographs of pilgrims, religious figures or shrines unless you receive permission first...Do ask for permission to enter a mosque and remember to remove your shoes before going inside...Do accept tea when it is offered. It's a customary rite of hospitality...Don't forget to have the name of your hotel and/or destination written down for you in Persian script. Many taxi drivers don't speak or read English...Do attend one of the exciting wrestling matches. It's the national sport...Do dress in a conservative manner. Women should wear a full-length skirt (or a long-sleeved shirt and pants underneath a dark, loose fitting, below-the-knee overcoat) and a scarf around their hair and neck (do not wear makeup). Men should wear long-sleeved shirts and pants...Do be prepared to pay hard currency at the better hotels. While large hotels will honor traveler's checks and some even take credit cards, local currency is generally not accepted...Don't use the black market; exchange rates at banks are about the same and much less risky....


 

 Or come with me to Turkey