Welcome to Iran

Welcome to Iran!

Approaching the heavily fortified border crossing we caught sight of a sign proclaiming “Welcome To Iran” adorned with pictures of the Ayatollahs Khomeini and Khamanie. We were left wondering if we would be welcomed given the recent looting of the British embassy in Tehran and the burning of the Union Jack. Iran was the country we had been most excited about for the whole trip but now we were nervous about how we would be received given that diplomatic relations between Britain and Iran were at their lowest point ever and tensions were running high. We took a deep breath and crossed the border…

Having negotiated the border crossing we decided to stop in the town immediately before us, Bazargan, to celebrate with cheese sandwiches and tea! Upon leaving this small border town we quickly entered vast, desolate, golden brown

plains with occasional turquoise blue ruds (rivers) running by the road some of which were frozen. The bright blue cloudless sky met the rugged mountains on every side of us. We were alone in a barren world save for the occasional passing car or truck. There was a raw beauty to this landscape and I enjoyed the feeling of being out in this wilderness with nothing but my thoughts for company. I wondered if this landscape had changed at all in the previous millennium since Genghis Khan and his hoards came this way. I contemplated fun evenings spent with friends I miss, where this journey will take me and how it will change me, of a triumphant return to England, the things I miss, what I will do when I get back and I tried to imagine the lives of the children we aim to help.

Concern grew about where we would stay that night and if this would be the way of things in Iran.  We should have known better given we had spent the previous four months learning that something always comes up provided you use some common sense and your best smile. Ten minutes before dusk we happened upon a large complex with high walls and a sturdy looking iron gate. I poked my head around the corner and saw a man watering plants, I called out my best ‘Salaam’. Given my alien appearance he seemed rather unflustered as if it were a rather normal occurrence to see two English cycle tourists out here in the middle of nowhere. Speaking no English he simply waved us in and took us inside to a very warm and very comfortable room. Within minutes we were sipping hot tea and eating ripe fruit. In our favour we had arrived during a Muslim festival the ‘Mourning of Muharram’ to remember the contoversial killing of the prophet Muhammad’s grandson Imam Hussain. We arrived specifiaclly at the climax of this on the 10th day called Ashura. We were well looked after that evening and as it has turned out we were right, this was to be the way of things in Iran.

A couple of days later we arrived in Tabriz, a large sprawling city and the capital of the East Azerbaijan Province of Iran. For the first time we encountered the famous Iranian traffic and it did not disappoint. We took a day off in Tabriz and the next morning we went and changed some money and explored the huge indoor bazaar. As we wandered many people stopped us to chat. Each time they asked where we were from I winced when I said Inglestan but instead of any negative reaction people were genuinely pleased to see us and welcomed us to their country. At one point we were stopped by three groups of Iranians within 100 meters to check we were OK and if we needed any help.

By law every woman in this country is required to cover their hair, the traditional use of a chador (direct translation is tent!) which covers the head, body and legs has been replaced with a hijab or head scarf by many younger women. Either way women are covered from head to toe and this was just one of the more noticeable cultural differences with conservative, Muslim, Eastern Turkey. It occurred to me that we have come so far east that we are now deemed to be from the ‘West’.

Leaving Tarbiz the next day after several hours of climbing we hit a snow storm and stopped early. In the morning we decided to hit the motorway hoping it would be clear of the thick snow we could see outside the window. After a few miles it was clear of both snow and traffic which was great for us, pleased with the decision we pushed on. We climbed all day until we were up over 2,000 meters, the whole world was white except for the road and the bright glare of the sun. At mid afternoon we began a glorious downhill run for 10 miles. We passed the second service station of the day and decided to pull in to see if we could find somewhere warm to stay. We found a communal building occupied by a dozen or so local road workers. We were invited in and once again plied with food and tea. We were even given free reign to use the gloriously hot shower. Dinner was a sociable affair with everyone sat around a rectangular plastic mat on the floor with the food laid out on it. A good, warm nights sleep ensued.

The following day we made it to Zanjan. I had got in contact with a lady called Maryam in Tehran to see if we could stay when we arrived. Not only had she agreed to this she got back to us to let us know her friend, Sina in Zanjan (also a cyclist and general adventurer) would put us up. This was just the beginning of Maryam’s help who we now affectionately call our guardian angel! A wonderful evening at Sina’s family home ensued with his mum, dad, sister, aunt, niece, cousin et al. We ate, chatted, laughed and sung and it was one of my favorite nights of the trip so far.

The following day we were sad to say goodbye to Sina and his family but with time running down on our visas we were aiming for Tehran…

P.S. I simply had to get this photo from Eastern Turkey in somewhere:

3 Responses to “Welcome to Iran”

  1. Pete C says:

    Brilliant stuff guys, just goes to show, don`t believe all the stuff you read in the papers about Iran and its people, there are good and kind souls everywhere.

    • Matt says:

      Absolutely Pete, don’t think there has ever been a country more misrepresented. Everyone we meet is friendly and each day we have numerous kind offers from curious strangers.
      I am certain I will come back here.

  2. […] The last time I heard contradictions this strong (between perception and reality) it was about Iran and I still regale everyone I can with tall tales from that wonderful country. After a couple of […]

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