The Princes of Persia


Although clearly not princes, the way Andy and I have been treated by almost every Iranian we meet has made us feel like royalty. Hospitality is very important in the Muslim world and they are taught to give everything to guests rather than to share. When staying with someone we have to fight to pay for anything or to help cook or clean even after staying somewhere for a week. Every day we receive offers from complete strangers ranging from chai to a place to stay. I have never known a country where the perception was more out of kilter with the reality, Iran is a special place and we are already working out a return visit. The government is a completely different matter and everyone we met berated them. I would not judge the people of this country by its government or vice versa.

After almost five months on the road and with an enforced wait for our Uzbekistan visa we made the most of a couple of weeks off the bike. Andy and I having lost to the Iran team in the dance off and battle rap (I blame Andy – my Vanilla Ice was word) had to leave Tehran in disgrace. We had limited time on our Iran visas so decided to take a bus south to cover the 1,000km to Shiraz quickly.

We were met at the bus station in Shiraz by Amin and Sayeed, friends of Maryam in Tehran. They spent the next couple of days guiding us around the sights. The highlight of which was Persepolis, the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire under Darius the Great in 6th century BC but mostly built by his successor Xerxes I. Still a very impressive site despite the best efforts of Alexander the Great to raise it to the ground in the 4th century BC. Alexander sacked and looted the site and according to the historian Plutarch ‘carried away its treasure on the back of 20,000 mules and 5,000 camels’. It reminded me of the Acropolis in Athens with its grand columns, huge statues and very intricate carvings. I enjoyed getting lost amongst the ruins, set in a remote location far into the desert. I tried to imagine it in all its former glory, bustling and busy with citizens, travelers and traders.

After all this cultural activity Andy decided it was time improve his dance moves so we could return to Tehran and challenge the Iran team again. At our hosts house that night under bright lights and with no alcohol Andy took center stage. I wish I could share with you his shapes, I even have it on video but sadly the Iranian government see Picasa as a national threat and block the site meaning I cant upload it…….not yet!

We met Amin’s friend Mostafa who speaks very good English. With Sayeed and Amin’s English as limited as our Persian Mostafa acted as translator. He is an Iranian who grew up in Dubai, went to Uni in the Philippines, has just earned pilot wings and runs his own business importing clothes from China. An interesting chap!

Together the five of us drove through the desert to a small town called Ghir just 70 miles from the Persian Gulf and well off the tourist trail. They took us to the foothills of a mountain on the outskirts of the city. We had good views of the town stretching out over the valley below us. The bright sun was low in the blue and the land looked orange under the suns glow. A man had parked his car in a stream and was washing it. A few minutes later a shepherd led his flock to the stream

to drink and they surrounded the car providing an wonderful juxtaposition.

We sat on a rug on the mountain side and tucked greedily into a superb picnic of kebab, veggies and nan bread. By now the sun was a bright orange ball floating on the horizon and we sat and watched as it sagged lazily below the mountains. That was one of my favorite moments of the trip so far. It was Christmas eve.

That night we went to see a play performed at a local hall performed by the people of the town. It told the story of the murder of Hussain, the third Imam and grandson of Muhammad. It was entirely in Farsi but Andy and I got the gist of it. At the finish Andy and I were called up onto stage for photos with the cast after which the audience began asking for photos with us. It was all rather surreal but they don’t see tourists here and everyone was very interested in us. We got home after midnight and as Andy and I climbed into bed we wished each other a Merry Xmas.

Christmas day was unconventional. We began by meeting the Governor of Ghir in his office. He had spotted us at the play and asked to see us. We then went to Mostafa’s sister house where her husband Hasham had his gun collection out within a few minutes of us arriving. He insisted we have a go with the air rifle (we declined the 12 gauge shotgun). So not to be rude we duly obliged. Andy ‘We’re in the Army Now’ Madeley hit two out of four but I registered my first two hits. Hasham then offered us some of his opium waving a large pipe at us. Despite the lack of a drink on this festive day (by now I would usually be on the port and watching Bad Santa with my brother) we declined.

Our Xmas lunch was two large fish, stew and a huge pile of rice. Andy followed Hashams lead and tried eating with his fingers but left more of his lunch on the floor than in his mouth. Later on we went out into the desert where we met a nomadic family. The

mother of five told us she finds the city boring and prefers her tent in the desert. They owned about $80,000 worth of goats and choose their lifestyle but to look at the children with bare feet and dirt on their faces you would assume they were poor.

After a dinner of chicken kebabs with great home made nan bread we had just enough time to play two games of pool against the local club owners. The whole hall stopped, all games put on hold to come and watch the farangi. Andy and I put up a good fight considering and kept it competitive but we were never going to win. With the normal order resumed everyone returned to their games while Andy and I submitted to more requests of photos.

Having now visited a number of Iranian homes I have noticed a common theme. They seem to me to emphasise the community of family over the self. There are usually only one or two small bedrooms meaning everyone spends their time in together in a very large communal room. This room will be lavishly decorated with elaborate Persian rugs covering the entire floor. Comfy cushions will surround the walls and there will always be fresh fruit and Chai on the go. People usually sit and chat rather than staring blankly at a television. Meals are an important family affair gathering everyone together and can be drawn out over a long period. To me all this, ingrains a great sense of community and is so much better than numbing your mind with TV.

It was time to leave Ghir, we had already stayed longer than planned due to repeated requests. Esfahan lay in wait, the cultural capital of Iran and known in Persian literature as ‘half the world’ meaning that to see it is to see half the world…

P.S. In case you missed it, for your viewing pleasure, out TV debut in Iran:

The Cycle Diaries TV Debut

6 Responses to “The Princes of Persia”

  1. John Robertson says:

    Great article: thanks for sharing your experiences in Iran, really interesting stuff. Love your comment ‘I have never known a country where the perception was more out of kilter with the reality’ and with all the current posturing and sanctions going on I intend to tell as many people as I can about that. The bus ride? Well I think that can be forgiven under the circumstances………

  2. […] objectives.  An entertaining blog indeed, inspiring for sure and from their latest diary entry, The Princes of Persia, it sounds like they’ve gone far in challenging preconceptions of people and places. Although […]

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