14. Travel report: Iran 23.04.2008 - 22.06.2008

Bandar-e-Abbas, Shiraz, Esfahan, Kashan, Teheran

The western media, we believe, publishes often misconceptions about the Islamic Republic of Iran. We experience a fascinating country and open, hospitable people. We are astonished to find so many women in the street, in contrast to the Islamic countries we traveled before. Women here are self-confident and in the universities, more than 60% of the students are girls.

The first 4 days of cycling in Iran we were fighting against the heat, with temperatures between 42 and 48 degrees C. To wear long trousers, a long-sleeved blouse that covers the bottom and a scarf around the neck (so I can immediately cover the hair as soon as I take off the helmet) is quite hard for me in this heat, but it is the dress code we are obliged to observe. But we are so thankful, that over and over again, car- and truck-drivers stopped to offer us cold water and fruits.

On the road to the north, the traffic is quite heavy with a lot of trucks. And through an 800m tunnel with no ventilation at all, we thought we have to suffocate in all these exhaust fumes.

We are very happy when we reach Shiraz, the city of poets. Here we stay in an air-conditioned room in a hotel and are able to recover. In between we visit Persepolis, a magnificent site built 518 to 331 BC, and we especially liked the superb reliefs.

Toward Esfahan we cycle through a mountainous area with snow covered peaks, an impressive landscape. How nice after having seen so much desert. The wind is blowing stronger and growing to a storm. As long as we have the wind in the back it is fine, but then there is a bend in the road and it hits us from the side. When Pius gets blown over a steep slope, we search for a place to put up our tent, and so we hide behind an industrial building. Next morning it is calm and we reach one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Esfahan is enchanting and worth a travel. The second largest square after Tiananmen square in Beijing, the splendid Imam square, surrounded by the arched arcades in which the bazaar is situated and is dominated by the Imam Mosque, built in 1611 - 1638. The blue-tiled mosaic designs, mostly floral patterns, are so beautiful and perfectly proportioned, the porches, walls and portals being just exquisite. To sip a cup of tea on top of the roof above the bazaar and watch the sunset, the people on the square, the grandeur, beauty and harmony is just un unforgettable experience. But the city has much more to offer, more superb Islamic mosques, majestic bridges across the river, palaces and beautiful parks.

The desert city of Yazd is famous for the mud-brick buildings with winding lanes and wind towers which catch the merest breath of wind and funnel it to the underground living rooms. And it is also here, we meet the charming and likeable couple, Angelina from Paris and Stefano from Lugano. http://sionroulait.blogsmarieclaire.fr They cycle a similar route, and we were very happy to spend some evenings together, chatting and discussing about the travel. Gladly we met them again several times. In one full moon night we 5 cyclists - Philippe from Bonn was joining us too – were camping next to a ruined caravanserai, in the background the mountains. It was so great to chat in these atmospheric surroundings until we almost fell asleep.

Teheran, the 16 Mio capital, offers not much, except that we are able to stock up our reserves, and the embassies to apply for visas. So we were able to collect the visa for Uzbekistan which was sent from Dubai to here, and also applying for the Turkmenistan visa. Not having to wait for it, we are able to collect it in Mashad.

The traffic out of Teheran was murderous and it would have been much smarter to take a bus. Across a pass we reach the north side of the Alborz Mountains. The vegetation is changing drastically, changing into a green landscape with wooded hills and rice fields.

At the Caspian Sea we indulge in one day off. The beach feeling is unusual being fully dressed. But on the campground we get spoiled with tea, sweets and delicious homemade food. As a traveler here in Iran you really feel as a guest. Once more we regretted not to be able to talk Farsi (Persian), not to be able to really communicate with these wonderful people.

Many hills and valleys we cycled across, often fighting against the wind, from time to time enjoying being pushed by the back wind. What we always enjoy is to put up the tent in the evenings, whether it is away of anything in the desert or steppe, next to a village, at a farm or – as most Iranians do – in a municipal park, surrounded by many people who ask interested and who spoil us with deliciousnesses. Iran is especially for cyclists an amazing country. A country that is – except traffic – very safe, which has varied landscapes, with a rich and ancient Persian culture, providing architectural and archaeological backdrop and a kindness and hospitality which we do not know in Switzerland in this deepness.

In Mashad we are collecting our visa. The city is to compare with the Vatican in Rome. It is a holy city with about 20 Mio pilgrims every year, who visit the tomb and the mosque of the worshipped Shiite 8th Imam Reza.

On the 22nd of June we will enter Turkmenistan for 5 days, that is the only time we got granted to cross the country. After this, we will travel in Turkmenistan for about a month. Since China is not issuing visas at the moment, we are making new plans, studying books and maps. One suggestion is Tadjikistan.

on the road in Iran

Lunch break at a concrete factory

Camping in Meymant

Imam square Esfahan

Philipp, Stefano and Angelina
on the road in Iran

Lunch break by a turkmenistan Family

Camping in the town park of Bojnurd

Imam Reza mosque in Mashad