Iran is for me largely a back-in-time visit. Since 1972 it has been 47 years since I visited this beautiful country a few times. Many memories float to the surface as I tour the country. I was in my early twenties and it was the first really distant country that I visited. Of course much has changed in these years. Not to mention the 1979 Iranian Revolution , after which it became much harder to get a visa. The hostility with the United States in particular has not helped relations with the West, but many stories from overlanders have taught me that Iran is in the top of the most friendly and hospitable population.
This becomes immediately clear to me when, after crossing the border between Turkmenistan and Iran, I have to refuel for the first time at an Iranian gas pump on the way to the holy city of Mashad. It appears that you cannot refuel without a special credit card. I did not know. A helpful truck driver hands me his phone after which someone explains to me how this system works in Dutch. It appears to be his cousin who lives in Holland and is now visiting family in Mashad. The card can be uploaded up to a maximum amount to prevent the cheap gas on the black market from being sold on profiteering in Afghanistan and other neighboring countries. A liter of diesel costs around 7 Euro cents here. Then driving a truck with a consumption of 25 liters in 100 km is no longer such a big loss. The friendly truck driver does not ask for an extra amount for the use of his card, which, incidentally, is customary later when using someone’s card. The moment and the person then determine the final price. But it remains a pittance compared to the average European price. The diesel contains a large amount of sulfur, which is harmful to modern engines. Above Euro 4 you really have to add AdBlue which is not available everywhere. But Piggy has no Euronorm at the age of 37 and is not bothered by this. Another reason to travel around the world with an old car. Little electronics and a relatively simple engine that can be repaired in these countries.
Along the road of the main roads of Iran are every 50 meters large pictures of young men, the martyrs of the tragic Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988) The traffic has multiplied in the 47 years, the roads are widened and in reasonable condition , but the handling is still as bad as before. As a trucker it is necessary to have 8 pairs of eyes. If spiders could drive … … Catching up on the right and left, driving too slow or too fast, parking on the road and then reading the newspaper and they have never heard of pre-sorting. Right or left priority? Everyone takes priority and the go-getter wins. It is remarkable that barely honking is done by an angry driver who is cut, because everyone does it and accepts it from each other. Also remarkable that I hardly see any accidents.
In Mashad I park Piggy next to a row of Pakistani and Indian pilgrim buses, recognizable by the extra adornment on the buses, busy texts and lots of chrome work. Together with me they come here for the Shrine of the eighth imam of the Shiites, Imam Reza . Things are different now than they were 47 years ago. As a non-Muslim it was then hardly possible to enter the mosque and the mausoleum. I remember the stories that female tourists with the then popular hotlegs were chased off the site by pushing burning cigarette butts on their legs. Now that is completely different. The sacred terrain has expanded considerably and as a tourist you can penetrate deep into the sanctuary. Women are offered a chador where the hairs must be covered well. A guide will come with you to explain in good English about this sanctuary of Imam Reza. A detailed explanation is given of the difference between the Shiite and Sunni branches of the faith, and in the meantime a clothing guard is rearranging the chador of a Chinese fellow tourist because her long strands of hair appear under the cloth. It is an impressive spectacle in this setting of golden domes and minarets, prayer rooms with ceilings and walls set with a mosaic of small mirrors, a characteristic of Shiite mosques. Take off your shoes, because not only are you not allowed to enter the sanctuary with shoes, but that would also be a shame of the beautiful Persian carpets that cover the entire floor. Prayers are being called on the large square. I walk past the hundreds of women dressed in black chador who get on their knees and take many photos with my phone. This is allowed, albeit discreetly. Photographing with a large camera is forbidden because explosives can be hidden in it, the guide tells me.
When trying to change dollars at the bank, I am directed to the street. The rate there is 3 times better, says the cashier. Incomprehensible to me but I will not worry about that. Iranian money is a disaster. One Euro is worth 130,000 Rials. For convenience, people prefer to talk about 13,000 Toman. And to make it even easier, people often say 13! New banknotes seem to come into circulation regularly. New banknotes often have a slightly different color and a different size, which in turn makes them look like a banknote of a different value. When paying it is therefore important to first inquire whether they are talking about Rial or Toman. Counting the number of zeros on the notes is a bit difficult for me without reading glasses, so I often go wrong and am about to pay way too little or too much. But luckily the Iranians are honest so that I can show my bundle of banknotes, after which they can pick the right notes themselves. A meal can easily cost you a million.
In recent years, the dress code for women has become more flexible. In cities with important shrines such as Mashad and Qom there are still many women in the all-covering black chador, but in other cities relatively many women are rebellious enough to wear their shawls far back, leaving their hair, sometimes with a strikingly colored lock, is visible. Many modern women wear make-up, wear modern clothing and an attentive tourist occasionally discovers women, but sometimes men, with a patch on their nose. I have to admit that quite a few people are walking around with a big, angular nose. Nowadays, the plastic surgeon knows how to handle this professionally.
The coast of the Caspian Sea is nowadays a series of towns and villages with quite a few resorts. There is a constant flow of traffic from east to west and vice versa. What a difference with 47 years ago when it was so quiet there. The now bare rice fields that are so beautiful in the summer are hidden behind the flats and modern shopping centers. More inland the mountains of the Alborz Mountains rise. The winding roads lead me to beautiful places to stay next to lakes, old castles and special mountain villages. The weather is not always pleasant here. I regularly drive in thick fog on slippery roads up to more than 2000 meters. The evenings are lonely so I go to bed early. I will sleep on the first floor in the guesthouse. I.e. in the rear compartment of the cabin. Farshin, my host here in Busher (on the Persian Gulf) tells everyone that Piggy has three floors with a lift. How luxurious can it be.
The people are so friendly that you can hardly imagine it is possible. Stops a car next to me while I’m walking. Hello, Where do you come from (always the first question), where do you go, I can bring you. When I refuse, he asks if I want a banana. In my polite refusal, he gets out of the car and takes a good bunch of bananas and some mandarins and apples from the trunk. He had just been to the market. So I am regularly offered food, an entrance ticket is even bought for me because I do not have enough money with me and so on. In Rasht I make friends who help me with explaining and installing a VPN app to use Facebook in Iran. They know exactly how the digital blockades by the regime can be circumvented. They tell me they are not free in this country. If we talk a little too loudly about this one realizes that our neighbor might be listening, so we should continue our conversation at another time. In the Tehran metro I am sitting next to a boy who gives me his cell phone on which he has texted that Iran is not a free country. With his thumb and forefinger he gestures the contours of a beard and mustache and shakes his head. The moullahs do not give him that freedom. But apparently only a few crave a revolution. They see much more salvation in an evolution. World history shows that revolution only ends in the next misery.
In the mountains north of Qazvin, I am stopped by the police. Whether I want to show my passport. First I want to know the reason for this arrest, but they don’t give it. I finally give them a copy, but they want to see the original. I refuse because before you know it they will keep your passport. The agent is very friendly and speaks some English. Because of my refusal, I have to go to the police station. Once there, I am treated to a cup of tea. It will be a pleasant conversation and when I feel more at ease I give my passport and the requested car documents. The bottom line is that they are just curious where I come from, where I am going and more questions like that. After we all stand in front of Piggy to take a selfie, I can leave. My new friends come in handy the next day when I have problems with the water pump. As you know, I am not exactly technically inclined, so I drive the 40 km back to the police station to ask for help. After some telephone work they take me to a mechanic who repairs the case (water hose loose!). Then I say goodbye to my police friends.
Tehran is the next place full of memories. Piggy is parked on the south side of the city in the immense parking lot of the mausoleum of Ruholla Khomeiny. It is currently not busy there and I have the parking space to myself. The mausoleum is of course new to me. Here too I am perplexed by the flexibility with which I can enter the mosque and the extremely large halls with ceilings and walls covered with mirror mosaic. It is true that I have to leave my backpack and large camera behind and after a search I can enter the sanctuary. No supervisor is needed. Photographing by telephone is no problem and even the last resting place of Khomeiny is also accessible to non-Muslims. It is an impressive experience. (whatever you think of this man)
From the mausoleum, the city of Tehran is easily accessible by metro in all directions. First of all I look for my dear places of the time, such as the home of my parents who lived here between 1972 and 1975 and Darband where we often drank tea on wooden platforms in the mountain stream. The house has almost disappeared and Darband has become a fairground attraction. Perhaps it is not good to return after such a long time. The memories are thereby harmed. Of course I also go to the other sights such as the vast bazar, the Golestan Palace, the summer palace of the last Shah and more, but after a few days the bustle of the city becomes too much for me and I head south.
In Qom is the second most important shrine of Iran. Namely the mausoleum of Fatima, the sister of Imam Reza (of Mashad) 47 years ago you could barely get out of the car here, let alone take pictures. Now you are welcome as a tourist in the now extensive sanctuary. Admittedly under the guidance of a very friendly moullah who gives me extensive explanation. Here shooting with a large camera is possible, but entering the holiest part where Fatima is buried is not. When I want to leave with Piggy, I get some delicious oranges tucked in from a fruit trader across the street.
And so I follow the standard tourist route further south. The ancient bazaar of Kashan, the beautiful mosques, madrassas, palaces and gardens of Isfahan, the ruins of Persepolis, the capital of the mighty Persian empire under Darius, Xerxes and Artaxerxes and plundered by Alexander the Great and Shiraz, the city of the great Persian poets Hafez and Saadi, whose mausoleums attract hundreds of pilgrims every day. Memories, memories, memories …
In Isfahan I visit Arvin Pro-Fabrications, a work place of Vrezh and his brother who is known to Overlanders. I come for some light welding work and finish with a total service and a number of other repairs. A large list. The tires are changed, the oil and filters replaced, steering column checked, oil leakage resolved, new brake shoes and many other things. On the way trot he south, I sleep in the desert under the beautiful starry sky, in parking lots, next to mosques, and the app IOverlander supports the search for overnight places. Traveling has become so much easier after the advent of the digital age.
The Iranian government is not always happy with these digital developments. The violent riots that arose after the 300% increase in gas prices lately were sharply suppressed and the entire country was cut off from the internet. A measure never applied before. Of course messages trickle in. Between 200 and 300 deaths and more than a thousand arrests. After the riots were suppressed, the population was sent a text message asking for information in order to be able to better detect the “wheel turners”. Apart from the obstruction in my internet use, I have not reported anything. I was mostly in the desert, but I hear from other overlanders that they witnessed car fires, barricades of burning tires and also burning banks and gas stations. Shiraz in particular experienced the most serious riots.
The riots are mainly due to the poor economic situation. After the economic sanctions, people must continue to tighten their belt, layoffs and companies go bankrupt. There is an influx of street vendors today. Shoe and clothing sellers and others cannot pay their rent and are forced to sell their wares on the street.
In the meantime I have arrived in Busher, a port town on the Persian Gulf. I have made my camp at the Stadium Sports Bar of the sporty Farshid. A favorite place of overlanders. Farshid works almost daily to maintain his six-pack and other musculature. He likes to show videos of his training and makes sure that his hair is in good shape. He is an excellent host, who makes delicious espresso’s accompanied by a warm, freshly baked cookie full of calories. My belt can be tightened again with a hole less.
My Iranian visa still has a week left. Soon I will drive to Bandar Abbas to take the ferry to Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates. The next episode of the journey will start
TAKE A LOOK AT PHOTO’S AND VIDEO’S OF IRAN
MY PORTFOLIO OF MY TRAVELS FROM 1987 CAN BE SEEN AND/OR BOUGHT HERE AT STOCK PHOTO AGENCY