Arriving at the Taf Tan border was interesting as the week before 5 border guards were kidnapped and found dead the following day. The custom formalities were simple at Taf Tan and took about half an hour. As we left, Pakistani customs reminded Clary to cover up before entering the Iran gate. We were greeted by “WELCOME TO IRAN”. Customs was organized and fast on the Iranian side and our Army escort was already waiting to take us on perfect roads out of the danger zone. It took less than 3 hours to reach Zahadan. (Iran part of Baluchistan) For us the journey was easy and with a well-organized escort system in both Pakistan and Far South-East Iran for foreigners we never felt unsafe.
SOUTH EAST IRAN
If you tell your average Iranian that you want to go to Zahedan, chances are they will think you need your head examined. Zahedan is normally associated with opium smugglers, kidnapping and religious tensions — not tourism. We had a mandatory army escort from the Pakistan border to Zahedan and were not allowed to leave the compound without an escort. I must admit though, journeying alongside the border with Afghanistan and Pakistan where it appears smuggled gasoline is carried by every second car you meet and the stories of opium smugglers kidnapping foreigners in exchanged for the opium confiscated by police was a bit of a worry. No doubt in my mind that Police, Army and Customs are all involved in this business as it is done very openly and for all to see! The fumes from the cargo are so strong that you know what is on board when utes, trucks and buses pass. Anyway, next morning we had to go to the police station and register our arrival. The process took a while and the police chief appeared to be in no mood to expedite matters. For over an hour, we sat on a bench in his office as crack addicts, bag snatchers, and young reckless drivers were brought in and locked up.
It did not take long (at the first army checkpoint) that I was told to do the same. No shorts but long trousers RIGHT NOW. Most men wore long white robes and round religious caps, many with long beards; most women were wearing the burqa. Zahedan is located near Pakistan and Afghanistan, only about 41 km (25 mi) south of the tripoint of the borders of the three countries. We were told Zahedan is a dangerous and violent city with many bombings. Hence, we left town the next day towards Bam. Iran is a safe place to travel and it is true Iranian people are very friendly and everyone will ask you the question: what do you hear about Iran in your country? (That is those who speak English)
The City of Bam, situated on the Silk Road and long famed for its ancient citadel, became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2004. The region around the city has long been known for its date palms, which are among the most productive in Iran. It is best known as the site of the ancient citadel Arg-e Bam, once one of the world’s largest mud-brick complexes. Located on a hilltop, the citadel consisted of a series of three concentric walls made of mud brick and palm timbers, the outer wall of which enclosed the old city. In 2003 the region around Bam was struck by a massive earthquake that killed more than 26,000 people and devastated the modern city, and the ancient citadel with a history dating back 2000 years ago was largely destroyed.
Our next stop was Yazd also called the Bride of the Desert, an architecturally unique city. It is also known in Iran for the high quality of its handicrafts and Silk weaving. The city has a history of over 3,000 years. Yazd has some of the finest examples of traditional desert Persian residential architecture. Because of its climate, it has one of the largest networks of qanats in the world, and Yazdi qanat makers are considered the most skilled in Iran.
To deal with the extremely hot summers, many old buildings in Yazd have magnificent windcatchers, and large underground areas. The city is also home to prime examples of yakhchals, the latter of which were used to store ice retrieved from glaciers in the nearby mountains.
The palace complex at Persepolis was founded by Darius the Great around 518 years B.C, although more than 100 years passed before it was finally completed. The wealth of the Persian empire is/was evident while walking around this magnificent site which lie at the foot of Kouh-e Rahmat, or “Mountain of Mercy,” in the plain of Marv Dasht about 50 kilometres north of Shiraz. Its majestic audience halls and residential palaces perished in flames when Alexander the Great conquered and looted Persepolis in 330 B.C. and, according to Plutarch, carried away its treasures on 20,000 mules and 5,000 camels. From the time of its barbaric destruction until A.D. 1620, when its site was first identified, Persepolis lay buried under its own ruins. At our overnight camp in the carpark of Persepolis we were joined by dozens of camping loving Iranians. The next morning we left for Shiraz, the capital city of the Fars province with lots of Persian culture. It is also being said to be the origin of one of the best wines in the world called Syrah (no longer). People, especially youths who almost all speak English well enough, all want to talk to us. They’re all very welcoming and the amount of invitations to come and visit their home were many. Places we visited were, Saadi Tomb, Hafez Tomb, Arg of Karim Khan. Esfahan is one of the oldest cities of Iran with a 1million population, located 414 km south of Tehran and 481 km north of Shiraz. This 2500 years old city served as Persia’s capital from 1598 to 1722.
The city is known for its silver filigree and metal work and the abundance of great historical monuments. Esfahan is under domination of Arabs, like other cities of Iran. The stunning mosques of Esfahan are among the most beautiful and interesting in the world. Imam Mosque (it was called Shah mosque before Iran’s Revolution) it is an excellent example of Islamic architecture of Iran. The Shah Mosque of Esfahan is one of the everlasting masterpieces of architecture in Iran. It is registered, along with the Naghsh-i Jahan Square, as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Royal Palace is forty-eight metres high and there are seven floors, each accessible by a difficult spiral staircase. Esfahan has some beautiful bridges, an example is The Shahrestan Bridge built in the 11th Century. It is one of the oldest surviving bridges in Iran. Khaju Bridge, built in 1650, is the finest bridge in the province of Esfahan. There is also The Bridge of 33 Arches, built in 1602. We read on the internet that this area operates many nuclear facilities east of Esfahan, notably including Iran’s uranium conversion facility. The site also houses three small research reactors, constructed with Chinese and North Korean assistance. The Esfahan site also houses Iran’s largest missile production facility. Our next stop was the holy city of Qum. Qum is the smallest province in Iran. The province has an area of approximately 12,000 square kilometres. It is bounded by Tehran and Sāweh to the north, Delījān and Kāshān to the south, and the Salt Lake and Tafresh to the east. The province includes one city, four regions, nine rural districts and 256 villages. Since it adjoins the central desert, Qum has a semi-desert climate. During the Islamic Revolution in 1979 CE, the population of Qum had reached about 400,000. After the revolution, the city underwent rapid growth and its current population approaches 1,000,000, many whom are religious students coming from all over the world to study in this great centre of Islamic.
Aside from being a world-renowned centre of Islamic knowledge, Qum is also a commercial city, due to its location at the crossroads that connects northern Iran to its south, and the vast number of pilgrims. Qum consists of over 200 Islamic education and research centres and organisations, catering for over 40,000 scholars and students from over 80 countries of the world. Almost all its women are covered from head to toe. Mullahs walk around in flowing brown robes. The seminaries are packed with earnest young students, steeped in the values of the Islamic Revolution. Locals say there are informers around every corner. We are told the city is home to many of the baseej militiamen who have beaten and killed demonstrators in Tehran.
Unlicensed television satellite dishes have been confiscated. Codes banning unmarried couples from consorting in public are rigorously upheld. The discontent is aired quietly, behind closed doors this is where you detect splits between the generations and those have access to the Western media. It appears to us that Qum has been infiltrated by the same forces of modernisation that have transformed other big cities of Iran. Locals tell us that not that long ago it was illegal to sell even T-shirts. Qum even has its own well-known red-light district, where mullahs can get licences to be married just for a few hours or a day to a pretty woman. (This way it is not prostitution!!!)
TEHRAN to TURKEY BORDER
Tehran traffic has been described by many as very hectic and dangerous. Arriving from Europe this maybe so but arriving from India it appears well organized and with perfect roads so our experience was quite relaxed. Except the many signs NO TRUCKS forcing us into many detours, the metropolis of Tehran enjoys a huge network of nearly 400 kilometres of freeways interchanges, ramps, and loops. Tehran is situated in the north-central part of Iran, on the slope of the Alborz Mountain.
As the national capital it is the most populated city in Iran covering area of 1500 sq. kilometres at an altitude of 1200 meters. Tehran has a population 14 million in the wider metropolitan area, and is the largest city in Western Asia. Tehran has the most modernized infrastructure in the country. The Azadi Tower has been the longstanding symbol of Tehran. It was constructed to commemorate the 2,500th anniversary of the Persian Empire, and was originally named “Shahyad Tower”; after the Iranian revolution, its name changed to “Azadi Tower,” meaning “Freedom Tower.” We are not real big city people plus Europe was calling so we did not spend a lot of time in Tehran. Next was Tabriz located about 600 KM North West of Tehran and is surrounded by Iraq to the west, Turkey to the North West and Azarbaijan to the north. Tabriz is the capital of Azerbaijan province and one of the major trade centres in Iran. Tabriz is the fifth most populous city in Iran after Tehran, Mashhad, Isfahan, and Karaj. With a population of around 3 million,
Tabriz is a major hub for heavy industries including automobile, machine tools, oil and petrochemical and cement production. It was here that we filled up both diesel tanks (6-euro cents a litre or 9 AUD per litre) 35 km before the Turkish border. At Sero our last Iran Rials were spend on more diesel. The border crossing was fast and efficient . Only 40 minutes and it was bye bye Iran after we had our last chai with the Iran border guards.