Bicycle touring in Iran, in a word… exhausting. The visual overload of crowded Bazaars, jaw dropping tiled Mosques, so many friendly offers of chai, food and to stay the night is why Iran is so exhaustingly amazing. From the first day Jasi and I entered, we were blown away by the energy on the streets. The streets, shops and markets are alive up until the very last hours of the day.
To travel through Iran requires a lot of stamina, something we had developed whilst on the bikes. However, we were still not prepared for Iran. We still found ourselves collapsing into bed, having well overeaten and completely exhausted from the curious questions of the people we met.
Their curious questions are natural ones for a country that has been in recent times been spread across the worlds newspapers. “What does your country think about Iran?”, “what was your thoughts on Iran before travelling?”, “what do you think about the Iranian people?”. They seem to know the general answer to the first two questions, but are so proud and their smiles grow when we tell them that the Iranian people have been so kind and wonderful to us. As we tell them this, they put their hand on their heart and thank us.
Our initial apprehensions of Iran now seem a million miles away. We observe the many rules of the Muslim faith and continue to be amazed by the friendliness and hospitality from Iranians. The everyday rules here take a little bit of learning and seeking out, but the Islamic calendar is very public and we had entered Iran during a very important event.
We had entered during the 50 day mourning of Imam Husseins death. A very respected past Imam (leader) of Islamic faith. For these 50 days, black flags line the streets and men and women cry in anguish on the anniversary of their loss of Imam Hussein 1300 years ago. During this time, Imam Hussein’s stalls line the streets, offering chai, hot milk and dates covered in sesame sauce. Needless to say, we respectfully benefited from this important calendar event.
8 Days of solid riding had led us to Isfahan. For 8 straight days we faced an unrelenting head wind, thousands of trucks and a gradual uphill to 2200m on our way to beautiful Isfahan. Our only salvation during these days was the incredible service of the Iranian Red Crescent Service (IRCS). The IRCS is alike the red cross service and assists those in need. The IRCS centers are stationed every 60km and are always manned to help in any emergency situation.
During this stretch we stayed with IRCS four times and they provided us with free dinner and breakfast and of course a place to rest our weary heads. The staff were incredibly friendly and helpful. From then we learnt correct CPR skills, were shown the amazing emergency road accident tools, shown nearby beautiful sights in the ambulance and played many ping pong matches into the early hours of the morning. Thank you IRCS.
Whilst in Iran, we have almost forgotten the color of our tent. The Iranian people have not given our tent a chance, and it wasn’t until we found ourselves completely alone in the middle of a desert did we finally get a chance to pitch our tent and enjoy a night completely to ourselves.
And what a pitch it was. We had left Varzaneh and we were heading to Yazd and that meant crossing 200km of dessert self-supported. We had 16 liters of water between us, rice and pomegranates, we were set. Our first destination to pitch the tent was the crumbling ruins of the Khargooshi Caravanserai. An enormous trading market place left completely abandoned on the ancient silk road.
As we tiredly wheeled our bike through the enormous arched entrance, one couldn’t help but vividly imagine the life that once filled this square. A central waterhole fed by a natural spring lay in the middle of the square. On all sides of the square are small arches that would have served as living quarters, trading floors or animal pens. It is difficult to describe the feeling we had whilst cooking rice and beans that night, knowing that a few hundred years ago this square was bustling with traders, smelling of spices and probably had chai simmering under every arched dome.
Reluctantly we left the Caravanserai with 10 liters of water and many kms of desert to pass. The sand made the riding very slow and in thicker patches we needed to push the bikes. However, the sand thinned and the wind began to blow from behind. We were completely alone in some of the most incredible landscapes we had seen on the trip. As ever this journey throws up many pleasant surprises and 30 km into the day we stumbled across a remote mining town. The locals insisted that Jasi and I stay the night with their families. The family did not speak a word of English but smiles were enough and with our limited knowledge of Farsi (Persian Language) we thanked the family for their warm hospitality.
From every small town there is of course a mosque of some style as the center piece of the town. The Mosques are not just a place for prayer but as a community meeting point. Upon entering the last small town before the city of Yazd, we asked locals if there was a place for us to stay or pitch our tent. Without question, three young boys led us to their Mosque and were made to feel at home inside their sacred mosque. This was to be a truly unique experience.
We patiently sipped tea as we observed their 5pm prayer. We were then invited to have dinner with them on the floor of the mosque. Men and women are separated within the mosque whilst praying and also whilst eating by a large green curtain. Although every man sitting at the long carpet for dinner knew that I was not Muslim, I was made to feel so welcome. Jasmin was surrounded all night by young girls with hundreds of curious questions. Two of the girls came back to the mosque later in the night when everyone else had left. One of them brought a ring and the other a bracelet as a gift for Jasi. So kind and yet again presents for Jasi and nothing for me… I am getting used to it here in Iran.
Awoken by the 5 am prayer we set our GPS finally for Yazd. In the Mosque is where I write this blog post. We will refill our water sacks in the next couple of minutes and leave finally for the desert city of Yazd.
Matt and Jasi