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Iran – Crossing the bridge of kindness

A glance into the past

I grew up with an Iranian national in my quiet inner western Sydney neighbourhood during my early teen years. Ashkan always used to crack sunflower seeds perfectly, like my grandfather did to pumpkin seeds – a skill I was always envious of. Listening to Ash’s conversations with his family, it always sounded like they were singing to each other whenever they spoke farsi.

Ashkan used to tell me stories of his home back in Iran, so I grew up with occasional glimpses in my mind of what was actually there. Travelers I had met on this journey were saying such wonderful things about Iran, and even though I had heard Ashkan’s stories many a time, Iran remained shrouded in mystery. I had never contemplated I’d visit such a place, until I decided to ride a motorcycle home to Sydney from London… Thanks Greg.

A first hand introduction to Iran

With all my knowledge of Iran amounting to nothing more then a empty purse, it was time for another education. What better way to learn about a country then to visit and see it for myself? In I rolled through the Nordooz border between Armenia and Iran, with a handshake and cheeky smile from the Iranian border guards.

A short drive away from the Nordooz border, the scenery will captivate you!

I was immediately set upon by Iranians while riding down road 12. Entire families waved vigorous hellos from their cars, from miniscule infants to wrinkled old gentleman. Blokes shouted passionately out of windows “WELCOME TO IRAN!!!”, faces lit up like bright bonfires. Within a half hour of entering Iran, I had been invited to lunch. We were off to a fantastic introduction.

During this warm welcome in East Azerbaijan province, towering mountains loomed above me, casting long shadows from their earth brown kingdoms of rock. An aqua hued Aras river ran alongside Trumpet and I as we happily whizzed down the highway towards Tabriz. (The Aras river runs between Iran, Armenia, Turkey, Azerbaijan and Nakchivan). The scenery was as good as it gets – raw and unadulterated.

Iran

The scenery is… well the picture says it all I suppose.

Somewhere along the line, I learnt that Iranians were a naturally hospitable, warm hearted people. The travellers stories were true – people here were a bundle of warmth and happiness. Evidently, somewhere along another rather twisted line, our regular mainstream media sources had got it all wrong. Again.

Smiles all round at the fitter and turners in Iran!

It’s the little things

I crashed twice in Iran, once taking a dirt road off the highway to Tehran and again in the desert between a small town called Varzaneh and the famous silk road city of Yazd. I can admit I’m a terribler rider and sometimes I feel I spend more time eating sand then I do standing on the pegs. Riding aside, these were invaluable moments in themselves – they led me to meet some cool characters.

The Godfather, Reza

“The Godfather”- my Iranian Santa Claus and now good friend Reza. Limping into Motociclet, Tehran on a burnt out clutch and the front end of Trumpet held together with cable ties and duct tape, his first words to me were “Dutchie, do not worry, we will fix everything”. From this moment moving forward he did – which also featured him and his family hosting Dave, Ev and I for Christmas!

Angels come in all kinds of forms… even ones that drive monstrous trucks through the desert!

Meet the thirst quencher – after crashing in the middle of the desert, somewhere between Yazd and Varzaneh, I’d managed to tear off a pannier and reshape the the pannier rack into something resembling a demolition site. After a quick bush fix, I got underway.

Something however, didn’t feel quite right with the steering. As it turned out, I’d dropped a second pannier a few hundred metres back on the sandy, rocky road. The gods of the road sent this rough angel over in a huge, noisy mercedes truck. Turns out he’d picked up the pannier for me, and with a laugh returned it, along with a cool soft drink and a friendly smile.

Oh, this again. Well, at least the scenery was good to wind down to!

When I was completely lost in southern Tehran, a woman who could speak english helped me get back to where I needed to go. She took me to the bus stop, paid my fare, then walked me to a local bus service and confirmed my stop with the driver. I thanked her, and ended up having a conversation with a smartly dressed gentleman in a fine grandpa jacket about his sons in Melbourne.

The back road to Yazd.

Strangers can be the nicest people, and I’m very glad I was open minded enough to meet these rockstars. I feel it’s pretty amazing that people can be so welcoming to a dirty, smelly bloke like me on a motorcycle, I mean the Iranian people really took me under their wing. These small acts of kindness that come from the heart have completely changed this blokes’s ride across the world.

“You’d better be careful in Iran…” – that old myth

Was supposed to be careful of these amazingly warm people?

What was I being supposively being careful of in Iran? Truck drivers that deliver pannier boxes into my hands with a smile? Too many invitations for chai and selfies? New friends who welcomed me into their homes and wouldn’t let me lift a finger to help? Many people thought I was crossing into a dedicated no mans land. How wrong they were.

I parked my bike outside the old city of Ghurtan. When I came back these sweet old gents were cleaning the bike and offering me a place to sleep for the night. Top notch butter!

Frankly speaking, I don’t believe the Iranian governments political actions are a reflection of its people’s views. Iranians want to show you that they are percieved wrongly by western media. In reality, the people of Iran just want to hang out and have a laugh. The people will pour out their hearts to you, and by sowing those seeds, unforgettable friendships will bloom and flourish.

Enthusiasm in meeting foriegners runs strong throughout Iran, from young to old, people will be happy to shake hands and say hello.  Maybe share a chat over a cup of tea, and if you’re not careful, end up in their home for meal with their families. So tell me, what was I supposed to be careful of Iran? Putting too many sugar cubes in my cup of tea?

A visual feast

The mountains surrounding Nordooz

Entering from Nordooz border, you will be enthralled by the magic that has been seeded over generations of natural activity. Green bushes criss cross with thin yellow grass, which somehow, grows out of a grey rocky ground. Intimidating mountains glare from above, looking the part of an ancient, oversized stegosaurus in east Azerbaijan.

Gems such as this mosque can be found all over the silk road!

Slighty further south west, outside of Tabriz lies Kandovan, Irans own version of world famous Kapadokya. Caves run into the side of surrounding hills on the way to the miniature angled peaks of Kandovan houses. The natural spring water is claimed to have some fairly potent cures for ails and ills in there – which I’d believe after observing a few old blokes shovel snow at ridiculous speeds.

The silk road city of Yazd

The silk road beckons from the Isfahan, Yazd and Fars provinces, south of the immense concrete jungle of Tehran. Intricately designed mosques with masterfully designed domes in shades of blues and yellows gently dominate the relaxed atmospheres of the silk road triangle. The Lut desert looms to the south east of the huge Dasht-e-Kavir, holding some unique secrets inside it’s vast ocean of sand.

Welcome to Mars – Kaluts

Kerman, yet another city on the silk road (300km east of Yazd), lays south of the awe inspiring Kaluts – unique rocky outcrops that spear out of the orange Lut Desert. Dunes are decorated in quad bike trails in front of a horizon covered in faraway mountains. You’ll have trouble deciding which is better – the silence or the scenery… but why choose when you can have both?

There is so many other places to describe and many places I missed out on seeing – the Zagros, the Alborz, the Caspian sea, Golestan, Mashad…. the list goes on. But I think you get the point. I spent 6 weeks in Iran, and as time usually goes, it wasn’t anywhere near long enough.

Out on the salt lake flats, somewhere in the desert.

A list of grievances

My main grievance was that I had a very difficult time remaining somewhat slim, these food crazy Iranians were feeding me too much bush tucker! By the closure of the ride through Sistan-Beluchistan, Anni was kindly pointing out that I might be carrying some unknown babies – there was a dangerous looking belly overhanging my belt buckle. It had finally happened – I was now in the metamorphosis stage of becoming Santa Claus.

Everybody has a smile on their face, including the foreigners!

The only real proper grievance I had was the disco carnival on the road, at least that’s what it felt like, and even then, it was only the nutty traffic in Tehran. That said, I probably didn’t help matters by treating it like a game of dodgem cars instead of a real life scenario – but I’m an ex hardcore gamer, and that’s how I operate best. Pew pew pew!!!

 

I’d be hard pressed to find anything else worth mentioning, simply because I had a seamless and enjoyable journey all the way through Iran. On the whole, Iran is a relatively easy place to travel through and engage with. You won’t have a need to look for help because it’s usually always presenting itself in one form or another. A pretty hard country to find something worth whining about.

 

A summary of my Iranian education

Tehran at sunset

Iran awarded me a great lesson on the ettiquette of how to treat strangers, especially the huge value that is placed on helping others. It is the bridge which transports the heartfelt kindess from Turkey all the way into Pakistan. Entering the east has been my most invaluable experience on the ride home thus far.

Although Iranians are frustrated about their present political situation, contrary to popular opinion, barely anyone I’d met had a bad thing to say about the western world… yes that right. They enjoy western films, they eat popcorn, Iranians cook pasta and use tinder too, however their own culture is not abandoned nor forgotten, just seamlessly integrated.

Iran is a land of many types of treasures!

The youth are well educated and for the most part are well versed with the outside world, despite the government trying to slap restrictions on internet accessibility to certain areas of the world. The youth have expressed their views openly with a hope to becoming a part of the rest of the world… A world without borders, what a place it could be.

My best memories of Iran were doing the simplest things with friends and strangers alike. Going to the street stalls in Tabriz and eating an egg and potato roll with Ali. Cooking chicken wings and pasta in Mahdi’s kitchen. Iranian dancing with Reza and his family inside his brothers home over christmas. Tea with the guys at the petrol pump. Moments like these have become the bread and butter of my travels.

Naqsh – e – Jahan Square

These memories, more then anything else, made Iran a complete and unforgettable experience. The bar was raised in Turkey, and continued to hold true in Iran. This country unknowingly encouraged me to place faith back into people and I rode out of Iran with much more then I entered with… I have much to thank the Iranian people for.