Tabriz to Tehran
The day after returning from Kandovan, a small town built into the snowy mountains of rock north of Tabriz, I slept most of the day away, intending to leave early the following day to ride the 600km from Tabriz to Tehran. However, Nameless the Biker (as we shall refer to him for his own identity protection), suggested taking the train instead.
“Tickets are cheap and so is cargo man, take the train” blurted out Nameless the Biker.
“Rightio, I’ll give it whirl” I retorted.
Having already done the deadly boring 600km leg twice between Tabriz and Tehran, I decided to take the overnight train to Tehran. There had many reports of ice and snow around Zanjan (300km between Tabriz and Tehran), so I wasn’t game enough to be bargaining on weather like that with Iranian drivers. Sunny weather Iranian drivers are bad enough as it is.
Off to the cargo dock
Riding off in a hurry to make it to the cargo office before 2pm the next day, I barely skipped out of Y bone on the way around the roundabout to Tabriz central station. For those of us that aren’t aware of what riding around in cities in Iran is like, just picture mario cart where everyone has either picked Wario or Bowser. Think aussie drivers are rubbish? Think again. Everyday in this country I’ve counted at least an average of one deadly near miss a day. Somehow the gods of the road are watching over me. So far so good.
After searching for the cargo office and not finding it, I wandered over to the military station and asked anyone if they spoke english.
“No english, please wait mister”
A tall, slim fella with slicked back hair and a legendary moustache strolled out, long arm outstreched for an impending handshake. Shaking hands firmly, I explained the situation to him and how I wanted to ship the bike to Tehran. He called me a police car who escorted me the 250 metres to the cargo bay. Feeling that the escort was a little unnecessary, it also didn’t help to draw attention away from Trumpet or the westerner with a raging beard who looked like a terrorist. But whatever, we got where we needed to be.
After discussing the cargo option of the bike with the carriage owner it was fairly simple after that – A thirty second police escort into the baggage area got me to where I needed to be. After some casual paperwork, I rode Trumpet up into the cargo hold on a separate cargo train. 1.84 million rials later (US $61 for the pair of us) we were about to be on our way to Tehran, on separate trains. I wondered silently who’s carriage was quieter… I bet it was hers.
Putting Trumpet on the centrestand and taping the front brake to the handlebar, the job was done. I felt a little sad leaving her all alone in that dark cargo carriage, I was used to having her next to me all the time. Well, it was going to be a long lonely night without my favourite girl it seemed – which again with all my assumptions on this journey, was proved wrong. Nameless the biker rode down in the evening to say goodbye over a few cigarettes and a potato and egg roll which cost about fifty cents. Full to the brim, I boarded the 50 year old train and entered my compartment.
The cabin (part 1)
Some horrible old Iranian movie from the sixties was on the telly. With all the tacky, characteristic decor, I definetly felt l’ve stepped back about 50 years. The carriage smelt somewhat of stale cigarette smoke, and then fresh cigarette smoke as soon as I stepped into the corridor – yes, as with everywhere you can smoke on the train too. Really, you could have turned up the music and dimmed the lights and you would have had a free smoke machine dance party…
Sitting down, my eyes wandered around the cabin, and I was not sure what this bloke opposite me was ogling at. He’s been staring at me curiosly for the last 10 minutes. Boogers hanging out of me nose? Nope, checked already. I suppose I should get used to it, India will probably be the same. I didn’t even have Trumpet with me to console with. Here goes 13 hours of bliss.
Managing to start a conversation with the venerable old bloke next to me, I discovered he was from the Azerbaijan part of Iran. All I gleaned from him was that he thought I was an english terrorist and something about alcohol. I asked him if he had some, and with a shake of his head said
“Iran…” while drawing a finger across his throat.
“And right you are mate” I thought sadly.
The ogler opposite me was still ogling, and seemed to hold me in disdain. Maybe it was the nose ring. Maybe I smelt funny. Whatever the case, it was time to enjoy this strange little cubicle and cheesy movie as much as possible.
Mohammad and Nabil’s story
The older Azerbaijani gentleman next me began to prepare his dinner, along with the ogler across from me. Hmmm, so they seem to know each other eh. Moving to the opposite side of me, the older bloke absolutely insisted, about 10 times, that I eat with them. He pulled out a bag of bread, piled some pieces up with rice, beans and meat and there you have it, my first shared meal on a train.
There was of course, the language barrier. It took us a while to get some understanding of each other, but soon enough, after some hard navigating we got it worked out. Mohammad was 82 and his son, Nabil (aka the Ogler) was 44. While we ate, we talked in travellers sign language and sporadic words of Turk and English.
Mohammad, his wife and son were civilians caught up in the 10 year Iranian-Iraqi conflict. During that time, from what I understood, his wife had been shot dead, while Mohammad and his son had beaten to a pulp. As a result, Mohammad’s son Nabil had recieved permanent brain damage, which caused him to have a major speech impediment among other issues. Silently I wondered if the polished wooden cane Mohammad used to get around was due to these beatings during the conflict.
Mohammad ended up in tears, his lips trembling at the memories. I couldn’t contemplate having to live through such a thing. I had no idea what to do, I barely knew the bloke and here he was, pouring his heart out to me. Patting him on the knee and holding his hand all I could think of to say was
“Hamdullah, that you still have your son and your life”
It felt cheap, almost worthless saying that to a man who has endured such hardship. When Mohammad told his story, I could see it flashing in his dark eyes, the long wrinkles on his face were like reading lines out of a book. A gnarled hand gripped his knee while the other trembled in mine. He wept unashamedly, while a red eyed Nabil looked on. What a train ride.
The cabin (part 2)
Mohammad showed me pictures of himself when he had been my age – a sharp looking bloke with neatly combed shiny hair grinned back at me from the black and white photo. I always think the blokes back then knew how to keep it classy. We exchanged photos and looked over google maps together while I showed him the route I had taken from Morocco, through europe and into the east. He grinned at me as though to say he entertained the idea.
Shortly thereafter, a middle aged gentleman entered the cabin, and joined the conversation. He spoke a little english, so I was able to explain to everyone a little more about who I was and where I was going over a mix of nuts and muscats. Before long it was time for bed, so I climbed up the ladder after pulling down my bunk, and began laying the sheets. While I did this, I watched Mohammad softly tucking his son Nabil into the lower bunk.
More police business
Last weeks affair with Iranian police was not the first instance of curiosity getting the better of them. After having to wait for the cargo to arrive in Tehran, and asking the security where the cargo bay was, I was sat down in the security office with a big bloke by the name of Abbas. Over a cup of tea we discussed Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley in his very good english. Who would’ve though I’d be singing “ring of fire” out loud with an Iranian security guard at a train station.
A police captain arrived on the scene a half hour later, who for some reason took all my details and checked my passport… again. I think in the last 24 hours, the whole of Iran had managed to know who I was. I was getting a bit sick of hearing “passport please”, as I felt it was just feeding their curiosity and not any formal procedure. Abbas told me not to worry and assured me that everything was ok. It didn’t look so ok, the police captain was writing what seemed to be an essay on my bike and visa.
Finally I rode Trumpet off the old cargo carriage and we were re-united again. Ah, 24 hours was much too long away from her. Abbas was very kind and let me use the security changing room to get my riding gear on. I walked out into a crowd of men standing around Trumpet, looking and pointing curiously. Packing all my gear on, I shook a few hands and posed for the usual few pictures with the locals.
Riding into Tehran traffic made me realise how both annoying and fun it was to be riding around in this warzone of demolition drivers. Absolutely no rules are followed, but somehow the whole mess seems to work somehow. Tailgating is the super norm here, as is double parking anywhere you can, not indicating, driving on the other side of the road, using bus only lanes, going through red lights, not giving way at roundabouts and so on and so forth.
I got to Mahdi’s place not too long after leaving the station. Man it was good to see him again. You can read where we met here – Armenia and into Iran – At the handlebars
With Mahdi studying hard for his IELTS (english course written by cambridge), I spent the following few days assisting him with his studies. Mahdi would churn out essay after essay, while I would mark them and then go through the grammatical errors and structure of his essays. It was important for him to pass the exams, as they are both expensive and difficult. Maybe teaching english is my new career path…
My first task was to change my engine oil and filter, so I rode off to Reza’s Mahakciclet shop near the central train station the following morning. At Mahakciclet, Reza greeted me with a hug and lots of chai tea, and it was nice to see Mohammad and Shrek again too! While changing the oil, I finally crossed paths with David and Evelyn from we2r.com… two Austrians riding to Australia on a pair of GS’s. They’d been in Iran for a month already and had entered from Turkemenistan, the North Korea of the east.
They had definetly had some adventures, and I was glad I wasn’t the only one with issues. David’s GS800 computer had gone AWOL and he’d chewed through 5 batteries getting to Tehran. He’d also had a powerpack explode on the back of his bike… now that’s an adventure! Evelyn’s GS650 on the other hand, had been fine until she’d been Y-boned at an intersection in Tehran, and the poor old bike was sitting sadly out the front with a dented rim among a few other deformaties. Despite their troubles, and Evelyn’s unfortunate accident, they were all smiles!
I had also been searching for a 52 tooth rear sprocket to lower the tall first gear on Trumpet, but couldn’t find one anywhere, even google wasn’t helping! So Reza, whom can also be referred to as the ‘Godfather’ of motorcycles in Tehran, kindly found a heavy duty sprocket out of thin air. It needed machining, so off we went on his little chinese scooter to the machinists.
I said hello to my old friends who had cleaned up my terrifically burnt clutch plate 6 weeks before. They were the masters of magic and all things were possible with them… well almost. Unfortunately the sprocket was just a touch too big for their machine, so with disappointment they let us know the unfortunate news. Still it was great seeing the brothers again, who love showing me pictures of their fishing escapades. I probably would have stayed for breakfast if we weren’t on a mission.
“Ok, we go somewhere else” laughed Reza
So, the Godfather and I zipped around to another small machinists workshop with an even bigger bunch of USSR made machines. Reza was meticulous with Vahid, and told him exactly what he wanted to make the sprocket work… several biscuits and cigarettes later, Vahid turned out the precious new sprocket. Woohoo! Finally, a shorter 1st gear!
The afternoon drew in and with it came David, looking to fix his clip on windscreen. While he worked downstairs at the shop, Shrek left on a mission to find me a spare front sprocket, while Reza rode off to make some suspension covers for me. Within a half hour, Reza was back, with 3 leather suspension covers. I wanted to try and prevent dirt and crud working their way through the seals on my Hyperpro suspension. The cost to make them – $1.75. You can’t go wrong with Reza and his team – thumbs up fellas!
So with all the business for the bike sorted it was now time to apply for my 6 month visa for India. Completing the visa online I printed it and off I went to the embassy – which then directed me to another office about 3 km away. When I arrived there, I spoke with the very polite girl, who then proceeded to edit the application by pen. By the time she’d finished, it looked a mess.
“Ok, you need to change all this and re do the application”
“Ah, ok… no chance of you fixing it up for me now?”
“I’m very sorry, but you must do it this way”
So I rode back to Mahdi’s refilled another application form and went back the next day.
“Everything is fine but you forgot to add a letter here for you name”
“Is it possible to just add it on, I mean after all it’s just a letter, can’t we just write it in on the form”
“I’m sorry but we can’t do that. If you come back tomorrow, we can fill out the form for you”
Drooping my head agaisnt the window in despair and I tried to puppy eye her into helping me… to no avail.
Finally the day came when all was well with the world and my paperwork was in order. A brief 10 mins later I had submitted the application and was due to pick up my passport 2 weeks later. Time to head to the desert!