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Tehran – Visa foraging and Park Life

May 31, 2011
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Tehran was one of those cities that has an image, and i was excited to see it in the flesh. Unfortunately the image is rather negative, with the riots that occured in 2009 being reported somewhat over the top in the western media – you would be forgiven for thinking as i did before i arrived that Tehran wiould be hostile and dangerous –it coudnt be further from the case.

The city is absolutely enormous, rivalling the size of London both in population and area. The metro network is extensive and expanding, though struggling to accomodate the needs of the enormous population. We heard many horror stories about all to wall traffic, as well as face to armpit metro. Seeing as we arrived during Nowruz, we enjoyed a dormant and empty Tehran, quietly waiting for the returning hoards that would be making their way back any time soon.

I took the opportunity to relax in the many parks of the city, which were playing host to the unescaped populace. They were packed to the very edges of the grass with tents and barbeques, people playing tag and badminton. I received a lot of curious and rather concerned looks from the people around me, most probably wondering why i was on my own during Nowruz. It wasnt long before a small kid brought me some tea and fruit as a gift from his family a few metres away. Shortly afterwards the family on the opposite side brought me kebab and salad from their barbeque, seemingly in competition with the first. I was happy to be in the middle, receiving an escalating quantity of food!

Eventually i tore myself away and headed for Azadi square, the grand monument to Iranian independence in the west of the city, and an icon to Tehran. I arrived and was a little bit bemused to see many different looking faces –faces that I later learned were those of Afhanistanis – a huge number of which take refuge in Iran. I went around unawares, being snap happy and enjoying the impressive structure. I was receiving a lot of stares, this time though seemingly more hostile. The square is the primary sight for pro government rallies, and thus maintained a high level of security, creating quite a tense atmosphere.

Eventually I spotted Julian and Mathias, who had also made their way to the square to check it out. I gave them a wave then saw they were in tow behind a not very happy looking police officer, who saw me and demanded passport – thus joining in the fun.

Both Julian and myself left our passports at the hotel, and we tried to explain this to the officers to no avail. We were held in repremand in the middle of the square for a good 20 minutes. Until thy realised there wasnt a lot they could do and kicked us out. They were adamant that we should never travel around Tehran without our passports (fair point) and that we should never come back to Azadi Square. Luckily they didnt delete my photos, so by that point i was happy to leave.

The main job we had in Tehran was to acquire visas for Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Confident that we could get the Turkmenistan visa in Mashhad (somewhat naievely), we decided to focus our energies. We had Uzbek visa in the bag already as we used Stantours to do all the work for us – all we needed to do was pay for it and pick it up. They couldnt help us out with Tajikistan, so we had to do all the hard work ourselves.

I say hard work, but it wasnt that bad really – the hardest thing being the location of the place, and our lack of preparation. By the time we arrived at the embassy doors it was 11am, not such a good time to be applying for a visa. We got in there and they told us we needed a letter of confirmation from our own embassies. So we had to go back across town as fast as we could to the british embassy and pay 40quid for a wax seal on a piece of headed paper saying we were in fact British, and then get back to the Tajik embassy for them to issue us the visa. We also needed a GBAO permit to cycle the Pamir Highway – a stupid piece of old soviet beurocracy – a permit which the embassy refused to issue us. Either way in 2 days we were the owners of Tajik and Uzbek visas. Mathias had a bit more of a struggle with his as the French Embassy refused to issue him a letter the same day, meaning we went out of sync with our acquisitions. This put us in some trouble with our visa extension plan – we had 2 days before we needed to extend and had to be in Esfahan to do it – waiting for Mathias would mean we would miss our window. We decided to split for a couple of days and head to Esfahan by bus, with Mathias following after he had got his Tajik visa.

Later that night we were again loading our bikes on to a bus, this time a night bus, and trying hard to forget the road to Esfahan that we would be missing.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Robert Owen permalink
    July 14, 2011 8:14 am

    Hi Sash & Julian !. have managed to catch up with your itinary, and understand that you are now in China. what a fantastic achievement, and yu deserve a medal !. When are you finishing the journey, and date of return etc ?
    Helen & I have just returned from Malta , very hot there now (37c). There is a video clip of a Concert in Malta on July 10th, on my Facebook page, by Maltese tenor , Joseph Callejia with Hayley Westenra, if you are interested in viewing.
    love and best wishes from us both

    Robert

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