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Shiraz, Persepolis and back again!

July 1, 2011

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Buses are becoming too familiar in Iran, its important to see everything (or is it?), but yet again we’re dumped in an unfamiliar location feeling grotty after an uncomfortable sleep and having little in the way of bearings. Unlike the bike which gives you a sense of a place as you arrive gradually, the bus throws you straight into the maelstrom.

Out of the bus station the sun was slowly rising, we picked up bread and headed to hotel. Shiraz had a lot to live up to, having just left one of the most elegant places I’d ever been too, hopes we’re high but in the back of our minds we knew Esfahan would be difficult to match.

Architecturally Shiraz had a few sights of interest – The Madrassah (An Islamic school) had some impressive tiling, with elements of floral design, which can only be seen in Shiraz and more pinks and reds in the colour palette than anywhere else in Iran. The domes of the mosques are more onion shaped here, but the finesse of Esfahan could not be beaten.

Where Shiraz did win over our hearts was our experience with Sun, Shahram and their two girlfriends Saba and Sara, friends of Reza in Esfahan they took us in and showed us a good time, it felt like we’d been friends for years. Hosting is an Iranian specialty and in Shiraz the good vibes continued, our welfare was always top priority and our attempts to pay for anything always politely declined. We spent a lot of time cruising around in Sun’s Paykan (Iranian car brand) listening to Nirvana and other rock bands playing via Sun’s phone, admiring Sara’s blasé attitude to Islamic law and soaking up the relaxed atmosphere of the city.

Shirazi’s are known in Iran to be the most laid back, according to some there is a lake near the city which releases gases, which are said to relax the residents. Im not sure I buy that story but I reckon the weed farm just outside the city goes a small way to chilling everyone out.

Tucked away 20kms outside the city just behind a traditional mud brick village a smart outdoor café sits on the hillside, here we drank tea ate sweets and waited for the dealer to bring us some locally grown cannabis. The village felt very typically Iranian tight mud brick streets, the obligatory minaret but then we noticed a car parked in a corner with 4 figures inside laughing and giggling, wafts of heady smoke found their way up our nostrils and we knew this was a special place. Walking past the car 4 sets of dopey, bloodshot eyes looked up at us with grins and then continued the rolling production line they had set up. In the café a group of middle aged men, also stoned, drank home made whiskey and laughed out loud, this didn’t feel like the Iran I had expected, but it was great to know these small pockets of resistance existed within the strict framework of government control.

Having spent some amazing time with Reza and Madhi In Esfahan and then to follow that up with more great times in Shiraz with Sun, Shahram, Saba and Sara. I felt like I had some of the best times of the trip with new friends and we eagerly await their arrival in the UK to try to repay their warmth and kindness.

Back on the bike finally! and with a long stretch of road up to Yazd, Mashhad and the border it was time to use the legs once again. We planned to cycle to Persepolis, a fabled city built for New Year celebrations and the crowning glory of the Archaemenid empire and then continue through the desert to Yazd.

We arrived at the grounds of Persepolis late at night accompanied by a police escort, bored and helpful officers wanted to make sure we arrived at our destination safely. We ask the security guard if we could camp in the park next to it and he obliged without hesitation, it’s a popular spot for cycle tourists so we’re not the first to ask and its obvious. Nestled in the trees a coloured dome sits next to two bikes, it doesn’t look like a flimsy Iranian tent and on closer inspection we see that its other cycle tourists. Eager to chat we say hello, hoping they might unzip the tent, but all we get is a dull “Hi” and that’s it.

Morning comes and we’re approached by a mature couple dressed in Jack Wolfskin travel shirts and baggy trousers. They’re apologetic for not replying last night, they thought we we’re another Iranian coming to talk to them. We delved a little deeper and found that they weren’t so keen on the curiosity of the Iranians, preferring a more solitary road. How funny I thought, for us the Iranian mentality and sociability has made this country feel so warm, it hadn’t occurred to me that some people could find this a bit too much.

We enjoyed a chat with them for an hour, a Swiss couple taking time to enjoy their retirement by cycling the Silk route, I had nothing but respect for their desire to do the journey by bicycle. They joked that they couldn’t do as many kms as us, but they probably weren’t far off and who cares, this way of life isn’t about setting records.

Persepolis was rammed, a popular attraction for Iranians on Friday and a key site for Tourists travelling Iran, either by 5 star luxury or pedaling around. Persepolis is a giant complex, the ruins of an ancient city built 500 years before Christ, the culmination of many of the best scientific, architectural and artistic minds of the time. Many of the impressive doorways still stand tall, the mind boggles at the ingenuity behind its construction, using your imagination you could see people celebrating in the grand vast spaces. The most impressive thing for me were the reliefs (wall sculptures) depicting a range of stories but mostly focused around showing the vast range of cultures coming to Parsa (Persia – Persepolis – City of Persia) laden with gifts, Persepolis was perhaps one of the first multicultural sites.

After Persepolis we take it easy as the sun sets, eager to camp after so long away from the tent we make excuses after being offered a place in a house. We find a spot in an orchard and put our tents up between the irrigation channels. To be camping again is bliss.

A lazy morning gets a sharp shock when we decide to sit down and work out how many days we have to cover the remaining distance in Iran, whilst factoring in applying for the Turkmenistan visa and having time in Yazd and Mashhad. It’s not looking good and we have even less time after a phone call to our contact in Mashhad tells us they will need the passports to begin the application, he tells us it will be quicker if we return to Tehran to get the visa application ball rolling there.

Thinking hats are on and despite our best problem solving, the only way to do it before the visa runs out is to cycle back to Shiraz and for one of us to get a 14 hour bus to Tehran and then a 12hour bus to Yazd, whilst the other two get a bus directly to Yazd. We devise a game to decide, involving a hat and folded bits of paper, the air is very tense no one wants to get the extra bus. Sasha is the unlucky one but we all feel like losers and dejected at having to get another bus we make the road back the way we came all the way back to Shiraz, time has not been on our side in Iran.

One Comment leave one →
  1. deborah Simmons permalink
    July 6, 2011 4:00 pm

    Haven’t checked in for a while, but just read your latest post with awe and admiration… so pleased you’re still alive and having the time of your life. Things are all good here, some interesting projects on the go, and In recently spend a few weeks in Mexico working on a conservation project with turtles and crocodiles 🙂 plus I’ve been learning Spanish to equip me for my future travels in S America… take care, deb x

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