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30/04 to 05/04 – Mashhad to the border: Holy city and farewell to Iran

July 11, 2011

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Mashhad is the holiest in Iran, the Imam Reza is buried here underneath a golden dome in one of the largest Islamic shrines in the world. The population of the city can balloon by millions during religious holidays as pilgrims descend on the city. For us however, Mashhad was a rest stop and a visa pick up, a pilgrimage of a different kind.

The shrine was impressive in parts, huge mirrored rooms through which we could only peer (foreigners are not allowed into the central complex) and the golden domes were beautiful. But for all its religious importance it didn’t feel like a very special place, the crap plastic extensions, the sound of constant building work and kiosks surrounding the site selling tacky Imam Reza merchandise made it feel mediocre. It was much more enjoyable to laze around in the park, lay on the grass until you were told not to do so and then watch the defiant remain steadfast

We slept amongst the rugs, carpets and kilims in the basement of Vali’s homestay. Despite Vali’s comprehensive assistance in completing the application for Turkmenistan visa in we we’re given the incorrect exit point. We had planned to cycle north east through the country towards Derwese (Gas craters) and then to exit the country to Uzbekistan in the North to allow us to visit Khiva. Unfortunately the arse hole at the embassy decided to be difficult and spin us a lie saying that the northern border was closed and so only gave us the exit point at the south of the country, taking the Gas craters at Derwese away from us and making visiting Khiva difficult.

The road to the border was stormy and we got to experience our last stay in an Iranian’s house. Akbar was a fantastic host, relaxed and easy we smoked a legal high inhaling the smoke through a tube as his mad son ran around touching and playing with everything we owned. His older daughter sat in the background equally curious but far more reserved. Bin Laden’s death added a new topic of conversation to the table and got our brains ticking about the repercussions it might cause on our route (Afghan border in Tajikistan and then through Pakistan), worried thoughts of pissed off Taliban sitting in our minds.

Faces changed towards border as did the landscape, a phenomenal 2 months were coming to a close and it was a good time to reflect, but despite having a great time we we’re all eager to leave and get onto fresh pastures. The border town was very un-Iranian, it felt a bit dodgy and the weather was crap making us miserable, having got drenched on a day which should have been easy but turned out to be quite an effort. We dried off in a tea house, whilst being hassled to change money and then found a place to put our tents next to some graves surrounded by pigeon poo.

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