SOUTHERN IRAN : Mirjavé to Esfahan



Mirjavé to Esfahan
Our journey through Southern Iran has taken us from Mirjavé, the Iranian border town with Pakistan, to Esfahan the number one tourist destination in Iran. On our first day we headed to Zahedan, the main city next to the border in order to fix Troopie and change our Pakistani rupees into Iranian rials. 


Entering Iran on the evening of September 16th. Notice the front left suspension which is lower then usual. This was our first ever mechanical problem on Troopie after some 27,000 km of rough roads.


Very few tourists see the point to ever set foot in Zahedan as it is a dusty city that does not give a good impression of what the rest of Iran is like. Also it is dangerously close to Afghanistan from where many smugglers bring in drugs into the country. There is said to be an open battle between the authorities and the smugglers and several tourists have already been kidnapped. This is why we decided to spend the night at the Toyota garage ! Also, less than a week after the September 11th attacks on the US, many Afghanis were said to be leaving their country. As soon as Troopie was repaired we headed to Bam, the most eastern city visited by tourists. 


Adding another little red line on our map. Thank you Dynagraph for supplying us with such a great conversation starter !


Bam and Kerman 
We were expecting a lot from Iran and had heard extensively about how hospitable Iranians are. Most likely we were expecting too much because we were initially quite disappointed. Despite our repeated efforts, people in the streets did not smile back at us. In a Zahedan fuel station a man did obscene gestures to Kathleen and was beaten up by several other men after we had drawn their attention to this fact. In Bam some children threw rotten dates at us. Two other children intentionally rode their bicycles into us. A French lady traveler (not a novice traveler as she had previously traveled alone across Asia for 2 years) told us she had been touched twice in the street that same day. We were not impressed.  


A few aspects of Iran (I) : The worst behaviour we have had from men 
Things improved a little when going to more touristy places in Iran and invitations to come and drink tea or stay at people's homes started to become more usual. In Yazd we were spontaneously offered an ice-cream in the street and a flower by a flower shop keeper. However, compared with India, Nepal or Pakistan we did not feel particularly welcome when walking in the streets. The lack of smiling was one aspect. Another quite disturbing aspect is the fact that Kathleen would be looked at in a most impolite way. Despite wearing clothes that did not reveal any bodily forms, an extremely broad salwar kameez, and a head shawl, many men in the street would stare at her from feet to head as tough she was a prostitute. Very often this made us so mad we avoided eye contact all together. No greeting, no smiling. After having spent a month in conservative Yemen and a month in Pakistan, we did not expect this kind of treatment in so-called civilized Iran. Many men in Iran marry late as it is considered a prerequisite to have a good job and to earn a good salary. Alcohol is forbidden and quite difficult to find, partying is not allowed, dancing is not allowed, any kind of physical contact with a member of the other sex is not considered OK. Additionally, TV and films often depict Western women as easy. The result we have witnessed is a great deal of frustration and this extremely disrespectful behaviour from a majority of men that has continued through all of Iran.


A few aspects of Iran (II) : Price discrimination
In Iran as in India, price discrimination between locals and foreigners is a most unpleasant aspect of travelling. It is common belief amongst Iranians that tourists who come to Iran have money. Therefore, they are charged 10 times to normal entrance fees, pay different prices in hotels and are overcharged in taxis (to be honest, as in most countries of the world). Problem is not all Iranians are poor and not all tourists are stinking rich. On a regular basis people in the street would tell you welcome to Iran only for you to visit the next mosque, museum or interesting building and be asked 10 times more. We thought there would be an outrage of public opinion if anything similar was tried in our countries. The system of reciprocity (as with the cost of visas) would oblige Iranians to pay 10 times more to visit e.g. the Louvre Museum !    


A few aspects of Iran (III) : Hospitality
As in most Muslim countries, hospitality really means something in Iran. A lot of everyday life goes on in the street, people speak to each other and greet each other, The same applies to tourists who visit Iran. Our experience however is not as straightforward. When invited to have a cup of tea or during conversations, the subject would inevitably turn to leaving Iran and go to Belgium. Is it easy to get a visa ? Can you be my sponsor in your country ? We often had the sad feeling their curiosity was calculated, no more so than in Esfahan. This was particularly the case with the educated middle class. Only with simple people did we experience the real thing.


A few aspects of Iran (IV) : Drinking water and the price of petrol !
After having spent 6 months in China, Pakistan, India and Nepal it has been a real pleasure to travel in Iran where tap water is perfectly safe to drink. This also means we can eat fruits and vegetables without worrying too much about any consequences. The best thing about traveling in Iran (by car, motorbike or other motorised means of transportation) must be the price of fuel ! A liter of petrol costs US$ 0.09 or nine cents ! A liter of diesel is even better news at US$ 0.03. Yes that's 3 US cents ! Filling up Troopie's two 90 l. tanks is a real pleasure : 100 liters of diesel will set us back 3 US$, 23.50 HK$ or 135 BEF! This is a major chunk out of our monthly budget ! On important roads, long distance trucks fill up their two 800 l. tanks (some of them going to the border with Turkey or Pakistan in order to sell their fuel) ! One overlander refueling his car was told to go away without paying as the pump attendant didn't want his small change !

A few aspects of Iran (V) : Police stops on the road
One aspect of travel we had been expecting in Central Asia (where we didn't go because of our delayed departure) was police check posts along the road. Iran's road system seems to have been built around a certain number of police check posts in similar fashion to the "peages" on French motorways. There policemen will stop cars and trucks at their own discretion. The problem is most of them are as bored as a grain of sand in the Sahara and don't see foreigners very often. On every single day we were on the road we had to stop to show our passports and claim Iranian people were very nice.


A few aspects of Iran (VI) : Zoroastrianism 
We have felt privileged to have been in contact and to learn about a number of religions during our trip. India gave us Buddhism and Hinduism, Pakistan gave us Islam. In Iran we learned about Zoroastrianism. This was the original religion of Persia before Islam conquered most of Asia. We were told by several Iranians that, despite Islam being the official religion, this was still the religion of their hearts which we thought was quite particular. Zoroastrianism was one of the first religions in the world to consider one omnipotent and invisible God as in Christianism or Islam. Fire is considered the symbol of God. As they believed in the purity of the elements, they refused to bury their dead. These were exposed on "towers of silence" where vultures quickly kept the elements clean. It is believed there are more than 150,000 Zoroastrians in the world today. 


A Zoroastrian Tower of Silence and temple complex on the outskirts of Yazd, Iran


Shiraz to Busher and the Persian Gulf

On our way from Shiraz to Busher, the scenery varied a little from the flat desert plains we have see so far.


After having visited the usual string of tourist cities in Iran (Bam, Kerman, Yazd and Shiraz), we decided to head to a less visited place and the sea ! Since our departure in Hong Kong more than 6 months ago we had not seen the sea and we were eager to "discover" it again. We had the choice of two cities : Bandar-e-Abbas, Iran's main port. just in front of the Straight of Hormoz or Bandar-e-Busher just across Kuwait. To your geography books !


Thalassa ! Thalassa ! Thalassa !  The sea ! Troopie on the Persian Gulf (left), Christian's suntan is not a beach suntan, it's a trucker's suntan (centre), Iranian joie de vivre on the promenade, Busher, Persian Gulf, Iran.


Christian was allowed to swim, not so Kathleen of course. In a few places in Iran, there are men's beaches and secluded women's beaches. Despite this fact, it is said men will charter boats and take their binoculars in order to have a "close" look at a woman's anatomy. There are very specific rules about men and women in public in Iran. The pool at the Abbasi Hotel was completely sealed off and had visiting times for men and visiting times for women. In conferences, men will sit on the right, women on the left. In public buses, men will sit in front, women in the back. Men may enter large mosques through the main door, women have to pass through the side door. Just next to the Persian Gulf which, for most of the year is as hot as a frying pan, we were unable to sleep in the car. We tried to find a cheap hotel but most of them had closed since the publication of our LP guidebook (of which a new edition has come out since we left Belgium). We were very kindly invited by the taxi driver who drove us to the different hotels to stay at his home.


The Ebrahimzadeh family that welcomed us for the night in their home, Busher, Iran.


Pictures of Busher. The cars displayed on the roof of this local bank (right picture) are for the lucky one who will open the 1 zillionth bank account !


On our way up to Esfahan, we skipped the traditional and fast route via Shiraz and headed for the cool mountains again and the city of Yasuj. Most of central Iran is at an altitude of more than 1000 meters which has meant we have slept in our car most of the time. We compared this road to the "Kuche mountain road" we took in Western China ! There was no snow but the scenery was beautiful and we largely had the road for ourselves. 



As soon as we had passed a peak at some 2000 meters, the scenery changed to desert again, on our way to Esfahan.


Here is the first of our extra pages on Iran : Bam, Shiraz & Yazd

The cities of Bam, Shiraz and Yazd


We are doing well !

Coming from Pakistan Back to Trip page Heading to Northern Iran