Bicycle touring Iran gave a new dimension to our journey. Our personal perception would be triggered on a daily basis, differences in culture embraced and negotiating traffic would almost become the norm. It was very special to tour this country of which most people only have an idea that has been created by media. We entered Iran during Ramadan on the 8th of July 2014 and left the country on the 24th of August 2014.We have cycled 2016 km and ascended 10833 meters.
cycled in Iran
Our impressions of Iran
The environment of Iran changed quite a bit during our whole trip: from dry lands in the West with golden coloured straw, to oases with very green trees, to orchards with lush peaches, figs and apples, to dry desert with rocky hills in the south, to jungle and tropical humidity along the Caspian sea to yet again dry desert in the north east. Iran is known for Islam and practising the Sharia law, hospitality, food and a rich history and culture.
Cycling in Iran for us meant many villages made out of mud brick houses surrounded by orchards and fields, trying to avoid highways, eating watermelon as much as we could and staying hydrated in heat between 30 and 40 degrees. Our lunch would be made up of bread, cream cheese, tomatoes and cucumbers and was delicious. When staying in towns we would opt for rice with kebabs, butter and tomatoes. When camping we would try to find orchards because the irrigation made sure the ground would be less hot. If sandy ground absorbs heat it gets really hot underneath our tent during the night (we have made these mistakes and sweat all night…). In orchards very often people would come at the end of the day before sunset to work on the orchard. This would be the time that we would cycle into an orchard or already be there to ask if we could camp there. Most times fruit would be picked for us immediately, sometimes the owners would come back with drinks, tea, bread, cheese and jam, and also a few times we have been invited home.
For Iran it is necessary to have a valid visa. We applied for our visa in Ankara (after receiving the code from Touran Zamin) and extended our visa in Yazd. Read more about it in our visa post. There you can also read about the visa we applied for in Tehran. Tip! Iran is good for visa (especially at the moment for China if you will visit China within 3 months time).
Hospitality in Iran is amazing. We would be stopped multiple times a day for a chat, a photo and very often for tea, lunch, water and also invited into peoples homes to stay the nights. Although often it didn’t have the right timing for us. Baring in mind that we had 2000 km to cycle every time we were invited we needed to decide if we wanted to do it or not. Because many times the invitations came early in the day. Being invited in gave a unique character to this part of the journey because we could see inside peoples homes. Iranian people are very discreet outside the home and live more freely inside the home. Also during Ramadan most of the eating and festivities took part inside the home (whereas in Turkey it had been more outside on the streets). Inside people were more open to talk about politics and personal feelings.
Practical words: Hello = Salaam, Goodbye = Khoda Hafez, Thank you = Mersi, Water = Ab, Bread = Naan
Iran has loads of history and history is still strong nowadays. From the old civilisation of Persepolis to Zoroastrian remains, to windcatchers in Yazd and mosques and towers that are still in use. Because of Islam mosques are part of everyday life in Iran. Most of the muslims in Iran are Shi’a. It was possible to visit some of the mosques, the most impressive being the Shrine of Imam Reza in the conservative city Mashhad where Susanne had to wear a Chador. The mosques can be very colourful and dominating the skyline. The call of the muezzin sounds daily and is really significant for traveling in Iran.
The political situation is extremely complex and while traveling in the country we have only barely scratched the surface of understanding. We have had many discussions with other cyclists who have met different people with different points of view. Yes, there are very progressive people in the country who would like to open up the country, be freed from the veil and to not live by the Sharia law. At the same time there is probably an equal amount that live conservatively, of which the women wear the chador, who strictly follow what the Sharia and the Ayatollah say.
Iranian currency is amazing, you will be a millionaire and one night in a hotel would be approx. 1.000.000 Real. And a meal could cost as little as 100.000 Real.
The cities are well designed and busy. Tehran was a unique city for us with a mix of traditional and modern and continuous contradictions everyday, which would actually continue during our whole trip in Iran. Cycling in Tehran is tough but there are some little bit smaller roads which avoid taking the highway. Roads in and around Tehran are dangerous with traffic. Especially motorbikes, and the blue and yellow pick-up trucks called Zamyad do not always pay attention to speed and other users of the road. On the road we have had a police surveillance twice. Of which once we were followed for 70 kilometres, by two different cars following up on each other to the edge of the district and then were waved off. This gave a bit of stress but we kept our head calm as much we could in the 35 degree heat. The police officers were friendly but we couldn’t really figure out why they were escorting us. Maybe they just didn’t have anything else to do. Luckily they were gone by the time we went looking for a place to camp, although they did make our riding day very effective with little stopping.
Cycling in Iran for females is possible. Still we had quite a bit of unwanted attention. Men on motorbikes hanging behind us making photos or videos, men in cars staring and giving creepy looks. According to Sharia law a headscarf is required and something covering the hips too. It really helps to dress conservative in Iran to avoid unwanted attention. As westerners we do get a bit of leeway considering ‘the rules’. Still if you want to make it pleasant for yourself as a woman while bicycle touring Iran it is easier to dress as unattractive as possible. Being a woman it is possible to befriend other women and have unique insights. While cycling as a couple Martin would always be the person spoken to (90% of the time by men) and very often Susanne would almost not be acknowledged. If there were questions people would always ask Martin, even though it was about Susanne. It is mentally quite straining for both: Martin ‘always’ being the talking side and Susanne ‘always’ being ignored in conversation. This was especially the case in public and a lot less in private spaces. Keep this in mind while cycling in Iran as a couple.
We really want to share our story, our journey with you. We have thought about this new dimension for a while. If you enjoy our story consider receiving one of our postcards from the road. We cycle through many small towns and cities with their own story and often there is a postcard to be found. This postcard can be sent to you.
Our border crossing was at the southernmost border from Turkey to Iran near Orumiyeh. We cycled past Miandoab, after which the road went up on our way to Takab. We cycled some very scenic dry and remote roads towards Qujur and Abgarm to reach Buin Zahra where we stayed with a great Warmshowers host. From Buin Zahra we cycled to Tehran in a straight line trying to stay on secondary roads. Again in Tehran we stayed with great Warmshower hosts. We travelled to the south of Iran by bus because of time and weather (it being mid summer). We visited Shiraz, Yazd, Esfahan and Toudeshk Cho before taking the bus back to Tehran. From Tehran we cycled past mount Damavand to Firuzkuh, Sari, Gorgan to Golestan National Park. We cycled to Mashhad passing by Bojnurd and Quchan. From Mashhad we took it easy and cycled to the border town Sarakhs in two-and-a-half days.
After saying goodbye to lovely people we met at the guesthouse, the last stretch of Iran took us through desert conditions and wind to Sarakhs where we did our last shopping before heading to Turkmenistan.
We cycled over small roads to avoid busy Iranian traffic and found deserted barren land. Here and there were mud brick villages very pretty in the landscape. We enjoyed to sleep in cooler orchards and met nice people along the way.
Martin and Susanne are the crazy cyclists behind TwistingSpokes. We enjoy taking you along on our adventure while we are traveling by bicycle from the Netherlands to Nepal. What occupies us while cycling are the interactions with people on the road, culture, scenery and meaningful encounters. You can read more about us on our About page or on G+.