Two Aussie blokes riding their BMW R1150GSs from Australia to Europe

Category: Iran

Iran – shattering our expectations – 20,111kms

Iran: it emerged like a verdant oasis in the middle of a desolate desert wasteland. At first, it was hard to tell if our opinion of Iran was neutral; if you’ve read our earlier posts you’ll appreciate that our journey through the sub-continent was a real test for us, and this warped our sense of normality. But it seems that we’ve passed the test with flying colours to be rewarded in this fantastic, vibrant country.

We love Iran!

We love Iran!

Iran defied nearly all of our preconceptions. We expected intense heat in arid desert, religious and cultural conservatism, and a lack of modern development; all under the watchful eye of the military. How wonderful it was to have our expectations shattered. Iran is arid but high in altitude, which made it surprisingly temperate – the jagged mountains making spectacular vistas as we journeyed across the countryside.

Every kilometre in Iran has been simply breathtaking

Every kilometre in Iran has been simply breathtaking

It is an Islamic state, where religious dress code is enforceable by law, but we were surprised to see how relaxed women are about wearing their hijabs. Often they only just cover their tied up hair and wear heavy make up on their faces – a stark contrast to Pakistan (an interesting article about women in Iran was recently published on The Guardian). Daily calls to prayer are almost unnoticeable in the background, and few people talk about religion in normal conversation. The people are liberal, relaxed, friendly, and compared to where we’ve traveled, they’re also wealthy. Modern amenities and consumables are found everywhere – the only obvious exclusions are American chains like McDonalds, Starbucks and the like (and as Eddy from Darwin to Douglas would point out, sit-down toilets). The country is spotlessly clean, which was a very welcome change – immaculate gardens can be found almost everywhere which make the cities refreshingly picturesque.

Stopped on the roadside after crossing the border. Note the smile

Stopped on the roadside after crossing the border. Note the smile

Our first two days in the country were an intense push to make it 1300kms from the border to Isfahan to meet Monica and Lucy, who were flying in to meet us for a week of sightseeing. We had been put so far behind schedule in Pakistan that we feared we might not make it time. We were given another military escort from the border town of Mirjaveh and were then handed over to a government representative from the tourism department 100kms down the road in Zahedan. With memories of being a football kicked from escort to escort haunting us we were ready to tell the girls that they’d be sightseeing on their own. It soon became clear however that this far eastern province of Iran is starved of tourists, and all that was wanted of us was to spend some time being tourists. We firmly explained we had another 1200kms to travel by the following nightfall (by this stage it was 3pm!), and we were reluctantly given back our passports along with some souvenir keyrings and allowed to continue on our way.

And finally after nearly 3 weeks of following somebody else’s agenda we were free! Free to travel where we wanted, when we wanted, at the speed we wanted. The road infrastructure in Iran is incredible – double lane dual carriage ways ply through the desert. They are free of pot holes, cows, goats, horse pulled carts and overloaded tractors traveling in the wrong direction. With a speed limit of 120 we quickly realised that we might be able to make it to Isfahan in time after all.

Every corner we turn there are more stunning mountains

Every corner we turn there are more stunning mountains

And make it we did. The intense agenda we’d been following instantly became a holiday, with time off the bikes for sightseeing and soaking up Iran’s incredible culture. Through Moni’s father we were put in touch with Amir, an Iranian who’d lived in Vienna for 6 years. He took us under his wing during our time in Isfahan, he showed us the sights, fed us the food, explained Iranian culture and even took Drew to the dentist.

A fantastic home cooked meal with Amir and his parents

A fantastic home cooked meal with Amir and his parents

Iran’s cultural history is about as rich as they come, given people have been living in the area since 3000BC – it’s one of the oldest civilisations on the planet. There was no shortage of things to see and do. Isfahan was the capital for over a century, from 1600AD and was our base whilst the girls were in town.

After soaking up all that Isfahan had to offer, we got on the bikes with girls and ventured to Shiraz. Shiraz was also once Iran’s capital, and on it’s outskirts the ruins of Persepolis can be found; an ancient city dating back to 550BC

From Shiraz it was the desert city of Yazd we were destined. Unfortunately leaving Shiraz I picked up some dirty fuel which ruined my fuel pump. When emptying fuel from the filter, it came out black with chunks of debris! My last pump gave up 3 weeks earlier in Pakistan, and at $500 a pop it’s not been a cheap exercise. Thankfully we were cautious enough to get Moni to order a new one and bring it from Austria, otherwise we’d still be on the roadside.

Another busted fuel pump enroute from Shiraz to Yazd

Another busted fuel pump enroute from Shiraz to Yazd

With Drew’s skills at play, we were only stuck on the roadside for an hour or so before pushing onwards. Moni had organised a stay in a spectacular family run guesthouse in the desert outside of the city, called Farvardinn – I’d recommend anybody in the area to stay here. Our host, Masoud, told us we should head 1km into the desert to appreciate the sunset over some ruins.

The following day we headed into the centre of the city, famed for it’s mud bricked old town with a labyrinth of traditional laneways zigzagging in all directions.

After dropping the girls back in Isfahan (and another trip to the dentist) we decided to push onwards towards Turkey. The road infrastructure is so good we thought we’d be fools not to make the most of the opportunity to buy a little time for later on in our journey – Drew booked his flight back to Australia, so we now have a very finite schedule to make it to Vienna. Given how safe, clean and sparsely populated Iran is, we decided to camp enroute – the first time since Australia.

Chasing the sun to find a suitable place to camp for the night

Chasing the sun to find a suitable place to camp for the night

A roadside camp outside Qom. This is the first time we've camped since Australia!

A roadside camp outside Qom. This is the first time we’ve camped since Australia!

The landscape changed strikingly as we neared Turkey, the temperature dropping quickly as arid planes turned into rich green pastures. On our final day we road over 1,000kms and managed to cross the border before nightfall – our biggest distance yet. It was the same day we clocked 20,000kms since departing from Melbourne, so we thought it was cause for celebration. We were excited to stay in a country where alcohol is legal again, but sadly for us we couldn’t find any beer in the Turkish border town that we stayed in for the night. The search continues.

We’ve absolutely loved our time in Iran – we didn’t really know what to expect, but our expectations weren’t high. Low expectations are a fantastic springboard for great experiences and Iran’s been one of the best countries that we’ve visited so far. If you’re at a loss for where to go on your next holiday I’d suggest you make it Iran. You won’t be disappointed.

Pakistan to Persia

We’re in Isfahan! It’s Friday morning and James’ wife Monica has just landed. Lucy will join from Jordan later tonight and its a near miracle that James and I arrived at 6:30pm last night. Once on Iranian soil we completed the 1250km journey to Isfahan in 17 hours, through the desert on perfect tarmac with hardly any traffic woes. I could have glued my throttle on at 110km/h. After 2 days in Iran I have finally had time to reflect on the journey thus far and especially Pakistan.

It’s fair to say luck wasn’t on our side in Pakistan but then again Pakistan is not a lucky country. After my last post from Nagar Fort our journey to the Iranian border proved to be the toughest 12 days of our trip so far and I’m pleased to say that James and I are still best mates and we have made it across the most difficult nation on route with no injuries or broken bikes.

Approaching the tunnel in Nagar.

Approaching the tunnel in Nagar.

We left Nagar Fort behind schedule and shortly after taking off on the way to the tunnel we needed to pass through, a member of our police escort stopped suddenly and reversed at speed into my bike! I bailed in time to obtain no injuries with the petrol tank taking the blow, leaving a decent dent in it but luckily not leaking fuel. I actually found humour in the whole ordeal given we were under ‘police protection’. James on the other hand didn’t. His blood was boiling within seconds, giving the police a lecture about mirrors and the like. But this incident was just the beginning of it.

Once at the tunnel the Korean engineer denied passage and would only let the bikes through without us on them sparking a frantic search for a truck to load the bikes onto and take them through within the hour. On top of this I had a toothache that had become bad enough to previously warrant a trip to a dentist in Pakistan who prescribed medication.

Pierre would be proud!

Pierre would be proud!

Further on the journey James’ bike broke down, not once but twice on consecutive days with two completely unrelated problems, the second costing us another day. Our planned route came to an abrupt end in Bhakkar with the police escorting us away from our booked hotel to a different police district for us to become someone else’s problem.

Why won't it go?

Why won’t it go?

After 3 hours we solved the problem

After 3 hours we solved the problem

Discussions between police and army officers took place until 9:30pm until we were escorted to a ‘safe’ hotel with security. Safe, but with no vacancy! A brief standoff took place between us and the police before James and I realised the tension was building. To have any luck at all we would have to settle on sleeping on the dining room floor at the most expensive rate paid since Thailand. To make matters worse, the following morning the police escorted us back to the town they originally picked us up from and left us to continue our journey only to be stopped another 60km’s up the road to be turned around again. Another police standoff this time with our new friends from Darwin to Douglas. We eventually made it to Multan and were finally told the information we had been asking for all day – the path we were trying to take was not possible. We were eventually given the right path to take! It was of course the longest route and under police escort all the way.

Colm, a fellow overlander posing with a policeman

Colm, a fellow overlander posing with a policeman

Hands off the triggers boys

Hands off the triggers boys

Arriving at Rahim Yar Kan at 10pm we set off the following day along with our new friends Colm and Eddie. We put in a massive 16 hour day under police escort to Quetta, the journey taking us through Baluchistan, and the arid landscape and 42 degree heat taking its toll on James. He was throwing up at lunchtime and by 2pm I was trying to arrange one of the officers on our escort to ride my bike so we could put James in the escort vehicle and I could ride his bike. I managed to find the only Pakistani officer in the country who couldn’t use motorcycle gears properly.

Policeman in pyjamas riding Drew's bike, when James was too sick to ride himself

Policeman in pyjamas riding Drew’s bike, when James was too sick to ride himself

We eventually arrived at 8pm on friday night, not ideal given we needed to obtain our N.O.C (No objection certificate) to continue west. We already knew that the police would not process our N.O.C until monday morning but what we didn’t know is that we were not allowed outside of our hotel without a police escort! Hotel Bloom Star became home for the 3 nights ahead and all food and supplies were to be ordered through the hotel management and delivered to the hotel. Amongst food and supplies for the bikes we managed to obtain some contraband… beer! Only 4 Australian blokes would pay $US100 for a slab of beer. Ironically it was brewed in Pakistan.

Riding in the back of a police ute in Quetta with some fellow overlanders to get our government permission to proceed on our journey

Riding in the back of a police ute in Quetta with some fellow overlanders to get our government permission to proceed on our journey

Our only view of the outside world - from the rooftop of our hotel in Quetta

Our only view of the outside world – from the rooftop of our hotel in Quetta

Blokes on Spokes meet Darwin to Douglas

Blokes on Spokes meet Darwin to Douglas

It was nice for some new company along the journey

It was nice for some new company along the journey

On Monday morning we were escorted to the police station to obtain our N.O.C’s and after we had tea in about 5 different offices over 3 hours we finally received the document. We spoke to the head of staff about our intentions to leave very early the following day for Taftan. The border closed at 4:30 pm and by our math if we left at dawn ( N.O.C dictating travel during daylight) we could make the border crossing and continue at least 100km’s into Iran. He assured us that this would be possible and phone calls were made. However we shouldn’t have been surprised that at 5:30am we were all sitting in reception ready to go with no escort in sight. It finally turned up at 6:50am and escorted us 1km down the road to another escort! I think I stopped counting at 10 different vehicles. Some had armed guards, others just a driver with a gun. Every now and again a man with a AK47 turned up on his 70cc Moped.

This district couldn't afford an escort car, so we got a 70cc motorbike instead

This district couldn’t afford an escort car, so we got a 70cc motorbike instead

Must not pass the 70cc powerhouse

Must not pass the 70cc powerhouse

We tried to explain to every escort our desire to travel at 80km/h but when the clock struck 2pm and we were not even halfway, our dreams of making it to Iranian soil were over. I had joined Eddie with a bad case of ‘the runs’ but the final kick in the back was James hitting me from behind at 50km/h on a sketchy stretch of road taking us both down. Luckily the sand that caused the accident also broke our fall and no significant damage was done. Still over 100km’s out of Taftan by sunset we continued on in the dark and 60km’s out at a police checkpoint we were informed that there was a 50% chance of continuing onto Taftan and maybe we should stay somewhere else for the night… Thankfully they took us through and we slept in the Police station/local prison for the night. Across the courtyard were at least 50 Afghani refugees housed for the night. The fact that they seek asylum in Pakistan was a bleak reminder for us at how bad some areas in Afghanistan must be.

Racing the sun to Taftan

Racing the sun to Taftan

Fill her up boys!

Fill her up boys!

I'm sure we can go faster...

I’m sure we can go faster…

...because there aren't too many distractions on this road

…because there aren’t too many distractions on this road

Until it all turned to sh&t

Until it all turned to sh&t

As you can well imagine we were ready to move on to our next country. But after 2 days in Iran with it’s near perfect highways, clean cities and western conveniences I now look back on Pakistan fondly. Yes it was hard, but riding a motorcycle around the globe was never going to be easy. Pakistan challenged us from every angle but we kept pushing on, determined to get through it. This is the adventure and the reason we left the comfort of our own country for. We have just returned from a fantastic lunch with our friend Amir’s family in their home in Isfahan, Iran. I am stuffed full and once again overwhelmed by the hospitality. Isfahan feels European and we can easily tell from here on in things will become more and more comfortable. Pakistan, India and beyond will become distant lands but we will hold on to the experience forever. Before I know it I will be sitting in Vienna waiting a flight home….

For interested overlanders, check out Jimmy’s post on Horizons Unlimited about which roads to take and which to avoid

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