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On the bus in the shadow of the Ayatollah
d_Teheran-Isfahan-Yazd-Shiraz

On the bus in the shadow of the Ayatollah

Not all Honda is a motor, but all motor is a Honda

2018. április 01.

You can’t say you have been in a country until you haven’t used the local public transportation. This is obviously in controversy to doing my entire trip on motorbike, but in Iran I made an exception.

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My brother was coming to visit me, and one day before his departure I noticed that my back tire is a lot more damaged than I remembered. I guess I could do another 2-3000 km with it, maybe more, but chances are it will go totally broken in Pakistan for me. In Iran, I can’t buy a tire of this size, due to regulation the maximum size of motorbikes here is 250 ccm. One thing I wanted to avoid in all cost: having to make a stop somewhere in Balochistan, standing on the roadside, while an armed convoy is assisting me not to be caught by the talibans,

I immediately sent a mail to Robi to call Mofaker, who promised me a set of tires, and if for some reason they don’t have them in stock, send them to me as soon as they do.

My brother figured that only DHL delivers in Iran, and they said they would happily do so for 400 EUR if I wanted to. I decided half a pair of tires aren’t worth this much. But luckily Mofaker did what companies this size normally don’t, so my new tire got to Tehran on Sunday - together with my brother. I was happy for my new tire like a monkey on a playground!

We are always this casual when we got rubber on us

Japanese bath, Scottish whisky, Iranian Uber

My first thought about Tehran is the hostage crisis from 1979 happened on the American Embassy, so one of our first trips lead there. This building has been empty since the hostage crisis that lasted for 444 days. Perfect occasion for me to shoot a photo that can distort reality and show that every passer-byer wants to destroy the whole Western world. I did take that picture, but please don’t believe that this has anything to do with the reality.

img_3696.jpgThis is both funny and true though

We tried the Iranian metro which is not surprisingly a lot more modern and faster than the one in Budapest. Beyond the fast joyride we used Snapp, the Iranian Uber, where every km costs about 0.25 EUR.

img_3661.jpgControl

This sounds fucking great, but unfortunately the app needs to be used by humans who in fact can’t really use this not so complicated one. Somehow all drivers get it to the point, where they have to pick you up. But somehow almost none of them manage to indicate the start of the trip that would automatically show them the navigation to the address. Instead they run Google Maps - strictly in satellite view and walking mode.

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They spend long minutes just staring at the map, then after many detours, stopping here and there and asking pedestrians about the directions, they finally make it to the destination. I’d understand this trick if the app would count each km that you took, but this one immediately shows the recommended way and it tells you the sum you have to pay at the end. It doesn’t matter if your driver does a full circle along the Equator in the meantime.

In the evening we went to a Japanese Onsen, we thought it will be funny to do so in Tehran. But it was just rather expensive. Through one of our Snapp drivers we managed to get a bottle of whisky on an insane price, half of it we consumed straight away in the hotel. It was really exciting to drive around the city to meet all these shady dudes just for a bottle of alcohol. It was however less exciting, rather miserable the day after to walk around with throbbing headache to get rid of the black plastic bag and all evidence inside.

Luxurious bus

Robi had only 10 days in Iran. That is amazing, because even if we normally meet on a weekly basis, in the last 40 years it hasn’t happened that we got to spend this much time alone - without any other family member or friends. But on the other hand, 10 days in this country is really not a lot, given the size of it all.

So we decided to choose the most classical tourist trip: Tehran - Isfahan -Yazd - Shiraz. The cheapest way for this is to take the bus. Between each city you gotta take the bus for 400-450 km, that means 5-7 hours on an average. One ticket on a VIP bus costs about 150-170k rial, that is about 3,5-4 EUR.

jegy.jpgTehran-Isfahan bus ticket

For this much money you get about business class level of luxury. On these new Scania models you can watch the sunset over the desert dunes from a large leather armchair you can bend to almost lying position, while you’re being catered some Iranian horrific sweets. This is not necessarily a memory you will treasure, but definitely opening up your horizon in Iranian gastronomy normally based on kebab.

food.jpgwitness the fitness

On our first trip we watched Argo on the bus on our way to Isfahan. Not the lame Hungarian action movie, but the one directed by Ben Affleck about the hostage crisis. That put us into a properly fucked up mood to arrive in Isfahan.

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Isfahan’s main attraction is its main square, the unpronounceable Naqsh-e Jahan. In general there is nothing more boring than a main square, and that was valid now too. The only difference is, that this particular one is one of the biggest squares on the Earth surrounded by buildings. It’s exactly 512m long and 163m wide, a very impressive accomplishment especially given that all this was all built in 1602. All marbles and mosques. Like any proper half-intelligent but open-minded young men, we went over all the mosques, and the somehow very depressive, half-empty bazaar.

Luckily Isfahan had some surprises for us, like the charming Armenian quarter, that feels like a different city on its own. On the first sight it all seems like there is some vibrant and pulsing nightlife here, but in fact it turns out, all it has to offer are those hipster cafés where you can’t even smoke.

img_3880.jpgTrendy guys with moustache make your coffee very slow here too

Isfahan’s other biggest sight is the Pol-e Khaju bridge that was built in 1650. The yellow lights coming from its arches were meant to reflect on the water, but the Zayandeh river destined to the same fate as most rivers and lakes in Iran: total draught. There is no trace of even a single drop of water here, so I guess the local fishing club has closed its gates long time ago.

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We liked the Pigeon Tower the most. There are about 14000 pigeons living here. These flying rats were originally used to fertilize the melon crops with their guano, but with time their artificial counterparts took over this role. But the towers and the pigeons remained and it totally looks like some Hollywood film set.

After Isfahan we took another bus trip to Yazd. We didn’t have any high expectations, and it was a pleasant surprise, because Yazd is finally not a boring, modern big city, but a big city with a gigantic old town that has a spooky atmosphere.

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The only terror in Iran is of musical nature

Yazd with its uniform, mud-colored, low houses would be the perfect location to have those crazy imaginary stories with a taxi pulling over on a dark street, and some dudes in military jackets, pajama pants and slippers jump out and put a kalashnikov against your head to show you where you belong. But as we learnt, Iran is not only super safe but people are very hospitable, so you can’t really have those scary fantasies.

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Yazd obviously has a lot of interesting mosques, that are just as exciting to check out as any church, but to uphold our intellectual attitude, we went to see most of the important sacred sights.

Unsurprisingly, the most interesting thing in Yazd was not the mosques, but to get to know Omid, the taxi driver dude who could be an imitator of András Földes (Hungarian celeb).

He took us to Chak-Chak, the most sacred place for Zoroastrianism. It is a very boring place, but the surrounding landscape is truly breathtaking at least. I only found it exciting, because I studied Zoroaster’s speech back in uni. Even if you aren’t interested in philosophy, I’m sure you came across Strauss’ “Also sprach Zarathustra” in one way or another. The people of Zoroastrianism are the coolest in Iran anyways, because they can drink alcohol. They even have their own wine.

Zarathustra inspired artists from Nietzsche to Strauss and Kubrick, so I think it’s fair to say he legitimately deserves some attention.

Time was flying with Omid eating up those miles in the desert, while we got an in-depth intro to his Russian hard-base cassette collection.

In exchange for enduring his musical terror, Omid took us to Kharanaq village, a village older than 1000 years built entirely from mud. A truly Biblical place. Today it’s a ghost town, but since it was inhabited until the ‘70s, you can come across some modern artifacts among these ancient ruins, which is really surreal.

everyday hypocrisy

Then we spent a night in the desert, where in the middle of nowhere we managed to crash with another Land Cruiser, that was happened to be driven by Omid’s brother. I think this deserve to be officially on the list of the lamest accidents on road in the history of mankind. We met a really young Afghan refugee guy, who walked us to a tent a few km away within the dunes, where we had dinner. This guy turned out to be very smart, we enjoyed his informative stories about everyday life in Iran. My favorite was about how some of their ministers use Twitter to communicate with voters, even though Twitter is officially banned in the country. But it’s an open secret, that people are using VPNs to browse freely, so the banning efforts are in fact pretty pointless.

Another unexpected turn of events was when the soldiers of a lookout post invited us for lunch, they actually wanted us to eat their food. Like all of it. And so we did.

Motor cloning

Motor riding is  a very popular activity in Iran. Many people do it, and many people do it like mad men. Probably it has nothing to do with the fact that motorbikes cannot be imported above 250 ccm. Officially. What is really surprising though is that neither unofficially can one buy a motorbike larger than 250ccm. There are no grey solutions for that. So 90% of the motorbikes on the market is Honda CG125s. This only upholds until the first time you take a deeper look. Because when you do, you find out that only every 5-6th of it is real Honda CD125. There are at least 7-8 different brand names that manufacturers the exact same motor without even changing the slightest bit. Exactly since 1976.

The side effects of an earthquake

While me and my brother were hanging out in the Northern part of Iran, a rather large, 7.3 earthquake happened around the Turkish-Iraqi-Iranian border. Apparently we were supposed to feel it even in Isfahan, but we didn’t. We’ve only gotten to know what happened from the worrying texts we received. Weirdly, my facebook wasn’t full of the “marked safe” posts - unlike when a terrorist attack or natural catastrophe happens on the more fortunate side of the globe.

The only way it affected us was when a couple of days later we wanted to take a bus from Yazd to Shiraz, and we couldn’t, because there were simply not any buses left, they have moved them all to the emergency area. So we had no other option but to take a taxi to Shiraz for 80 EUR (which was a ripoff, we could have gotten the service for 60, easily). The day before we spent with Omid in his dodgy Peugeot 405, so it’s an understatement to say that we didn’t really feel happy about having to do the next 500km on the back seat of a Kia Pride that is almost falling apart. But we didn’t have any options unfortunately.

In Shiraz we got to see Iran’s probably nr 1 sight, Persepolis. Darius the great started to build Persepolis, he wanted to get himself a palace that measured up to his own greatness being one of the biggest ruler of all times. He was followed by Xerxes, who was leading the Persian-Greek wars from this same palace. He was one of the greatest military man and king, and nevertheless his uber cool name, he didn’t get a role in Asterix and Obelix.

The most unbelievable thing on this trip was the fact that even though you are technically always in a desert, you are never lower than 1500m altitude. If you’re not interested in history and don’t give a shit about politics either, I recommend you to watch Persepolis, that is a great movie, and also it brings you up to speed on Iranian history within 1,5 hours, and you get a deep cultural insight into the not so bright side of Iranian life.

Before leaving, we bumped into a huge pilgrimage. It was the day of the mourning of siths, a memorial for the martyrdom of the grandchild of Muhammad and his followers. It was rather exciting to follow them through the city.

We took the night train back to Tehran, that surprised us again a couple of times. The train station of Shiraz rather looks like an airport. As an airport usually, this wannabe-airport-bus-station was located 20km outside of the city, not like regular ones, in the city centre. The trains are surprisingly new, we were being lazy in our sleeping cabins for the 13 hours trip, equipped with LCD screens. We arrived on schedule down to the minute in Tehran.

in the footsteps of the shah

In Tehran we continued our “back to the ‘80s time travel”, and visited the Niavaran Palace Complex, aka the not exactly humble house of the shah with the automobile collection of the shah and his offsprings. When little Reza was 8 years old, he had his own miniature Aston Martin with JB007 license plate. Unfortunately this is no more, only a photo serves as witness. This whole place just tells so much. No wonder the people got fed up of this ostentatious luxury and terror, and ousted him.

 Little Reza’s got cars, motorbikes and rooms

The shah got and stayed in position thanks to the USA and UK, until the revolution. At that point, it wasn’t really about the Islam and the total denial of the western civilisation. When the shah, who was actually a tyrant, escaped to the USA with his family, and the USA refused his rendition to Iran, Homeini, who snatched power in the meantime managed to generate a huge rage in people, and turn them against the entire western world. The hostage crisis on the American Embassy was the consequence of this, along with the entire lock down of the country - that still lasts in a way.

Here, look at some body builders walking around Tehran’s streets until the democracy arrives in Iran.

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