The southern escape

Takab/Hamadan/Esfahan, from Indian autumn to freezing mountain passes

After a few days in Iran, we realized that the northern, mountainous part of Iran would soon become too cold to ride. So we needed to head South fast, away from the mountains and into the desert. Unfortunately, faith decided otherwise.

Freezing cold mountain pass Overall, Iran has good roads and proper signs in Arabic Farsi as well as the Latin alphabet. Traffic in the cities can be a bit overwhelming, since car drivers use every small opening to maneuver, thereby ignoring lanes, pedestrian crossings and traffic rules in general. However, on the bigger roads traffic is fine, although cars and trucks do like to take a close look at us while overtaking. Since our GPS made a small mistake the day before, we decided to rely on the road signs for our route from Bukan via Shahin Dej to a historical site near Takab. After the first, fast kilometers the road rapidly deteriorates to a labyrinth of potholes, then changes to a small mountain road and then turns out to be the route to an army base… Since we do not like to turn around, we take the small, uphill gravel road to the left, hoping it will be a shortcut back to the main road..  which it isn’t. The scenery is stunning, Scottish-like mountains with rocky tops above greenish slopes and small villages of adobe houses. Unfortunately,  the gravel road we follow is not marked and splits up into several paths leading into different valleys. We have no clue where to go! Finally, after getting stuck in the mud twice and turning around two times, a jeep shows up. We ask for directions and they indicate we can follow them to the main road to Shahin Dej! It takes quite a bit of our off-road skills, but after four(!) hours we are back on the tarmac. The final challenge is to pass an altitude of 2600 meters, where our hands almost freeze off and we end up in snowy weather. We are really happy when the road descends again and our final destination is in sight: Home, sweet home, a dodgy hotel in Takab, where the squat toilet also functions as the shower drain.

Smiling while destroying the rear tube Due to the weather we decide to skip the historical site and directly continue towards Arak the next day. Finally, the sun is shining brightly and the riding is easy… until I notice my bike feels funny. I slow down and the wobbly feeling gets worse: The first flat tyre! Arggh! Paul starts to dismount the rear tire, but one of the screws of the brake caliper is fastened too tightly for our tools.
What is missing here? Fortunately, in Iran aid is never far and two passing truck drivers help us out. When popping the tyre back in the rim they do, however, damage the inner tube again… A local guy offers to point us to the nearest tyre shop and Paul takes the wheel there, leaving me to guard over the bike in this deserted place. After more than one hour they return with a professionally fixed tyre, and we can finally continue. After sunset we arrive in Hamedan and we check in at the first hotel we encounter. It is a fancy place and we enjoy our clean, spacious room with kitchen. After watching a movie we fall asleep, dreaming about warm, sunny beaches, impenetrable tyres and perfect road signs.

Play hard, rest hard Due to all these delays, the distance to Esfahan, the former Iranian capital, is still 500 km, but we decide to cover this lap in one, long day. Finally, good fortune is on our side and we manage to get there just before sunset. The landscape has changed from green to dusty, and from mountains to flat land. Luckily the temperature has risen as well. The first night we stay with Ali, an in-house architect living in his self-designed apartment building in Fengshui style. All of a sudden we are surrounded by luxury: Paul delightedly sips from a coke with ice, while I try out the relaxing massage chair.

Rooftop view The following morning Ali gives us a short tour of the nicely designed apartment building including the rooftop terrace. We take a short walk to look at the famous si-o-se-pol bridge over the Zayandeh river, which unfortunately is now dry due to water shortage in the region. We also have a taste of Gaz, the local candy, similar to nougat. At noon we move our gear one level down in the apartment building, where Saeideh and her mother welcome us into their home by serving a nice lunch of Iranian rice with chicken. Aided by Saeideh we shop for additional Iranian-proof clothing and buy ingredients for a ‘traditional’ Dutch lasagna, which we prepare for our hosts in the evening. It is really nice to get an insight into the life of Iranian women. We learn that as a woman in Iran you are not allowed to ride a motorbike or even a bicycle, and if your hair is visible underneath your scarf or you wear too much make-up you could be fined or even worse. We feel angry and sad that this is their everyday reality. Walking in the streets with our host, we experience this in real-life: Two women in black chadors walk up to us, I assume it must be friends, but they turn out to be ‘women police’ and tell our host she should cover-up.

Iman square Our last day in Esfahan, we visit the scenic Emam square including two magnificent mosques, the Ali Qapu palace and the nearby bazaar. Although this is suppose to be one of the highlights of Iran, we feel the mosques do not stand out that much from previous mosques we have seen and the palace is actually pretty small. We do enjoy walking around here, and especially appreciate a great coffee in a small cafe hidden in the bazaar. In the evening we return to the rooftop terrace for a party organized by Ali, where we share stories and laughs with a great group of Esfahanies. Ali’s wife serves a finger-licking Ash, the Iranian equivalent to Dutch pea soup, accompanied by sandwiches designed by their smart twelve year old daughter. The evening is concluded by the sound of drums produced by the Moharram pilgrims returning to the nearby mosque, which is to be a recurring event for the next 10 days.

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5 Responses to The southern escape

  1. Ali says:

    Dear Marlieke and Paul, I wanted to say the Iranian Alphabet is not Arabic as you mentioned in this post! It’s Farsi and there are many differences between these two.

    Anyway we enjoyed reading your blog so much and wish you more great experiences on your way :)

  2. Ria says:

    Marlieke en Paul – ongelofelijk wat een ervaring in dit vreemd (Iran) land voor ons.
    Wat staat dat goed aan je Marlieke – het hoofdbedekking – maar je hebt wel heel wat in huis om met hun te mogen eten en meelopen in hun cultuur. Petje af !!!!!
    lieve regen (de sneeuw is zoek hier) groetjes, Ria

  3. corrie rombouts says:

    Bedankt voor jullie mooie reisverslag. Het is elke keer weer genieten. Pas goed op en geniet met volle teygen. Corrie Rombouts.

  4. corrie rombouts says:

    Hallo wereldreizigers,
    Wat een spannende verhalen. Met de motor over al die bergweggetjes en modderpaden en dan nog een lekke band in the middle of nowhere. Good on you!!!
    Nou, dat wordt boeken schrijven, dus niet een maar velen over jullie belevenissen. Veel mensen kunnen lering trekken over wat jullie allemaal ervaren hebben. En dat er overal op de wereld zoveel hulpvaardige mensen zijn, ongeacht geloof of afkomst
    ( lees cultuur). Ik wens jullie beiden een goede voortzetting van jullie tocht en bedankt, dat wij een beetje over jullie schouder mee mogen genieten. Liefs Corrie Rombouts.

  5. Jan en Paula says:

    Hallo lieve worldwanders,
    Wat een mooie, spannende verhalen weer. Terwijl jullie in de sneeuw reden gaan we hier met een graad of 9 de kerstavond in.
    We kijken al weer uit naar jullie ervaringen in Pakistan en zijn blij met ieder berichtje van jullie.
    Het zal vreemd zijn om het kerstfeest zonder jullie te vieren, maar jullie zijn in onze gedachten.
    We zullen een kaarsje voor jullie branden.
    Dikke kus van papa en mama.

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