Travel Through Iran on a Harley-Davidson

By Peter Forwood

Iran on a Harley (7/5/97 - 30/5/97)
Distance 5220 km (67040 km to 72260 km)

This is part of the second section of our around the world trip.
Complete Trip Overview & Map

Coming from  Pakistan

7/5/97 First impressions of Iran, very friendly. Well getting through customs was easy but getting out of the compound wasn't. The customs officials have a midday siesta and don't open the gates until 5 pm.

8/5/97 Topped up with fuel - good fuel and good prices, 5c per litre Aust, although the petrol stations are difficult to find in town and are scarce on the road so far. Other prices seem good also, soft drink 10-15c Aust. a bottle, meat & rice $A2 and very basic accommodation $A4-6. First night in Zahedan, 80 km from the border and the next day, 320 km to Bam. Great roads, but hot riding through the desert. Keep running into Dragoman, an overland tour company heading for Europe and travelling about the same pace.

9/5/97 In Bam, there is an ancient citadel, 12th Century, well preserved and the building method of sun baked clay bricks with mud and straw covering has continued to the present day here. The mud buildings not unlike Pakistan but with domed roofs. Bam is an oasis in the desert and great for a rest. While the chador is worn by all women when outdoors, it appears to be more like a cape thrown over such western dress as jeans and only put on to go outside. With no arm holes it is often let drop revealing the figure it was intended to cover and this glimpsing is probably more seductive than wearing western clothes openly. The great surprise to me on arrival is the number of women outdoors, shopping, smiling,Bam Citadel walking and even flirting. Quite different from either Pakistan or Bangladesh and a shock in a supposedly fundamentalist nation.

  10/5/97 Bam to Shiraz via Kerman, a long day, 800 km. 5 am start, freezing cold riding through plains between snow capped mountains, (in May) thin cloud cover with drizzle and the sun filtering through creating tremendous scenery. After Kerman the road dropped to semi desert with oases but I didn't remove my jacket all day. Travelling around 115 km/h the H-D just purrs along, a great change from the last 4 months.

11/5/97 Main concern here was visa extensions having only a five day visa and today being the 5th day and 2000 km to the border. No problem, was offered 15 days, asked for 30 and settled for 21 days. Incredibly efficient and pick up visa the next day. Relaxed now with time to spend in Iran, I hit the bazaar, not shopping just looking through kilometres of narrow alley ways with arched roofs. Phoned home at $A1 perCamped inside this old fort structure minute and generally relaxed.

12/5/97 Tonight was the fourth in a series of ten to remember Moharram, the third Caliph after Mohammed who was murdered, thus splitting Muslims into Shi-ite and Sunni. Iran being almost entirely Shi-ites remembers for ten days with parades. My hotel being opposite the carpark where the remembrance takes place each night from 11 pm to 12.30 am gave great views the first night but by the third was an unwarranted intrusion on my sleep.

  13/5/97 Riding again, Persepolis, an ancient city, 2500 years plus, built by the Persians. I had been bumping into two Germans and two Canadians travelling by mini bus off and on since Quetta and we teamed up for the day leap frogging the mini bus giving each a ride on the motorcycle until we arrived at a disused observation post in the middle of nowhere to camp the night. Having bought some meat earlier, we had a reasonably traditional Aussie BBQ and watched a most magnificent sunset through threatening clouds before sweeping away the goat shit to sleep onDesert camp at sunset the ground inside the watch tower.

14/5/97 Arrived Esfahan early, first impressions great with clean tree lined streets and old bridges and buildings. The women here again even more open and outgoing. This however was the first time I have experienced different prices for foreigners in Iran. I don't mean National site entries, I mean food shops, ice creams etc. Apparently the majority of tourists coming to Iran stop here and the rip offs, so common in Asia, have arrived.

15/5/97 A day at the bazaar and square, before a two day holiday, buying locally produced handicrafts for the family. The copper ware is great as is the marquetry and Persian carpets. Illegal money changing occurs in the square and it seems at 4700R to $US 1, as opposed to 3000R officially, almost every tourist changes money here. Walking with a male traveller with long hair seems hazardous as a homosexual relationshipThe gate to Persepolis is assumed and his hair was regularly tugged. Apparently long hair and earrings on males is considered un-Islamic here.

16/5/97 Holiday and a day of writing post cards, washing and cleaning the motorbike and hunting for food as almost all shops were closed.

17/5/97 The last day of Moharram, everyone wearing black and street parades of people flaying themselves (Shallagh). A solemn procession, not unlike the feeling of Good Friday in Christian countries. The Emam square in the centre of town is packed with parading groups, and onlookers, come to pay respect.

18/5/97 Before finally leaving Esfahan, a compulsory visit to the two Mosques lining the main Square. This was the first time in 11 months of travel that I had been mistaken for a local, having sunburnt face and hands, a beard and serious purpose, I strolled in avoiding the $A6 entry fees. Of to Yazd, 300 km and back to desert roads. I had noticed many parking roadside stops literally covered in oil from trucks doing oil changes. When in Rome, a brief stop, out with the old in with the new and off again. While environmentally unsound, it does seem to soak into the tar and form part of the parking area. Better here than dumped in some storm water drain.

19/5/97 Yazd to Mashhad and over 1000 km of hot desert roads, just following the front wheel. The windswept desert scenery again magnificent, salt lakes next to the road, wild camels and shepherds grazing sheep and goats. The layered sandstone, windswept into a patchwork of colours of various layers all broke the monotony of 115 km/hr, hour after hour. The desert was strewn in the afternoon with dozens of willy willy's or mini tornadoes occasionally catching me and nearly blowing me off the road. Later a strong desert side wind started blowing making riding difficult and rather unpleasant.

20/5/97 TwoDust devils, willy willy's, form over the hot desert in the afternoons visits to the holiest of places for Shi-ite Muslims, the shrine of Emam Reza, virtually covered the whole day. An amazing place seen in the daylight and at night. A virtual small city with two mosques and three schools, a shrine and religious offices. It is great to see a working religious complex and the thousands of devotees and pilgrims attest to its working.

21/5/97 Another visit to Emam Reza but this time I was apprehended as a non Muslim and politely informed that I should not be here, news to me and my guide book. Such an impressive place, three visits was only just enough.

22/5/97 Relaxed again in Mashhad but with the major caffeine dose I have been receiving from Zam Zam, the local brew of cola at only 9c Aust. a bottle, I was drinking too much and getting jittery and not sleeping.

23/5/97 AgainThe big sturgeon Mashhad and relaxed with a good book just unwinding the Zam Zams today.

  24/5/97 Mashhad to Gorgan, desert to the coastal mountains leading down to the Caspian Sea. The motorcycle now running more unevenly with the lower altitude at times below sea level. A nice change though to see trees and pastures with rolling green hills. After visiting Gombad-é Kavus, the world's first skyscraper, a mausoleum over 1000 years old, it was into Gorgan and a fight with the hotel over charging 4 times the price for tourists compared to locals. Being tired and not in the mood to look elsewhere, I decided a “sit-in” outside the hotel would be appropriate. After only a couple of minutes a large crowd gathered mainly to look at the motorcycle and within 10 minutes the police arrived, requested my passport and I was escorted to the local Police Station. All very polite but firm on both sides. I explained my complaint, they checked my documents thoroughly, they inspected the motorcycle and all its functions and found me a room at a hotel for a reasonable price.Shearing sheep out in the paddock Although firm they were very helpful. I would not like to protest much stronger in this country, particularly if I was an Iranian. Foreigners are expected to be a bit different.

25/5/97 Gorgan to Noshahr and my first glimpse of the largest inland waterway in the world, the Caspian Sea, made more unusual in that it is 30 metres below sea level. It is rare that I find riding such a nice bike a nuisance. In Indonesia I just ignored the police trying to stop me to look at the motorcycle but in Iran I would not be as game. I guess I have had my passport checked every 100 km on average and a complete search of the motorcycle, more extensive than at any border crossing, once. It is rare that I make it through any of the dozens of road blocks without at least a 3 minute stop and usually 10 minutes. I have tried friendly and curt but neither speeds or delays the procedure.

  26/5/97 Noshahr - Hamadan. It is worth coming to Iran just for the great roads andTowards Teheran from the Caspian Sea, magnificent road magnificent scenery and the low cost of petrol. Being only 3000 km from Europe I don't know why more bike groups don't organize rides here. The road up through the Alborz Mountains from Noshahr to the top, down to Karaj would have to be the best ride this trip. Travelling from below sea level, up into and above the snow line at the pass, with large patches of snow still on the ground, winding up the narrow river valley must be hard to beat anywhere in the world.

27/5/97 Hamadan - Tabriz. Taking a straight line route, I encountered my first dirt road in Iran, 100 km. Again great village and mountain scenery but mainly watching the road. Followed then by 100 km of winding road to a small town and lunch. These are Kurdish people, the first woman I have seen in bright colours, traditional dress and heads uncovered. Into Tabriz and for the second time in Iran, a taxi driver offered for me to follow him to the hotel without payment and without commission. Iran is an amazing combination of hospitality and rip offs. The hospitality far outweighs the rip offs but the next taxi driver is as likely to charge double the fare.

28/5/97 Nowhere have I encountered such genuine helpfulness anywhere else as in Tabriz. It may sound odd but requiring fitting of a new tyre, the workshop next to where the motorcycle was parked offered all the tools needed to remove the wheel, transport to the tyre place where a different man offered assistance to find a welder to repair holes in the mufflers, transport again provided free to an electric welder to weld pannier support brackets and to a metal fabricator to cut supports for the fibreglass panniers which were cracking under the strain of overloading and Asian roads. You think I paid for it. Well at Australian $1, I had the tyre changed, $4.50 to weld two mufflers with big holes, $1.50 to weld and strengthen 3 brackets and $1.80 for 8 metal plates cut and punched to fit the panniers. I don't think there is any doubt who was ripping who off ifIranian women keeping a polite distance from a foreign male anyone. All transport was genuinely offered all day and no payment would be taken no matter how hard I insisted. I admit they were interested in the motorcycle and may not have done the same for a lesser vehicle.

29/5/97 Most of the day spent putting the motorcycle back into working order. I did treat myself to an Iranian movie. Having watched some television and read some newspapers I was intrigued with the prospect of a movie. Most newspaper articles are subtle propaganda not that much different from the west. The lack of any bad news and the promoting of Iran as better than elsewhere perhaps is more harmful with the general people believing not much of relevance exists outside Iran and only good happens in Iran. India has a similar media and leads the people to think that everything is the best in the world which leads to little motivation for improvement. The cinema movie was nationalistic hype with the Iranians at war with a desert neighbour, presumably Iraq, where the neighbour was unjust and did everything bad and Iran was fair and just obviously winning the day. The television I have been able to watch is educational and not entertainment for adults which probably reduces the demand for new televisions in Iran.

30/5/97 Preparing for Turkey, reading and getting physically and mentally ready.

31/5/97 Early start hoping to cross the border early, spent my last Iranian Rials buying tinned food, cheap here and the Rials almost worthless to change. Soon after met two guys (met earlier, one in Delhi, one in Quetta) riding Indian Enfields. It is amazing how you catch up with people after months of travelling independently. One was heading for England and one to Denmark.

Iran Summary. I found Iran totally different from what I had expected. The people are friendly and obviously concerned to give a different view of Iran other than that portrayed by the west. That does not mean that the government to government view is wrong, like most countries the people are friendly, it is the governments that one must question or those members of the public who hold strong views either fundamentalist or capitalist. The anti western feelings can not be hidden by many of the people, particularly towards the US, while others don't care.

The price of everything here is incredibly cheap and of a high standard. Third world prices and almost first world quality. Rip offs are moderate compared with central Asia, people helpful. Desert scenery incredible and mountain roads fantastic. There are big distances between towns but these are travelled quickly. The lack of English speaking can leave the lone traveller lonely and make it difficult to find out more information about the country. A great place to visit.

Move with me to Turkey , or go to our next visit to Iran  




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