Tehran (July 28th – August 9th)

So after 7 days cycling with some big distances put down plus a stop here n there, we finally arrived in Tehran. Here I would spend the next 10 or so days sorting out visas and finding my way around the capital…

The visa situation was a nightmare and I can’t really be bothered to relive it all through typing it out, but basically I had to jump through many an expensive hoop in order to get a few fancy stickers stuck in my passport. The embassies and consulates are generally only open for 2-3 hours in the morning and some like the Chinese embassy only open Tuesdays/Thursdays and Sundays. All embassies are generally in the same area, but Tehran is a big place so in reality this means a few kilometres apart therefore necessary to take a taxi to travel between them swiftly. To make things more difficult you have to get the syntax of visa applications correct e.g. you can only apply for Turkmenistan visa once you have the visa for Uzkbekistan, and you can only get the visa for the Uzbekistan once you have the letter of invitation from the British embassy (£40), but be sure you don’t give the Uzbekistan embassy the original copy, because the Chinese embassy only accept the original…etcetc et-bloody-cetera. For added fun you will often find a mob of visa agents each with 20 passports waiting to be processed stood at the front of the queue, and if they are not at the front to start off with then they will push in. And for some embassies e.g. Turkmenistan once they have reached their quota for that day then WHAM and the shutter is closed for the day. Never will I complain about British bureaucracy again after having experienced Central Asian bureaucracy. It was stated that the embassy would open at 0930, but on one occasion it didn’t open until 1230 and you had to sit/stand in the direct sunlight unless you wanted to lose your place in the “queue”. Some embassies accept Rials whereas others want dollars, and others still Euros. And of course changing money isn’t your usual Bureau de change wham bam thank you mam cash exchange, but the type of tedious process as described at length in a blogpost back in Turkey. In the end I paid £40 equivalent in Rials for the LOI, $105 for the Uzbek, $85 for Turkmen ($30 extra compared to other European nationals), and 25€ for Tajikistan visas (what a bargain). I spent 8 mornings doing the rounds and only managed those three. It’s not as easy as you might think to nail them all because for some you need to leave your passport with them etccccccc…………………….

Anyway. The first thing which struck me about Tehran was that the traffic was no way as bad as I was anticipating. This would soon change once I ventured deeper into the capital. The second thing was the lack of a major river flowing through the city; all green spaces were artificially irrigated with sprinklers. All the traffic meant that the air was particularly bad. The northern side of the capital is flanked by a big mountain range. On one night I slept at the foot of these mountains and the air was noticeably better. The view of the city was impressive – lights stretching as far as the eye could see…
Share taxies were the best way to get around the city but not the easiest to navigate as a foreigner. You basically tell the driver where you want to go and then jump in if it’s a goer or wait for the next if not. It’s all the difference in terms of price but you often need to get multiple rides which can be an arse. On one occasion I left my phone in a shared taxi. When I realised my blunder, I ran up the road and miraculously was able to find the cab again ‘cos it was stuck in such slow moving traffic.

Either I didn’t hear about them or Tehran really doesn’t have that many tourist attractions. I checked out Freedom Tower. I was waiting for something equal in stature or greater than the Eiffel Tower but when I got there it was a right ol’ anti-climax. Looked pretty cool from underneath though. Apart from the security camera looking back down on me…

Satellite dishes are illegal here, and from time to time people do have them confiscated (in which case they are normally reinstalled within 24hours). Nevertheless if you scour the Tehran skyline you will remark that they are pretty much everywhere. Hotbird, Nilesat, Eutelsat, and Arabsat afford satellite dish owners the privilege of all the ususal free-to-air channels and then some. Some people have motorized satellite dishes to pick up some of the more exotic satellites, but of course they risk having them confiscated. State media ,specifically the news, I am told, is a complete joke. On the other hand I have had others tell me that channels such as BBC Persian and Voice of America are blatant propaganda too. Mobile and phone card credit goes a really long way here.

The driving in Tehran really has to be seen or better still witnessed from the back of a motorcycle- taxi to be believed. It’s ridiculous. Something like a no rules rally. If you thought it was supposed to be 4 lanes of traffic then think again. Try 7.5. Undertaking is as normal as overtaking, and Uees, driving with no lights in the dark, cutting in front of people at traffic lights, and driving the wrong way up the hardshoulder, are all de rigeur. As for crossing the road as a pedestritan, well it’s a bit like playing a real life game of Frogger: a health and safety inspector’s worst nightmare. Pedestrian crossings might as well not exist, and the little green man doesn’t count for a great deal. Strangely though it seems to work. ‘Seems’ being the operative word perhaps for I heard that there are in fact 25000 killed every year in car accidents in Iran…

I knew that alcohol would exist in Iran despite its illegality, just like the availability of every other banned everything all over the world. Of the two boozers we went to in East Turkey (one in Trabzon, on in Erzurum) both times it properly felt like a speakeasy (i.e. low lights, relatively discreet entrance etc). I’m sure private clubs exist here for the super-rich, but for the majority of people it’s a case of brewing your own or calling your grog dealer. Many times since being here I have had people offer drink, mostly whiskey. Indeed whiskey and vodka are the most readily available tipples (great strength to volume ratio, and easy to disguise in another drinks container e.g. a water bottle). You will pay $20 for a 1.5 litre bottle of homemade schnapps/vodka type drink, $50 for an average wine bottle of wine here, and $7 for a can of Heineken! (come to think of it, you pay about the same in a British pub these days).But how bloody much for can o’ cider? Last one I ‘ad was a Strongbow from a Billa supermarket on the banks of the Iron Gates gorge of all haunts. There’s a business idea there perhaps, albeit a pretty dangerous one. Other ideas include a powerbikes business (only saw 2 during my whole time spent in Iran), and would somebody please open a decent map shop? Monsanto-hormone-augmented cash cow right there for the milking….

It’s been both fascinating and shocking getting the inside scoop on what went down at the 2009 demonstrations here in Tehran. Protestors confronting the Meton the streets of Britain do in fact have it kushti compared to some of the atrocities committed here. Funny to see things explode on the streets of Britain while I was here and the subsequent rehetorical exchange between the Iranian and British governments.A new “bus lane” was installed in Tehran after the 2009 demonstrations from the North of the city all the way to the South and same East-West. This of course doubles up as a neat a way of deploying a sizeable phalanx of riot police anywhere in the city at drop of a hat.

Tehran is a bit of a Pirate’s Paradise for cracked software and pirated films/music it seems. No Hollywood films are shown at the pictures here. You gotta Torrent them. Or for $10 you can take a 500GB external HD to a ‘film shop’ and get it juiced with 400gigs+ of films. I learned that music with female lead singers are banned so any you do hear is in fact underground.

I was helped so much by a variety of people from different backgrounds during the 10 days spent in Tehran. It was nothing but heartwarming. The Iranians definitely lived up to their reputation for being the most friendly and welcoming.

August 1st marked the beginning of Ramadan. I had heard mixed reports about what was and what wasn’t cool e.g. you’re a foreigner so don’t worry/keep it discreet/don’t eat or drink anything. In reality I saw other people eating in the street, and some chilling out on grass verges knocking back Coca Cola so the whole fasting thing wasn’t stuck to as regimentally as I had expected.

The bike was a hindrance in many ways whilst in Tehran/Iran. Everyone kept telling me that I needed to visit Esfahan and Shiraz, but it would have been too much trouble to then organise getting the bike to the border. I gave up hope on the Chinese visa (and was utterly sick of the visa application process in general), so once I picked up my Turkmen visa I made arrangements to leave….

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1 Response to Tehran (July 28th – August 9th)

  1. Leslie James Payne says:

    Good to hear that you are OK! 10/10 for stickability!!

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