Search Results for: iran
Distance: 4100 km
Time: 30 days
Date: October 2015
- Bazargan (Turkish border)
- Tabriz: 3 days
- Tehran: 4 days
- Masuleh (and back to Tehran): 2 days
- Kashan: 3 days
- Esfahan (Isfahan): 3 days
- Shiraz and Persepolis: 3 days
- Yazd: 5 days
- Fahraj (and back to Yazd): 2 days
- Bam 2 days
- Bandar Abbas: 1 day
… one person travel alone, local food, public transportation
doesn’t include Visa fees
… The secret parties taking place in apartments by the city of Tehran, in a country where almost everything that is synonymous of party is prohibited.
… The small town of smiling and kind population, which in addition to palaces, gardens and historic houses, offers a bazaar of beautiful architecture.
… The bridges over the River Zayandeh that even without water still provide a magical atmosphere with the approach of the sunset.
… The ruins of an extinct civilization, that despite the many visitors still mirror the greatness of an empire that is the heart of Persia.
… The atmosphere of Masoleum of Hafez (Aramgah-e Hafez) in a mixture of religious devotion, intellectual respect and artistic mystique that is still given to this poet.
… By Dakhme hills (Towers of Silence), where the bodies of Zoroastrianism followers, religion originated in Persia, were left to be eaten by vultures so as not to defile the sacred elements such as fire, water, earth and air.
… The best were the Tabriz by the atmosphere and the Kashan by the architecture of the building and the sidewalk terrace.
… And people! The generosity and the kindness.
… For an upcoming trip:
- Travel by train to Tehran to Ahvaz crossing the Zharkouh Mountains
- Visit the villages in Kaluts region where Balochi keep alive their culture and ethnic identity
- Explore the Persian Gulf, especially Qeshm Island
- The city of Mashhad
- Crossing the Dasht-e Lut (Lut Desert)
Yes, Iran is different… not exactly exotic with reference to the said culture “western” but has its own characteristics. It has little to do with the Arab neighbors, that are often confused, in addition to the Muslim religion that they share, although predominantly Shiite in Iran. But Iran has nothing to do with the image that for many years was passed to the west of radical religious fanatics. Yes, the weight of the Muslim religion is significant, but the value of 99% recorded in the statistics is not real, at least at the level of the urban population; but in a country that lives under a religious dictatorship for over 30 years there’s “room” for non-Muslims to assert themselves. For an informal survey, perhaps more than twenty percent of the population does not follow the Muslim religion, feeling an attachment for the history of Persia, the Zoroastrian symbols and their earlier traditions before Arab rule that brought the Muslim religion in this territory.
All hate to the West and especially the United States, is far from being real, not going beyond the extremists and some radical religious, with many people trying to get visa to immigrate abroad, with America as a favorite destination. And this desire to immigration, more for freedom than for economic reasons, it takes a lot of Iranian youth with better economic power and higher level of education to want to leave the country, a situation which in the long run impoverishes a nation.
No one ever expressed hatred to America or to the West, but often people showed me their displeasure and disgust toward the ayatollahs, with the imposition of the headscarf, lack of freedom, with the fanaticism of some mullahs, with bad policy and the disastrous economic management governance, which is a holder of one of the country’s largest oil reserves is less successful than some of his Arab neighbors.
In a country living under a theocracy where religious command society and politics, where almost everything is forbidden, parties, clubs, alcohol, premarital sex, satellite TV, certain books, facebook, youtube, blogs .. . and another list of things that do not seem real … much of the population breaks all these rules… here people drink alcohol, listen U2, dating, went to private parties where apartments turns into nightclubs, are sold pirated copies of prohibited discs and movies, where is normal the use of smart-phones, social networks, modern clothes, where women drive cars, are lawyers and taxi drivers… there are stores Bershka, Diesel, Mango and Coca-Cola is everywhere.
A very westernized country and worship a result of the time the Shah Reza Pahlavi ruled (bad or good) the country, and that the Islamic revolution could not erase, revealing itself for example in the high number of people who speak English even among the population older, language that is popular among young people; knowledge showing for Portugal, far beyond soccer, is another example.
One of the safest countries, not only by heavy penalties, where the death penalty and corporal punishment are common, but also by the formation of the people, where hospitality and generosity are genuine as never seen in any other country.
Iran is a too vast country to raise awareness on a journey of a month; vast in terms of history, cultures and ethnicities. A country where many people shows revolt by repressive theocracy that dominates the political and social life. A country where many things are forbidden but where constantly the rules are broken, where the majority of students in universities are women, where social networks and the Internet reach everywhere, were is visible a clear economic growth. A country that in addition to Islamic law are also the weigh of traditions, but which notes a desire for renewal, a desire for freedom, but where dominates a deaf revolt.
A country where life isn’t easy and where many people expect changes!
In Iran speak farsi, distinct from language Arabic that is often confused but are in fact quite different, with farsi with his own characters although resemble the Arabic script with the right-to-left.
In general little is written in latin characters with the exception of route orientation plates, plates with the names of towns, street names, the metro and shops and restaurants in areas with more tourism.
However, there are more languages spoken in Iran, corresponding to different ethnic groups such as Azerbaijani, Kurdish, Luri, Arabic and Balochi.
In Iran the numbering system is in arabic characters, which at first glance have nothing to do with the numbers we have learned to call “arab” that apparently had origin in India.
At first it seems confusing and impenetrable but after a few days, after finding the logical and with the help of some mnemonics we become accustomed to this numbers, which like the western numbers, are written from left to right, unlike text .
Here is a table that helps to memorize the Arabic numerals used in Iran.
Weekend and Schedule:
Following Muslim tradition, the day of rest in Iran is on Friday, with Saturday and Sunday to work normally. However many markets and bazaars, as well as bakeries are working also on Friday, where the exception was the bazaar of Shiraz.
Small shops style grocery stores are also open every day selling commodities for food, soft drinks, tobacco, mobile phone charging … and a little of everything.
As for shcedules, shops and bazaars not start too early, with most opening by 10:00 AM, but extend to the 9:00 or 10:00 PM.
Cash, cards and ATMs:
The Iranian currency is called rials … and they are in thousands
There are ATMs everywhere but because Iran banks are not connected to international banking networks, the only Iranian cards work to get money. For the same reason the credit cards did not have any utility in Iran.
Alternatively it is possible to send money to Iran by Western Union, which has branches and agents in some cities. It may be a good option in an emergency for lack of funds.
But no doubt that the best option is to bring money on “paper” the good old-style, preferably dollars or euros… yes, yes, despite the “war” to America, the dollar bills are very welcome.
As Iran is safe in terms of crime, not isn’t a great risk carrying big amounts of cash, yet need to use the normal.
According some information the money should be exchange slowly because of inflation and variation of exchange rate between rials and foreign currency. There is a high inflation but rather affects those who live here and is not visible to anyone here if it takes a month. Regarding exchange rate there is a big difference from city to city (according to the competition between money changers) and special from shop to shop. From my experience, in big cities can be the best deals, often without commission or with small values (30,000 rials); in Tehran and Esfahan got 1€ = 39,600 rials*, in small towns like Bam or areas with little or no tourism as Bandar Abbas 1€ = 37,000 rials *. So it is better to exchange a significant amount of money (100€ for example) when you find a “good deal”.
But changing money in banks is generally a bad choice: the euros have less value and bank fees are charged (1€ = 35,000 rials) *.
Another option are some hotels or guesthouses that “informally” exchange money, without commission at with a rate a bit better than the banks.
The only disadvantage to exchange a large amount of money at once is that you get a big amount of bills, were one hundred euros “result” in almost 4 million of rials… but there are the ‘Bank Cheques’ that look like bills, with the values of a million and half a million which makes things easier but that does not always available in exchange shops.
Apart from the difficulty in dealing with the many “zeros” present on rials bil, there is also other adversity for who arrives in Iran: the toman, where 1 toman are 10 rials, with the prices indicates sometimes in tomans others in rials… confusing.
But in general, the products in markets are displayed in tomans, but accommodation and transport are in rials, when values are expressed verbally may be either in taking in rials with… very confusing.
* values from October 2015.
In term of costs, traveling in Iran is not expensive compared to European standards.
bus ticket between major cities: 100000 to 300000 rials (2.6 to 5.3 €)*
falafel: minimum 30,000 rials (0.8 €)*
ash-e reshteh or halim: between 30,000 rials (0.8 €) and 50,000 rials (1.3 €)*
pizza: 150,000 rials (€ 4)*
The largest share of the budget goes for accommodation; some examples, with the amounts vary widely from city to city, with a room in Tabriz costing half of a bed in a dormitory in Kashan. Almost all hosts include breakfast, and almost all with shared tolets:
- single room in mosaferkhaneh: about 250,000 rials (6.6 €)
- bed dormitory, in a hotel: 300,000 to 500,000 rials (8-13 €)
- single room in hotel: 500,000 rials (13 €)
- double room in hotel: 600,000 rials (16 €)
A one month stay the average cost were 15 € / day with:
- 46% accommodation
- 23% power **
- 20% transport
- 6% entries in tourist sites
- 5% small stuff (telephone, laundry, etc.)
* values from October 2015
** With vegetarian food: ash soup, falafel, pizza, snacks, fruit, nuts …
The price of the rooms can be negotiated, getting better deals when traveling in low season.
The price of goods in markets, even when marked can be negotiated; exceptions are the food, restaurants and buses.
If there were a ranking in terms of honesty about money, Iran would be in the first places of the countries visited. At the very start, when we still do not get used yet to the money full of zeros, and when not yet know the price of things, did not realize they have been cheated on prices; even unable to communicate with people who do not speak English, where I had to show some rial bills for them to take required value, I did not realize that the shopkeepers were taking advantage of the situation. Exception are the taxi drivers. In the words of a friend “as they are Muslims and fear Allah, even if they cheat is just a little!”
When to visit:
The climate of Iran is characterized by four seasons, with the summer with very height temperatures and the winter, cold with snow in some places. The area near the Caspian Sea is less dry with cold and rainy winters, and snow in some places. Tehran and all the north of the country have also cold winters. The best time to visit is autumn (October, November) and spring (March, April and May).
The Muharram, when Ashura is celebrated, vary according to the Islamic calendar, and as it is a lunar calendar has no fixed date in the Gregorian one, but in 2015 began at October 13th. The Nowruz, the Persian New Year is on March 21, marking the beginning of spring.
A bit like Turkey, but in a more rigorous version, in Iran there is segregation between the gender in public transport, but not only in trains and long distance buses, where men and women can not be sitting side by side if they are not married or family, but also in city buses, metro and taxis.
In local buses women traveling on the back, using the back door to get in and out. If you need to buy ticket to the driver must first get through the front door and then use the back door to reach the female side of the bus, as there is a bar that separate the two sides. Couples must travel separately. In some cities this system is more flexible, and there isn’t a physical barrier and people tend to disregard this rule.
Almost naturally when people line up at the bus stand follow the same criteria of segregation, with men and women lining up in opposite directions.
In Tehran subway the first and the last carriage of the composition is exclusively reserved for women, separated by a locked door with chains and padlock, with the remaining carriages accessible to both sexes, yet with almost no female presence other than some couple.
In shavaris (shared taxis) a means of transport widely used across the country both in cities as in trip between cities, also applies this rule. It’s not unusual when a taxi stops to pick up more passengers, people have to exit and re-enter so that in the back seat only seat people form the same sex.
For men the dress code is very flexible but apparently is forbidden to wear shorts on the street. However t-shirts and short-sleeved shirts are accepted without any problem.
Women have more restrictions. The hair must be compulsorily covered, but only the Muslim women use the hijab, covering totally hair, hear and neck. Most often is a scarf over the head, with the ends thrown back over the shoulders, revealing some hair. It is normal for women tight their hair, which helps to hold the scarf over the head. Between young women if often the scarf slides reviling most of the head.
Long sleeves and legs covered to the ankle. Rarely see a woman with skirt, but jeans tights are very popular among young people. The tops must be long in order to cover the hip, being very common the use of manteau, which resembles a raincoat, that may be used totally fair and buttoned or have a looser form open at the front.
As for colors, there is no obligation to wear dark clothing, with light colors being more suitable in the sunny hot weather.
One can walk in sandals but rarely I saw someone with them.
In girls the veil of use is required from 9 years, but many schools include it in the uniform since the beginning of schooling.
Chador, a garment that covers from head to toe open at the front is only mandatory in some religious sites, being provided at the entrance.
One might almost say that they are a national obsession, and we often see people on the streets with little patches on the nose, synonymous with recent surgery to change the shape of the nose, both men and women. So with this Iran is loosing a bit of ethnic identity in a country where dominates the aquiline nose.
But the fact that the female population being forced to use the hijab covering the hair and the restrictive dress code, which prevents display arms and legs, etc… means that the face is the center of all attention, with almost all women to wear make-up, resulting from the exaggerated importance given to the shape of the nose.
It is said that those who want to show that what to look “in” but doesn’t have the financial capacity for surgery, limited to place the patch on the nose.
Tap water is drinkable and despite not always have the best flavor ever caused me any problems.
There are water fountains all over the place, in the city streets, parks, and historic areas, often with chilled water.
The international mobile phone networks do not work in Iran.
So the best option is to buy a national SIM card as it is useful to have a phone to book hotels (emails don’t always have quick replies). Call and message to foreigner countries don’t work.
The card with some credit on call costs 200,000 rials. For this a form must be fill in one IranCell shops and is required three signatures, the name of the father, and the fingerprint of the right index finger… who knows for what?!?!?!
Calls as well as the messages are very cheap. Loading are made based on a code that you can buy in stores Irancell (which are not easy to find) but are also available in grocery stores, they are sold in amounts of 20,000 rials.
Internet and wi-fi:
Wi-fi is available in all hotels, and even some hostel and mosaferkhaneh have free wi-fi.
However due to the many filters imposed by the government on access to information, the internet is slow and downloads almost impossible. Facebook, youtube, blogs and some seemingly innocent pages are blocked… but you change this by paying someone to change some settings on your smart-phone, tablet or lap-top.
Note that in Iran https isn’t working, whereby the bank movements and the use of credit cards have some risks.
Iran attracts Afghan immigrants, resulting from the protracted war, who easily identify by the traditional form of dress, and often working as porters at the bazaars. It is also in the bazaars and in less skilled jobs that we can find many Kurds, easily identified by balloon trousers, tights on the ankle.
The war in Iraq also brought many immigrants that are more concentrated in southern Iran, but they are all over the country, easily identifiable by the long robes, and more often by the scarf, shemagh, with typical black and white pattern.
A very present tradition in Iran reveals an exquisite courtesy code. When someone offers us something, for example a tea, a meal, a free bus ride, a sweet, etc… we must always refuse, even if our wish go in the opposite direction. From those who offer competes him the paper to insist again and again, and on our part we have to evaluate if this offer can be accepted or not… left hungry those who have little to eat, not harm a business or harm who do not have good financial situation.
A complex practice that is not easy to incorporate for whom it was not used to this system, and that, as a foreigner, is often subject to offers, be it food, bus tickets, rides, tea…
Tea, Iran called “chai” is definitely the national drink and is consumed in the morning for breakfast and then, throughout the day, as a reason for a break, a conversation… Here as in other countries is also common the samovar, large metal container from which the water is kept hot, which is added to the tea prepared in a small pot, laid on top of the samovar, keeping the tea hot all the time.
There are tea-shops, where you can drink tea, talk and smoke qalyān (or hookah) but where women are not allowed, or at least are not supposed to enter.
The bread play a very important role in the diet of the Iranian people, and it can be found all over the place, whether in bazaars or along city streets, small bakeries that work at the same time of shops. Sometimes difficult to find, hiding in secondary streets and small alleys, discrete, often without signs or any kind of identification, only recognized by one bread at the entrance hanging or the line that makes at the door.
The most common bread and perhaps what is more often is the barbari (Nan-e barbari), with a distorted oval shape, thickness and some strips that make it thin and crispy in that places. Also very popular is the lavash (Nan-e lavash), very thin, whitish, slightly crispy, it has the advantage of being able to save for a long time. It’s not the most interesting options with little flavor and a very industrial look, but it is the most ancient breads Middle East.
Both barbari as lavash are cooked in ovens, which are electric current. But sangak (Nan-e sangak) has the particularity of being cooked in a woven over small stones, which gives a surface with “hollows” on the base, resulting in a crispy bread, with the same shape barnari, and a delicious taste.
With a different shape, being rounded and thin, but softer than lavash, the taftoon (Nan-e taftoon) has the advantage of being of smaller because in Iran the loaves have a family size.
There are several batches during the day, and seam that people know when to find the hot bread, making sometimes lines in front of bakeries; I limited myself to rely on luck and when passing by one of these small shops to delight me with bread handmade and fresh from the oven.
Being a follower of a vegetarian diet a month in Iran was not the best experience at gastronomic level, with some exceptions to this diet, often through ignorance or language barrier, others by not refuse a meal kindly offered as in the Ashura Day.
So the famous Iranian cuisine was unexplored and may not my experience do justice to what is eaten in Iran.
But in terms of restaurants, for those who do not intend to go to the upper range, there aren’t many options, except the so-called fast-food, which are basically kebaks, burgers and falafel. This lack of options reveals that people often do not do a lot of eating out, which is understandable in a country where many women are still domestic.
Hot and Cold
According to the Iranian tradition the meals should be balanced between hot and cold food, and this is nothing to do with the temperature that they are cooked or consumed but comes from their intrinsic properties, with hot foods speed up metabolism and cold foods to slow down. Examples of hot foods: meat, sugar, wheat, alcohol, dried fruits; cold food is yogurt, fruit, vegetables, rice…
Meat dishes are consumed often with a mixture of raw vegetables, including spring onions, radishes, mint, coriander, lettuce, arugula… and yogurt that is often present at meal, balance the energetic value of food.
The traditional breakfast in Iran has the obligatory presence bread, which appears in various forms but always following the tradition of Middle-East flat breads, ant that can be long or round shape. Accompanying bread, is the cheese, butter, tomatoes, cucumber, dried fruits, nuts, dates, honey, tahini … and the ever-present tea that is consumed throughout the day and indispensable in the mornings.
So, balancing bread, nuts and dates, joins the yogurt, tomato and cucumber … and tea, which like rice are considered neutral food.
Are undoubtedly a strong presence in Iranian diet, with yogurt to be preset at meals, cheese for breakfast, milk-based sweets, butter served on top of rice …
Clearly dominates the uncured white cheese made from sheep’s milk, more or less creamy, sold in roughly square blocks. In the markets the ripened cheese is absent. The dairy shops, beside cheese also have yogurt and butter, exposed in freezers in large blocks easily identified by the yellow color and the fingerprints as a kind of “decoration”.
There are many pastries dedicated to the manufacture and sale of sweets, where the cakes follow the French style pastry but in a less sophisticated version, with biscuits and cream cakes. In some more sophisticated areas of the big cities you can find the traditional Turkish sweet baklava.
However the Iranian sweets has much more to offer, with each region associated with at least one specific sweet. In Fuman the Koloocheh, a stuffed cookie with a sugary paste, Esfahan, the Fereni, a milk pudding with dates syrup, in Shiraz the Foloudeh a kind of noodles served ice cream and drizzled with rose-water, in Yazd where the sweets have a strong tradition stands the Iranian version of baklava, which here doesn’t have the thin layers of puff dough, being more compact and stuffed with almond paste. Kashan is famous for rose-water and sweets from using it.
Everywhere, in shops or bazaars, you can find halva, a more or less smooth paste made of flour, butter or oil, and sugar or honey, flavored with spices like cardamom and cinnamon. It is found in rectangular blocks where it is sold by weight, or packaged. The tahini is also very popular in Iran, where this rich sesame past is mix with honey. In Yazd lies one of the best combinations: tahini with halva.
Definitely Iran is not a street-food country, with the exception od some vendors circulating in the bazaars streets and occasionally in the surrounding areas, with baked broad beans that are seasoned with vinegar, and others selling sweet potatoes, beet-root and other roots cooked in sugar syrup.
In Tabriz had happy encounter with a rustic sort of wrap, with the bread to be stuffed with roast potatoes, boiled egg and salad, resulting in a meal that can fill your stomach for a few hours.
The markets are sometimes fruit juice vendors freshly made; but in small shops scattered around the town, the so-called juice bars have a wider offer (apple, orange, pomegranate, melon, carrots…) and are a good option to gain energy and combat the heat with a cool drink .
A sweet mixture of water and chia seeds, which gives it a certain texture and consistency is also very popular and refreshing.
Fruit and Nuts
In terms of fruits there’s a bit from everything, with the month of October filling the markets with the appetizing pomegranates and delicious grapes. But are also available in big quantities find watermelons and delicious apples and juicy peaches. Bananas are also common but they are probably one of the few tropical fruits available here.
But the focus go to the dry-fuits: prunes, raisins, apricots, figs… lying in many varieties and presentations (some sweeter, some more acidic, others a bit salty, etc. ..), with the dates having a special place here in Iran, being part of the daily diet as in the preparation of dishes or consumed simple for breakfast or as a snack during the day. The city of Bam and the Kerman region are particularly famous for dates, that are commercialized in the fresh version, sweet and soft, having to be kept refrigerated. In other places around Iran are more popular and easy to find the more dry dates, sugary and stick but also delicious.
Nuts, which include, walnuts, almonds, cashews and pistachios are everywhere… and can be found simple, roasted, salted, spicy… in October, perhaps because the pistachio seasons you can find so-called “fresh” with a thin layer of skin that covers the shell, with a most tender and sweet nut than dry version commonly found.
Tabriz and Bandar Abbas, curiously the first and last stop on this journey in Iran, were the places where I found a greater variety of nuts and dry-fruits.
Ash-e reshteh and halim
The ash-e reshteh is one of the best gastronomic memories of Iran, since in terms of vegetarian food there are not many options in restaurants. A soup made from vegetables, lentils, beans and noodles, cooked in pans giant until all ingredients were almost broken (and this includes the noodles that are not “al dent”), resulting in a consistent and thick soup. This soup alone is a substantial meal being sometimes accompanied by bread. Depending of the places the ash-e reshteh can be served with a topping of fried onions, a blend of herbs in oily paste, or some drops of Kashk, a kind of thick and sour cream. Great meal.
The halim (haleem) resembles more a puree, made with wheat-based grain, milk and meat (lamb or turkey), which are cooked together for a long time until reach a thick puree; there are other version with saffron that gives it a yellow color. Meat gets crushed until reduced to almost invisible wires. It can be served plain or with sugar and cinnamon is often consumed for breakfast… a kind of porridge but richer and caloric.
Generally shops selling ash-e reshteh also sell halim, dedicated exclusively to preparing these dishes, having no more options. Many of these shops do not even have space for dining inside, being only for take-away.
Shortly after my to Iran, arrival at the beginning of October, I noticed at various cities some shops dedicated to the sale of flags and banners dominated by the black colour, with Arabic inscriptions. From day to day it seemed that these shops increased in number or simply just became more evident, in the bazaars and city streets, exposing also more goods that also included scarves, pants, shirts and veils.
But it was on the second day after arrival in Kashan, when the moon is no longer visible in the sky, that I felt that something had changed in the city… streets decorated with banners, bazaars corridors decorated with flags, all invariably black with green or red inscriptions, many women in chador, men in black shirt… a kind of collective mourning. It was the beginning of Muharram the first month of the Islamic calendar that begins with the new moon, making the dates movable in the Gregorian calendar.
Muharram is the second most sacred celebration for Muslims after the Ramadan, and for the Shiites (Shia) sect has a special meaning as in the 10th day of Muharram, the Ashura Day, is celebrated the death of Hussein (Husayn or Hossein), grandson of Muhammad and one of the 12 Imams (sort of saints or apostles of Muslim religion) the prophet’s successors.
In the year 680 AD, Imam Hussein and 72 of his followers were surrounded for nine days, going through suffering without food and water, been killed on the 10th day at the Battle of Karbala and the survivors imprisoned. This episode, seen as a struggle between good, Hussein, and evil, personified by Caliph Yazid I that commanding Arab troops invaded Persia, marks the split between the Muslim Sunnis (Sunni) and Shiites (Shia).
These events occurred 1335 years ago, are celebrated in a intense and emotional way with the manifestations of grief and pain become more intense, more strict black clothes for both men and women, processions, weeping and crying, beating with the hand in the chest, and with the men carrying heavy floats over the head or shoulders, or practicing self-flagellation with chains that are thrown on the shoulders against the back during processions.
The last three days are the most important; feeling tension in the air with the arrival of dusk, when the celebrations starts, on the streets or in mosques, reaching its peak in the tenth day, Day of Ashura, which means “tenth”.
During the days before the Ashura, songs related to the martyrdom of Hussein, sung as a lament, following the rhythm of the drums beat, spread in the streets, coming from shops, cars or houses. The same rhythm that drives the night ceremonies, of chest beating and shooting currents; an intense and heavy rhythm, and a male dominated ceremony where women have a secondary place.
All this devotion, were is not unusual for people to cry, the songs like wails, the black that dominates the decor and the clothes, the excitement and intensity placed in the ceremonies, create an extremely intense and emotional atmosphere that can only be experienced on site. According to tradition who shed tears during Ashura, have their wishes fulfilled by Imam Hussein, and it is not uncommon to see men cry following the words of a speaker who chantings recounts the martyrdom of Hussein.
A quick look can see all these exaggerated manifestations with religious fanaticism, but what I felt was a deep and honest devotion… with a hint of competitiveness and even exhibitionism in the way young men beat their chests, knowing that are observed by women at the masque galleries.
The day after the Ashura, carried out the Ashura Carnival: a parade were groups of people and cars show the various episodes of the martyrdom of Hussein and his followers. At the end of this procession resembles a carnival parade, but instead of fun dominates a serious atmosphere of sorrow, but already away from the intensity of the previous day.
The celebrations end on that same night with the people gathering at mosques and squares elsewhere in the city of Yazd, where he watched the last days of Ashura, to light candles which gives a special atmosphere of calm and serenity.
The Ashura is celebrated all over the world where you are presented with a Shiite community, and the celebrations in Iran much more moderate than is often found in images from other countries like Pakistan or Iraq where the self-flagellation of practice is taken to extreme, causing serious wounds in participating, attitude condemned by many religious. Iran this practice is forbidden, and despite the ills left by the violent beating of hands against his chest, and shoot chains against the back, does not reach exaggerated proportions or trance states, with the population showing restrained, despite the bustle and excitement that sits in the air.
Being in Iran during Ashura, by chance, was certainly a unique, intense and unforgettable experience, while at the same time been a period a bit “heavy” resulting from all solemnity and austerity that has spread among the population, that not so let him show the usual generosity and sympathy.
During these days it is offered tea in small stalls improvised a bit all over the place, and sometimes is also offered food, as Gheimeh a lamb stew, with lentils and vegetables served with rice and Sholehzard, a rice pudding with saffron. Other traditional meal is the ash soup, with lamb that is cooked by volunteers all night, getting ready the next morning for being distributed on breakfast.
During Ashura, in particular in the last 3 days:
The last three days most of the shops are closed, including banks, exchange shops, restaurants, grocery stores, etc… yet lots of food is distributed free during the celebrations near the mosques, at some shops, bakeries or by local people. As alternative just left the hotel restaurants.
Many bus services, both local and long distance are canceled.
Should dress modestly, avoiding shiny or light colors clothing, special inside or nearby the mosques… but for tourists these rules are always more loose.
As it is a period of grief and mourning, should be avoided public show of great enthusiasm, dancing, listen to music, laugh out loud …
Imam Hussein Fan Club:
The Ashura is celebrated across Iran, in cities as in small towns, and celebrations can be seen both on city streets or mosques, being the free access. Inside the mosques the men can stay in the main ground, but the women usually must go to galleries on upper floor or stay in reserved areas on the back of the mosque.
A bit by chance, I joined a group called Imam Hussein Fan Club, which no commercial intentions organized tour for tourists present in Yazd, during the last days of Ashura. This group, made up of tourist guides had also the aim to encourage the so-called “religious tourism” and above all promoting Iran in terms of tourism, tried to clean the image of Islamic radicals that often this country is cataloged.
An excellent organization that provided access to reserved areas at the mosques, transportation to visit other ways to celebrate Ashura away from the center of Yazd, and even some meals. However, all this organization offers little space to anyone wandering on their own, with the various elements of the organization not giving much freedom of movement.
Due to problem in the east part of Turkey, resulting from conflicts to Kurdish community the train that usually runs from Ankara to Tehran, Trans-Asia Express, was canceled. Check for more update information about Trans-Asia Express at: //www.seat61.com/Iran.htm#train
According to the few information that I could get, the border Kapikoy– Razi, in Van district is open and the bus connection to border towns don’t have any problem.
Other popular and easy border is the Gurbulak – Bazargan, a bit north, closer to Armenia, and this was the chosen one to enter Iran.
Erzurum – Doğubayazıt
The city of Erzurum doesn’t show much attractive, except the beautiful naked mountain that are visible from many places in the city. Anyway, from here there are buses to Doğubayazıt.
There are buses several times a day, but is recommended to leave early in the morning, as the trip until Doğubayazıt takes ore than 3.5 hours, and arrive with time to visit the Ishak Pasha Palace, that closes at 5pm.
The bus ticket should be bought in advance, in the bus terminal (a few kilometers far from the city) on in one of the bus companies and bus agents in the center of Erzurum, at Nazik Çarsisi Caddesi, close to the main shopping street.
The ticket cost 30 TL.
Doğubayazıt – Gurbulak
Doğubayazıt is the last town in Turkish side before the border.
Here is definitively recommend to spend the night, to start the trip to Iran in the morning and avoid to arrive to Tabriz too late. I leave from Doğubayazıt at 9.30 am and arrive to Tabriz at 8 pm.
The city is small, and easy to orientate. The buses from Erzurum stop in the main street. From there is 5 minutes walking until the office where the mini-vans (dolmus) to the border.
Mini-vans start at 7 am, and leave Doğubayazıt as soon they are full, and take 35 minutes until the border.
The ticket cost 7 TL.
Border Turkey-Iran (Gurbulak- Bazargan)
Despite the long queue of trucks, there are only a few people crossing the border, not much more that the people that arrive in your mini-van.
After showing your passport and Turkish visa (the printed paper visa), and have your passport stamped, just follow to the next building were are situated the Iranian Immigration Office.
For women this is the time to put the scarf over the head.
In the Iranian side it takes more time to the foreigners, I mean, the non-Iranian or Turkish, because it is asked a few question about the reason of the trip and places to visit… just give the classic itinerary (Tabriz, Tehran, Esfahan, Yazd…) and make the life easier to you and to the border officer.
After this you are in Iran, where a friendly group of men, interrupt theirs chatting to ask same friendly questions and invite for tea. Here, according to some Internet infos, there are two guys that are good resource of information about the country.
Several friendly guys that want to exchange money will intercept you, both in Turkish as at the Iranian side, just outside the imitation buildings. Despite they insisting that is no possible to exchange Turkish Lira after the border, don’t believe, you can do it later… is up to you! Here in the street you can also exchange dollars and euros. If you are confortable with the Iranian currency and rates maybe is a good option, otherwise just wait 5 minutes until reach Barzagan.
Watch out that the time zone change in Iran, 1.5 hours late.
Bazargan – Maku
From the border you need to walk about 3 km or take a taxi to the next town of Bazargan, that is not much more than road with some shops, restaurants and small offices were you can exchange money. There are not much signs but just ask about “exchange” and suddenly you are surrounded by people trying to push you to an office of a friend. The rates are more or less the same. Here you can also exchange dollars and euros. Just get what you need to reach your next destiny… for sure there you’ll get a better rate.
Shared taxi cost 20.000 Rial per person.
You can change the last Turkish Liras at Gurbulak or Bazargan, but the taxi drivers accept TL until Maku.
Bazargan – Maku
From Bazargan you need a taxi to the next town that takes not more than 20 minutes, Maku where you find a bus terminal, and from here another bus to Tabriz, Tehran, etc…
Shared taxi cost 20.000 Rial per person.
There’s nothing in Maku that make you stay there, so you can go straight to the small and quiet bus terminal. There you find different bus companies offices. Is difficult to get information about schedules… so just arrive and ask about the next bus to the city that you want to go.
The Maku bus terminal, is a bit far from the center Maku, but has some small restaurants and acceptable toilets.
To Tabriz there is a bus departing at 3 p.m. Watch out that the time zone change in Iran, 1.5h plus.
The trip to Tabriz takes 6h… because the bus stops many times to pick and drop passenger on the way. Maybe a night bus is faster.
Bus ticket Maku-Tabriz: 110.000 Rials