Traveling in Iran

In 1992, near the end of a very slow trip around the world, my fiancée (now wife) and I visited Iran for two weeks. I thought I’d share a few pictures and stories from that visit.

imageWe entered Iran through the Taftan land crossing from Pakistan, having taken an all-night bus trip from Quetta. I don’t mean to criticize Pakistan by the description that follows – I am merely setting up our first impressions of Iran.

The bus trip was horrible. Imagine, if you will, a twelve hour trip in a school bus – famed for their comfortable seats and smooth suspension – on a road that was almost entirely washboard and potholes. We quite enjoyed Pakistan (it was safer then) but that bus trip was not one of our favorite bits.

After a careful baggage inspection at the border we entered Iran and then got on a bus to take us to Bam. And what a bus. Soft reclining seats, with only three seats across so that nobody felt too cramped, and a waiter who wandered the aisle handing out tea, grapes, and watermelon. Greyhound, you’ve got some catching up to do. And, after the previous night’s washboard we were inordinately excited by the wide, smooth asphalt – bliss.

And then, on to oasis town of Bam with its ancient mud citadel. This citadel has to be seen to be believed. I don’t know if the picture below captures its magic, but I thought it was wonderful. Apologies for the mediocre quality of the pictures – they were taken on a low-end film camera and then scanned from the negatives (and organized) twenty years later.

 Arg-a-Bam, Iran

Unfortunately an earthquake in December 2003 destroyed much of Bam and the citadel and also killed more than 30,000 people.

imageThen we moved on to the 7th century city of Shiraz, gateway to the far older city of Persepolis. In Shiraz we met Sharom and Abbas (pictured right, with me when I had longer hair) who showed us around the city, took us shopping, and introduced us to Iranian culture.

There were not a lot of other tourists in Iran which also meant there wasn’t much tourist industry which meant that when a couple of men said they wanted to show us around town they actually meant it – no pushy rug salesmen in this country.

From Shiraz we did a day trip to Persepolis – founded in the 6th century BC, destroyed by Alexander the Great less than two hundred years later, rediscovered in 1620, and excavated in the 20th century. According to my notes this relief sculpture depicts spring slaying winter:

Relief in Persepolis, of spring slaying winter?

and here we have a tomb in the hillside at the edge of Persepolis, clearly in a very dry part of the country:

Tomb, Persepolis

One of the challenges of traveling is figuring out the quirks of the local public transit system. We got on the bus to return to Shiraz only to find that we were supposed to have purchased a ticket before getting on. But, no problem. A kind woman took pity on us and gave us a pair of tickets – one of the many times we have been rescued by the kindness of strangers.

And then, on to Eşfahān, our favorite city in Iran. Before I get to the many stunning mosques I want to skip ahead to the bridge. The bridge? Yes, the bridge. This is the Si-o-se pol bridge (thirty three span bridge) across the Zaindeh River:

Pol-e Khaju

Okay, it’s kind of pretty, especially if you look at the intricate tile work (they don’t make bridges like they used to) but, as the kids say, whatever. The great part, however, is on the inside. Why waste all that space underneath the bridge when you could put a coffee/shisha shop down there. It’s the perfect place to stay cool on a hot day and chat with the locals – you can see the water rushing under the not-OSHA-compliant boards joining the piers:

Tea house in Si-o-se pol bridge

This picture looks like it might be a slightly peculiar mosque, but in fact it is the Vank Armenian Cathedral – Persian architecture with a bell tower:

Vank Cathedral, Armenian Cathedral in Isfahan

Pictures like the one below make me wish I’d had a better camera and a willingness to take far more pictures (they were expensive in the early nineties, compared to today). This is the interior of the Masjid-e Sheikh Lotfollah mosque on the city square:

Masjid-e Sheikh Lotfollah, Isfahan

And here is an exterior view of one of the other mosques on the city square.

SC6_195 (1280x849)

Bazaar, IsfahanI’ll leave you with one of my favorite pictures, from the market (souk?) in Eşfahān – to the right:

Other memories of Iran include superlative fresh-squeezed road-side apple juice, potable water in the taps, and the first hot shower we’d had in at least six months. My fiancée also felt much safer in Iran than in the previous couple of countries we had visited.

Then we continued on to Tehran, took an epic bus trip to Istanbul (a story for another day) and gradually worked our way back home to Canada.

We haven’t returned to most of the countries that we visited on the grand journey, and I’m sure they’ve all changed a lot, but I hope we can return to Iran some day.

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About brucedawson

I'm a programmer, working for Google, focusing on optimization and reliability. Nothing's more fun than making code run 10x faster. Unless it's eliminating large numbers of bugs. I also unicycle. And play (ice) hockey. And juggle.
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8 Responses to Traveling in Iran

  1. Marc C says:

    Bruce, fantastic trip and fantastic photos! It’s really such a shame that the Islamic Revolution occurred in such a beautiful, historic, and innovative country, tainting the people’s legacy for several generations (of course US complicity in supporting the Shah is a whole other shameful discussion). I know more than a few Persians who are amazing doctors, scientists, technologists, etc. Think of all that brainpower wasted over the last 35+ years during the greatest period of technological advancement known to humankind. I truly hope you and I and all of us get to once again enjoy some of Iran’s former splendor and collaborate with its many resourceful people.

  2. Ashkan says:

    Hey Bruce. A long time reader of your blog here, born in Esfahan and raised in Shiraz (!), and now a fellow American. When I was going through my RSS feed a few minutes ago, I expected to come across anything but this. What a surprise.

    I’m glad you enjoyed your visit.

  3. Franklin says:

    Great story, lovely place with such a rich history. The only Persian family we know is accomplished and friendly, I don’t know why our governments can’t get along.

    Now I look forward to hearing your adventures in Turkey. My parents had a fantastic time there once, I’m not sure if it would be safe today. And similar to above, the only Turkish family we know is also very successful and extraordinarily nice!

  4. Z.T. says:

    Did you intentionally twice use fiancé instead of fiancée?

  5. thinkdoge says:

    Thanks for sharing your tour

  6. hunter says:

    Thanks for this!
    Your photos brought back my own memories of Isfahan, Shiraz, Persepolis, Pasargadae, and learning to ski at Dizin and Shemshak.

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