Finally in Iran
Trip Start Sep 28, 2010
86Trip End Ongoing
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Well we are now well and truly inside Iran, we have just stopped at the town of Tabriz for a routine customs inspection and everything is running smoothly despite the fact that we are about 6 hours behind schedule. We had expected to be late, apparently the train always is, and it’s of no great concern except for the fact that we will now arrive in Tehran at about midnight. It’s always a bit daunting to arrive so late in a foreign city, especially when we have no firm arrangements for accommodation. It’s lucky we’ve made some friends along the way, an Irish man in the bunk below, an Iranian guy called Arash who’s in a compartment just down the hall, and a group of older Iranians who are happy (insist on) talking with us in the dining car.
Arash always seems to be there when something official or unusual is happening and it’s comforting to have him around to explain in good English (albeit with a strange accent) what the official is saying, or what the process is. It’s a little hard to trust someone you’ve only just met but he seems harmless enough. While on the ferry (yes a ferry, I’ll explain in a minute) he gave us a quick glance to check we were OK, we both smiled and I gave him the thumbs up…..my first cultural error. He was over here in a matter of seconds to explain that in Iran, the thumbs up is equivalent to our middle finger salute in western culture……ok, I must remember this…….keep thumbs down. This was going to make communicating a bit of a challenge as a thumbs up is usually the most useful tool we have when we don't speak the language.
The entire trip from Ankara to Tehran takes about 60 hours, and we are now on the third day of the journey. Although we purchased just one ticket, our trip from Turkey to Iran includes two separate trains, one Turkish, one Iranian, and a ferry ride on Lake Van connecting the two.
Alex is still asleep in the bunk opposite, trying to catch up on sleep as last night we didn’t get much. In the early evening our Turkish train pulled up at the edge of the Lake, it was ridiculously cold and snowy outside so we were ready to move but content just to sit tight until we got the word to move outside. Soon the train started to move again, but this time in a backwards direction, it continued for a few minutes and then came to a stop again. We poked our head out the door in confusion and this is how we met Arash for the first time. Sensing our confusion he explained we must walk to carriage 5 with our bags. Stepping off the train our feet were firmly planted not on land but on a boat. The train had reversed its last two carriages onto a boat ready for the water crossing. It’s a real shame all this happened in darkness, as I would have loved to see the lake and of course the mechanics of this operation.
It was the middle of the night when we were settled into our new train, this time having to share a compartment with Niall, our new Irish friend. We began to settle into a snooze when the conductor opened the door and said quite clearly……no sleeping. Pretty soon, (about 2 in the morning at this stage) we were guided off the train and into the Turkish border control for the mandatory leaving stamp. Soon we were back on our way again but still no sleeping allowed. In the next hour or so we were greeted by the nice Iranian immigration, I say nice mainly because we didn’t have to leave our bunk for the procedure…..they came to us!! Finally we were officially in Iran and able to get some sleep from about 4 o’clock onwards.
It’s a real shame all this happened at night for 2 reasons. Firstly I would have loved to see the lake and the ferry, and secondly we were so sleepy the next day that we missed a lot of the beautiful Iranian countryside. I do however have two distinct landscape memories from the trip, and both will stay with me. The first was in the final hours of the Turkish train trip, the memory is all white, it was so white and bright we needed our sun glasses on in inside the cabin, and there was a ridiculous amount of snow. The train was basically running through a trough in the snow so deep that when you look out the window you are almost level with the snow. At one point, part of the reason for the delay, the train came to a halt while another train with a special attachment on the front cleared a path for us. We wondered whether this amount of snow is normal, but considering the machinery we assumed it was. The second image in my mind was a short one but a beautiful one of the Iranian landscape. It’s kind of like I imagined, vast desert like plains with massive snow-capped mountains in the background. Hopefully we'll be skiing in those mountains in a few days time.