Cycling through Iran is something I’m really excited about. With the Caspian Sea in the north and the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman in the south, Iran has been important for the Silk Road and trade between east and west. The country has one of the oldest civilizations dating back to 2.800 BC and yet we know so little about it. So it’s great to be here and learn more about the people living in this country!
For some reason, border crossings have always taken much time especially for a group and their bicycles. Leaving Turkmenistan went quickly (due to a not working X-Ray machine) and entering Iran went even faster with just an extensive passport check. Just before we were allowed to enter the country, the head of Immigration gave us a warm welcome! He wishes us a great time in Iran and hopes that our stay will be that pleasant that we come back many more times! Wow, I have been traveling to many countries, but never felt more welcome than here!
From the border we cycled in two days to Quchan. On the first day we were able to camp a little bit further (30 kilometer) down the road in a little park due to the fast border crossing. This was the month of the Ramadan, and people are allowed only to eat before sun rise and after sun set. Which means: many people go out for a picnic in the evening. Until late. We were camping in a perfect picnic park… This was also true for our second night, where people were celebrating the end of the Ramadan. It was special to see how large families were gathering together and have a nice meal in the open air. It was also the first time I saw tents, other than ours, where people would sleep in; both during the hot afternoon and at night.
Since the second day was only 50 kilometer, I was able to explore Quchan in the afternoon. First impression is that it was similar to a small Chinese town. Lots of small shops selling the same things or things you would not need. Lots of traffic without much regulation. Many people in the streets. But it’s different. People seem to me more modest. Advertising is less obvious. There is no loud music or shouting in the streets. The cars use their horns seldom. And there are no tall buildings (which you would see in China everywhere). People are friendly and hospitable. We were invited for a cup of tea and some bread at one of the picnic’s right next to a mosque. That was very special since a large group of people was praying only 10 meter from where we were sitting! After drinking a Zam Zam (coca cola) the shop owner quite often refuses to let us pay since we are guests; we do pay of course.
Next to our camp ground, in the shade, we met a couple of which she spoke good English. A few of the riders, including me, were able to talk to them for a couple of hours which was really great. We talked about religion and what that means in their life. When a girl turns 9 years old she has to start wearing a scarf. Some regions are more conservative than others; in Quchan women all wear a black chador, in Bojnurd it seems to be more relaxed and other colors are allowed. I was told that if a woman does not cover her head properly she can go to jail. It seems that people are quite afraid of the police and that the justice system is not transparent. Still she was telling us that she did not like the political system, the people did not elect this president and she would like to travel to the United States. There are many Iranians living in the United States and she does not believe that country has any intentions to do the Iranian people any harm. If there is an anti-US demonstration, she says that people are forced to participate.
After three days and seeing just a small part of this huge country, I found the people in Iran one of the friendliest I have seen on this Silk Route journey. They are relaxed, open minded and hospitable. A great country to visit!