Day 0 and 1
My sister Barbara and I took a flight with Pegasus airlines to Iran. A short stop in Istanbul and an overnight short flight took us to Teheran.
Some people would call us insane, going to Iran would be out of the line. This county has been in a war for a long time. The rules within the Sharia law are very strict. People asked us why we want to travel to a country like this. We did a lot of research. Most parts of the country are safe, only the regions next to the borders of Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan can be dangerous. We read on internet that the cities with the most tourist attractions would be safe to travel.
Barbara and I want to see this county with our own eyes. Giving the people an opportunity to show their country at their best.
After we put on our trench coats to cover our bums and wrapped a shawl around our heads We entered Iran with a warm welcome from the man who put a stamp in our passports. ‘Welcome to Iran!’ He waved us goodbye with a big smile!
With just a few plans in our minds we didn’t know what to do already when we arrived. Shall we go to Teheran? Or are we going to Kashan?
Finally, we agreed on a price with a taxi driver. He would bring us to Qom. This holy city is only 1,5 hours from the airport. We wanted to visit the shrine of Fatima Masumeh, sister of the 8th imam. They build a mosque which is the second holiest mosque of Iran.
As we wanted to enter, we were mandatory to wear a chador. Since we only had a scarf, we had to loan a chador. It took a while to find a lady who can show us around, we weren’t allowed to walk around ourselves. Some places are forbidden to visit as a woman.
The lovely lady had a historic talk. She showed us the nice mosaic. Meanwhile, Barbara and I tried to hold the chador in place, taking pictures and listen to the lady. We felt uncomfortable and we thought we have failed to keep the chador propriety, but the lady smiled and wished us a nice holiday.
A taxi brought us to a roundabout, which was apparently the bus station. People where already helpful, and stopped the right bus for us.
In Kashan, which is only 1.5 hours from Qom, we took a taxi to Ehsan hotel. The comfortable rooms and the inner garden where lovely. But we came to see sights.
Soon we walked to Boroujerdi house. A traditional house with a nice inner garden and paintings. While taking pictures, a young woman approached us. After a chat she asked us, where we planned to go next. We wanted to visit the Finn gardens. She thought about it and she replied she can join us, so we can chat a little it more.
Before we left Barbara and I read a lot about the hospitality of the people from Iran. So we looked at each other and decided we just would go with her. We got in her car and after a few minutes she stopped. She wanted to give something to here mother, who lives there. Of course the whole family came to the car, and the mother asked us if we wanted to eat some late lunch.
Great! We got introduced to aunties, sisters and cousins. Later we would see her father and uncles. The house was nice. Furniture with a lot of details and golden, sparkling frills everywhere.
The food was really good! But after this nice meeting we wanted to see the gardens. She drove with us to the gardens, and telling all about it. The gardens where nice to walk around, but the sun was setting already.
We stopped on our way back at the bazaar, which was fun to walk around. She really wanted to chat more and offered us to stay in her house. But we preferred to stay in the hotel.
We noticed the temperature drops during the night. I was cold and the blankets provided did’t help much. Since we only had 1 week in Iran we decided to take a bus to Esfahan (or Isfahan).
The ride was 3.5 hours. I had a really heavy headache and I desperately wanted to take my scarf of to avoid getting motion sick either. Finally, they turned on the air con in the bus. Which relieved the headache. Luckily I didn’t get motion sick.
We arrived at the bus station at Esfahan. It was midday and we were about to take a taxi to a hostel. But we figured to book a bus for the next day already.
To our surprises no buses! When we asked around there was a holy holiday called Tasua and Ashura and the country would be ‘closed’ for 2 full days. No transport, restaurants will be closed for 2 full days! So a quick calculation we made we had to leave the same day. We only had 8 full days, and if we stayed here 3 more days we would have to miss one of the places we would like to see.
After we walked around the whole bus station, we finally got a bus ticket. A lot of people will travel to their relatives and family so most buses where full booked. The VIP bus tickets where sold out soon, so we could only take a regular coach for the same night.
We could store our bags and we took a taxi to the city center. First we ate a sandwich at the Naghsh-e Jahan square. From here you can see 2 mosques and the nice entrance gate to the bazaar. It is more like a big garden, with people picnicking on the grass. We had some chats and the people advised us to go to Jameh mosque.
Walking trough the bazaar, which was closing for the event Ashura already, we finally reached the mosque. The mosque is nice and has a lot of decoration.
We had some time to visit another mosque. Due to Ashura, they closed the partial of the Imam mosque. The guide showed us a superb view over the city. In the dome of the mosque you could stand in the middle. If you clap your hands, you’ll hear an echo.
At the end of the day we visited the Sioepol bridge. This bridge is a meeting point for people. Chatting, laughing, discussing. We had some lovely chats with some people passing by and just wanted to have a chat.
As we only had a few moments in Esfahan, we liked this city. But we had to take a night bus to Shiraz.
When we were waiting for the bus in the late evening, a guy called Hadi started a conversation with us. He told us about Ashura and invited us for the next day to join him and his sister on the event. He and his sister Honey explained so much about this mourning event. They invited us to meet their family and when we left, we felt like we were their family too!
Next morning when we arrived in Shiraz, Hadi took us to a nice hotel called Niayesh hotel. The rooms where a bit expensive, but the hotel looked nice. Hadi really took care of us and wanted us to be safe.
At 10 A.M. same day he would be waiting for us to got to the ceremony of Tassua and Ashura.
Hadi and his sister Honey picked us up. Hadi is 24 years old and already married for a few years. Honey is a beautiful girl of 19 years and studies medicine. Both speak English almost without any accent. Their aunt who was their English teacher, educated them well!
We could hear the loud drums already and soon we could see the processions on the streets. Woman where slapping in the bass of the drums on their chests. Man are walking in the processions flogging themselves with chains. Most people wear black. You can feel the respect.
Slowly we walked towards the Imam mosque. The biggest mosque of the city. It is really crowded on the street but we get there. The processions have their final destination at the mosque. Here they go inside to pray.
We decided to enter the mosque. Although it is very crowded and they told us to avoid crowds, we are not afraid and it felt really safe. We had to deposit our bags and camera’s because of safety precaution. To be honestly I didn’t want to leave my camera, but since it is a big camera they just didn’t let me take it. And not only me, all the people had to leave their bags. I got a card to retrieve my bag back. I did take my phone and wallet inside, which was fine.
Meanwhile, we arranged all this, we met David from Australia. David met a man, called Rami who didn’t speak English. But he really wanted to talk to tourist. Honey and Hadi translated. And all together we went inside.
Males and females have a separate entry. Here we got a body scan and a full body check. After the check, we had to put on a chador. Honey could handle it easily, since she is used to wearing it when she does her prayers. We felt again uncomfortable, but Honey was really helpful.
The mosque had a big inner garden, with fountains, but no plants.
Inside it was extremely busy. The mosque itself was full with people so loads of people where setting up cloths on the floor to do prayers. Hundreds of people did the prayer at the same time. This is the biggest prayer I have ever seen and I was really impressed. I could feel the religious respect and to be honestly I got goosebumps.
Again we had to wear the chador. A little in the back we could enter some rooms, which was split up for males and females. Inside there where a lot of mosaic of mirrors. Honey wanted to do her prayers, so she asked if we didn’t mind to wait for her. Of course this wasn’t a problem to us. She showed us the ritual washing in specific order. We tried to do the same, which other woman could really appreciate!
Inside the mosque the woman and children where praying or chatting together. As we sat down, young girls approached us to ask our home country. Giggling, they went back to their moms to ask them what they should ask next. Really cute!
When we went to the toilet to put the chador and shawl in the correct position another woman gave us a big compliment about our clothing. Although it is not black, we were dressed properly, especially as a tourist. This felt like a big relief for us, since we still didn’t know if we have the right clothing.
After the sun sets, we made a walk trough a park. We had loads of fun and ended our day in our hotel, having dinner with Rami and Fatima. Hadi and Honey had to go home to meet their aunt and uncle.
In the early morning I got a text from Hadi, what time we should meet for Ashura. Together with Danielle and David we met Hadi and Honey together with uncles, aunts and cousins. So nice to meet all of them! It seemed more busy like yesterday. The processions started already and we just stand next to the streets to see it. Drums and chains and slapping the chests. It was again really impressive.
All our new friends wanted us to know about these events so they all told us what is going on and why some things happen.
Other people watching the processions wanted to say hello to us or just wanted to have a short chat. So many friendly people around!
At one point even the police man let me pass the fences so I had a good view and could take pictures.
The mosque was way to busy right now to visit. When it was time to do prayers, people knelled and prayed in the streets.
The parents of Hadi and Honey invited us to their home for a lunch. Of course we wanted that, so we walked to other streets where they parked cars.
Meanwhile, we walked we saw a small gathering of people in the middle of the street. Hadi told me this would be another play. Barbara stood on the other side chatting with Honey.
Then Hadi pointed to me at a sheep, which was pushed down to the ground. Heavily drums where playing around the sheep.
Before I knew they pulled down a knife and slit the throat of the sheep. Of course I eat meat, but this I have never seen before. The sheep was shaking, blood gushed down his throat. Men stood on him, to hold him down. I forced myself to watch. Slowly you could see the live was taking, as he shook less. Finally, he became limp and they left it on the floor. Astonished of what I have seen I told Barbara what I have seen. Since I grew up with a supermarket and not seeing how people end lives of animals, this was a bit too much for me. It is good for me to see it is happening fast. The animal doesn’t suffer too much.
The gathering was over and we stepped in the cars to go to the house.
Here grandma and the mother and aunt prepared salads and rice. They got some food they supply. At the ground they put a plastic table cloth. We all sat around and enjoyed the meal. It was delicious!
There where aunts, uncles, grandma, cousins. It was so much fun to meet all those people!
After a nap, we walked again trough another park. For the next day we made a plan.
Danielle and David didn’t want to come with us to Persepolis, they wanted to leave really early. So we decided to go to Persepolis with Hadi, Honey, Fatima and Rami the next day.
We bought ticket for a night bus to Yazd for this day. And after breakfast we walked quickly to mosq Nasir al-Mulk. Although it is a small mosque, it has one pretty detail. Stained glass windows. Not just a little, but one whole wall, only stained glass. When the sun is shining, you can see colorful reflection all over the floor. It is really one colorful play! Stunning! You have to go early when you want to see this, at about 10 am the sun doesn’t get to this point to get the reflection.
Our new friends picked us up and with the 6 of us we squeezed ourselves in the car of Rami. We payed the entrance fee and walked around the ancient settlement. There are 2 graves, which you can walk to see some view over the mountains. But you cannot enter.
The archaeological ruins contain a palace, stone carvings and huge columns.
To be honestly I wasn’t that impressed. I like the ancient cities like Palmyra in Syria better. It is better preserved. Although there isn’t much left of Palmyra right now I guess.
After a nice lunch, we drove to Naqsh-e Rustam. These are tombs with huge stone carving. The carvings where nice, but there was not much else to see. But we did have so much fun with the 6 of us!
Rami and Fatima really want to prepare a meal for us and show their house. So one final dinner in Shiraz with our new friends to leave the city. Their house was modern and we could take of our scarf. They showed their wedding album. And to our surprise, the pictures where in beautiful wedding dress, without Fatima wearing a scarf and the dress it was even strapless! Apparently, when there are weddings, people just wear what they want, as it is in a private party.
Hadi wasn’t allowed to see the pictures so we kept it too ourselves.
We really had so much fun this evening I felt sad to leave this city.
We haven’t seen all the sights in Shiraz, the bazaar, which supposed to be nice and some other buildings. But Shiraz is in my heart!
Early morning we arrived in Yazd. We had problems finding a hotel. They just didn’t open their doors at the time of 5.30 AM. One old man felt pity. He let us rest in the garden and with an open fire. Here where some benches. In the end they didn’t have a room available and we finally found a room at the traditional hotel Kohan. The friendly owner and staff where amazing! They helped us a lot. The owner leaded us to a mosque where there where performances. Since we only could take a seat in the woman’s sector, we didn’t see too much. But the young girls where happy to chat with us!
Yazd is on the original Silk road. And with its old traditional city center it is really a pleasure to wander around in the old, little streets. It was really cold when we arrived. About 9 degrees. With all the layers we still walked around all day long. There are a few nice mosques to see. We tried to find a bazaar, but only could find regular shops. Since this is the last place we would be visiting, we bought tons of nougat. There are several shops and you can buy those cute gift boxes.
Since the city is surrounded by interesting nature. Desert, mountains and other villages. We hired a taxi to take us to some important places.
Together with a Turkish woman, Ezgi we soon left the city to Kharanaq. This old village is surrounded by mountains and it is made of clay. The actual city is deserted and next to it they made more modern houses to live in.
The old city is really lovely, with the mountains on the background it is great for scenic pictures. An old man riding on his donkey showed his fruit garden. We got a pomegranate to try. And some fresh figs.
After this encounter we continued to Chackchak. This abandoned village is high up in the mountains. Now this place is sacred and a lot of people will visit it. Chatting with some lovely old man, enjoying fresh nuts and a cup of tea. Enjoying the views it was nice to visit.
Along the way we made some stops at viewpoints and at a mini desert. At the desert the guide told us, there was no law here and we could take of our scarf. We enjoyed the sand between our toes and the wind in our hair. The weather was more warm, the views stunning. I really loved this spot!
After arriving safe in Esfahan we could store our bags and we bought a VIP bus ticket to the airport. We walked again up and down at the bazaar, which now was fully opened. We visited another mosque and a palace. Ate something and just strolled around in the city.
At the bus station we made friends with an old man. He remembered us from the last time, when we had a little chat. We gave him a small present from the Netherlands (key chain with wooden shoes) and later he came to us and he told us he was sad we left. He wanted to invite us to have dinner at his place with his wife. Unfortunately we had to miss this!
The bus was really comfortable and I slept perfectly! My sister on the other hand told me the bus stopped many times, and it seems to be broken. With just a little delay we arrived at the airport.
With tears in our eyes we left this country, full with new memories and friends.
How was it like to go backpacking in Iran? While we did a lot of research, you can't imagine how it is like until you have been there. The people are super friendly. Country of the smile Thailand? Smiling coast the Gambia? No! Iran, country of the most smiling people and the most the friendliest people I have met! I want to make a special thanks to Honey, Hadi and her family. We felt like being part of their family! They have shown their city Shiraz at their best.
Do I have something negative about this country? Not really. Only wearing a scarf was difficult to me. It became itchy and it kept slipping of my head and I didn't want to be provocative to anyone. So all day I was checking if my scarf was in the right spot.