Silk Road by MGB – Days 76 to 84 in Iran

Monday, 3 July 2017

We’re through to Day 92, our last day in Asia, tomorrow we cross the Dardanelles, from Asian to European Turkey and then on into Bulgaria.

But more on Turkey shortly, meanwhile here’s a quick summary of Days 76 to 84 in Iran. Tashi was my co-driver on this stage and after crossing the border from Turkmenistan – crazy Turkmenistan – we spent a couple of days in Mashhad, chiefly notably for the shrine of Haram-e Razavi, the most holy place in Iran. You want to research the great split between Shia and Sunni Muslims? Well this is a good place to start. Unfortunately I’ve got about as much interest in that great divide as I do in the split between Catholics and Protestants. Get over it is my feeling.

▲ On the other hand we had some interesting meals in Iran, here are Tashi and Maja tacking kebabs. You eat an awful lot of kebabs in Iran.

◄ From Mashhad we headed west, down to the Caspian Sea. Not far from Mashhad we turned off the road a short distance to the Radakan Tower, it’s an impressive 25-metre-high construction although its purpose remains something of a mystery. It was probably used for making astronomical observations, a relative to Ulugbek’s Observatory which we saw in Samarkan. My MGB had another mechanical hiccup requiring a short stop while we were at the tower, an old fashioned fault (most of the faults that develop are old-fashioned ones), this time it was a sticking carburetor float needle.

▲ Our drive across Iran stuck to the north, skirting north of the mountains that fence Tehran off from the Caspian and then crossing from Iran into eastern Turkey. I was regularly surprised how green and fertile this northern band of Iran looks, nothing like the deserts to the south. At times the farming country looked almost English, like this view from the Hezar Pich lookout above the town of Gorgan.

▲ Then down, and it was down, to the Caspian Sea. For some reason it had never occurred to me that the Caspian might be below sea level. As at Turpan in China a few weeks previously there was nothing announcing that you’d reached that depressed altitude. It never looked like a particularly attractive sea and the beaches were often depressingly grey and dismal looking. Despite which beach towns, like Mahmudabad, where we first sighted the Caspian, were often well equipped with beach toys.

◄ We made an excursion from Rasht to the beautiful village of Masuleh, built on a hillside so steeply that one house often perches on top of the house below. Here’s my daughter (and Iran co-driver) Tashi walking up through the flower-decked streets of the village.

▲ Eventually we turned away from the Caspian Coast and climbed steeply on a road running close to the Azerbaijan border. Then it was down, a little bit, to Ardabil with the beautiful Sheikh Safi-od-Din Mausoleum, even if the china collection from 1612 Chini Khaneh was all carted off to Russia in 1828 where it now lives in the Hermitage in St Petersburg. The gold and indigo Ghandil Khaneh still looks terrific.

▲ Cappadocia in Turkey? No it’s Kandovan in Iran, where we stayed in cave rooms carved out of the rocky pinnacles, just like Cappadocia where we would arrive a few days later.

▲ En route to Urmia (aka Orumiyeh) we crossed the long causeway over Lake Urmia and spotted this campsite on a salt spit stretching out into the lake.

▲ The Iranians really like urban sculpture, I’ve commented about all the, often whimsical, pieces that pop up in the middle of roundabouts or beside roads. Or try this reader on the pedestrianized stretch of Khayyam St in Urmia.

▲ Finally, just before we crossed the border into Turkey, I found the Black Church (Qareh Kalisa) a total surprise. Why had I never heard of this wonderful Armenian Church with its walls embellished with superb reliefs?