As the plane landed, the ladies on the flight were all putting on their hijab – required by the (Islamic) Iran government. I practiced once or twice before the trip, just to check if I might need to walk with one hand on my head throughout the trip. A clip could do the trick; but hello, if I want to wear a hijab, I wear it with style!
Getting the visa took a while, but not enough for the hostel to charge extra waiting time for transport though, phew.
Over the course of two weeks I met so many people from everywhere. We are all very different except for one trait – to explore. Fashion designer, graphic design professors, bartender, activists, dive-master, custom officer, banker, street performer, teachers, a young dude who has a tattoo of an onion… you name it.
The history, overwhelming.
The nature, breath-taking.
The architecture, incredible.
The road trip with my first CS host, Amir, took me to places I probably can never get to without his car. We also went on the route I wanted to go by train – though the train could have been a better option, I’m not complaining for what I experienced. Some days I do not see any other tourist, and he made it easy for the language barrier. I feel grateful, despite the bitter aftertaste (no pun intended).
Travelling as a solo woman (with a different skin colour) in Iran has its pros and cons. You gather a crowd in three minutes, with everyone hoping they have a solution to your problem, or you risk getting touched or harassed by oppressed male counterparts. As much as possible I kept my eyes to the ground, and smile to those who seemed genuine. Sometimes you get it wrong. I smiled to a soldier in a mosque whom I assumed was following me for my safety, or possibly hoping to help me snap some photos (as I was alone) – he requested for a photo with me, and pulled me in immediately after the shutter clicked, and tried to kiss me. He persisted for a bit after I pushed him away. Usually when you stand firm, or be in a crowded place, you are pretty safe.
Mountains after mountains, the endless folds from the tectonic plates. I came for the view on Alamut but was caught in heavy fog, but the journey was already jaw-dropping. It was an intense trip back down in the evening with no lamps on mountain roads, poorly marked roads, mediocre brake and headlights, and a badly-timed thunderstorm with snow covering the roads.
The impromptu hitch-hike was a catch. I was planning to hitch if I had found a travel partner, but I did not. After two or three hours in Kandovan, which is two hours away from Tabriz, there was no taxi operating (back to Tabriz) because someone from the village passed away and everyone went to attend the funeral. So I approached the only group I saw that late morning. They kindly offered to send me to a safe place where they arranged a taxi for me. Over chai, they told me they were all graphic designers! After a short drive, the taxi driver spoke to me and took a turn away from the highway. I questioned him but he gestured me to wait and see. He turned into a school and picked up a girl who appeared to be six years or so. We both laughed, seemingly agreeing that the paranoia was redundant.
People in Tabriz spoke Turkish, Azeri Turkish. My broken Turkish helped a bit, and I miss the people from that kebab restaurant next to my hotel that chatted with me, offered me chai, accepted my pastries, and put me in a taxi safely to the bus terminal.
Hassan and Khadijeh’s hospitality made me blushed. They showed me the will to learn, humility, and the fact that I would tear at departure after spending only two nights couchsurfing with them. In the day we made a trip to the border, 15km away from Iraq. I was not looking for excitement, or danger, but amused at the resilience of the city. I was curious.
The cars that stopped on the highway, mistaking me as a married Afghanistan woman, and helping to fix the flat tyre. One car assuring he will follow us to Shiraz, knowing the spare tyre was not in the best condition.
Persepolis celebrated 2500 years of the empire in 1971, which makes it 2545 years during my visit. The Achaemenid Empire was something I never knew nor research beforehand, and I actually spent a day or two digging into it after coming home.
The mosques were very, very impressive. Every single one. It makes me question a lot about the architecture style through the eras. The patterns, the ratio, the brains behind it, the labour that went into it, the scripts that speaks on it – it works on your senses.
The dynamism of the country took my heart away. I was getting used to wearing hijab in public places – it was actually really useful when the temperature dropped! If there is anything to whine about, it was the shortage of variety of food once you leave the big cities, and the high-quality toilet papers equivalent to our kitchen towels that might just cause abrasion on your buttocks.
In general, humanity is not dead in Iran. War is not happening in Iran. Everything on the media does not speak for the people in Iran. It is one of those places that lingers on my mind even upon reaching the comfort of my bed back home.
And here is a very nice photo a stranger took for me at the Nasir-al-mulk mosque (aka Pink Mosque) for my own pleasure, haha.