Friday, August 04, 2006

Khasteh Nabash Iran

So, my time in Iran has finally come to an end and I'm actually in a bit of a rush to get to Baku and Azerbaijan so will be getting a couple of buses straight there (but more about that in my next post). It is time to summarise my thoughts and impressions on Iran.

Despite having been here quite a few times before I was still surprised, and pleasantly so, by what I found here. Of course there are many problems with Iran and its government, but those are so often repeated with great fanfare by American and Western propaganda (sorry, did I say propaganda? I meant to say objective media) that they are common knowledge. I would like to concentrate on what makes Iran a pleasant and fun place to travel around in. As mentioned before it is very clean and well-developed: the cities are full of trees and parks (every street in Tehran, except the narrowest alleyway, is lined with trees); the roads are impeccable; the buses comfortable and often better than their European counterparts (click here to read my Czech bus odyssey from 2 years ago); the food is clean, healthy and of good quality (impeccable bowel movements throughout my 3 months); there's cool, clean, free drinking water on almost every street corner (when I think of the difficulties in getting drinking water in India...) and the people, certainly the highlight of any trip to this country, friendly and generous to a fault. In some ways I was slightly disappointed by the lack of adventure and difficulties to be surmounted. Paradoxically, despite the government pouring significant funds into sprucing up and restoring the many cultural and historical monuments around the country, they really make it difficult for visitors to actually enter the country: my visa was by far the most expensive I have had to buy yet, plus I needed to get an AIDS test as well (you'll all be glad to know that I am HIV negative). This seems to me very counterproductive as more tourists means more foreign money and, perhaps more importantly in the current political climate, a greater understanding by foreigners of this complex country.

Well, that's about it really, as I've already pretty much written about everything worth mentioning already, although before I leave I’d like to add a little something about Iranian taxis (because I haven't been able to find an opportune moment to do it before). Now I generally never take taxis whilst travelling as they are prohibitively expensive, but here in Iran they have a unique system (at least I've never seen it anywhere else) of share taxis. These are cars that ply fixed routes and pick up passengers anywhere along them, even being used for short intercity distances. They serve to complement the bus network and are faster, more frequent, more comfortable and a bit more expensive. But the disconcerting thing about shared taxis is that they are generally unmarked, cheap cars (often Paykans) and it is therefore very difficult to distinguish between them and ordinary, private cars. So when you are wanting to catch a share taxi you often have to resort to standing by the side of the road and shouting your intended destination at any passing vehicle with its window down in the hope that it may be a taxi. This can lead to some confusion, as I found out a few days ago when a car pulled up beside me and a lady got out. I subsequently got in, only to discover that it was in fact a private car and that they had just happened to drop the lady off right by where I was standing. Needless to say I was mortified and mumbled my apologies whilst quickly scrambling out. So, if you are ever catching a taxi in Iran, just double check and make sure that it actually is a taxi.

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