Wednesday, January 12, 2011

... And Breathe Out

The road from Kurdistan to Iran is called the Hamilton Road, after the Kiwi engineer who designed it (he also wrote a book about his experience, and by all accounts it is a great travelogue), and it cuts an elegant swathe through some of the most beautiful mountain landscapes in the world (even though a gloomy, January morning didn't show it off in its best light). Just before the town of Soran it is at its most spectacular, squeezing its way through a narrow canyon lined with gushing waterfalls. The road was built by the Brits when they were still in their colonialist phase and was intended as a quick link between the British-controlled Levantine coast on the Mediterranean to the heart of Iran and the oil-rich region of the Caspian.

The town of Soran, up until recently, was a scabby little village, but now, with the opening of the Iranian border it has mushroomed in size with cross-border trade and the return of refugees. Therefore the charms of the town are in the lively bazaar rather than any physical sights (although the surrounding mountains are certainly worth a stroll). The shops are crammed with all sorts of tat, most of which you really don't need or want (see picture below). Here Turkey and Iran are battling it out for the hearts and minds of the Kurds via their consumer goods and it looks like Iran is winning. Luckily for me it also meant that almost everyone spoke Farsi, making my life particularly easy.

Snail shampoo? No thank you.

Although Soran was simply grey and muddy, the road to the Iranian border reaches over 1800m and the border post itself was blanketed in snow and ice, causing a long line of snarled up lorries down the mountain. The taxi had to stop a couple of kilometres before the crossing as a tanker was jack-knifed on the road as truckers attempted to put on chains and manoeuvre it around, so we had to make our way to it on foot, stepping gingerly because of the thick ice. The border corssing itself was a formality and within an hour I was in Iran. I change my money, got in a share taxi down to the nearest town of Piranshahr, also under a snowy duvet, and caught the overnight, direct bus to Tehran. Upon arrival the next morning I was welcomed by the familiar rush hour traffic (which starts before 7am nowadays), but managed to navigate my way back to our flat in the north of the city where I was able to surprise my mum.

I had arrived just in time as that afternoon there was quite a heavy snowstorm and I was thankful to be inside in the warm, safe in the knowledge that I don't need to go out, organise onward transport, seek new things to see and do and can just sit back and relax a bit and see friends and family. Not that I plan to be completely indolent: first of all I want to go through all my pictures that I have taken to date on my travels, sort them, touch them up if necessary. I also want to organise my blog a bit, perhaps advertise it a bit, find sponsorship, and just generally get myself sorted for the next leg of my trip which should start spring (if anyone knows of any contacts that would be willing to publish any of the stuff I've written or sponsor me then feel free to get in touch). Plus there are still a fair few places in Iran that I have not yet seen, particularly in the south where winter is the best time of year to visit.

The snow-covered mountains to the north of Tehran seen from the roof of our apartment building.

2 comments: said...

A nice landing with lovely views.

I hope you will keep updating your blog with slices of Iranian life.

Alex said...

Nice to see you are safe at home :-) Rest a bit and return to Bulgaria when you can. There are two friends in Ruse waiting to see you again!
Greetings from Mü and Alex :-)