Iran - 2013
As I did a few riding trips in Central Asia, I met cyclists who had taken the (most common) route through Iran as they made their way across the continent. Interestingly, in spite of Iran's reputation in the western media, they were all blown away by the friendliness they had experienced. So I read up some, grew more reassured, and decided to give it a go.
I'm not a huge fan of giant cities, so I flew into Shiraz (avoiding Tehran) in the SW, rode out into the Dasht-e Kavir desert in Central Iran, looped west back to gorgeous Isfahan, and then south back to Shiraz down the rugged Zagros Mountains. All the rumours were true. I've never experienced such hospitality. People driving by would regularly stop to offer food and drink or invite me to stay with them. And, as expected, there was incredible history and architecture. A favourite for me was wandering the breathtaking blue mosques of Yazd or the giant bazaars of Shiraz and Isfahan.
Below is a map, showing Iran's location in the world, and the area I did my ride. With immediate neighbours like Iraq and Afghanistan, one understand that this is a complex and troubled region. Below that is a slide show from this incredible experience. There's also a couple of (soundless) video clips from my trip below the slide show. At the bottom is a route map. Have a look.
Check out the SLIDESHOW
If you hover over the picture below, you'll see forward/backward arrows for navigating. Some of the comments were packaged after my visit, and may no longer be current.
I'm still exploring the use of video. Alas, it seems I cannot get sound without buying another plug-in (so you'll have to imagine). Here's a few short videos from my Iran trip. There are (dim) forward/back page navigation arrows at the sides of the box. The quality may be a little low, but I suspect you'll find these interesting
This clip is simply a road crossing in Shiraz, outside a popular bazaar. I always felt safe enough, but only because I never trusted the cars to stop. There's a brave dance here for pedestrians, including women & children
Iran - Route map
I flew into Shiraz, SE Iran, an ancient country over twice the land area of Turkey or France. After acclimatizing and roaming about a few days (the huge bazaars!), I headed NE on the bike. I stopped at stunning Persepolis, ruins of the capital of a world-spanning empire sacked by Alexander the Great in 330 BC. So awesome, but surprisingly understated, it seemed: I asked about this and was told that the current Islamic government does not like to emphasize any grandeur that preceded the advent of Islam.
Then onwards into the western fringes of the vast central Dasht-e Kavir desert, stopping at surprising Yazd. The old city architecture, particularly the revered mosques with their towering spires and intricate blue stonework, took my breath away, making this one of my favourite travel cities in the world.
I'd read a travel blog from a cycle tourist who'd made his way to the village of Garmeh, out in the desert (now in Lonely Planet, I am told). I did the same, wild camping out in the vastness, hot by day and near freezing by night (it was early spring).
Next I looped back west to the garden city of Isfahan - grand mosques, palaces, enormous trading bazaars and the world heritage Naqsh-e Jahan Square, (translation - “pattern of the world”), built in the 1600s by Shah Abbas as the centrepiece of his new capital.
Then it was back to Shiraz riding the rugged Zagros Mountains, higher in places than the Canadian Rockies. Wow.