Next morning I was up at sunrise. I had no choice. Unfortunately, my room faced east and the morning sun was streaming in through the curtainless window. It was already getting uncomfortably hot so I decided to get on the road as soon as possible before I started dissolving in a puddle of sweat.
After extricating my bike from the courtyard up a few steep steps and through a narrow gate I headed out to do battle with the early morning trucks and buses.
On the way out of town I passed the new and controversial Yademan Tower in Basij Square. A combination of part spaceship and part 70’s kitsch, the Yademan Tower is Iran’s second tallest tower after the Borj-e Milad in Tehran. An eye-catching piece of architecture for all the wrong reasons.
My goal for the day was to reach Tehran. Originally I had planned to avoid Tehran completely. But, just like my plan to avoid Delhi, my new route took me directly to another megalopolis. The Iranian capital is home to about 10-15million people so I had to steel myself for more high-speed chaos.
But before I got to Tehran I had over 400km of riding ahead of me – 150km along the steamy Caspian coastal plain before heading south, back over the Alborz mountain range to the relative comfort of the dry desert plains of Tehran/Qom plateau.
And the ride through the mountain pass turned out to be an unexpected joy.
My route took me through the chaotic towns of Sari and Qa’em Shahr. I could have avoided them but I wanted to change some more US dollars for rials. So I went looking for money-changers. Since leaving Mashhad I had been gradually using up my stock of rials. I didn’t need to change more money but Iran is not a country to run out of cash. All foreign credit cards are useless so you must bring enough hard currency in with you to last until you leave. Unfortunately for me it was the last Friday of Ramadan and all the money-changers must have had a fit of conscience because when I asked in both Sari and Qa’em Shahr for directions to a money-changer I was told they were all shut because it was the last Friday of Ramadan!
Not to worry. I had enough rials for petrol and food. But it meant that going to Tehran was now a necessity not an option.
After refuelling on the outskirts of Qa’em Shahr I was glad to escape the imminent carnage of the six-lane Highway 22 for the less-travelled but single-lane Highway 79. The road started to climb almost immediately. The twists and turns of the tarmac combined with the lack of traffic made the ride the most fun for a long time. By the time I stopped in Zir Ab for a quick pitstop the weather was noticeably cooler and a sign as I entered town told me Zir Ab was almost 600m above sea level.
I climbed further into the Alborz mountains but had to stop again after only about 70km at Firuz Kuh. I had climbed to almost 2000m and I was now starting to feel the cold! I had to put on some warmer clothes! As I wound my way to the little town of Damavand I could not believe my eyes. On my right was Mt. Damavand – Iran’s highest mountain. And there was still some snow on its peak! On checking my map later I discovered Damavand was over 5600m high. I just wasn’t expecting snow in Iran in the middle of summer!
But when I went to take a photo the camera battery died. I had forgotten to recharge it overnight in Gorgan! So the photo at right is courtesy of Wikipedia but is almost identical to the view I had of Damavand.
Eventually I dropped back down on to the Tehran/Qom plateau and headed for the big smoke of the capital. I had to find somewhere to stay and I only had one name and address. Some locals I had met had recommended the Ferdowsi Hotel on Ferdowsi St. in Central Tehran – a supposedly mid-range hotel.
The Ferdowsi was nothing like a mid-range hotel.