After escaping Tehran, I headed for Qazvin, the halfway point on the road to Zanjan. Qazvin is one of Iran’s most historic cities. It was first founded during the Sassanian kingdom in the 3rd century AD but rose to fame as the Persian capital under the Saffavid shahs in the 16th century, before eventually losing out to Esfahan. Originally I was going to spend a couple of days in Qazvin as it is also the main gateway for visiting the famous 12th century castles of the Assassins in the Alamut valley. But like so much of my time in Iran so far, my plans changed on a daily basis. The only thing I knew for sure was I was still heading west. Apart from that, each day was something of a lucky dip.
According to the BBC World Service weather forecast it was going to be yet another 35-40C day. The road I took was the M2 freeway, Iran’s number one 6-lane monstrosity. It was as boring as all hell. So Qazvin came and went with nothing more than a pitstop. An insult to history for sure but I was starting to run low on interest in Iran. My eyes were firmly fixed on the Turkish border.
I persevered with the monotony of the M2 and eventually Zanjan appeared out of the heat haze. It was still only early afternoon and I briefly considered riding all the way to Tabriz. But only briefly. I decided to call it a day and began the search for some accommodation. I found the Park Hotel, a modest little place with friendly staff, right on Azadi Square. It was nothing special but it was inexpensive and had secure parking for the bike – something the Ferdowsi International Grand in Tehran didn’t have! I spent the cool of the late afternoon and early evening wandering around Zanjan. It was a modern city but pleasant in a way that Bognurd and Gorgan weren’t.
But my stay in Zanjan was necessarily brief as my mind wandered further afield.
Next morning I made an early start and set out on the next 300km leg to Tabriz. I toyed with the idea of making a detour via Takht e-Suleyman (the so-called Solomon’s Throne) but I decided to stick doggedly to my mission to get to Maku and the Turkish border as soon as possible.
While the road from Zanjan to Tabriz was just as boring, there was a dramatic change in the surrounding terrrain as the road cut through the low pass between the Sahand and Bozqush mountain ranges. The open plains were replaced by stunning rockfaces in strange combinations of shapes and colours.
And here’s another one.
By lunchtime I was in Tabriz. The friendly staff at the Park Hotel in Zanjan had recommended a few budget hotels and so the quest began. Tabriz was much bigger than Zanjan and the combination of the midday heat and the heavy traffic made me pull off the main road into a small side street to check my map and directions.
As I sat on the footpath trying to find some shade under a skeletal tree I poured one of my half litre bottles of water over my head in a vain attempt to cool down. While contemplating my next move I resigned myself to the fact that, as a solo traveller, I would never experience the warmth of the Iranian people that so many of my fellow travellers had enjoyed.
That’s when I met Sam.