Monthly Archives: January 2013

To Maku and the Turkish border

Due to Sam’s enthusiasm it seemed like I had been in Tabriz for a week but in fact it had been only three days. It was now time to pack the bike again and continue my journey across northern Iran to Maku – the last stop before the Turkish border. Tabriz to Maku was only 250km so it would be a relatively easy day’s ride. I could have made it to the border post at Bazargan as it was only another 30km up the road but I had learned that, wherever possible, it was usually better to approach border crossings in the morning rather than the afternoon.

Stark country side

The often stark terrain of the Azarbayjan-e Gharbi region

After thanking Sam and Agdaz for their wonderful hospitality I said my good-byes. When I went out to the bike I found it was spotlessly clean. Sam had washed the bike for me! It was no longer covered in its patina of dirt and grime that it had acquired after three months of travelling through Asia.  And Sam continued his generosity by loading me up with food and drink for the journey.

I jumped straight onto the freeway that would take me out of town. It was felt good to get away from the mayhem of the Tabriz traffic. The countryside was quite desolate in parts. Often it was difficult to discern the mud-brick homes of the villages from their rugged, rocky surroundings.

A very friendly Iranian family invited me to join them for lunch.

A very friendly Iranian family invited me to join them for lunch.

It was another hot day but it was always a great feeling to be on the open road again and by early afternoon I was in Maku. I stopped in the main street at a local cafe to escape the heat and have some lunch. Immediately I was asked to join an Iranian family for lunch. Only one of the family spoke any English and that was fairly limited. But that was no problem. The father asked about my travels and he translated for the rest of his family. I asked the family for directions to a hotel but as they were not locals but travelling through to Orumiyeh they could not help me. Eventually I found the hotel I was looking for where the hotel staff even let me park the bike in their very grand, marble-floored foyer.

That evening, as I sat eating dinner in a local restaurant, it struck me that tomorrow I would be leaving Iran. More surprisingly, I realised I had only been in Iran for a total of two weeks. Was it really only two weeks since I had escaped the absurdity that is Turkmenistan? It seemed more like a lifetime ago.

I had entered Iran with a broad plan to visit many of the ancient historical sites. One was the most famous archeological site in the world – Persepolis, home to two of the great Achaemenid kings, Darius and Xerxes. My trip was also to take me to the fabled cities of Shiraz and Esfahan. Alas, it was not to be. Instead of being a trip through “Ancient Persia”, my travels had somehow morphed into a journey through “Modern Iran”.

From the manic outpourings of modern Shi’ite Islam in Mashhad to the relatively modern, but soulless, cities of Bognurd and Gorgan to the megacity of Tehran  to the ordinary suburban life of Tabriz, I had seen 21st century Iran in a way that I could not have anticipated when I crossed the rarely-used border at Sarahs.

But my time in Iran had been all too brief. I made a mental note to myself that Iran was the one country that I would love to visit again. Had I gained any new meaningful insight into Iran – one of the most-maligned countries in Western media? Not really, other than that the Iranian people were no different to any other people. They just wanted a home for their family, enough food on the table and hope for the future – the same as people all over the world. I strolled back to my hotel in the cool of the evening realising that I was going to miss Iran.

Tomorrow I would have to make the short 30km dash to the border at Bazargan and Turkey.

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Categories: 09. Iran, 10. Turkey | Leave a comment

At home in Tabriz: Part II

When I awoke next morning Sam had already prepared an elaborate breakfast for me – none of your nancy-boy continental breakfasts here. It consisted of vast quantities of different meats and cheeses along with freshly baked breads and fresh fruit. It was an enormous challenge to the appetite but delicious.

As expected, Sam had planned a full morning’s sightseeing for me, to be followed by lunch back at home before venturing out again in the late afternoon for more visiting. But today would be different. Sam decided that it would be easier to use public transport rather than the bike so we walked up to a nearby bus stop and caught a local bus into the city. The bus ride took about 20min during which time I was the cause of much curiosity for locals. Apart from salaam aleikum and aleikum as-salaam I couldn’t converse with the locals but Sam was very enthusiastic in introducing me to as many people as possible on the bus.

Our first stop was another, but more in-depth, visit to the famous Tabriz  bazaar. The scale of the bazaar was mind-boggling. One could easily get lost in the intricate web of darkened alleyways and secretive caravanserai.

The elegant Sa'at Qabagi or Tabriz Municipality Building

The elegant Sa’at Qabagi or Tabriz Municipality Building

From the bazaar we made our way to the elegant, Tabriz Municipality Building. It was built in the early 20th century by the Germans and now boasts many separate small museums including the Tabriz Municipal Museum and the Tabriz Carpet Museum.

The Municipal Museum housed an eclectic collection of quaint bibs and bobs from 19th and 20th century Tabriz. The outside exhibits included odd things like a collection of early 20th century fire engines and the first taxi in Tabriz (an old W120 Mercedes Benz). Inside, the museum seemed to be dedicated to famous Tabrizi citizens. Important no doubt, but not very rivetting for an outsider.

The small gardens surrounding the building were beautiful, spoilt only by the huge fountain which had been drained for repairs.

Now that's a carpet! This priceless antique carpet measures 25m by 17m. That's Sam in the upper left corner.

Now that’s a carpet! This priceless antique carpet measures 16m by 7m. That’s Sam in the far upper left corner.

In a different wing of the Municipal Building was the Tabriz Carpet Museum.

The highlight of the Carpet Museum was a massive hand-woven carpet measuring 16m by 7m. I asked the museum attendant about the history of the huge carpet but she was only able to tell me that it was “rescued from a wealthy person’s house”. Not really sure what that meant.

Next on Sam’s seemingly endless list of museums was the modest-looking Azarbayjan Museum. It was only mid/late morning but the day was already starting to get uncomfortably hot and, with all the tramping around the streets of Tabriz, I was quickly approaching museum overload.

I waited outside while Sam haggled with the guard about something, all the time fearing the Azarbayjan Museum would turn out to be nothing more than another local council museum.

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