Road To London: A Brief Affair With Iran
Sunday, February 26, 2012
It is difficult to give a true picture of Iran today given the current situation being continuously distorted by the western media and at the same time the somewhat unbalanced portrayal of the mood of the populace through visuals on TV showing thousands of flag waving and banner carrying crowds shouting praises and support for the ruling elite. Such scenes are also not uncommon in Malaysia where the government in power controls the broadcasting channels. As a visitor just travelling through I see it from a different perspective after talking to the people in the streets. Taheran, for example is a modern metropolis not devoid of people who would freely tell you that they are not in sync with what the government is advocating and in the same breath tell you not to publicise their views for fear of the obvious. What is evident is that most Iranians curb their true feelings in public. The government however should also be commended for its stance in standing up and defying the wishes and the bullying tactics of the west especially the United States.
While enjoying a sunny winter afternoon at Mo'allem Park in Taheran I befriended a gentleman, Reza and his two young daughters Rose, 8, and Rozhan, 10, who were also enjoying the peaceful surrounding. Reza and his family is a typical modern middle class liberal Iranian family who are well educated and proud to be Iranian. His wife Deeba (means beautiful) is a medical doctor (private practitioner) and they live in a modern apartment. They have satellite TV and have access to hundreds of TV channels from around the world except CNN. Their two daughters speak excellent English and they take lessons in violin, traditional drums and ballet. The girls can tell you about the history of Iran, its culture and the attractions in Tehran and other places in Iran. We were privileged to be guests at their apartment and feted with a typical Iranian meal. That is Iranian warmth and hospitality for you. The family has travelled abroad and hope to visit Malaysia soon.
We did not see many tourists in Iran and those we met were mostly backpackers staying in budget hotels around Amir Kabeer Street. At the Mashhad Hotel that we stayed we met several young Koreans, a Danish and a Thai cyclist, Sawang, 39, who is also cycling around in Iran, Turkey, Armenia, etc. Sawang was a teacher for 9 years before quitting to travel. He is making a study and trying to understand the different religions and searching for inner peace within himself. You can't help but admire such people.
From Tehran we cycled to Karaj some 45 kilometres away and cycling on the streets in Taheran is an absolute nightmare. All motorists treat the streets like the race tracks. No one drives or rides slowly, but the amazing part is when you expect the driver or the rider to crash while swerving through the busy traffic they somehow were able to avoid hitting the other vehicle by mere centimetres or a fraction of a second. To think of it, they are really good drivers and riders. Those with a weak heart are forewarned not gamble their lives driving in Iranian cities. I only saw three Protons, one Gen2 and two Iswaras while in Iran.
Tehran is so big that you can travel for 30 kilometers or more and not come to the edge of the city. Before we knew it we were told that we were already in Karaj, another city. In geography I think we call it conurbation, where two different towns or cities join without a distinct physical boundary. In Karaj we were guests of one Afshin, 31, who is the coach and manager to Milad 21, the top DH (downhill) rider in Iran. Aede met Milad in KL when he came to race there last year and also raced in Kuantan and JB. Milad is a professional DH rider and would travel to races where the prize money can cover his travelling expenses and more. In Malaysia, he finished on the podium at all the DH races that he participated. Milad is going to Canada in April to race there professionally and also hopes to gain PR status if all goes well. The young man really has talent and I do hope he succeeds.
Afshin is another Iranian who is multi-talented and an accomplished extreme sportsman. He is a taekwando black belt holder, a kick boxer, an accomplished DH and cross-country rider, mountaineer, ice climber and ski instructor among other things. He is also a certified Shimano bicycle technician (mechanic) and sponsored by Merida. We were his guests and while at his apartment he exhibited extreme kindness and generosity taking care of all our needs beyond all expectations. We can never repay or replicate his deeds should he be our guest in Malaysia. Wherever we went we were always greeted warmly and I have to admit that Iran and Iranians are not what the West would like us to believe.
Besides joining Milad during his training session at the rocky hills in Karaj we were also guests at his family apartment for a sumptuous dinner prepared by his mother. Joining the dinner were his entire family including his grandfather, grandmother, his uncle, aunt and cousins. While our stay in Iran was brief, we shall always remember it with fond memories.
Although there is a lot to see and do in Iran we did not extend our 14 day Iran visa as we were not able to cycle most of the way due to the extreme weather conditions and unforgiving terrain. We headed for Maku, the border town separating Iran and Turkey. Much of the way is mountainous with steep slopes covered in snow. Traffic was light but after Tabriz there was heavy snowfall and traffic moved slowly. On reaching Maku we had to push our fully 'loaded' bicycles for about 1 kilometer to the top of a hill where the immigration posts of both Iran and Turkey are situated. Luckily the procedures at both sides of the border were hassle-free and in freezing cold we entered Turkey.
As we left the Turkish Immigration post we were greeted with the most stunning view of the legendary Mount Ararat where Noah's Ark was said to have landed. The 5,165 meter mountain and all the plains around it were totally covered in snow and in spite of the sub zero temperatures we decided to enjoy the scenery while cycling to the nearest town, Dogubayazit 35 kilometers away. It was a bad decision because we not only had to tackle the hill-slopes, we were also faced with very strong headwind (must be between 20 to 25 kph) that we even had to pedal going downhill. Thank God, that after cycling for about 15 kilometers, a kind gentleman noticing how hard we were struggling, stopped his van to give us a lift into town, otherwise we not only would take at least another hour to cover the short distance to town, but we could even have suffered frostbite.
Dogubayazit is a small town where the people are mostly Kurds (that's what we were told) and not many people here speak English. The people are however friendly with foreign tourists, always smiling and wanting to know where they are from. Among the most famous tourist attraction here is Mount Ararat that can be seen from just about anywhere in town . The 5,165 metre mountain is now totally covered in snow but in summer only the top 400 meters of its summit will be covered in snow. The mountain is very similar to that of Fujiyama in Japan but don't offend the locals by saying that Ararat looks like Fujiyama, instead one should say that Fujiyama looks like Ararat. That is what we call patriotism. You can trek up the mountain in 4 days but you will need to apply for a permit (USD50) and use a guide. Skiing is also possible on its slopes. The other attraction is the Ishak Pasa Palace, 5 kilometers away, situated on a hill overlooking the town.
With Reza, Dr Deeba, Rose and Rozhan
Cycling in Taheran
Milad in training,Karaj
Not practical to cycle in these conditions
The 5,165 meter Mount Ararat
If you wish to get in touch with Adnan Osman (his personal blog: http://oadnanxtreme.blogspot.com/) or would like to help him on his endeavour, you can email him at email@example.com. Alternatively, you can reach Adnan through his wife, Marina Wong (03-77856058 or firstname.lastname@example.org) or his son, Adely (email@example.com)