From Prague to Iran
I was thinking of visiting Iran already some 3 years ago, but it somehow fell below the table. At the end of last year i started to read travelblogs and traveljournals on Iran and i just had to put Iran as my travel plan number one for the upcoming year. In May i got my iranian visa and in the beginning of June, two days after i finally finished my MSc Degree, i was heading towards the Middle East.
About the journey
Countries visited: Bulgaria, Turkey, Iran
Travelperiod: 6/2008
Total costs: 400 Euro + 40 Euro for visa
Special thanks to: Azad (helped me at Esendere-Sero border crossing and in Orumiyeh), Javid (help in Meshkin Shahr), Majid (supported me at Mount Sabalan and hosted in Tabriz), Mr. Nasser (for travel advices in Tabriz), Alireza (for explaining various aspects of iranian society), Armin (talk on the long bus ride to Istanbul)

Photoblog
rainy and cold friday afternoon in Sofia
rainy and cold friday afternoon in Sofia
fishermen on the Galata bridge
fishermen on the Galata bridge

I skipped overland journey through the Balkans and took a flight to Sofia, which i practically just run throught and immediately continued by bus to Istanbul.

a lot of people - the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul
a lot of people - the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul
Vangolu Ekspresi ready for 50 hours long journey
Vangolu Ekspresi ready for 50 hours long journey

In Istanbul i took a ferry to the Asian side to Haydarpasa train station, where purchased a ticket (73 TRY for a sleeper) for train Van Golu Ekspresi. It runs to Tatvan on shore of Lake Van and ride should last 40 hours. Shortly prior 6PM the train starts moving.

Central Anatolia - Kayseri and the volcano Erciyes Dagi (3916m)
Central Anatolia - Kayseri and the volcano Erciyes Dagi (3916m)
we had to wait 8 hours in this small Kurdish village
we had to wait 8 hours in this small Kurdish village

Next day was fully spent on board of the train, crossing Central and Eastern Anatolia. Unfortunately somewhere in eastern Turkey we caught 8 hours delay and reached Tatvan only after sunset. But I was lucky to catch the last dolmus to Van, city on the eastern shore of the lake. It was just after midnight, when i reached the objective of the day. Iran is close.

Kurdish women
Kurdish women
the lake Van Golu is behind the Nemrut mountain (in the back)
the lake Van Golu is behind the Nemrut mountain (in the back)

Next day i took a bus (20 liras) from Van to Orumieh, which lays in the very west of Iran. Road runs along the beautiful lake Van and then climbs into the mountains on Turkey - Iraq border. After passing numerous heavily armed military checkpoints (real kriegspiel - fully equipped tanks, missiles trucks etc.) we arrived to remote Esendere - Sero border post.

some 50 km before the border crossing to Iran
some 50 km before the border crossing to Iran
mountains on the Turkey-Iraq border
mountains on the Turkey-Iraq border

Crossing the border was a pain for me. Turkish border guards delayed me for half an hour and i almost missed the bus waiting on the Iranian side.

Azam Mosque in Orumiyeh
Azam Mosque in Orumiyeh
Protestant church in Orumiyeh
Protestant church in Orumiyeh

Arriving to Orumiyeh was a bit of a shock, but i managed all, what i needed - change money and find a place to sleep. Next day i had a ride to Tabriz on the schedule. However when walking from the hotel, i was invited for a tea into one of the stores. Had a chat with the owner, who then instructed his brother to show me around and then take me to bus station, from where i can continue to Tabriz.

the salt Lake Urmia
the salt Lake Urmia
portrait of the Ayatollah Khomeini in the Golestan Park (Tabriz)
portrait of the Ayatollah Khomeini in the Golestan Park (Tabriz)

For the ride to Tabriz i picked a shared taxi rather than bus, since for few dollars extra the travel time drops to half and more importantly it passes along Lake Urmia, which is the largest lake in Iran. The lake is extremely salty (almost 300 grams a litre) and you can take salt into your hands like sand in a sea.

inside of the Tabriz bazaar
inside of the Tabriz bazaar
my room in hotel Mashad (Tabriz)
my room in hotel Mashad (Tabriz)

In Tabriz i met with Mr. Nasser, who is a legend among travellers and runs a government funded tourist office, which is a great source of information when travelling in western Iran. Most importantly he gave me info on climb to Mount Sabalan, which i had on the plan for the next two days. I anchored in hotel Mashad (20 000 IRR a night) - simple, but clean rooms. In late afternoon i strolled around the vast and lively Tabriz bazaar - the place really had atmospehere, absolutely unspoilt of tourism.

first view of the mount Sabalan (4814m)
first view of the mount Sabalan (4814m)
basecamp at 3650m
basecamp at 3650m

Next day morning i took a bus (3 hours, 10 000 IRR) to Meshkin Shahr, town below the Sabalan volcano.


4WD drive to the Mount Sabalan Base Camp (3670m).

I needed to arrange a ride to the Base Camp. After some bargaining i set price with one of the jeep drivers at 180 000 IRR. In the back of our jeep we were carrying open (!) petrol cans. The driver was an old Iranian and no surprise, he was smoking while driving. I was praying, that our jeep won't explode during the ride. All in all, insane.

drinking tea with Azerbaijans
drinking tea with Azerbaijans
first sunrays hit the mountain
first sunrays hit the mountain

The hut in the basecamp was pretty shabby, garbage everywhere. But a hut warden shows up and offers me a room in a building nearby for 25 000 IRR. I'm buying. Later i went for short acclimatization walk up to 3950 metres. Group of Azerbaijans arrived to the basecamp meanwhile and as they speak Russian, communication is not a hurdle.

view from around 4250m
view from around 4250m
at 4400m
at 4400m

Next day early morning i start the climb with them, but they are painfully slow and few of them suffer from AMS. So i move ahead at my own pace. At 4600m i meet Majid, a guy from Tabriz, who gives me the needed moral to finish the climb.

plateau (4750m) near the summit
plateau (4750m) near the summit
with Ali and Majid on the summit (4780m)
with Ali and Majid on the summit (4780m)

Half an hour later we stand together at 4780 metres by a crater lake (completely frozen) on the summit. Follows descent back to the Base Camp and Majid offers me ride to Tabriz, which i accept with pleasure.

view over Tabriz from the El Goli park
view over Tabriz from the El Goli park
Blue Mosque (Tabriz)
Blue Mosque (Tabriz)

Next day was more or less dedicated to relaxation and later in the afternoon i manage to meet Alireza - guy, who i was in contact with earlier through Couchsurfing.


in the Kandovan village

Kandovan village
Kandovan village
kids in the village (check out what the kid in brown sweater has as a toy...)
kids in the village (check out what the kid in brown sweater has as a toy...)

Next day i join three other travellers on a trip to cave village Kandovan and in the evening i'm departing by bus towards the capital of Iran - Tehran. After midnight we make a stop at a restaurant, where suddenly a fistfight of group of men triggers. Police arrives to investigate that and fortunately nobody from our bus got involved, so we can resume the journey.

Tehran - morning view to the Azadi Monument
Tehran - morning view to the Azadi Monument
Azadi Monument
Azadi Monument

In Tehran downtown i anchored in one of the hotels around Ferdowsi Street and headed to explore the city - Tehran Bazaar, former US Embassy (U.S. Den of Espionage!), Imam Khomeini Square, Felestin Square, Azadi Monument. In the evening i replanned (should be over 40 degrees in central Iran the next few days) my journey - won't continue to Esfahan, but return to Tabriz and consequently to Turkey.

mosque close to Tehran's bazaar
mosque close to Tehran's bazaar
old Mercedes trucks
old Mercedes trucks

I took a noon time bus from Tehran and in the late afternoon i'm back in Tabriz, where i'm sorting out onward bus travel to Istanbul for next day evening. It will be a long 38 hours ride.

with Farid in Tabriz
with Farid in Tabriz
sun finds it's way to the alleys of Tabriz's bazaar
sun finds it's way to the alleys of Tabriz's bazaar

Last day in Tabriz and also in Iran. Yet to eat some chello kebabs, drink tasty fruit juices, buy some gifts and in the evening i board a bus to Istanbul. Crossing border to Turkey at Bazargan was insane. Brutal chaos, totally overpacked with people and passport control was something hard to describe.

somewhere in central Turkey
somewhere in central Turkey
morning traffic on the bridge over Bosporus
morning traffic on the bridge over Bosporus

On the turkish side of the border iranian men immediately headed to duty free shop to buy some booze and iranian women throwed their scarfes away. Follows a very long, whole day and night ride thru Turkey. Next day morning our bus finally reaches Istanbul.

looking back to Asia
looking back to Asia
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in the middle of the night (Sofia)
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in the middle of the night (Sofia)

Following day continue further to Bulgaria. The bus ride was uneventful up to the border, where we lost 2 hours, because the Turks arrested one of the passengers. I spend next two days in Sofia and then flying home to Prague. Khoda Hafez Iran!

back home - the golden Prague
back home - the golden Prague
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