A look back at Iran

As we cross borders from Iran to Turkmenistan, I wanted to write a brief post on our general experiences in Iran.  Initially I was a little apprehensive and unsure about visiting Iran, largely due to the current political tensions, media portrayal of the country and consequently the deep concerns from others.  We had previously met a few travellers who had been there, and reported great things and after much research we decided to go ahead with our plans.

Having been there I feel almost embarrassed about how naive I was about travelling the country.  While there are still some political unknowns, Iran itself as a country is amazing. It is extensive in its ancient Persian (and even recent) history, but most of all the people are extremely kind and friendly.  Perhaps the reason for this is that there are not many tourists in the country, resulting in less scams and other undesirables.  People approached us on the street merely out of curiosity, to have a chat, introduce themselves, practice English and to find out what the world’s perception of their country is.  There were no hidden agendas and as a result it was one of our most relaxing periods of travel.

Mashhad, Iran’s holiest city

Our final destination in Iran was Mashhad, located in north eastern Iran near the border to Turkmenistan. We arrived by an overnight bus from Gorgon which took about nine hours. The bus was probably the most uncomfortable we’d had in Iran, as the seats were much smaller, leg space less and we were allocated the very front seats behind the driver who constantly played loud music and smoked.


Mashhad is Iran’s holiest city as it is home to the Holy Shrine of Imam Reza. We most probably wouldn’t have stopped here, and would have opted for the more convenient located holy city Qom, if we didn’t need to collect our Turkmenistan visas.

In Mashhad we stayed at Vali’s non-smoking homestay. This gave us the opportunity to experience one of the more interesting experiences in Iran, Vali’s Kang village tour for 350,000 Rials per person. We were joined on the tour by a Dutch girl and Australian couple (who seemed to have travelled most of the world) and of course our tour guide Vali. We caught two public buses (one unfamiliar thing is the gender segregation, men seated at the front of the bus, women at the back, similarly on trains, females have a separate carriage all to themselves) and then hitch-hiked (all of us clutching for our lives on the back of a ute was an experience in itself) to Kang village all while carrying a bundle of walking sticks. Kang village is a traditional stepped village with mudbrick houses.  Much to the dismay of some of the others, we climbed an extremely steep adjacent hill to catch beautiful views of the village. On the easier route down, we all wondered why we didn’t use this path on our way up! We then awkwardly crossed a river using a fallen tree, again we were all questioned why this was necessary, but it was explained it was all part of the experience.

In Kang village Vali showed us a few of the local plants that the villagers used, particularly in their herbal teas. As we walked through the village it seemed everyone knew our guide. We arrived at our first destination, a lovely family who served us apples (both fresh and dried), dried mulberries and dates and nice tasting local herbal tea, which was even nicer when sipped with the crystallised sugar (commonly used in Iran).  After tipping the lady, as advised by our guide, we headed to our next destination, Abardeh village for lunch. Normally the walk to Abardeh would have taken another few hours, but the group managed to convince Vali to arrange a driver.

At Abardeh we had lunch consisting of Dizi and tea. In general, Dizi is considered as food of the poor and it was our second time trying it, the whole art of eating it is quite fun.  After lunch we headed back to the homestay on an extremely crowded bus, we were all exhausted.

Houses of Kang village, a traditional stepped village
Our tour group, Peter, Vali, Jasmine and Viki
Houses of Kang village, a traditional stepped village
Vali explaining Kang village
Our tour group, Vali, Viki, Sonya, Jasmine, Peter and Travis
Houses of Kang village, a traditional stepped village
Travis climbing the hill overlooking Kang village
Wild lavender
Our hosts pouring us herbal tea at Kang village
Vali the tour guide
Sonya enjoying a meal of Dizi
Dinner at Vali's Homestay


Gorgan, Iran, past the Caspian Sea

From Dizin we decided to continue the scenic drive (Chalus Road) to Chalus.  A friendly Iranian driver heading the same way offered to give us a lift at the suggestion of the traffic police (we were happy to wait for the next bus…), so we ended up going with him. He dropped us off in Chalus and we took a shuttle taxi (who refused to take our payment for the ride) to the nearby town of Noshahr along the coast of the Caspian Sea. We had planned to stay there one night but instead decided to head straight to Gorgan. We headed to seaside to view the rather unimpressive Caspian before catching a six hour bus ride to Gorgan. By the time we arrived it was about ten in the evening.


Gorgan is a small town in northern Iran. It is near the border to Turkmenistan so the area is quite ethnically diverse.  We first decided to purchase overnight bus tickets to Mashhad, and walked over to the bus station. On the way back we visited the Imamzadeh Abdollah mosque and the tiny Gorgon museum. We then decided to hire a taxi to visit the Nahar Khoran forest about fifteen kilometres from the city centre, and a small town called Ziyarat.

Goats and sheep being herded through Nahar Khoran forest
Goats and sheep being herded through Nahar Khoran forest
Goats in Nahar Koran forest
A baby goat in-between the heard
Goats and sheep being herded through Nahar Khoran forest
A sheep dog herding goats and sheep
Lush green forest of Nahar Khoran
Lush green forest of Nahar Khoran
Lush green forest of Nahar Khoran
Sonya and Travis at Nahar Khoran


Nahar Khoran

Nahar Khoran was unexpectedly amazing.  We wandered around the area, a picturesque forest of bright leafy green trees on the hillside.  Ziyarat was a quaint little town perched on the side of a hill, we had a wonder through the town with its wooden houses and cobbled paths.

By then we had befriended the taxi driver, Saeid, and his lovely wife (Shabnam) and daughter (Mahdiyeh) who kindly invited us to their house in Gorgan for chai (tea). We accepted and spent some time swapping information about each other and our cultures while trying to overcome language barriers as they didn’t speak English and our Farsi is limited to a few words!

Sonya and our taxi drivers family
Invitation for tea at our taxi drivers home

That evening we had ghorme sabzi (diced meat , beans, vegetables and rice) at a local restaurant and caught our overnight bus to Mashhad.

Dizin Ski Resort, Iran

Upon our return to Tehran from Kashan, we immediately submitted our paperwork for Turkmenistan visas and were advised it would take five working days. This meant we would need to stay in Iran for at least another five days. We planned to pick up the visas from Mashhad (a city close to the Turkmen border), which allowed us to then visit some areas in northern and western Iran. Dizin was our first stop, a small village famous for its massive ski slopes in the Alborz Mountain ranges.


We took a bus there from Tehran. It was a beautiful, scenic drive up through the snow capped mountains. Once again we experienced the kind Persian hospitality when we were dropped off from the bus, thirteen kilometres from Dizin, and a man with his mother, father and daughter gave us a lift to the village.

As we were in Dizin during an offpeak period, it was generally very quiet and we were the only guests at the hotel we stayed in (kind of spooky… and Travis did mention it felt like ‘The Shining’).  The following day we decided to hit the slopes at the Dizin ski resort. With both of us having very little experience with skiing (having only done it once before in Harbin, China), we had an interesting time trying to familiarise ourselves with the sport! There were many other skiers at the resort. Skiing in Iran is a lot less expensive compared to other places, in total we paid about $70 for both of us, including day entry into the slopes and equipment hire.  The views were simply amazing.

Alborz Mountains at Dizin ski resort
Alborz Mountains at Dizin ski resort
One of the rest houses in Dizin
Alborz Mountains at Dizin ski resort
A gondola at Dizin ski resort
Travis resting at Dizin ski resort
Alborz Mountains at Dizin ski resort
Alborz Mountains at Dizin ski resort
Alborz Mountains at Dizin ski resort
Alborz Mountains at Dizin ski resort
Alborz Mountains at Dizin ski resort
Alborz Mountains at Dizin ski resort