What is left? We were in Birjand, sleeping on the “tables” of a restaurant until they kicked us and the other homeless out. North we would go. Far north. Through some half deserts until the Elburz Mountains to get to the jungles in Mazanderan. We had been told of a place called Jangal-e Abr, Cloud Forest. We made it to Shahrood and slept there inside the yard of some abandoned buildings. We had figured that there is something that looks like a road through the mountains and we were certain we could theoretically hitch through.
To get to that road we hitched on the back of a car – yes, outside, sitting on the trunk – to the start of a road where guards were collecting a fee from the ones that want to drive into the mountains because it was some kind of natural reserve. Soon after that, we had walked for about 800 meters on the gravel road, a family that was split up into 2 cars stopped for us. We rearranged the seats and the luggage and up we went to the mountains. People had told us it would take 12 hours to walk through the mountains or something like that, we didn’t have a lot of information, but even google told us there was a roadish thing through so we were cool. And we were in a car that already took us half the way, to the top of the mountains. The only thing left was to head down.
As we left the car the people handed us a watermelon. Something we had to take with us, no matter what, they wouldn’t accept us not taking it. So I put it on my shoulders, between my backpack and my neck and it worked quite well. About an hour of walking steeply down on slippery mud and gravel roads we arrived in a mountain village. Everything reminded me of the Pyrenees, that’s what the climate, flora and fauna was like.
The road led us to Tehran. The north provinces are super crowded during summer because its pretty much the only part of Iran where you can stand the temperature. Local tourists all over the place. We hitched a bus and a soldier who showed us photography of dead DAESH fighters in Syria, together with him posing next to them. That was quite disturbing. Then we were in Tehran. Dropped near Nobonyad metro station. The metro was closed though and the only places where we could go were either parks or the Khayyam House.
The first person we approached in English was super friendly, let us use their phone and we called the person at the Khayyam House and yes, it was open and running, yes, it would be crowded, but yes, we are very welcome!
The Khayyam House is a cellar with one big living room, a small room with beds, a tiny kitchen and a toilet + shower room. The Khayyam House – at the moment “was” – is open for everybody, a place to rest, to sleep, to cook, to make music, to socialize, to get information and find friends. It is managed by random Iranians that stay there at the moment or live next to it and feel connected to the idea of a nomad base. We got a taxi there and were taken into the group of people who were already waiting in front of the door to get some snacks from the local street food shop.
Khayyam house was my base for the next 5 weeks. I made very good friends there, I managed to be part of the team behind it, at least informational. I added a lot of my wisdom about openly organized groups like that to the situations when there were troubles and helped refurbishing parts of it.
Since Stefan left the next day to see our friends in Zanjan I had a whole new environment with new people to get to know and explore. Inside of a whole new and incredibly huge city. I started to teach German to get some money, I was hanging around a lot with the managers of the Khayyam House in parks, especially in the evening. I used several ating platforms to get to know the females and their point of view about the situation in their country. I participated in several different and definitely illegal activities that I can not name here. I was in the mountains, I was in the desert, I was at smaller and bigger gatherings of locals and/or tourists. And all the time I poked people around me with questions about their life, their history, their way of growing up, their approach to ethical and philosophical dilemmas, to religion, to society and politics and economics. I challenged their traditions with emancipatory ideas, I fought against their dogmas with logic and tried to pry open their hearts to let me know how they feel without covering themselves in the superficial idea that rules over pretty much everything in Iran.
The south of the Tehran:
People that live in the south of Tehran usually fight a lot of problems but are not necessary more unhappy than the ones from the north. There is a lot of drug abuse, chaos and dirt in the center and south. I didn’t feel very well there, I was accompanied by a very strong and trustworthy person but still, when one of the groups of 4 males started to attack us because I took a picture of them my adrenalin levels went berserk and in the end I was happy to get out of the place fast. Especially since the old woman sitting on the road told us in Farsi (which was later translated to me by my friend): “Run, they have knives! They will stab you! Go fast!”.
The north of Tehran:
The north is very different from the south. It is the rich and middle class district, gradually stretching from the north part of the city (=millionaires) to the north part of the center (=middle class). It is the district where I stayed most of the time. The place where I know the metros, busses and line taxis, where I know some parks, food stores and friends. It is rather clean compared to the south, the architecture changes dramatically, the cars that you see become so super fancy that you could guess you are in Switzerland or Monaco. The shops become expensive, you see approaches to organic shops and cafe’s and you can usually walk the streets at any time of day and night without problems, even hitchhiking works here at night, inside of the city.
Some of my conclusions about Tehran:
Tehran – the city of cars, the moloch of traffic, the overgrown ant farm of people. But not even an hour with public transport and you stand in front of a 4000m altitude peak with countless paths, gorges, hideouts, climbing spots, waterfalls and what else the childish heart longs for. Why not stay there a little more?
“Tehran was designed to have a capacity of about 700,000 cars but currently more than 5 million cars are on the roads” (Wikipedia)
Also Tehran hosts about 4-5 million commuters that enter and exit the city every day, usually by car.
The population in the metropolitan area is around 15-20 million – on an area that is only about 3 times the size of Vienna, my hometown with a population of 2,6 million.
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Tours around Tehran:
One day, to see the desert and the Perseids falling from the sky, 3 friends and I decided to go to Kashan where we were introduced in old Iranian culture (see pictures) and new Iranian culture (tourists pay 3x the price). One of the friends and I headed further into the desert to a caravanserai and hitched back the next night.
Another day I hitched over to Damawand, Iran’s highest mountain (5610) and climbed it despite some people telling me not to do it on a path where I was completely alone. I wrote a very detailed report about it in German on Hikr.org.
The 4000 (3910) meter high mountain directly next to the city is called Tochal. I teamed up with another guest from Khayyam House, Khalid from Oman, and walked op there. To the top it took us 10 hours, including some sleeping. The next day though I had planned to go to Kashan and the desert so in the morning, starting 5:30 I ran down, like literally, in 2,5 hours. It felt as if I had had a tank ride over my legs for nearly a week!
The rest of the pictures that I have from my time in Tehran:
When I left the city I had a lot of very sad goodbyes to say. The people around Khayyam house had befriended me and took my promise to come again. Other tourists that I had met wondered why I wouldn’t stay until they come again. The German student wanted to stay in my class. The women I befriended more closely were hoping to see me in Austria soon. All in all I have to say it felt as if I had lived there and was moving away. I was embedded into the context of the city so much that I felt as if I was living there for a year. Leaving that place cost me some negotiation with myself and the others. And the cultural shock that hit me when I came back to Europe showed me how used I had gotten to the conventions, rules and social structures of Iran.