Conquering Iran – Totting up the 1200 km distance N-S across Iran

18 10 2010

We are making some really good, really hard progress, please remember that it is never too late to sponsor us (all the pings go to two really super charities) and please encourage others to sponsor us and follow our blogs!

Disclaimer – this is a route info blog (don’t be expecting verbose Catherine waffle!)

We had 30 days and a huge country to think about getting across.  We began thinking we were heading west, towards Pakistan – but this changed as we were unable to get a visa (coupled with increasing numbers of bombs going off throughout Pakistan).  We scoured the web looking for known/safe cycling routes in Iran and there seemed to be a few that kept cropping up; Esfahan to Yazd, Yazd to Shiraz and Yazd to Mashad (across the desert).  Esfahan to Shiraz tied in nicely with our plans to head to the south/south east of Iran.

We began our Iranian cycling along the Caspian coast, from Astara to Rasht – the friendliest road we cycled (the kind of road where people are just doing day to day business rather than long trips) with food and drink handed to us from cars along the way.  The road was busy and narrow (no hard shoulder) and the sea itself was nowhere to be seen.  There are 2 hotels in Talesh (aka Hatspar) – we stayed in the first one, it was crap – try the other one – it’s a couple of minutes further on.

Used to cycling in hejab and having built up some miles, we headed to the centre (by bus) to Esfahan, preferable to cycling the Rasht to Qavzin highway (a renowned death trap).  The route from Esfahan to Yazd proved to be unpleasant, with heavy truck traffic the whole way.  Highlights on this 4 day, 320km route included staying at a nice homestay in Toudeshk, being invited for lunch in Kupaye and camping under the stars between Na’in and Ardakan.  We found a cheap hostel (mosafferkhaneh) in Ardakan.  Overall we wouldn’t recommend this route, unless you are on a serious A to B grunt run, save your lungs for somewhere quieter.

A lovely rest in Yazd and we hit the road again heading to Shiraz, via Abarku, Sadat Shar and Persopolis.  Once beyond Taft the truck traffic reduced and the road dropped to single lane, riding up the hill was pleasant, especially as the heat of the desert drops away.  If you have a bike problem – Yakoob (no.2 Iranian mountain bike champion) has a bike shop in Taft (ask in Taft) – he joined us on the road for a pleasant day of riding.  Following some routes from the net, we expected good wild camp opportunities at the summit, unfortunately there was a lot of road works going on, with road workers sleeping on the roads near to where we planned to camp – being two women this made us feel uncomfortable – so we pressed on to Dier Shur, hoping to be able to camp behind the police station – no such luck, they were having none of it, again as two women this was a no no.

The road from Dier Shur to Abarku was lovely – desert, dual carriageway, hard shoulder, light traffic.  There is a hotel in Abarku (we didn’t stay – but wished we had).  From Abarku the road narrows to single lane and is heavy with truck traffic (although a new road is being built – so we found some respite on that).  At Surmaq we had heard about an Iranian cyclist tourist catcher… perhaps he was out, perhaps he’s moved on… but the ‘welcome’ is no longer painted on the door.  The hotel in Surmaq is SCABBY and extortionate – don’t stay there (in our opinion).  From Surmaq it’s onto a main autobahn and a long, long climb.  Fortunately at the top there is a lovely Red Crescent post with water, toilets etc (super!).  Emotionally crushed by the smog clogged road and needing to get to Tehran to sort visas we picked up a bus from Safar Shah to Persopolis.  The ride in from Persopolis to Shiraz was ok – but still the autobahn.

Visa decisions made and heading south towards Bandar Abbas we picked up where we left off at Safar Shah.  Safar Shah to Sirjan off the beaten track, but much more pleasant!  Bavanat valley is a beautiful ride, quiet road, stunning views, green(!).  We stayed in Bazm (lonely planet) – food was great, but the whole experience was overpriced – he’s targeting tour groups with money – the nomad tour was thin and the trinkets given unnecessary – plus the beds were hard and thank god we had our sleeping bags!  Dropping out of the mountains and into the desert the road gets busier, but nowhere as bad as anything else we’ve seen in Iran – it’s long and straight and with a rear view mirror easy to see the trucks coming and move off if they can’t pass safely.  We found cheap accommodation in Harat and Shar-e-babak (just ask for otagh (accommodation), rather than a hotel – and as it’s Iran someone will lead you there!).  The ride from Shar-e-babak to Meymand was a stunning, uphill, very worthwhile detour – we would recommend staying in a 2,000 year old cave eating lovely (simple) local food.  From Meymand a splendid downhill run leads you back to the main road, which is flat, surprisingly quiet and with a great hard shoulder the whole 60k way to Sirjan.

To get out before our visas expire we jumped on a bus to Bandar Abbas – as the bus wound its way up steep mountain passes we were extremely relieved not to be on our bikes – the truck traffic to/from Bandar up these narrow, dangerous roads is gargantuan.

PS –we would recommend you ALWAYS wear a red HIV awareness badge as it’s a super conversation piece!

PPS – hope you have all been following Mee Nooi!

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