Turkmenistan rejection

While in Isfahan I had learnt by email that the Turkmenistan visa which I had applied for in Tehran had been denied.

I called the Turkmen embassy: "Sorry, but we cannot tell you anything about the reason. We just get the result back from Ashgabat. You cannot apply again immediately, only after you wait ((1-2 months)). I suggest you to find another route."

Unsure which way to go next, I postpone the decision week by week. There are just too many other options (even though none of them really appealing):

  1. Cycling through Pakistan to India instead
    Going through the notoriously unsafe Baluchistan and missing out on the Pamirs? Naaw, thanks!
  2. Taking a flight from Tehran to Central Asia
    No direct flights are available to my destinations of choice (Samarkand, Dushanbe)
  3. Cycling to Bandar Abbas and taking the ferry to UAE, flying from Dubai directly to Dushanbe
    I've been to Dubai before. Ferry and flight cost add up and also: it'd probably be a bit too hot
  4. the "gold standard" fallback: go (back) to Azerbaijan, take the ferry from Baku (Alat port) to Kazakhstan and get into Uzbekistan from there
    Though I liked Azerbaijan quite much, having just come from Baku I really dread going back all the way I came from

But before I make the decision, I'll be cycling a bit further into the South...

Persepolis

My last stop before Shiraz is Persepolis: the old capital of the Persians.

At 200.000 IRR the entrance fee is affordable even for a cyclist and I spend about an hour and a half roaming around the vast property.

If you want to know more: just google it!

Puppy fest at Sohrab Traditional Hostel

My days in Shiraz I spend in the brand new "Sohrab Traditional Hostel" which is still undergoing some minor construction works during my stay. Owner Hossein is accommodating, friendly and charitable: three puppies that he brought along from his village to have them vaccinated in Shiraz become the major attraction of the day.The other guests and I just cannot get enough playtime with the little critters.

Only the German shepherd mix that a German couple traveling by van brought along on their stay is not too intrigued.

What else happened?

  • A truck driver heading my direction stops to hand me some fruits, which prompts another truck driver heading the opposite direction to stop as well and hand me a water melon
  • While camping in an abandoned sheep stall the owners, an elderly couple, discover me in the dusk and get scared to death (they run back into their car). Thanks to my "briefing cards" which I also made in Farsi and my photos I can exply ain them what I'm doing and we all get a good laugh out of it.
  • The temperatures rise up to 52 C in the sun. Oh well.
  • On the last hill to Shiraz I "cheat" for the first time when a truck driver signals me to hold on to his vehicle and pulls me up 70% of the way.
  • I get to my highest altitude so far: 2616 m
  • I'm celebrating one year on the road
More impressions from (the way to) Shiraz

Back to Tehran

I've made up my mind: Options 1 and 3 are off the table, and I will go back to Tehran. The only question now is: how?

Without a doubt, traveling by train would be the most comfortable option: the long-distance sleeper trains offer beds to lay down and I don't have to take my bicycle apart (hopefully). Unfortunately the railway system in Iran is not too extensive and tickets often have to be booked weeks in advance. And: nobody can tell me, if my bicycle will actually be accepted, as the trains are not really equipped for that.

The first travel agency in Yazd through which I had inquired a quote and details on the Shiraz-Tehran train connection had called the station agent in Shiraz who had suggested that the bicycle would even have to go in a separate cargo train. Arrival: unclear. Not really an option.

On the other hand, traveling by bus would be really uncomfortable and I've heard horror stories of bus drivers smoking in the bus, listening to loud music, bicycles being transported on the rooftop (and falling off!) and drivers asking for bribes of 1.000.000 IRR (~7$) just to transport the bike.

I finally book the train ticket through a Shiraz travel agency.

On the train

I turn up at the Shiraz railway station 2 days later. The railway station is "conveniently" located a mere 20 km out of town, and when I arrived there in the afternoon after 1 hour in Shiraz' traffic I'm a sweaty mess.

Sure enough, the entrance of the train station is secured somewhat like an airport, but upon seeing my bike and luggage security waive me on and I can just bypass the Xray machine: they probably just think that someone idiotic enough to travel with a bike in this heat couldn't possibly be a serious threat to anyone.

Immediately a woman in a Chador approaches me and asks me to step aside. Turns out she's with the police and asks me to show my ID, visa and ticket. She then goes on to tell me that my bike is "not small" and it would be a problem, but due to the language barrier I cannot figure out what she is trying to tell me.

In the end she agrees for me to head down to the gate with my bike and wait for the "train manager" to make a decision.

An hour later, the gate opens and people start boarding the 1st class train. The gate agent tells me I'm in luck: I should take my luggage to my compartment and put the train in the restaurant car (where there's a small space next to the door just big enough for 1 or 2 bikes). However, they could not guarantee for the safety of my vehicle. Which makes me a little bit nervous. But he assures me there would only a "little risk".

Either way, I'm relieved when I find a way to lock my bike to the train car with my U-lock.

Photos du train ride

When I get into the compartment of my sleeper train there is already some snacks waiting. Moreover every train car has their own staff to server more snacks throughout the journey.

Included in the price of my ticket (for which I paid about 2.200.000 IRR ~= 15 EUR) is also a meal in the restaurant car. Nothing to write home about, but it fills the stomach.

We make several stops on the way, one of which lasts about 15-20 minutes, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, yet many people get off. As I learn this is a prayer stop and in fact shortly later, everybody gets back on board and we continue.

Around 11pm, we fold down the bunk beds and I spend a comfortable night. 1 hour early we arrive in Tehran. My bike is still on the train and unharmed. I load up and make my way back to the Heritage hostel, where I am greeted by a rather pleasing sight: no less than 20 bicycles are parked in the yard!