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Brad’s Travel Diary

Sunday, 14 Aug 2005

Location: Tehran, Iran

MapI have so much to write about, there has been so much that has happened since I last made it to an internet cafe (they're pretty thin on the ground here)!

After a huge amount of effort and talk, I've finally made it into Iran! On Tuesday, feeling very excited I caught the bus from Yerevan (Armenia) to Tabriz, the second largest city in Iran. The bus trip took 20 hours and I got to Tabriz at four in the morning, mostly due to the delays at the border - surprisingly at the Armenia side, which was strangly run by Russia! The trip was made so much better though by the fact that I met so many wonderful Iranian people on the way! It was such an amazing introduction to the country, totally not what I expected! I met a young Iranian man traveling with his mother (muslum) who had converted to be a Christian a few years before (this is punishable by death in Iran!). I met another young man who organised underground dance parties and was sneaking alcahol across the border! Most memorable though were a delightful young couple Alirazar and Asal who are trying to emigrate to Australia! Asal has a year long working visa and she's coming in a few weeks to Sydney! I'm obviously trying to organse a few things to help her. They both said I had to call them when I reached Tehran so they could show me the city - which is what they've been doing for the past two days.

Before I reached Tehran however I spent a day in Tabriz, seeing the local sites. I was given a great guided tour by a local schoolteacher who I bumped into, but unfortunatly I was really tired after the bus ride and unused to the currency - I accidently paid him WAY too much for the tour! Oops... I spent the night in Tabriz then the next morning headed off for Qazvin - and Alamut Castle. This was an all day bus trip but that was made even longer that noone told me (despite me asking several times - there was a really unfriendly looking imam sitting next to me) where to get off for Qazvin. I ended up having to go all the way to Tehran then catch a bus back to Qazvin, setting me back quite a few hours.

The next day I managed to get on a tour to see Alamut Castle, the site of one of my favorite historical stories. The tale says that Alamut castle was the headquaters of several fortresses in the reigion known as the Castles of the Assasains around . Hasan-e-Sabbah, or the Old Man of the Mountain used to kidnap young men, take them up to the castle and intoxicate them with fine food, beautiful woman, wine and hashish. After becoming used to this treatment he would remove everything and place the young men in a cell, telling them if they did not work for him they would never have any of these pleasures again. Of course, everyone agreed, and he created an army of dedicated warriers that he used to terrorise kings and princes across half of Iran. The warriers became known as hashish-ayun, or assassins.

The castle itself is about an hour and a half drive from Qazvin, first through desert and then high up into the barren Iranain mountains. When we arrived the whole area was wrapped in fog, we couldn't see the castle until we were only 100 metres from it. After climbing up some rickety scaffolding we came to a flat place with only a few walls left standing. After a few minutes the fog began to lift and revealed the incredible location of the castle. We were standing on the top of a huge rock, very long and thin with unscalable cliffs on both sides. Accoding to the legend it was unassailable, the only acess to the castle being a stairway only one man could climb at a time. It was amazing to stand at such a place with such a fascinating history, and somthing that I've been looking forward to seeing from the start of my trip.

That afternoon I caught the bus to Tehran, the massive capital of Iran. I gave my friends from the bus a call and Alirazar came to pick me up and found a great hotel. We grabbed some dinner, then went around to his place so I could meet his brothers. The next day him and Asal picked me up an took me out for a traditional Iranian lunch at the oldest resteraunt in Tehran, then they drove me to the very north of the city, we sat and drank tea, ate dates and smoked a qualan far a few hours - a very Iranian pastime!

It is very different to what I expected here. Although there are many woman wearing the full chardor (the black 'cover everything except your eyes' muslum getup), there are also many wearing jeans, a light summer coat, and their headscarf (woman legally have to wear a headscarf here) is more like a thin piece of matirial draped over their head, only just staying on. Alcahol is available, if illigal, and you can really get anything you want! The people too are so freindly and curious, I'm constantly getting "hello! what is your name?" everywhere I go! The main detractor though is the traffic. It's totally insane! The best way to cross a road is just to close your eyes and walk, drivers do seems used to avoiding pedestrians. Nobody pays any attention to lanes, motercylists use the footpath, people (taxis!) reverse down main roads the wrong direction, it's total chaos!

Tomorrow I'm leaving Tehran for Isfahan, one of the most beautiful cities in the Islamic world. I'm really looking forward to it, I'm sure it'll be amazing!