“Don’t travel to Iran. It is dangerous there. I heard that sentence, and similar ones, very often months before I left home. Now, after spending nearly one month in Iran, I can tell that there is no reason not to visit this beautiful country.
Back in early 2016 when I started to plan my route to India, I didn’t know much about Iran. Like a lot of other people, who are influenced by mainstream media and newspapers, I was a novice too.
Actually the majority of the people I talked to think that it is a dangerous and insecure country with a lot of harsh religious rules to oppress the people in the country.
As a foreigner, who only stayed for a short time in Iran, I definitely do not agree with the first part of the people’s mindset. During my entire trip, I never had the feeling of being in danger or threatened by anybody. Even when I traveled in the province of Sistan and Baluchestan, the region that many foreign ministries (See: gov.uk, bmeia.gv.at) not recommend to visit, because it is near to the Pakistan and Afghanistan border, still I felt very safe. The opposite was the case and I would say that Iran is one of the safest countries I traveled so far and thats not only on this trip.
The people are all very friendly and helpful if you are in need. Helping people is a big part of the Islamic religion. Many Iranians told me that, and something that I also noticed, many of them are aware of the bad reputation of their country and therefore try to show me the best sites.
One of the questions I was frequently asked, beside the one if I’m married and have children at home, is what I honestly think about Iran as well as what my experiences were so far in this travel?
I always told them that I’m surprised and fascinated about how diverge the private life compared to the public one is.
For example in public women are required to cover themselves by law. But that doesn’t mean that every woman is wearing a Chador. Many are just wearing the Hijab that covers the back of the head and parts of their hair. I was told that there are no exact rules about how women have to cover themselves. So it seams to me, that especially the younger generation is bending “the rules” and using the Hijab as a modern fashionable accessory.
Also when I was CouchSurfing in Tehran, my host family invited me to join them at a wedding party. This was a kind of special moment for me! So far I only read about travelers that got opportunities like this but I could never imagine to get one of my own!
Driving to the wedding location was an adventure on its own because it was at a secret location outside of Tehran. Finding the right place was not easy and took us some time. The place was so off the path that the last part lead us over an unpaved dirt road. And to top it all, we had to tell the security the secret password to enter the complex.
You are now definitely asking the question why the hell they make such an effort for a wedding party, right? The reason was that this was a mixed wedding and these kind of celebrations are forbidden. Traditionally woman and man do not celebrate together and if the police notice something like this they can bust the celebration and arrest/fine the organizer.
I was told that many weddings nowadays are held like this as the people want to celebrate together. But luckily nobody told the police and I could end my exhausting travel day with dancing, traditional food and a lot of interesting conversations. These conversations made me change my originally planed travel route again and that was for good!
Throughout my entire trip, I experienced this kind of thinking by many people. Things are forbidden but many people don’t care too much about it, at least in private. Alcohol, for example, is forbidden since the Iranian Revolution in 1979 but nearly everywhere one can find someone that has some self brewed or imported stuff. If you are lucky traveler, like me, you even get invited for drinks while just wandering around a park ;)
Hitchhiking in Iran
When it comes to the hitchhiking, I could say that Iran is one of the best countries to hitchhike in. I’ve hitchhiked about 3800 km starting in the north near Tabriz and went all the way to the south till I reached the Persian Golf in Bandar Abbas. From Bandar Abbas, I hitchhiked even further south to Chabahar before traveling again north to Zahedan and Mirjaveh.
The only thing, that is very important when hitchhiking in Iran, is to clarify before getting into a car that you are traveling without money and you are not going to pay for the ride! You can do that by saying “bee donna pool?” which means “without money?”. Actually this works quite good in rural areas especially when they see that you are a foreigner - in my case blonde, tall and carrying a backpack.
In urban areas, it is sometimes better to ask twice, “mutmaeen? sad dar sad” which means something like “Are you 100% sure?” (see also: hitchwiki). I rode twice, once about 10 km and the other 130 km, where I didn’t clarify this well enough and the drivers expected money from me - even if they said it is for free.
The word “hitchhiking” is not known in Farsi and therefore always needs a little bit of explanation to the cars that stop. A friend from Tabriz helped me with making a small information paper that briefly explained who I am, what I am doing and where I am going as well as what hitchhiking is. I really have to say that it was a good idea, to have something like this with me, because people usually expect you to pay for a ride. There are many shared and private taxis on the road that pick up people to share the costs or simply to make a living out of it.
Another thing definitely worth to mention is - don’t make the “thumb” sign while hitchhiking. Mostly only truck drivers, that go long distances such as TIR transporters, know this gesture! In Iran, this gave me a few confused looks by drivers as this can be interpreted as showing the middle finger to someone! ;) But I also used it by accident a few times to show “OK” when they signed that they go to another direction… Oops!
The best way to signal cars to stop is to wave your hands up and down in chest height.
I really enjoyed hitchhiking through Iran. It is one of the most beautiful countries I have ever seen; beautiful in the sense of changing nature and climate zones. When I entered Iran from the north west at Kapıköy, arriving from Turkey, it was snowing and cold; White mountains everywhere! Then going slowly south to Tabriz with a little bit of snow and a few hundred kilometers south in Tehran, the weather was like the beginning of spring.
The next destination was Yazd. Here I could crash a couch at a friend’s place who lives in a 300 years old villa in the middle of the old town. From Yazd, I traveled to Shiraz, Bandar Abbas and Chabahar.
In Bandar Abbas, I met @TravelerTroy and we both decided to visit the nearby island Hormuz. There we rented a crappy motorbike and explored the island. It has definitely one of the most colorful landscapes I have ever seen! While driving the bike there, we also met two Lithuanian travelers from Travel With Me who were camping on the island.
From Bandar Abbas, the road led me to one of the southest points of Iran - Chabahar. Chabahar is close to the Pakistan border and located in the Baluchistan area of Iran. Everybody noticed immediately that I’m not a local. For me, it seems, that not many foreign tourists visit this area. The number of eyes that tracked my steps doubled immediately! However I spent two wonderful nights there with some even more wonderful travelers with a lot of good conversations, camping and watching the stars.
My last destination before heading to Pakistan was Zahedan. There I stayed for a few days with two friends and their family before leaving Iran at the Taftan border.