Dictophone #6 – Turkmenistan

Diktofonas #6 – Turkmenistanas

Iran: veiled women, open-heart-housed people, and picturesque nature

Before entering Iran we had a bunch of warnings from our relatives. The media has mainly focused its attention on recent relationships between Iran, Israel, Europe and States. It is almost everything been so fragile and on the verge of a newly upcoming war.

Though whilst we are on a go, it seems another kind of regime switches on. We rarely access the TV, the Internet is being used in a rush to update what we have been up to. Even though somewhere at the back of one’s mind the news exists, we enter this country as any other place. So standing between the borders of Turkey and Iran, we were happy to finally having obtained our visa, and looking forward what this country could offer us.

Nuostabiai kontrastinga Irano dykuma. | Such a wonderful and contrasting Iran's desert.

Once anyone in Turkey has heard we are about to go to this Islamic republic, immediately they showed I will have to wear a headscarf. Thirty years ago the Islamic revolution has left women with no choice about it. The religious regime has come to power, and regulations have been observed by a strict religious police. No alcohol or partying aloud, no inappropriate touch or touch between men and women at all.

Ironically in no-man-land the path was covered with the pages full of porno photographs, torn and freely flying around, been blown by the wind. Meanwhile I fixed my hood to avoid the mistakes during our first steps in the country under the thick veil.

We have been advised that hitch hiking in Iran is simply unknown of, and it will be a big challenge for us to move forward following the principles of what we call now our lifestyle for this journey. Indeed the first steps in Iran had not much difference than other countries – the money changers in low voices offering us a good deal, followed by a crowd of what have recently named as hyenas. Taxi drivers were cooled down quickly after our final proposal for giving us a lift. ‘For free’ or not at all. One smarter one has followed us and like an ally smiled at us: no money – no problems. We sat down taking his words for truth. As the kilometers run through he suddenly could not believe we could not offer him 15 dollars for the ride. We were strict about it – there will be no money, so he better let us out here.

After slightly unpleasant experience we decided to stop the trucks, which in our experience have never let us down. Soon one has stopped, and we got with him very far.

Team LT.

Shortly we have been stopped at the usual police check. The policemen were about to let us away till one has thought to make a thorough check of my bag. Karolis has brought it to the office, and the man in dark green started to scrutinize my belongings. After opening the washbag full of clearly female stuff, he needed the owner to proceed. Once I got into the cabin-like office, he clearly needed Karolis again as the male on his own cannot talk with a female.

After having found nothing of major importance, they let us go. Very soon quite a few men hopped on the highway, waiving their hands. The driver understood the trick, and made a sharp turn. Soon the liquid from plastic containers went down the hungry truck’s mouth. It seems the fuel for the trucks is not accessible as you would expect in the country full of oil. The big vehicles queued in some (as you cannot get in every) garages. Still hungry car’s stomach soon showed severe signs, and the driver has seriously started to worry. ‘If we find the fuel, we will be in Teheran after midnight. If no – no idea when’ his concern grew. His joy of finally finding one offering him necessary ‘car food’ was possible to understand.

Chaddar (palapinė iran.) - pagrindinis Irano moters rūbas. | Chaddar (tent - Iran) - dress codes in Iran.

We reached early suburbs of Teheran well after midnight. And stood right on the track early morning, where the road was overfilled with rushing to work cars. Hitchhiking was close to impossible. One car though stopped, and after agreeing a clear price of ‘no money’ he appeared as he would be heading to work and giving us a lift on a way. Surprisingly he asked whether we have friends and was ‘too kind’ in trying to find the place where our couchsurfers lived. We finally asked him to bring to internet cafe, and he followed us to the end then announcing he wants some money for this. We had to be strict in reminding him of what has been agreed. That was a good sign for us that we need to be even clearer about hitchhiking rules. In fact, Karolis soon has learned ‘pul nedera’ (no money (ir.)) phrase, and I decided to stay away from this clearly male bargaining play.


The public transport was a fresh experience. We soon had to split up in two – female and male – waiting areas. Buses were divided into two sections too. One for women; and no man should enter it. Once a man tried to get in as the male section was clearly full, and he got shouted at for perhaps being rude and daring to do such a nasty thing. He got out quickly, whilst a young woman has been mumbling about ‘an accident’ for quite a few stops.

I have to share my female experience leaving Karolis with his own. Once I entered the bus, I just felt so wrong being in this ship full of dark dresses and soft voices. I was a head taller than any of them, and my traveler boots, pants and a hoody looked no way elegant in comparison with their very female coats and dresses. I still had no skirt over my trousers; hence the looks have been running up and down my attire by curious and a bit judgmental eyes. After the firsthand panic has passed, I finally wanted to see the eyes of those women, who have been forced and perhaps got used to what is so unusual in the west. I thought and eventually got my idea confirmed by Nahid, our new Iranian friend: if the restriction of veils has been canceled, a lot of women would look no different from the western counterparts. Some faces were covered by full make up, their scarves showed at least half of their hair. Some clothes were extremely elegant and revealing subtly their female curves.

On contrary some either young or old have been covered fully in chadras. Some elder ones were holding the corner of the material in their mouth, and this daily yearly action eventually shaped it unevenly. It feels that those women obey to rules kindly, and would be strict educators to other rebels.

Very soon we exchanged smiles and started to converse with some students. They cheerfully welcomed me to Iran and were happy to share a fact or two about themselves. It turned into a routine: in at least every second bus women started to chat with me, talking about books and films, or the situation in Iran.

Once the rules are overly strict, there are always those who try to get away subtly or openly. We soon started to observe the rebels – some couples holding hands, two lovers talking over the doors dividing two parts of the bus, softly touching each others hands. They are lucky not to be caught by religious police, who would interrogate them what their behavior is supposed to mean. Some lie about being siblings, but the truth can quickly be revealed after their identities had been checked.

Teheran did not look very appealing though. The traffic was awful, and it took as a good ‘two hour’ public transport experience to get from one end to another. There were no cozy corners apart from some parks to hang out. According to our host Sharooz, young people do not have so usual to westerners’ way of chilling out. Some do sports, some play computer games. There are no Hollywood films in cinema, and surely no scenes of sex or even kissing in any of their films. Illegal copies of films are very common, and people are quick to exchange any other media too. Even though Facebook, Youtube or other popular sites been band in Iran, people know their ways around to get rid of such restrictions.


This city which some time ago was a capital been recommended by nearly every met Iranian. It surely met and outgrew all our expectations. Arched bridges, Imam’s square the size wise competing only with Tiananmen Square in Beijing and parks seated with chill out people. The sunny weather added a flavour, and altogether it created a superb atmosphere one wants to hold on.

Upon our arrival with VIP bus – [it seems hitchhiking got another dimension in Iran. People demanded to buy us tickets, and we combined it with a usual way of autostop] – just after the midnight, we planned to pitch the tent somewhere in the park. One taxi driver caught our attention by a very kind way. He firstly offered us a free lift to the needed place, then inviting us to his home.

us priglaudusi šaima ir jos taip seniai lauktas pasivaikšiojimas parke (daug dirbantys žmonės). | Our super wonderful hosts and their long waited walk in the park (hard working people).

So the next day we had a backpackfree walk in the town, fully immersing to the atmosphere. Some people like Ali Shariati, a nice guide that we met in Imam Square (mob. +9131036243), were trying to help us out looking for sceenic places while other ones were just currious and wanting to exchange some few English phrases they knew. At night we got back for the lovely dinner, and soon we were surprised by Ibrahims and Sarit’s inner strength which they had to demonstrate throughout their lives. It seems all the puzzle parts of ‘why these peoople appear to be so wise and goodhearted’ came to the right places. Their stories inspired us.

Sarit and Ibrahim have been enjoying their 13month old marriage, and 9 year old Mohamet Reza was Sarit’s son from the previous marriage. She had to go through an awful process of divorce as she could not stand her husband’s oppression and drug related health issues. In Iran the divorce outcome always will be positive to father’s side. Hence Sarit had to stay strong and go through numerous court cases in order to retain her son with her. Being from a small village she indeed had to have a lot of patience to fight against.

Vakarais įsijungiantys fontanai. | Fountains are turned on at evenings.

We had been thankful to hear their stories, and certainly wish much strength for their family as it seems the process has not been over yet.


To get into Shushtar via mountains we had no chance once again. The same old tune: ‘the road has been snowed in’. The village taxi driver and his friend law teacher had not wanted to leave us hitching. They brought us to their friend’s home, tea’ed us down and bought us the ticket to Shush.

We arrived at 4am in the morning, and the driver saw us wanting to go and pitch the tent somewhere, as we shushed all the taxi drivers and hotel client hunters. As an old friend he winked his eye and soon we found ourselves in the basic room where normally drivers take the nap after the night drive.

Shushtar has an atmosphere of sand like houses with the river calmly flowing in the very heart of it. The old man Iranian voice seemed to follow the stream reaching the flat roof tops and up the hill coming to calm our ears and minds. We could have been sitting there and gazing over the town.

One of first hydraulic systems in the world were picturesque. It was full of school girls coming for a school tour to learn something about it. As soon as they noticed us, they could not help but coming and asking where we are from, asking to take a picture together and simply befriending us in like 10 seconds. The abundance of such attention was overwhelming.

Shiraz and Persepolis

Shiraz has been in top 2 list of people’s recommendations competing with Esfahan. It definitely had its own atmosphere. The parks with people chilling out; the Quran gate with the waterfall and the stairs seated by a variety of people; the sunset. It all left us with a pleasant taste of it, however Esfahan was still a number one.

Shoosh miestas ir jo senieji vandens šliuzai. | Shoosh town and its old water regulating system.

Nahid – a young Iranian woman – shortly after a conversation, was surprised we are going to camp in ‘such weather’. Obvious plus-temperature was no obstacle for us, moreover the night before we slept under the bridge, when the bus arrived to town in the early morning. However, we accepted kind offer, and soon we were eating her mom’s prepared fish and rice. It seems Iranian hospitality went way beyond our expectations.

Persepolis, a short distance from Shiraz, has welcomed us with afternoon sun warmth. The ruins of a long time ago great city still somewhere witnessed majesty. We were climbing up the stairs, perfectly built for slow walking up whilst bearing gifts to the king and having elegant conversations. Imitating that graceful pace, we added a missing column or two, and soon our imagination filled the ruined city with some life in it. The beauty of walls with carved out lions or gift bearers could portray that time atmosphere. We climbed a little higher on the hill, and overlooked the well designed some time ago to-be-imagined buildings and courtyards. There were some oddly shaped mountains in the distance, and we gazed at the beauty for some time.


A night in the village of the desert

Walking through the rice fields, we got back on the road that led through the valley separating mountains. We hitched few cars when the sun set down and we thought to call it off. Meanwhile one car stopped, and a loud speaking man with his even louder wife has jokingly or seriously argued over something. At the same time we tried to explain where we are heading to. ‘Yazd? Yazd?’ he kept repeating to us and then showed his car to get in. We noticed soon that he drove off the main road. ‘Farda Yazd’ he was laughing (tomorrow Yazd), and in no time we appeared in their home. The main room as so the others were carpeted with no more than a TV set. No cupboards or sofas, just few pillows to make the floor seating more comfortable. A usual routine – tea followed by a deliciously cooked meal. His second son came back home, and soon the water pipe once again gathered us in the circle. Everyone apart the mother was smoking, and I as so called ‘man of honour’ have breathed in quite a few apple scented smokes.

Evelina pagaliau gavo parūkyt! | Evelina got the water pipe at last!

So here we were, picked up from the road, all washed up and clean, fed and happy, slept like babies. The next morning back on the road – he hitched a truck for us, and gave some money in. That’s the Iranian hospitality.


The road through the desert from Shiraz to Mashhad was straight bouncing off to the mountains at the end of it. After some spices-like layered mountains the desert revealed another kind of sand again. Some tiny bushes were rolling over the road as the wind played it cheerfully.

The city was needed for us to obtain the visa to Turkmenistan, as it was closer to the border. We could order it in Teheran consulate and collect it on our way up to the North. Disappointingly we only got it for 3 days which only meant we have to rush it through.

Dykumų keliai. | Desert roads.

The second biggest city though felt far more religious than any other ones. No surprise, the Imam Mohamed Reza mosque complex invites millions of pilgrims each year not only from Iran, as well as some Shia Muslims from Iraq or other Arab countries. The entries were separate for ladies and gents, an elderly woman asked me whether I am Muslim. No intention to lie, so direct answer ‘I’m only a tourist’ surprised them. Moreover, with my scarf and not too long skirt over my trousers – I looked to them and actually felt like I was naked. They ordered me to go back and find a chadra. One of the officers ran to the shop and bought me a brand new one. We were presented with a volunteer guide, who proceeded us to the museum and then the actual complex. The site was majestic, and the intensity of human traffic was huge. We could barely imagine the festive scenery here – the crowds of people coming to pray and pay honour to the Imams.

Our guide invited us to his home for a night stay, and soon we appeared in his father’s house with a huge family weekly gathering. The family of 5 siblings eventually grew bigger with the spouses and kids, and it gave an impression of a busy place. Another Iranian family experience. It seems that the hospitality just hit the roof of our personal country scorings -Iran certainly got the highest marks in our country experience.

It is so sad, that the government creates such an awful image of the country, whilst the inhabitants are the loveliest, the most hospitable people ever.

Back on track to the next country in three days – Turkmenistan.

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