Without exaggerating I assure you, I was photographed or videod over 100 times a day in Iran. Every time, they had a huge smile on their face. My very presence in their country, not to mention on a larger motorcycle than they are allowed to ride themselves, seemed to fill their hearts with joy. I felt humbled, and responded with a smile and a wave every time. When stopped for petrol, refreshments, site visits, or the end of the day, they would ask “Where are you from?” “Ingelastan” I learnt was to be my reply. “Welcome to Iran, welcome to my country”. It was very clear that they meant it. I have never felt so much joy, so much love, from anywhere else I have ever visited.
After a paperwork delay at the border from Turkey, I met my guide, the invaluable Aydin Nezafat, and headed south. First stop happened to be his home town of Tabriz. He took me to the Blue Mosque and built up the story of its history as we approached. Construction began 650 years ago but 90% was destroyed by an earthquake 250 years ago. It has been painstakingly restored. A bit patchy in places but forgivable as all the walls are covered in a mosaic. Not tiled, not painted, but plastered in local stone pieces, mostly deep blue. The scarcely credible craftsmanship is staggeringly beautiful. I almost shed a tear. The ancient bazaar in town, with the former ‘Silk Road’ running through the middle of it, was also amazing.
Tehran excited me. A huge city with many districts. We took the Metro, with its male / female segregated carriages, to north Tehran. Another mosque, but this one also took my breath away. Inside, the multi-roomed Imāmzādeh Sāleh mausoleum is covered in a mirror mosaic, reflecting light but not your own image. I am allowed to call it ‘bling’. The ancient bazaar here is not for tourists (there are almost none anyway) but still very much the place where locals buy their food and household items.
Next stop, in the centre of the country, was Isfahan. It has a central square / rectangle, which used to be a Polo field. They describe the square as “half the world” as so much is going on. The “Friday mosque” again took my breath away. The blue tile adorned building included the most perfectly acoustic dome. A clap softly echoes 24 times. The exquisite tile pattern matches many of the local carpets for sale. I understand they still debate whether carpet weavers copied the mosque, or vice-versa. In any event the carpets have 70 silk stitches per centimetre to match the pattern.
There is also a female only mosque, a Palace, a lake, and thousands of people enjoying pic-nics, games, and each others’ company. A fabulous atmosphere.
Further south, the 2500 year old Persepolis had long since captured my imagination. Built over a period of years by Shahs of Persia, it was started by Darius I of the Archaemenid Empire. It was later sacked by Alexander the Great, but many of the reliefs are still evident. They tell of the symbolic importance of the bull, lion and griffin, and of how visitors processed through the Palace to deliver gifts to the king.
Persepolis is near Shiraz, where the grape of the same name was first grown. It still is, but no longer to produce wine here.
After 1500 miles, and with the temperature rising to over 40 degrees C, and humidity to over 80%, I reached the southern port of Bandar Abbas for the short sea crossing to Dubai.
I shall cherish the memory of Iranian hospitality forever. Their smile, their gifts of sweets, fruit, and tea has touched me in a way I have never previously experienced in a country. Thank you.