Thursday, June 21, 2012

Into Iran - Kermanshah

After leaving the cemetary in Halabja, while waiting for a taxi to take me back to the station to leave I was stopped by a jeep full of security police that ID'd and questioned me and then made sure I got in a taxi to the station. I'm not sure if they were being helpful or I was being run out of town, but they are obviously not used to seeing tourists running around. A couple of quick shared taxi rides later I was in Penjwin, the final town before the border where I got into the final taxi and met a very nice Iranian guy also heading across the border. This was the first Iranian I'd met on this trip and somehow, before I even knew what was going on I already felt more relaxed and comfortable.
He spoke a little English, worked in Iraq as an engineer and was heading home to see his family for a week. He definitely didn't need to help me as he was going north and I south, but he wanted to make sure I was totally organized and so he crossed the border with me, got us a ride to Merivan (the first Iranian town), bought me lunch, organized and bought me a local SIM card, helped me change money, organized our onward transport to Sanandaj (where we eventually split up) and put me on my last ride to Kermanshah. He paid for everything and refused my attempts at such. The SIM card was particularly useful as Iran has some sort of restriction on selling them to foreigners easily but he talked the salesperson into selling it to him, so he could give it to me and I wouldn't have to jump through any hoops. Needless to say, I was immediately impressed and liking Iran much better than Iraq, though technically I was still in the greater Kurdish area.

The road to the Iraq/Iran border near Penjwin.

My first friend in Iran.

In Kermanshah I was picked up by my next host, Bayan and driven another ½ hr east to a small village near Saneh, where his parents lived. Bayan was Kurdish and his family members of a minority religious group by the name of Ahl-e Haqq. I won't even begin to attempt to explain it as it is quite an interesting mix of old eastern religions, but it just shows the diversity still found today in Iran. By this time it was 11pm (I'd lost 1 ½ hrs to the time zone change when crossing the border) and they'd stayed up to meet me and had even postponed dinner until I arrived. Bayan had hosted before in Tehran, but I was the first guest ever brought to his parents home. There were all really kind and I spent the next day getting to know the surrounding area with Bayan and his cousin, having lunch cooking kebabs in his cousin's garden.

The village area near Saneh.

Making kebabs in the garden.

The park along the river in Saneh.

Sunset over Saneh.

We also spent time visiting the UNESCO site of Bistoun where you can see reliefs carved into the side of a mountain, the most important of which is from Darius the Great and dating back to roughly 2500 years ago though there is a wide range of dates to all the things to see there, from prehistoric to relatively modern. Unfortunately that most important and famous relief is completely covered with scaffolding and can't be seen at all, so the site was a little disappointing overall. We also saw some more rock reliefs, Taq-e Boston, on the northern edge of Kermanshah itself, those dating from about 1700 years ago.

The view from Bistoun.

Taq-e Boston

Taq-e Boston

A couple of first impressions of Iran. The driving is completely psychotic, especially the taxis. I have no trouble believing that Iran has one of the highest traffic death rates in the world. I will try to avoid share taxis and stick to buses in the future. Transportation costs are much much cheaper as the fuel is almost free, though there is a system here where the fuel is rationed out to people at fixed maximum limits over a set period of time. There is also a very high uniformity to the cars here as almost every car on the road is one of the local makes or a Peugeot.
The people are really nice and have been much more friendly and curious from the first minute than they were in Iraq or the gulf states. I was expecting that to some extent from what I'd heard from others that had been here before. A lot of the people are very light-skinned and I am often thinking that I'm seeing other foreign tourists when in fact it's just locals. Europeans really must be descended from some of this stock. There is also a high diversity of ethnic groups as I'm meeting Iranians that are Arabs, Kurds, Lors, etc in addition to Persian. Personally I like the word Persia more than Iran and so do many others here, so I'll probably often call them Persian instead of Iranian.
The food is also really good so far. I don't know why it surprises me other than I have come to generally not expect it much while travelling but they actually eat a lot of salad here and like their vegies.


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