Day 49 (2): Into Iran

Astara Travel Blog

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Astara (the Iranian side)
As I walked across the river and reached the first Iranian military post I was greeted by some soldiers who wanted to check my bags. However, as soon as I had opened it his superior walked over and said it wasn't necessary. I just had to shake hands with all three officials and tell them where I was from, and after they muttered “welcome to Iran” I was allowed to walk on.

Before crossing the bridge I'd had a quick look at the tax free store at the Azeri side. Not to buy alcohol, I didn't want to get arrested upon my arrival in Iran, but just to have a look. On the Iranian side there was also a tax free store. Where the Azeri tax free store had been filled with cigarettes, alcohol, electronics, perfume and other luxury goods, the Iranian tax free store mainly sold pillows, blankets and washing powder with the brilliant name 'Barf'.
the place I had the weirdest kebab ever
Yup, I was definitely entering a different world now.

And how different! As I wanted to enter the immigration building, I was greeted by a locked door. Closed. For lunch. And prayer.
It took almost an hour before the doors opened. There were several Iranians waiting to pass through immigration as well and I ended up chatting with a man, Mohamed, who spoke very decent English. A very nice man, confirming what they say about Iranians: They are indeed very nice.

After about 45 minutes the door opened and a soldier came out to collect the passports. He went inside with the passports locked the door again.
Another 15 odd minutes later someone else came out with the passports and started handing them out to the people. He didn't have mine though. As Mohamed received his passport he started talking to the guard, asking if I could be allowed to enter. A few minutes later I was greeted by an official who spoke English. Where I was from, what I was doing to Iran, where I was going, if I had any alcohol in my bags and if I would like some tea.

That was it. I didn't have to show them my contents of my luggage, or declare my money or equipment. I received my passport back with the visa stamped and validated (didn't have to get a picture taken, or leave fingerprints, none of that). I received a cup of tea, which I drank as seven or eight officials stood around me all wanting to say hello and welcome to me.

After the tea I picked up my bags, said goodbye to everybody and walked out of the immigration building, into Iran.
I had decided to stay in the border town (also named Astara) today. I wasn't really in a hurry and as I hadn't worked out how the Iranian public transport system worked, I didn't want to leave for another city this late in the day.

Astara is a very sleepy town. After I checked in to a hotel, I wandered around town for a bit, but there wasn't all that much to see.
I went for a bite to eat in a small kebab shop and immediately I became the biggest event to happen to the town in ages. Not before long several people were standing around my table staring at me. Other patrons of the small restaurant came over offering me to sample some of their food. The owner of the restaurant sat down with me, showing me how I should eat a kebab in Iran. He started with mashing the barbecued tomatoes, and then added the kebabs and several spices into the bowl with it and started mashing the whole thing. He got up, went to the kitchen, and came back with more: onions, garlic, more spices.
Well, I must say, after Turkey this really put a new spin on kebab.

As I was eating the owner of the restaurant decided to have some lunch as well and joined me at my table. He had some fish which I got to try as well. And caviar! For some reason Iran is the only country currently allowed to fish the depleted Caspian Sea for sturgeon (the fish that produces caviar), but all catch is for export. Well, looks like this guy had some private stash, even though caviar is barely used in the Iranian kitchen.

I didn't do much else that day. There wasn't much to do. Not that I mind, I was glad to have a bed and get some sleep tonight. And having mosquito nets in front of the windows was a very comforting sight.
Biedjee says:
unfortunately taking pictures of anything official is not allowed here. I guess border crossings are considered official, so I didn't take the risk. Apparently it is a Kazakh brand, so I will come across it again, I suppose.
Posted on: Jun 13, 2010
edsander says:
> washing powder with the brilliant name 'Barf'. <
Now, there's a picture I would have loved to see. ;-)
Posted on: Jun 13, 2010
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Astara (the Iranian side)
Astara (the Iranian side)
the place I had the weirdest kebab…
the place I had the weirdest keba…
photo by: Biedjee