Day 52: The confusion of Iranian public transport
Qazvin Travel Blog› entry 77 of 260 › view all entries
I was sad to leave Masouleh. The place reminded me a little bit of Göreme in Turkey. Sure, Göreme might pack a few more sights in the area, but Masouleh retains a similar 'touristic yet charming little village' vibe. A place that makes you happy just by being there.
Masouleh had been recommended to me by my friend Hendrik. The previous city I visited after his recommendation had been Erzurum, which definitely had not been worth it. Fortunately he was right about Masouleh. I was really glad to have stayed a couple of days in this place.
So Hendrik, if you read this, you are forgiven for Erzurum :-)
But it was time to leave. While I have plenty of time for Iran, it is also a very big country with lots to see.
Today I was trying to get to the town of Zanjan, which is approximately 50 kilometres from Masouleh, as the crow flies. However, as there are some mountains in between and, more importantly, Zanjan lies in another state, I would have to make a detour of at least 200 kilometres to get there.
Iranian public transport is a challenge. Trying to travel here made me appreciate just how efficient and well-organised public transportation in Turkey is. Whereas in Turkey there is always a bus someplace going somewhere at sometime, in Iran it isn't all that straightforward.
It all started well enough. As I walked down to the main bus and taxi stop of Masouleh there was a bus already waiting.
The bus dropped me off at one end of Fuman and I had to walk to the other end of town to the 'terminal' to find my next transport. Why buses to and from different directions don't simply stop at the same place to facilitate easy interconnections is beyond me, but let's not go there, this is not all that different from Georgia and Armenia to be honest.
I had to ask several times where the 'terminal' was and as it turned out the terminal was no more than a long line of taxis waiting in the street. I found a shared taxi heading to Rasht, which filled up within minutes, and off we went again.
Once we reached the outskirts of Rasht the driver had figured it was not worth driving all the way into town for me, whereas my fellow passengers had to go elsewhere, so he decided to drop me off at a taxi stand at the edge of town. Well, it is not like this has never happened to me before.
He only charged me half-price, which I thought was very reasonable.
A short taxi ride later I arrived at the Rasht terminal, the first proper bus station I have seen in Iran. Now this is where it really started. "Zanjan? Sure, the bus will leave at 15:00"
I looked at my watch, it was just past 10. Bugger!
Now what? "No savaris, shared taxis?" I asked.
Unfortunately no. Apparently there is not much interest for the proud people of the Gilan province to travel to puny Zanjan, so there is only one bus a day.
I discussed my options with a shopkeeper who spoke some English, and the best he could come up with was for me to travel to Qazvin and try to find onwards transportation there. Qazvin, that was my planned destination for after Zanjan. I checked the map and saw that Qazvin would see me another 125 kilometres into the wrong direction towards Tehran. The bus to Qazvin would take about 3 hours, and from there it would be another 2 hours to Zanjan. Since I doubted that I would have much luck finding immediate transportation to Zanjan from there, I decided to simply swap my itinerary around and visit Qazvin first.
The bus to Qazvin would leave at 12 o'clock. There are only a handful of daily buses travelling the 170 kilometres between Rasht and Qazvin.
It was either that, or the fact that people are moving away from travelling with slow buses and take faster and more flexible savaris (share taxis) instead. Savaris which undoubtedly leave Rasht from another terminal, far away from this one.
So after waiting at the bus terminal for two hours, the bus finally lest at a few minutes after 12, only to drive around the parking lot and stop again at the other side of the terminal building, 50 metres away, to pick up another dozen people.
At 12:40 we finally left and within an hour we already stopped for a smoke/toilet/snack/tea break. When we were about to leave an argument erupted between the driver and two passengers. I had no idea what it was about, but it seemed they were bringing foods on the bus which were not allowed (very greasy olives). A big argument erupted which lasted for a good 10 minutes, during which the word 'Hollandia' was mentioned a bit too often for my liking. Some people came up to me asking "you really from Holland? What is your name?" etc. Were they arguing about me now? Had I taken their seat or something? (I was in the front seat, the driver wanted me there and nowhere else in the bus).
I have no idea what it was about.
Oh boy, it was going to take some time to get used to travelling in this country...
So far Iran had been remarkably green. However, as soon as we passed a series of tunnels near the town of Manjil the green hills and rice paddies were gone and had made way for a rocky desert in hundreds of shades of brown and yellow. This area is not a natural desert though. Serious mismanagement of the land in the years after the revolution has caused rapid desertification when some 60% of Irans forests were cleared in an attempt to create enough farmland and building materials to cater for the explosive expansion of the population (contraception was outlawed and large families encouraged).
As we were slowly making progress on the highway I suddenly saw the turn-off for Qazvin. I pointed this out to the co-driver and he made a gesture that everything would be ok. 10 minutes we stopped near a police check point and I was told to get off here and wait for a bus to Zanjan. I tried to explain that I didn't want to go to Zanjan anymore but stay in Qazvin. I had a ticket for Qazvin, so they should drive me to the bus terminal. Well, as it turned out I was the only person on this bus who needed to go to Qazvin, so I was told to take a taxi from here.
Dammit, not this again! What is it with bus drivers in this region? Everybody seems to love foreigners, going out of their way to accommodate them and help them.
I arrived in Qazvin centre, checked in to my hotel and spent the last few hours of daylight exploring the few sights in this city. None of them were overly interesting, though I did like the newly restored bazaar, which now functions as an art gallery.
Qazvin is big enough to have a few internet cafés, of coffeenets as they are called in Iran. With Internet still being considered a dangerous form of freedom coffeenets come and go on regular basis. None of the places listed in my guidebook still existed, but eventually I found one.
And when you finally are connected to the Internet in Iran, you'll find that many websites are blocked by the government. The Iranian government applies very stringent internet filters, only China applies more censorship on the Internet. Most networking sites, like Facebook are blocked, as these could provide easy means of communication for opponents of the government. Twitter is also blocked, as are most international news sites, like BBC and CNN.
Blogging is also considered journalism in Iran and since journalism without a permit is illegal, I had decided to take my blog offline during my stay in Iran. Not to take any risk.
On the way back to my hotel I crossed a road and saw a beautiful photo opportunity, as a yellow full moon rose at the end of a busy shopping street.
I showed him my photos but he was mainly interested in the photo of the full moon which I hadn't taken yet. He seemed satisfied that there was no incriminating material on my camera and suddenly he turned into the nice and friendly jovial Iranian, no different from any other Iranian man I have met so far. He explained that the police was doing a sting operation in this street and I was not allowed to ever take any photos of streets scenes which had a policeman or police car in it.
He then gave me the national alarm number for police, if I ever had any trouble I should not hesitate calling the police, he said.
The conversation ended with a handshake and I was on my way again. Unfortunately I wasn't able to take a proper photo of the full moon rising in any of the other streets.