We spent about two weeks in Tehran in the end. Most of it was waiting for the Chinese embassy to open so we could make our visa application. We had happened to arrive in the city around the national holiday celebrating the prophet Mohammed’s birth so it was closed and then it was New Years and closed again and sure it only opened three times a week anyway.
At first we stayed in 7 Hostel, one of the first hostels to open up in Tehran about eight months previous. We met a bunch of interesting travellers and, of course, and Irishman here too. This was Redmond, he was over learning Farsi and with a great example of just how small Dublin can be, he went to the same school as me a couple of years below.
Getting around Tehran on the bikes wasn’t really an option, the city is so sprawling it wouldn’t be a very comfortable ride and takes ages to get anywhere. However, the public transport is great. We got to see a couple of the sights, the Bazaar, the old US Embassy, the Shahs palace but what we really enjoyed was meeting the young Tehranis who seemed to all know each other from hanging out in cafes smoking. They were all really friendly and a couple of them even took time out to show us around, take us to where they’d normally hang out and all the rest.
After three days we left the 7 Hostel and went to stay with Roham our Couchsurfing host. He was a quiet friendly guy with an apartment way in the north of the city, right by the mountains. Given our visa troubles we had to extend our stay and he was very easy going and let us crash a bit longer, he made what could have become a frustrating time go very smoothly. Roham worked as a music instructor and also as a purveyor of power tools at the bazaar.
One day we went to the Irish consulate to retrieve a letter of endorsement request by the Chinese embassy. This was a very smooth operation and I got a kick out of seeing the signs of home.
We also had to extend our visa which is a pretty simple process of you know where to go. We ended up at the old office the first time and that was closed now. If you happened across this and want to know about extending your Iran visa in Tehran check out this thread on caravanistan.com http://caravanistan.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=717#top
In the end we couldn’t get out China visa, they wouldn’t issue one that would be valid for entry for ninety days, only one for a month which wouldn’t be enough time at all. Instead we are going to have to apply in Islamabad, Pakistan.
Our last two days in Tehran we spent up in the Alborz skiing, as per our first plan. The snow had come down in thermite we had spent in the city and the resort had been open two days by the time we got there. We opted to go to Shemshak which is meant to have better skiing but fewer runs. We stayed at the hotel Shemshak which is right in the slopes. We were the only guests there.
The night we arrived a huge dump of snow came down. Fresh tracks all morning and long into the day, there were so few people around using the resort, never queued for a lift. There wasn’t any big gondola or anything, just three chairlifts and a button lift but we were both more than happy to take the same runs with the conditions being what they were.
At the end of the day we met an Iranian guy at the bottom of the run as we sat outside the hotel. He told us about the resort, the other foreigners he had met and taken here and the apparently raucous behind closed doors party’s that go on out of reach of the morality police. He even informed us that the Shemshak hotel was the hotel that the Shah stayed in back in the day and used to have a discotheque.
After two days we hitchhiked back down to Tehran, the city is only a one hour drive from Shemshak. Crashed with Roham for one more night then left the city. We made sure to pass by Bobby Sands street before we left, or Babi Sandz as they spell it. The story goes that after the revolution the Iranian government renamed the street the British embassy was located on from Winston Churchill street to Babi Sandz street. In response the Brits bricked up the entrance and broke down the wall on the adjourning street so they wouldn’t have to be faced with the shame of such an address.
Of course it took ages to get out of the city and it we were still riding through urban sprawl by almost dark. We spotted what looked like a large walled off wooded area and soon arrived at a huge gateway guarded by army guys. They all seemed friendly so we asked if we could come into this, what seemed to be, a park to camp. They all laughed and waved us through saying ‘Yes, yes you can camp with Imam Khomeini’. We were a bit confused by this but it was almost dark so we went ahead.
It was a huge park with what was pretty much a highway running through it, though that was devoid of traffic. We couldn’t see to the end of it in any direction. Soon we noticed there were graves, and lots of them lining most of the walkways that we could see. We eventually came across a grassy area next to an old climbing frame that looked suitable. We set up the tent, then got out the guidebook to confirm a suspicion that had arisen. What we though was right, we were camping in the complex of the Shrine of Imam Khomeini and the cemetery for the martyrs of the Iran – Iraq war. Well, at least it was quiet.