Day 75 - Thursday 15th June - Ashgabat to Mashhad (Iran)

I’m 7 days behind with the Blog as a result of lack of internet access, and a congested itinerary. We are also getting tired and am struggling to still rise at 0500 and spend a couple of hours getting things up to date. So have made a decision that I’ll recommence with the current day to day and then try to catch up with the missing week when I can get some time. Not a perfect situation as it misses the highlights of the Silk Road, Samarkand and Bukhara. 

Most of us were ready to leave Ashgabat after the one day layover. A few could have spent some more time exploring. But at 0815 we pulled out of the hotel towards the border. Its hard to imagine, but most were expecting a more normal civilisation across the mountains to our south.

A few quick snaps of monuments and more white marble buildings as we edged out of town in peak hour traffic (well at least there were a couple of other cars on the road) toward what is described as the “lower check point”. Through that point and it was a 30k drive up a 1500m sweeping climb into the mountains on a on the best road we had seen in weeks. There was no speed limit and no police in this zone. We had fun.

Like our entry onto Turkmenistan, the processing was efficient. Batyr our guide, helped with the few translation issues, but otherwise lazed about smoking. A cursory search of the cars and we were into Iran. Unlike other borders there was not a “no man’s land”. Out one gate and you are at the next.

Hesan, our Iranian guide was waiting and ready to direct what needed to be done next. All the girls had walked across earlier and were waiting in Immigration in their long pants, shirts past the bum and head scarves. I didn’t recognise them at first as the look was not flattering for most.

Iran is one of the few countries that accepts a Carnet. This is like a Passport for the car and speeds up processing. We just had to lodge these and wait while they processed the 8 cars, rather than the alternative of running between up to 6 desks to get various pieces of paper stamped.

We were through both borders and into Iran before mid day. By this time, the temperature was climbing through the mid 30’s despite the 1700m altitude.

We were off down the well made sweeping road through the dry, craggy mountains. There are a number of things that you notice immediately. Obviously the quality of the roads, the cars, the peoples dress and the housing. In many cases there are marked differences from one side of the barbed wire border fence to the other. This was one of them. Gone were all the Toyota Camry’s and replaced by a bunch of cars a make I am yet to determine (there are still a lot of the old Hilman Hunters which were made here until recent times and badged as a Pecan). The roads improved, and in the mountains the housing was mainly mud brick. Also the vast irrigation ditches that had accompanied us through the dry regions of China and Central Asia had disappeared and the wheat in the Iranian mountains was like Australia, a dry field crop, totally reliant on rain.

As we descended towards Mashhad the temperature continued to climb towards 40c.. As we joined the A22 at Quchan to Mashhad the traffic grew and the driver behaviour deteriorated. Personal space in a car is not a concept the Iranians seem to be familiar with. While there are lane markers, most seem to straddle them which becomes an issue if you try to stay within. They drive unbelievably close and have an unnerving tendency to cut you off. They were excited to see our convoy and were driving with both hands holding their phones and watching us with the obvious consequences of veering all over the road and mostly too close for comfort.

We went out for dinner at a large function centre. I think our guide may have thought we would have enjoyed it. It was crowded with families celebrating the end of their Ramadan day and being allowed to eat again at 8.15pm, which is deemed to be sunset. We were late getting there and most of the food on the buffet tables had been consumed.

We are also now in an enforced “dry spell”. There will be no beer until we reach Turkey. That may be a good thing as we are now starting to regain the weight that we lost through the change of diet in China. We also need to start looking for some alternatives to beef, chicken and lamb shaslik which has been the staple for the past week or so.