Into the axis of evil
20.04.2007 - 22.04.2007 25 °C
Our last morning in Turkey was spent accumulating enough money for the entire duration of our journey through Iran and Turkmenistan, both countries entirely cut off from the international banking system. From Doğubayazıt, we were dropped off by dolmuş at the heavily fortified Turkish side of the border, which we were hastily waved through. On our walk through No Man's Land we were mainly occupied in getting rid of a stubborn Turkish money changer charging derisory rates - we did however offload our remaining Lira, getting about a third of the Iranian Rial that he should have given us. The late Ayatollah Khomeini and the current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini both gazed down on us as we passed through into Iran. In all, the border crossing did not take more than 20 minutes and we quickly made our way to Maku.
Maku (ماكو) itself is a pretty uninspiring town squezzed between the two dominating cliffsides of the canyon in which it is located. It is here, though, where we first came across the ritual of Iranian hospitality (called Ta'arof). On the point of paying at the Internet cafe, the owner insisted that we should not pay: "because you are guests in Iran." He was not joking, and after insisting on paying and getting turned down for a fourth time, we thanked him and left - leaving us with our first impression of how radically different Iran is to Turkey (in many respects Iran seems more European!).
Tabriz (تبريز), a short bus ride from Maku through impressive snow-capped peaks rising from the dusty plains, has always been one of the most independent-minded cities in Iran - indeed half the time it was a Khanate in its own right. Following an ever-more apparent trend in our journey, Tabriz was razed by the Mongols and much of the city now is very modern. Its tree-lined boulevards, more urbane peoples and multitude of book shops were in striking contrast to the quasi-warzone of the Turkish/Kurdish Wild East. We spent only one night here and were kept occupied by the Blue Mosque (actually sandstone-coloured after the last earthquake in which all the tiles fell off), the Elgoli Park and the Azarbayjan Museum, none of which are much to write home about...
Visiting the bazaar was perhaps the highlight of Tabriz, where we perused some carpets over a cup of tea with a one-eyed, two-teethed polyglot salesman and left soon after finding out the prices! Later we were intercepted by a couple of young Iranians (ethnically and linguistically Azari Turkish, like almost all of Tabriz) who showed us round the local medresseh (Qoranic school) and into its mosque - a great privilege for non-Muslims. The Constitution Museum was rather underwhelming, except that it brought to light the early 20th Century democratic movement in Iran which was soon forgotten after two coups d'etats and two revolutions. Finally, by coincidence we bumped into the English couple we had met in Urfa 10 days before, they were the only Westerners we saw in the entire city!
That evening we boarded the overnight train to Tehran...