June 29, 2013 Tehran, Tehran, Iran

The caspian coast

by Christian , published on August 24, 2013

distance: 915.48km
duration: 107h 2min

We had gotten up early, left Ghods Hotel(sic!) in Tabriz at 5:00am to get to the bus station.

I love cities at dawn - empty, peaceful and clean. Nobody around but a few early birds and street sweepers.

At the age of 17 i had experienced this kind of urban atmosphere for the first time in Paris, where my night train from Munich had arrived at 6:30am. To add to the feeling of perfect tranquility and having arrived in France, i bought a warm and buttery croissant from a street vendor. I was so excited that my nose started to bleed.

Having arrived early at Tabriz main bus station, we had planned to take our breakfast before the departure of the bus. We leisurely unpacked our bikes, but before we where quite finished, one of the guys escorting the bus appeared(At first i thought this guy was the driver of the bus).

I approached him with a friendly smile to show him our tickets(Which we had prearranged the day before with the help of Arash) and ask him if we could already load our bikes on the bus. To my surprise, he declined and tried to get rid of me by pushing away my hand which was holding the tickets. After lots of gesticulation and general agitation on both sides, i realized he was not at all happy with the mountain of luggage we had piled up next to our bicycles, taking away to much space in the luggage compartment of the bus.

I got quite upset, the guy was very harsh the way he spoke and gesticulated towards me. Also the day before we had discussed it with the ticket office and paid the exorbitant sum of 200.000 Rial(About 6$) extra for the additional baggage and the bikes. To me it was clear, that we had done everything right and this guy was just a mean bugger who didn't know his business.

Time started to press as well, so i called Arash(Our helpful local guide from the day before) to translate and clarify the situation. Luckily also the guy we had bought the tickets from arrived at the scene. With the help of Arash's mediation and the calmer ticket-guy(Who turned out to be the real bus-driver), we where allowed to get us and our bikes including the mountain of bags on the bus.

There was another violent scene when the mean bugger asked for more money(With clumsy body language and short temper on his side, we misunderstood his demand and declined. Fumingly, he threw money at us and stomped back to the front of the bus before i could clarify the situation) - after a vocal discussion and another call with Arash it turned out they had underestimated the amount of luggage we would bring and we had to pay extra(200.000 Rl) for the additional space we used. In total we ended up paying 600.000 Rial(About 17$) for the 300km ride from Tabriz to Astara, still not a bad deal. And the choleric guy got nicer after i picked up a screwdriver for him at a rest stop.

After Ardabil, most of the way going through dull brown and yellow plains, the road went down in hairpin bends to Astara(A descend from 2000m above sea down to the Caspian Sea at -12m). The heavily winding and bumpy road did not agree with a female passenger sitting in the front of our vehicle. The noise of her violently retching was too much for one of the youngsters in front of us. He was barely able to contain his laughter while he was putting his shirt over his head to protect against the smell of vomit, at the same time turning around to us seeking for approval.

All my sympathies where with her - having to wear a hot manteau and a veil surely didn't add comfort to the already awful situation. I was quite relieved too when we finally reached the low coastal area where the road straightened, as i also had felt quite sick due to the extensive swaying of our vehicle.

As expected, the caspian coast was quite a contrast to the arid north-western part of Iran we had went through. Very green and humid, rice fields seaming the road all the way down to Chalus, where we left the coast to go to Tehran.

Nice view from the toilet window

Off the main road to find a campsite.

The flagpole of my trailer is a popular resting place for dragonflies

While the vegetation was pleasant and we made fast progress on the mostly flat route without notable events, the traffic had increased tenfold compared to the relatively quiet roads we had travelled between Kapikoy/Razi border and Sofian. And the iranian driving style is notorious - very fast, no breaking or evasion if it's not emergent. After an especially severe segment where every passing car felt like a touch of Azrael, the angel of death, we stopped to cool down for a half hour. 

On the empty highway

But the worst part was waiting for us on the mountain road after Chalus. There's no embankment and the 2-lane road is quite narrow too. There was a neverending flow of cars on this road, many of them honking and passing by in close approximation. Luckily we where able to sneak ourselves on an unfinished segment of highway not open to general traffic by climbing over the traffic barrier.

Unfortunately the fun of going on the empty 6-lane highway only lasted for 20km, as that's how far they got with building the highway(Surely a project which is going to go on for at least another decade). After climbing over rocks which where piled at the end of the highway to block cars from entering, we found ourselves back on the narrow and winding 2-lane road, barely finding a gap to get back in the traffic.

Having survived till Marzanabad, it was clear that we would not risk another day on this road. As much as we had wished to go all the way to Tehran by bike, it was not worth risking our lives.

We found a empty field in a compound(We went through a open gate past some houses to the nearby hills). That's where the next surprise awaited us. At midnight - we where already sound asleep, 3 policemen appeared at our tent. They told us we where camping on police property(That's why there was a gate, they sign above would probably have told us of its purpose). They where worried for our security and wanted us to put down our camp and move to the safe police station, the dialog went like this:

"Very very dangerous"

"Uhm, how is this dangerous?"


"No, where is the danger? This is a safe place, we always camp like this."

"No no - very dangerous"

"Ok, ok. But what is dangerous - are there Tigers? Or Wolves? Or is it the mosquitos you are talking about?"

One of them actually snickers about my joke.


"No, no gun."


"Hu? You mean pepper spray? No, we have no pepper spray. But i have a knife, for cooking!"

"You have to go to police house"

"No, no way we're going to the police station. Look, we where sleeping when you came, there is no problem, please let us go back to sleep."

"Yes. Sorry sir. But not safe here!"

"Oh come on?! What not safe? Do you mean people? Murderers?!"

"Yes yes, murderers!"

On this went for a half hour. Finally i was able to get rid of them by standing my ground and promising i would call them in the morning to confirm we did survive the night without casualties and to not take pictures or videos of the place. Of course there was no reason at all to worry for our safety, it was a regular field near a village. We concluded they just had a paranoid fear of beeing held responsible if something happened.

The next day we hitchhiked with a young guy. I was seated on the bed of the Zamyad pickup truck and while it was getting pretty cold and wet the higher we got, the view down the extreme mountain road was spectacular.

At this point i was wearing most of my warm clothes including a woolen cap

We where dropped at the intersection where the road forks to Dizin respectively Karaj. The relatively quiet road to Dizin started with an easy grade, but when we reached the famous ski resort the next day, we stood in front of an intimitating slope which also marked the valley end. A road was creeping up with many hairpin bends - clearly the 600 meter climb to reach 3000m height. We knew we would go this high - but we had not anticipated climbing most of it within 5km! At the run down valley station of the cable car we talked with a iranian expat living in London. He noted it was too hard and therefore impossible to climb the road by bike and we should take the cable car instead.

Since we had lost the opportunity to go all the way by bike to Tehran, we would at least not give up on this one! It took us 5 hours though and the air was already thin enough to make us stop every 50m to catch up on oxygen. The impressive view of the winding road and the valley below us made up for the ordeal and with baby steps we eventually made it to the top. Proudly we high fived each other before we wolfed down the soup(Āsh) which was offered by locals on the pass.

It's cold at 3000m

It was getting dark when we reached the first village after the mountains, the addition of rain convinced us to find a hotel for the night. 

The final 50km to Tehran the next day went down without fuss.

Lot's of new buildings on the mountain road to Tehran