Note: Iran is very much in the news today, due to the flare-up of Middle East conflicts again. This article is not to comment on that or pick sides—it is just an answer to the question, what’s it like to ride there? The question came to mind as I read through a copy of diariesof magazine, with a quick overview of what to expect. Aside from them, several prominent ADVers have traveled there in recent years. Ed March rode his C90 there, on his Malaysia-to-UK run. Lois Pryce actually wrote a book about her travels there, more than a decade ago.
And here on ADVrider, in our early days of running travelogs on the Front Page, we ran this piece on what it’s like to ride in Iran. While things have no doubt changed a lot, it will give you an insight into what it’s like to travel in Iran (something that may not be possible anymore, or might not be possible for much longer, at least)—Ed.
I had always read that hospitality in Iran was something special, but before we got there, I had no idea to what extent was this true.
Riding on a 650cc motorcycle in Iran is like falling from space. By law, Iranians are not allowed to have a bike with an engine larger than 250cc. Unfortunately, women cannot ride at all! It is heartbreaking that so many motorcycle enthusiasts had their bikes taken away from them. They had to give up their passion and stick to small bikes after the Iranian Revolution in 1979.
People had to quit a lot of other things that were part of their lives. Alcohol, to give an example, is one of them. Compared to other countries, Iranians have a lot of restrictions. Since the revolution, it has become illegal for women to go out without a hijab and this applies to foreigners as well. Facebook, YouTube, and other mainstream websites are blocked. Foreign TV channels are restricted, and when it comes to music, it mainly boils down to Persian rhythms.
Perceptions, media, and politics
When you engage in conversations with the locals, you get the feeling that this nation lives in a bubble. They feel that their country is a haven. After traveling through Iran for a whole month, I can confirm that from our experience, this is true.
It is such a huge paradox when you realize that back home, the perception of countries like Iran and Pakistan for example, is a lot different. While we were there, at a family’s house, we experienced something that makes this even more ironic. We were in the living room, and the TV was on. From what we could understand, this local channel was showing drug addicts and people who had lost their way. It was depicting the west as a disaster! This confirms the ongoing agendas of media and politics; manipulating and molding people’s minds to maintain control.
Iran on a motorcycle
When it comes to riding, this country is paradise. It has got amazing mountainous scenery, endless highways and plenty of off-road and fire trails. The most attractive part of it all is that filling up your tank would not cost you more than four bucks!
If you happen to stop at the side of the road, countless locals approach you. They offer you assistance, food, and most of the time even a place to stay the night! If you look for sights to visit, guidebooks will direct you to architectural wonders, etc. But the real highlight of this country is its people and its raw landscape.
It was awkward at first…you know, going to a stranger’s house to eat and sleep or meeting the whole extended family on the first night. You wouldn’t imagine doing it in the western world. But during the month we spent there, we only slept in a hotel room for three nights.
The first two words that we learned in Persian were ‘benshinid’ and ‘bokhor’ – sit and eat! And from one point on the map to the other, we left villages and cities with wonderful experiences and new friendships that has put Iran on our ‘return to’ list for sure! Despite the language barrier, the warmth that we got from these people…the mothers who took care of us as if we were their own, is something that one has to experience and cannot understand in words.
Iran was a home away from home.
Useful information and tips:
- Money: Iran is loaded with banks and ATM’s which are only accessible to locals. Get enough cash with you for your whole stay. You can exchange both euros and dollars easily.
- Insurance: If you’re traveling for a long time and bought travel insurance that covers multiple countries, make sure that it covers Iran as well, especially if it is a policy from the US.
- Learn to read the numbers in Persian – it helps when paying for stuff.
- Carry extra fuel: Gas stations are not scarce, but it would help to have your mind at rest if you’re traveling for long distances and in remote areas.
- If you’re a woman, carry a head scarf and cover your head all the time – once you’re in public, it is illegal not to. When it comes to clothing, cover up your legs and wear ¾ or long sleeves, with your chest covered up properly.
- Hand Shaking: Men and women do not exchange handshakes unless they’re family. Upon meeting someone new of the opposite sex, slightly bow your head as a gesture of respect and smile.
- DO NOT use the thumbs up sign. Whilst for most nations, this means ok, good or a general sign of acknowledgment, in Iran this is like putting out our middle finger!