Ashgabat - Istanbul


In 2007 I took a trip from Bishkek to Tashkent which is part of the Silk Route. I thoroughly enjoyed the trip and when I saw that the continuation of this trip now took in Iran I decided to sign up for another trip with Dragoman.

Preparations were proceeding normally until about 6 weeks before my planned departure date () when I received disturbing news from Dragoman. Turkmenistan had decided to contain the swine flu pandemic by no longer issuing visas. This makes it rather difficult to get to Iran from Uzbekistan in the East, the only routes are Turkmenistan or Afghanistan. Dragoman planned let me know the alternative routing in two weeks.

In the intervening period the Iranian presidential election takes place and is followed by protests at the result. The UK Government FCO response is to advise against all but essential travel to Iran.

4 weeks before my scheduled departure date Dragoman notify me of the revised itinerary. The start point will now be Khiva in Uzbekistan and proceed through Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Georgia before joining the original itinerary at Goreme in Turkey. I have little confidence that I can arrange Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan visas in the time available and agree with Dragoman that I will join the trip in Baku. As of 29th June I still do not have the Invitation letter I need to get even the Azerbaijan visa so my caution looks to have been appropriate.

Just as it looks as if all contingencies will fail a vacancy on the planned September trip opens up and I take the option to switch. This turns out very well because in the intervening period Turkmenistan drops its restrictions and the FCO relaxes its advice on travel to Iran. Even so, it is no done deal, things can still change quickly. Unlike the earlier trip plan we will, hopefully, get out visas for Iran in Ashgabat.

- :: Ashgabat

A long but uneventful trip via Zurich and Istanbul arriving at Grand Turkmen Hotel in Ashgabat. I was to join the group on Sunday so had Saturday to explore Ashgabat on my own. As a group we visited the Sunday Market a short drive from the city and also the Turkmenbashi Ruhy Mosque. The rest of the time was spent exploring Ashgabat while sorting out the visa for Iran.

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- :: Northern Iran

We make it through the border into Iran and spend our first night camped on a hillside followed by a long drive through interesting mountain scenery to a second camp beside the Caspian. Not a particularly peaceful spot with tooing and froing by fishermen all night. Another long days drive from the Caspian across the Alborz Mountains to Tehran.

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:: Tehran

The Atlas Hotel is in central Tehran so convenient to explore the city on foot. Unfortunately it is which is the day of rest in Iran. Tehran is a joyless place and I found little to appreciate except Park-E Shahr. Pretty much everyone I met was friendly and had a chat to several people with a single exception. In the evening went to the "US Den of Espionage" with Dave and Holly. It is now the home of the Sepah militia and when we asked a couple of guys there if we could take photos they were not what you would call friendly.

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- :: Yazd

Another long drive, this time to Yazd, said to be the oldest living city on Earth (sic). A pleasant contrast to Tehran with a less oppressive atmosphere and the interesting mud brick construction of the old town where we stayed.

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:: Persepolis

photo of Persepolis

After arriving at Persepolis mid afternoon we setup camp in a not at all salubrious spot at the edge of the huge parking lot!. While it would have been a mistake to skip a visit to the World Heritage site - Persepolis it is not very well looked after. To me, much of it looked like a reclamation yard with just a few cared for areas.

- :: Shiraz

We have two nights in Shiraz staying at Hotel Kowsar which is quite central on Karim Khan-e Zand. There is a lot of green space which is quite a contrast to all the desert we have been travelling through. Walking through town proved difficult since people constantly walked up and wanted to talk. Very friendly people.

- :: Esfahan

Another long drive takes us to Esfahan and Hotel Safir. Three nights mean we get two full days to explore Esfahan. We explore Jameh Mosque, 800 years old and vast. Continuing the religious theme we also visit the Armenian Vank Cathedral (Vank is Armenian for Cathedral!) which was unusual as was the museum within the walled confines. There was disturbing material about the Armenian Genocide.

Aimless wandering led to various interesting encounters with more friendly locals. I ended up in an area where lots of small workshops make and paint pottery as well as an area of metal bashing. Lots of communication with the locals and I was invited to join a couple of families for some chai and food.

- :: to Turkey

A long trip from Esfahan to the Turkish border takes us back Northwest past Tehran and through the Kurdish region of Iran. We camp twice, the first camp is in a nice spot surrounded by an orchard and the second bush camp is in a remote spot near the border. While the long drive was tedious we did pass through some interesting geological formations.

It took about 8 hours to get through the border. sad smiley

- :: Doğubayazit and westward

The section through Turkey had not been much of a focus for me, the only thing I had thought of was to look at some of the unusual carpets that they weave around the Mt Ararat area. However, I really enjoyed this eastern, Kurdish, part of the country. We spent so long getting through the border that we had to skip some tentatively plans excursions and made straight for our hotel in Doğubayazit.

We visited Ishak Pasha Palace a short drive into the hills south of Doğubayazit which was well worth it. From here we set off west through the mountains and old lava beds with a bush camp on the north coast of Lake Van and another bush camp near Malatya before arriving at Göreme.

- :: Göreme

The Flintstones Cave Hotel is where we stay in Göreme. Göreme was a really nice place to visit, the scenery is unusual with its "fairy chimneys" and many nice walks around the valleys. I also took my first ever balloon trip which turned out to be much more enjoyable than I had anticipated. The pilot was extremely skillful as he took us down into the valleys and in amongst the fairy chimneys, he even landed the basket on his trailer at the end!

- :: to Istanbul

The leg of this trip took us North to the Black Sea where we camped for the last time before heading West to Istanbul. The only time it rained on the whole trip was our last night camping which washed out a final sleep out under the stars.


Ashgabat to Istanbul

Overall this was a good trip travelling through some interesting places.

All the photos I took along the way are posted on Picasa and the GPS track of our journey is on Google maps.

The Good

I really had no idea what Iran and the people would be like. The initial impression made in Tehran was atypical and I subsequently enjoyed everywhere else. Best of all was Yazd, I could happily have spent more time here. The journey through Turkey was not part of my motivation for this trip so I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed it. While Göreme was the first "touristy" place we visited it was nonetheless a place I am glad I have visited. Istanbul was, as always, a great city to visit.

My fellow travellers were a good bunch though there was a bit of a divide between those that had been on the truck for months and those of us that joined later. Some great nights around the camp fire.

The Bad

Too much time on the road. Iran is a big country and I would have dropped Tehran from the itinerary. The first three camp sites were all pretty poor and this was partly because we were travelling so far.

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