Monday, 2 June 2014

A BANDARI BEGINNING- Hormozgan, Iran



The hard part was finding the ferry office in Sharjah- a big city 40 minutes from Dubai. After a lot of blank stares, one man phoned the office for us, and pinned them down to where exactly they were, and we finally made it. We easily booked a ticket to Iran for the following day, with the surprised but helpful people in the office. The following afternoon, we self-consciously took the Dubai metro and a bus to Sharjah in our “Iranian” clothes ( ie. covered up), and made our way to the port. Although the ferry was leaving at 10pm, we were instructed to arrive at immigration at 3pm! Of course, when we got there, we hung around with the other passengers (all Iranian, except one mad German cyclist) and their piles of luggage and boxes, and waited for hours until we were let in.

 
It was a very casual check in, with UAE officials playing with their mobile phones, and fixing the TV antennae, but we had no trouble getting processed and eventually boarded the boat. 


We had absolutely no idea what to expect from the ferry. We had paid $100 each for the crossing, and although it is about the same as a flight, it seemed a lot compared to an Indonesian ferry journey. But it was quite comfortable inside, with long padded seats so people could spread out, and a windy outside area. We were even given a tasty dinner of chicken and rice, and settled down to sleep. It took roughly 12 hours, and we woke up a view of Bandar Abbas port- our first destination in Iran.

Our first stop in Iran, Bandar Abbas


We had instructions from our new Couchsurfing friend to take a taxi to his house, as the port is a little way out of the town. As we didn’t have a mobile phone, we asked a man on the boat if he would mind calling our friend for us, and got our first taste of Iranian hospitality. He called our host , and after I had said hello, they spoke in Persian and apparently made a plan that the boat man would look after us. As we were disembarking, he brought us to the front of the immigration line, and told us he would wait for us outside. We felt very guilty, as, although we had been bumped to the start of the line, the immigration officials decided to wait until every other person and their massive piles of luggage had been processed to do ours, and it took some time. Never the less, he was waiting outside and negotiated a taxi for us, and told the driver where to go.


We were happy to meet our host at last, as he had been very helpful to us when we were trying to find out information about the Sharjah-Bandar Abbas ferry. He immediately made us feel welcome in his flat, and we all got along great. He is a very confident and friendly guy, free and casual about life- not what we were expecting from an Iranian host. He has hosted hundreds of foreigners, so he has a good idea of their thinking, and what they want. We leant a lot from him in those first few days. He felt very responsible towards us as he was our first host in Iran (we were the first people he had hosted who had come by boat from UAE, and not the other way around!), and he took great care to tell us about different aspects of Iranian culture, as well as Bandari customs. He is very proud of being Bandari and Persian, and tried to use Persian words always, instead of the many Arabic phrases that are now common. He also tried to introduce us to as many different foods as we could fit in, which we didn’t complain about! We were delighted when he got his water pipe out (which is called kelyun here), as we had enjoyed that aspect of Arabian culture in Egypt.

Inside Bandar Abbas mosque
Praying man at Bandar Abbas mosque


our host is a teacher, but because we had arrived shortly before No Ruz, the Iranian New Year, his students were not turning up for class, so he didn’t bother going in. So he was free to drive us around, help us buy a mobile phone and SIM card (we have no idea about such things), and show us a few sights of the city. While we were buying the phone, we got talking to a lovely local couple with a shop, who immediately invited us all to a family wedding the following day, and lunch on their farm the next day. Of course we accepted, not wanting to miss something as special as a Bandari wedding! We realized here, as our host and the couple chatted as if they’d known each other for years, that Iranians are not only lovely to foreigners, but to each other too. So nice.

The wedding was gorgeous. As we walked in, there were traditional musicians wandering around the crowd playing interesting instruments, and wearing skirts, although they were men. Guests would give them money by sticking bills on their forehead- it was a bit strange! The guests were all smiling up at us from their places on the huge mats spread around a big courtyard- men on one side, women on the other. As special guests, we were given our own mat, and allowed to all sit together. We were fed and watered with what was apparently “simple” food, but we thought it was delicious! Unfortunately, the heavens opened, and the party was moved firstly under the tent like covering on the patio, and then further in as everything started to leak. We had timed our visit with one of the biggest rains in years in the normally very dry area. The locals loved it- many of them stood out in it with grins on their faces. Another interesting aspect of the wedding was a big suitcase full of money being meticulously counted and recorded by several men. Guests give money to the groom instead of presents, as he foots the bill for the whole wedding. We thought that was a very practical idea. Of course, it was inevitable at some point one of would get dragged up to dance, and Sal was glad when it was Rich- usually it’s her!


So much colour, Bandari wedding
New friends at Bandari wededing

Crikey!!!

Musicians at wedding

Musicians working hard, Bandari wedding
Fun at the Bandari wedding


Getting home from the wedding we had our first experience of crazy Iranian drivers. Although they don’t use their horns like Indians (thank God!), they do use their mobile phones constantly- texting, phoning- it really made us nervous. Everybody has a mobile here. The drivers in town were chaotic too, cutting in and overtaking, but they all seemed to know how the system worked, and there were few problems. The rain seemed to have no effect on the speed of their driving.

The next day at the farm was great- we fit in well with the Iranian custom of lounging around on cushions on the floor, relaxing, eating, and chatting! We walked around the huge area growing prolific tomatoes and chillies in what seemed impossibly bad and stony soil. The guys decided to hunt some birds with guns, and we were glad when they missed everything they aimed for!


Drinks with new friends, Bandar Abbas

Another delicious feast

Big hunter!

Farm scenery around Bandar Abbas

This part of the world enjoys staying up late, and having an afternoon nap, and we quickly got into the habit, but found it difficult to adjust to the Iranian habit of getting up early in the morning after the late nights. All very different from our routine in India of getting up early, and retiring at 7 or 8pm! Another difference from their Middle Eastern neighbours is the Iranian punctuality- we were actually supposed to be ready at the specified time!!

There aren’t many sights to see in Bandar Abbas, but because everything was new to us, it was all wonderful. We quickly realized the myth of all women wearing black in Iran was incorrect. The women of Bandar wear colourful clothes with a coloured chiffon-type chador (cover all) wrapped around the bodies sari style. The legs of their pant are embroidered in gorgeous patterns and colours. There are some in black chadors, but mostly they are almost Indian in their vibrancy. The jangly bracelets and nose rings some wear add to the similarity. As lovely as they looked, Sal leant quickly not to compliment women on any aspect of their outfit, or that piece would immediately and very insistently be given to her with no arguments allowed!

Unique Bandar Abbas trousers


The people are very different looking here- from each other, and from the typical Iranian look. Bandar has been a port town for hundreds of years, and the mixture of folk from so many countries trading there was apparent in many faces we saw.


Different looking people around Bandar Abbas

Different looking people around Bandar Abbas

Different looking people around Bandar Abbas
Different looking people around Bandar Abbas


We ventured out on our own a few times, and caught a share taxi into the town centre to explore the old bazaar and mosque. The taxis are great- only three passengers in the back and one in the front, everyone wears a seatbelt, and the fares are as cheap as chips. We had been quite protected about money and language, as Ariya sorted everything out when we were with him, so it was good to get used to the confusing money here.
*A quick note here about the money. The official currency is rial, and US$1 is about 30,000 rial. But for some strange reason, when people in shops, taxi or anywhere tell you a price, it is in toman, which one tenth of a rial! To add to the confusion, when the price is written down, it is sometimes in rial and sometimes in toman! This odd practice took us some time to get our heads around.

The best trip we had was to Minab for the day. We had read about a big Thursday market, so we set off for the town, which is about one hour from Bandar. We were rewarded with an amazing sight of towns women wearing what is the traditional burqa in this area- an unusual beak-like affair, usually in red, although we saw many colours. Not seeing many tourists, they were very shy, and we had to be a bit sneaky to take pictures, but it is such a unique look, we just had to record it. The market itself was of average interest, but we were happy sitting in various places, just watching and enjoying the spectacle of women in colour.


Minab's Friday market

Minab's Friday market

Minab's Friday market

Minab's Friday market

Minab's Friday market
Minab's Friday market

Minab's Friday market

Minab's Friday market

Minab's Friday market

Minab's Friday market


Qeshm Island is an hour’s ferry ride from Bandar, and as our host had a friend there, we thought we would check in out for a few days. Our host, was welcoming man who had lived in Germany for many years, and spoke fluent German, and a bit less English. He’s 60-something and had had an interesting life, and we enjoyed his many stories. Although he had a bakery that he lived above, he wasn’t a baker, rather a highly educated man who was an engineer/inventor specializing in machinery. His tiny apartment was cosy and comfortable, with Rich and me sharing a single bed (first time since Scotland!).


With new friend, Qeshm Island (and more food!)

Our host lived near the beach, and we spent a couple of enjoyable evenings with he and his friends, eating, meeting, drinking and getting to know new people, and a day out and about checking out the local castle and old town area.


Friends, Qeshm
Colourful wall, Qeshm
Hitch-hiking, Qeshm
Portuguese fort, Qeshm
Canon at Portuguese fort, Qeshm
Qeshm cutie
Qeshm-style mask
Portuguese fort, Qeshm

Rich's new friend, Qeshm


Rich and I had a day hitch-hiking around most of the island. The main thing we wanted to see was the village of Laft, and we eventually got there, via a roundabout scenic route, due to getting lifts by locals. We wandered about the ruins of an old Portuguese castle, and admired the badgirs, an amazing and beautiful invention on the tops of house to steer the wind into the house below. The Portuguese were here for some time in the past, and there are quite a few castles in the area, but most are pretty unimpressive and falling down. But then, we have just come from the ultimate place for forts- Rajasthan!


Alley cat, Qeshm Island

Traditional house, Laft, Qeshm Island

Ancient wells, Qeshm

Building, Laft, Qeshm

Laneway, Qeshm Island
Beautiful architecture, Qeshm

Laft village, Qeshm Island

Badgir (wind funnel), Laft village, Qeshm

Our host wanted us to stay longer, and would have loved to, but only having three months in Iran, and being such slow travellers, we knew we had to get going. It was a sad good bye, when we left for the ferry terminal, and we knew this would be the first of many.

Our new friends had explained to us how much Iranians love hitch-hiking, camping, picnics and travelling- usually in their own country, but other places too. Their way of thinking is very different from the SE Asian attitude of needing a reason to go somewhere- not just for the adventure of it. We’ve seen Iranians with backpacks wandering around, and being No Ruz, there are campers everywhere. They camp in the strangest places, though, such as on the side of the road in the towns or directly outside buildings. They also seem to have a different attitude to untraditional lifestyles, such as ours, and generally we had no problem about being honest about our backgrounds and choices- something we would never do in India, for instance, as it would be impossible for them to understand.

We had arrived in Iran just before the biggest holiday of the year, No Ruz, or New Day. It is a massive and long affair, with almost the entire population travelling around the country, either to see family, or to visit as tourists. Many popular towns such as Shiraz and Esfahan would be mobbed, and the coastal regions were preparing for an onslaught of tens of thousands of incomers. Officially it lasts for 2 weeks, but businesses, and even Government departments, close whenever they feel like it, and people often just don’t turn up for work. The week before and after are still vague regarding opening times. So, it was not the best time to be heading to the more touristy areas, and that in part was a deciding factor in our heading east to Sistan and Baluchistan province, and the coastal town of Chabahar in particular.

3 comments:

  1. well done you two!!! wow very big much to the market masked women - I go too lah! :)

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  2. Appreciate the effort in capturing all the details of human expression in such a rich and ancient culture. I particularly found the night market scenes profoundly insightful. The multicolored brink wall was quirky and gave a sense of street art that contrasted all the formal traditional stuff. Great work again, and challenging too. Italo

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