Stories in this Iran Travel Series:
On our third day of our road trip in Iran (see previous article) outside Mashhad, we headed out to explore more of the gorgeous hilly country in our ancient 4WD.
Our Nissan Patrol is 28 years old and we love it like a parent loving a child!
The logic of driving an old car on a road trip in Iran
We drive this V6 gas guzzler because …
1. The cost of Petrol vs a new car for a road trip in Iran
In Iran, the cost of petrol and auto maintenance is low. Buying a new car, though, is ridiculously high – because of the high tariffs imposed to protect the Iran’s own auto industry.
We prefer to stay clear of riding in Iranian- and Chinese-made cars – which wouldn’t pass auto safety tests anywhere in the developed world. If you got a good mechanic, you can stay on the Iran’s roads pretty dependably in a well-made old car, even with our 300,000 KM on the engine.
Hard to believe, but I constantly get offers to sell this old thing because buying a decent 4WD import for our road trips in Iran could easily cost $200,000 USD. Iranians who are not rich, prefer to buy old solid cars and fix them up.
2. Chaos on the roads of Iran
Driving in Iran is dangerous because the rule of the jungle takes precedence over traffic laws.
I crack up when I hear people express concern about getting arrested during travel to Iran. The danger is not political. The government has better things to do than bother tourists who inject badly needed foreign currency into this ailing economy. In fact, I’m often amazed at what foreigners are allowed to get away with. Everyone’s always fawning over them.
The danger in Iran is in the damn roads, because the traffic laws are not enforced.
The right of the way on Iranian roads belongs to whomever that is more reckless, is further ahead on the road or has the bigger vehicle. I got the last one nailed down and I’m working on the first one.
3. Traveling spontaneously during a road trip in Iran
Being able to sleep in the car allows us to travel extemporaneously. We have modified the Nissan to sleep comfortably. This way we don’t have to worry about finding accommodations every night. When it’s the magic hour in the desert or on the mountains, I can concentrate on my photography and not worry about going to town to find a hotel.
In any case, we prefer to avoid the nearest hotel. We seek ecolodges recommeneded to us in advance by tour leaders and travel professionals. This way we can document ecolodges with standards we approve of.
Also, camping in the Iran’s countryside or even in some city parks is common. Because of the poor economy, it’s often the only option for people who can’t afford paid accommodations.
Sedimentary rock formations in Khorasan, northeast Iran
We headed into arid countryside dotted with marvelous sandstone formations, just like what you might see in the old Hollywood westerns.
… while keeping an eye out for snakes. This countryside is full of them.
Found this rock with a cat’s paw pattern.
Wild Zereshk (Barberies) in Iran
We came across giant bushes of wild zereshk (known outside Iran as “barberies”, also spelled barberries).
Zereshk is a highly acidic fruit with a tangy taste that Iranians put in a popular rice dish known as zereshk polo.
Iranians believe barberies have a variety of medicinal benefits. The wild version we found here is particularly potent.
Finding abandoned historical sites in Iran on road trip in Iran
In a land that was a full-fledged empire 2,500 years ago, it’s hard not to run into historical structures, sometimes ones that are not even on the map, let alone registered and protected.
And sure enough, I look up and see perched on a rocky peak what looked like a ancient lookout.
Stumbling onto abandoned historical sites in Iran is something that has happened to us many times before.
A local told us it is what is left from a series of similar structures from the time of the Zoroastrians, with an underground room underneath.
That would put it before the Arab invasion of 633 ADE!
All the other structures were destroyed by vandals or treasure hunters who constantly roam this area at night, looking for buried treasures, we were told.
Iran is full of tales – true and mythical – of people “accidentally” finding treasures buried by ancient royalty fleeing the enemy.
Hard to believe something that old would go unprotected. But that’s typical in Iran. There’re just too many antiquities for the authorities to keep track of.
History is what draws most foreign tourists to the well-known sites in Shiraz and Isfahan. Hunting for abandoned history in the middle of nowhere is far more rewarding for Saeideh and I. We’ve ran into many marvels of architecture, like absolutely gorgeous abandoned caravansaries.
At least, now we know a future destination on our next visit: hiking up to see what the Zoroastrians left behind.