Stories in this Iran Travel Series:
Iran Road Tour: Tehran to Mashhad via the Caspian Coast
- Our Iran road trip is really an Escape And another lesson on Tehran's ills
- How to plan a road tour of Iran
- Touring Iran’s countryside: Our first night
- Iran Road Tour: Mt. Damāvand’s first sighting
- Iran road travel: Tehran to Caspian Sea trip
- Iran Caspian Trip: Journey into the clouds
- Touring Iran’s Caspian Region: Filband
- North Iran Tour: Fantastic local food
- Waking in a traditional Iranian village home
- Tour of Caspian Coast: City of Sari
- Mobster turned Moslem servant
- Camping in Iran: Alendan of Mazandaran
- Badab Soort hot springs of north Iran
- Our Iran Road Trip > Meeting a shepherd
The first lesson on why you have to leave Tehran to see Iran’s real beauty
Our latest Iran road trip begins on a chilly November day after a month-long stay in Tehran.
I’m standing on the edge of an empty road, staring at the barren Dasht-e Gole-Zard (Persian: Yellow Flower Plain), just two hours into our latest escape from foul air and horrid congestion of Iran’s capital.
In the spring, this area is covered with yellow flowers, drawing endless crowds from Tehran.
But right now, in early November, the plain is brown and barren. The snow-covered caps flanking the valley, however, are breath-taking.
We’ve been on many Iran road trips but they never get old. Each Iran tour has been completely different, to new regions and climates.
As I step out of my ancient Nissan 4WD the cold clean air slaps me and instantly my mood changes. Suddenly things feel sharper, colors brighter.
I run up a hill and look back at the old workhorse that brought me here.
Fluffy clouds roll above me. I look down. Even the dead thorny plants – perhaps the most common thing in Iran’s landscape – somehow look beautiful.
Tehran’s seduction – despite the chaos and pollution
No, I’m not mistaken. All this is really beautiful. I just wasn’t sure because my head is just now clearing from chaos of staying in Tehran.
I’ve experienced drastic mood changes on all my previous escapes from Tehran, as I inevitably wake up from the general malaise that grips wife Saeideh and I when we stay in Tehran for any extended time.
When we arrived in Tehran a month ago at my father’s vacant apartment, we immediately could smell the foul air outside. Our eyes were irritated. Our nostrils felt clogged. I constantly blew my nose, sometimes so hard that it bled. Slowly but surely depression swept over us.
Tehran’s bad air can make you sick
Saeideh felt heart palpitations and felt short of breath. We saw a heart specialist, not realizing that it was all from Tehran’s bad air.
On a previous stay, my mother’s trip to Grand Bazaar of Tehran, deep in the most polluted part of central, ended in her losing breath and nearly fainting.
“They don’t notice how bad it is,” I said of the Tehranis we encountered during our strolls in our neighborhood.
“No. They’re used to the bad air,” Saeideh said.
Why you should be wary of Tehran’s traffic
Tehran’s traffic is the biggest source of the city’s pollution. Leaded gas that was banned in the West 40 years ago is still being used in Iran. Catalytic converters are ancient or non-existent in most cars.
So the worse place to be in Tehran is to sit in the traffic! You not only could lose hours. You’d be breathing in some of the dirtiest vehicle exhaust on the planet.
The metro is the key to avoiding Tehran’s traffic
- Tehran’s relatively decent subway system (about 10 cents USD in 2023) is our primary method of bypassing the congestion and pollution above ground – albeit the air isn’t exactly idyllic in the metro tunnels either.
- Using the tube is especially critical during the rush hours. The metro is crowded during those times but still beats getting caught in gridlock of the streets above.
- Outside rush hours, we use ride hailing apps, such a SNAPP! which has an English version.
Over and over, I asked myself, how do people survive sitting hours at a time in Tehran’s bumper-to-bumper traffic?
How Tehran seduces you into staying!
But then, as it happened before, we got used to living in Tehran. We were seduced by things we can do only in Tehran – like seeing better specialist doctors and better shopping and getting treated to meals at the homes of multitudes of aunts and cousins.
Like in many developing nations, Iran’s most modern conveniences are concentrated in the capital – which sadly keeps on sucking in people needing things unavailable elsewhere and a burgeoning population looking for better paying jobs.
I actually found myself postponing our departure. The hellhole had us in its grips.
My latest lesson on Tehran is sinking in
Now, cold wind is picking up as I photograph the snow caps across the vast landscape before me.
And then the question hits me, as it did after my previous escapes from Tehran: “Why the heck didn’t I leave Tehran sooner?”
Sanity is returning. I actually feel hopeful about the future! New ideas are percolating. Life is not that bad, I tell myself. Now that I’ve escaped, I head to the nearest village for tonight’s shelter.
Dashte Gole Zard (دشت گل زرد) about a 2-hour drive in northeast of Tehran, just north of the border of Tehran and Mazandaran Province.