Weeks 33-34, 21.11 – 7.12
My last weeks in Iran were about to start. In the one when I had to write the final exam, I went directly to the airport after the exam. I wanted to fly to Zahedan, in Sistan va Baluchestan. I planned to travel around for nine or ten days and visit a friend on Qeshm Island in the end (Route).
So on Wednesday (25th Nov) my IranAir plane took off with only 30 min delay from the city airport Mehrabad to the regional capital of super dangerous Sistan-Baluchestan. What most westerners think of Iran, Iranians think of Sistan-Baluchestan. The first step, flying to Zahedan with as unsafe regarded IranAir of which an airplane crashed over Tehran in summer, was mastered without problems.Right to the photos
“U.S. citizens […] should exercise caution […] especially in the southeastern region where Westerners have been victims of criminal gangs often involved in the smuggling of drugs and other contraband. Terrorist explosions have killed a number of people in Iran in past years. U.S. citizens should avoid travel to areas within 100 kilometers of the border with Afghanistan, within 10 kilometers of the border with Iraq, and generally anywhere east of the line from Bam and Bandar Abbas toward the Pakistan border. [US State Department]
Border areas are particularly sensitive. The FCO advise against all travel to: areas within 100km of the Iran/Afghanistan border; […] the province of Sistan-Baluchistan; and the area to the east of Bam and Jask, including Bam. This area is notorious for banditry and is the main route for drug-traffickers from Afghanistan and Pakistan. The towns of Zahedan, Zabol and Mirjaveh are particularly insecure.
Some Iranian officials and media reports have falsely alleged a UK connection to separatist groups in Khuzestan and Sistan-Baluchestan.” [British FCO]
Like in other cases, I can hardly agree with the description of the “ministries” of Foreign Affairs, but just terrify people. Later more to how cool this region actually is.
When I arrived in Zahedan at late afternoon, I met with A. and we went to the bazaar because I wanted to have the traditional Baluch clothes. The first merchant offered me the typical trousers and the shirt for 0,79Mio Rial (20$), a second one wanted said he’d charge me 470’000 Rial (15$) for a tailored combination. I was able to pick it up the next day.
Next day, I got it, but didn’t wear it yet. I didn’t walk through town a lot, but I did and was noticed by police. But they didn’t care. In the evening I met with friends of L., at whose place I slept. We went a bit outside of town to a place that is super crowded in summer and beautiful. But since it was quite cold, we rather went into on of the heated tents with some tea.
The next morning A. and a friend of hers invited me for a little hiking tour south of Zahedan. When we came back, we ate breakfast and then I hitchhiked to Saravan, which is about 430km south-east.
In Sistan-Baluchestan there are no gas pipes like in Tehran or in most other regions in Iran. People have to buy gas in tanks. In general the government in Tehran does ignore this province. One reason is that Baluchi people are Sunnis and on the other hand people are organized in tribes. That’s why officials from Tehran only have a bit influence. Former president Ahmadinejad identified that problem and now the Tehran officials talk to the tribe leaders and they to their tribe.
The unemployment rate is huge in Baluchestan. Most of the people smuggle Diesel to Pakistan for a living. They buy pick-ups to get a Diesel contingent, put it in tanks which they put on the loading space and Pakistan, here they come. The second part from Zahedan to Saravan I was sitting in a car that smelled like Diesel and on the front passenger seat was a full 50L tank. I was packed and very happy that my legs didn’t die off.
Of course there were some police checkpoints on the road. I mean “some” means on every main road at the entrance and exit of a big town. But they just didn’t care that a foreigner was sitting next to the driver. And when they wanted to see my passport, I just showed them a copy – and never had problems.
In Saravan I couchsurfed at cool people again, but roamed around alone. But honestly there was not much to see. Though in the whole five hours that I spent outside only school children approached me curiously. When it got dark, at around 6.30pm, I went out again for half an hour, but there was even less going on.
To the photos of part 2
Next day, it was Sunday (29th Nov), I wanted to get to Pasabandar, which was 460km from Saravan and with ~1900km the most distant town from Tehran. I wore my Baluch clothes, but hitchhiking was difficult that day. But difficulties just lead to new experiences so I hitched a motor bike for the first time – until a police checkpoint. But the police men there were relaxed – I didn’t even need to show my passport or a copy. We chatted a little bit, I told them that I don’t like to go by bus, because I want to practise my Persian while talking to the drivers and then they stopped a car for me. It took me half of the way, to Sarbaz.
There I wanted to continue near Pasabandar by bus, but it didn’t come for a long time. That’s why I started waling. Then it arrived, but didn’t stop for me. It got later and later and I looked forward to spending the night in my tent and was already searching for a quiet and abandoned place, when a Baluch guy stopped persuaded me to come to his village and to sleep at his house. The man’s name was Jaseme, was 27yo and had a son.
The stars were very bright, the toilet on the yard and literally the whole village came for dinner to Jaseme’s house. We ate with our bare hands, and never saw the wife who most certainly cooked that delicious food. It was a interesting and curious gathering in that conservative community. It was very hard not to forget to only use the “clean” right hand for eating.
One guy was employee at the small medical centre in the next village. Although Sistan-Baluchestan is neglected in many things by the central government, medical supply is important and guaranteed. For example the number of Malaria infections was reduced to 5 per year, where as on the Pakistani side of Baluchestan it’s way higher and a serious problem.
The next morning after breakfast I was taken to the main road again, but the stopped bus didn’t want to take me for unknown reasons. To make things short, the next 200km I was take by taxi for cheap 100’000 Rial (3$). Then I hitchhiked to Pasabandar, which is only 5 minutes by car from the Pakistani border. I arrived during sundown, took some photos, walked around and then got lucky to catch the same drivers who took me to Pasabandar and were now heading to Chabahar. At its bus terminal I wanted to take the night bus to Bandar Abbas, but again I had bad luck. I was told that night was no bus, I should come back the next morning. That’s why I talked to a truck driver who was standing outside, but he said, no truck would go to Bandar Abbas at night. I accepted the offer to sleep in his truck’s trailer.
On Tuesday (1.11) I could finally start going to Bandar. But I was kind of forced to hitchhike again, because I was told again, that there were suddenly no buses. However since between Chabahar and Bandar Abbas there’s basically only one road and no big towns, I could be sure that there will be trucks going directly all the 700km. And after some waiting, it happened. The two drivers were Kurds and fortunately only the old one drove (for 10 hours straight), because other wise I would have missed the last ferry onto Qeshm for sure.
On the island I visited Annelie, a friend that I met in Dehkhoda. She has a very good restaurant with her Iranian husband called Shabhaye Talai – Golden Nights and it was a pleasure to see her again.
On Thursday (3.12) when I went back to Tehran by train I wore my comfortable Baluch clothes again. The farewell photo shooting with Annelie made the watching Iranians totally confused, because they are not used to people with red hair, wearing clothes, that are also worn by Afghans. At the train station I had to rise my voice a bit, because a police officer that checked my bags and me, touched me where no man is allowed to.
Back in Tehran, I was surprise by all the police with machine guns. ISIS/IS/Daesh had threatened Iran while I was travelling so was needed to pretend subjective security with these people at every metro station. And of course I was checked nearly every time. But now I know at least how the Muslims in Europe have to feel after an attack.
Else I met with friend, went shopping, enjoy the snow and went back to Berlin a little sad.
Thank you very much!