From Ashgabat (Turkmenistan) to Mashhad (Iran). After our camping adventure at the Darvaza Crater (or Door to hell), we spend 3 days wandering around in the weirdest city we have ever been: Ashgabat.
Some people might say it is as weird/closed off as North Korea and it sure feels that way. A local woman hosted us for the 3 days in her apartment, giving us a very good insight into the weirdness that is going on in the country. To give you an idea, below are some of the rules imposed by the president:
– Cars must be white.
– Cars must be clean at all times.
– All buildings are white.
– Dogs are not allowed in the capital.
– Men are not allowed to have long hair and beards.
– Gold teeth are not allowed.
– You have to know the book: the Runhama written by the previous president by heart.
This list goes on and on. Also all social media, youtube, google and VPNs are blocked. You might understand why Turkmenistan is ranked on the bottom of the Press freedom index list. Even below North Korea: https://rsf.org/en/ranking
All of this is very surreal, especially after walking around in the city for a few days. Most of the streets are empty, almost all the buildings are white and very very weird architecture. See the pictures below to get an impression of Ashgabat:
After spending a few days in the weirdest city on earth (Ashgabat) it was time to move on Iran! We had heard so many good stories about Iran that we were excited to get there. But first, we had to exit Turkmenistan, we were a bit nervous for the border crossing since our Transit visa stated a different exit point than the one we were gonna use. In the end no one really cared and within a few minutes we crossed into Iran! It was bring your kid to work day at the Iranian border because the border guard who stamped our passport had his young son with him in the booth. The young border guard even got to stamp Elisa’s passport!
Edit: we decided to dedicate a whole blog on Ashgabat, since it such a fun and weird city!
Finally in Iran! After almost 3 months in Central Asia, this was a new country: different culture, language, looks and smells! We haggled with one of the taxi drivers at the border and made our way to the first stop in Iran: the holy city of Mashhad.
We arrived in Mashhad at the end of the day and met up with our Couch surfing host. A super friendly couple (Ela & Mahdi) waited for us with a cake bought by their super sweet daughter Nila. Where we spend the rest of the evening sharing stories. This was a good introduction into the hospitality and friendliness of the Iranian people. Which is one of the best we have encountered.
Holiest city in Iran
The day after it was time to explore to city. Mashhad is famous for the Holi Shrine of Imam Reza, the place is very holy for Shia Muslims and is visited by millions of pilgrims each year.
Foreigners get a free tour throughout the entire complex guided by a Mullah who explains the entire complex and we even got snacks! The architecture and decoration of the place is beautiful.
Next to the Shrine is a small bazaar that is mostly filled with jewelry and Saffran. Mashhad is famous for its Saffran:
Confusing fun fact: currency
In Iran they use Rial, the official rate is €1 – Rial 47.000,-. But the black market rate is 120.000,-. This is the rate everyone uses. The make it more complicated they price everything in Toman which is 10 rials.
When they say something costs 40, they actually mean 400.000 Rial! You can imagine our confusion in the first few days in dealing with bazaars and taxi drivers.
It was time to say goodbye to Ela, Mahdi and Nila! We made our way to the bus station for the night bus to Tehran.
More stories about our adventures Iran will come 🙂 next stop: Tehran!