Walking down to breakfast this morning, Oli met several rally teams- arriving late in the previous night, this was part of the major contingent heading due Eat towards Mashaad and the Turkmenistan border over 5 days. The first impressions of these teams was not optimistic; they all looked severely warn out and numbed by the journey so far – felt a sense of relief that we, Alpha Squad, were still by comparison very active, talking and cooperating within the team.
Saying our good-byes and wishing the teams good luck in reaching the border and the finish, we set out into Tehran for a tour of Iran’s capital and the highlights of the central district. First up, v the Iran National Museum, looking over various artefacts dating back to pre-history, up to the pre-Islamic period. Large examples of Persepolis’ ruins were also on display, along with some of the largest pottery we had ever seen, especially considering the age (5-7000 years old). It was an eye-opener to see such a collection dating back well before humans even ventured into England, and how advanced the Persians had become after a relatively short period in time. It was also intriguing to see such a display on public offering, surround by the spotlights of the Iranian Islamic Republic. I asked Reza about how this was reflected in the public eye, and in similar fashion to the UK of the early 20th Century, he described it as a balance. People accept in a balance, the teachings of Islam in varying degrees (Reza himself being very light and non-practising), and the history of where they had come from, and how humans had evolved.
Heading across the city, we quickly ventured into the Tehran subway – a 4 -line, 7-hub run of dual-line, air conditioned rail system raising the bar against the TFL London underground system. Admittedly the Chinese had put a lot of resources into providing such a system for Tehran, including comparatively large trains and a very intuitive train approach map, allowing anyone to see where the trains were at nearby stations.
We then took in the sites of the UNESCO heritage site of Golestan Palace – masterpiece of the Qatar era. Decorative buildings both inside and out surrounded a large garden square with water features throughout. We ventured into the Wind Palace – glass and crystals adorned every wall and ceiling, with widows allowing for cool drafts to flow through in the high summer. The main palace building was one of marble and crystal again; a throne room with gifts to the Shah (Qatar-Era King), and half domes that gave an impression of a room many times larger. We stopped in at the café in the palace gardens for a quick lunch; much confusion was made of who owed whom for the bill. Note to future teams – itemise bills per person!
Our final site of the day was the Tehran Bazaar – a sprawl square 20km-square, with approximately 200’000 independent sellers. This was but a brief visit; we happened upon a shrine, the Zadeh Zid Mosque in a similar style inside to that of the Shah-e Cheragh Mosque in Shiraz. We took the time to take in the sights of the inner-sanctum – it’s crystal-lined dome and walls were a sight to behold, akin to looking up into a perfectly clear night sky.
Reza guided us back out to the outer edge of the Bazaar and bought us all an ice cream or fruit smoothie – a popular stall around the Iranian town/city centres we had so far seen. Quite by accident we witnessed our first case of the so-called Morality Police – officers instructed to arrest anyone violating Iran’s strict dress code. Women were pointed out for having too little head cover, bundled into a police minibus, and hauled off. It was surreal to see this scene actually unfolding in front of us. Reza was insistent we should not take take photos of any law enforcement – implications of taking photo of government building and representatives were quite severe. We headed back to the hotel, taking in what we had seen in Iranian daily life and its many forms.