Day 19: Green Iran and Turkmen Hospitality
Lowe and the waterfalls
After our host offered us fresh bread for breakfast, we went on a short car ride into the hills for seeing Lowe waterfalls. Wonderfully embedded into the green forest it was a lovely place to start the day. And because it had rained during the night, the colors of the leaves were even more vibrant and the hills were partially wrapped in clouds.
After we returned to the house where we spent the night, the host asked us to pay for the room. However, we already paid for the very same room on arrival, but he assures us that he did not receive the money. When we paid the driver yesterday, we have him 500’000 Rials for the ride and 500’000 Rials for the apartment, which we thought he forwarded to either the host or his friend. So in the end, he asked for another 500’000 Rials, which we were not willing to spend, because the price for the room was already at the upper bound of what we were willing to spend.
It is the first time since my arrival in Iran 2.5 weeks ago that we run in these issues. At least one of the three involved persons (driver, host, or his friend) has a different understanding of honesty as we do. We ended up resolving the situation by giving the host some additional money so at least his expenses (bread, water, etc.) were covered, in case he was actually honest and did not receive the money.
Cycling Through Golestan National Park
At around 10:30 we hit the road. We followed 10 km the busy highway until we finally reached the steep but low-traffic gravel road into Golestan National Park. It was a relief after many days of driving on a highway with dozens of trucks to finally hear nature again when cycling.
We started with a steep 10% ascent for about 800 altitude meters. It took us around 2 hours to manage this climb, but the view on the green fields from the top of the hill back into the valley where we came from was wonderful. After a short lunch stop on the hill we descended into a more remote valley in the park, however, it is not comparable with the remoteness of National Parks I know from the US or Switzerland. There were many villages, farmers, children on their motorcycles, etc.
Up and down – left and right
The road through the valleys of the park are treacherous. Over the long run they are flat and follow the valley, but on a local scale, they go up and down the whole time. Basically, each village was in an elevated position, and between the villages we had to descent to a side river which carved a valley into the landscape and climb again to the next village. A quite exhausting experience, we did that at least a dozen times today. But the landscape was just stunning, so it was still worth the extra effort.
Turkmen people in Iran
Golestan is inhabited mostly by the Turkmen people who, as I was told, migrated from neighboring Turkmenistan during the war in 1881. Turkmen are different from Iranians in the sense that they speak their own language in addition to Farsi and that at least the ones that I met are Sunnites instead of Shiites like the rest of Iran. When cycling through their lands, you realize that they are different from the Iranians, they seem more secluded, but that does not mean they are not as welcoming as the Iranians. See next section.
Arriving in Badianly
After countless ascents and descents with the bike, when going through a village called Badianly, we decided to stay around there during the night. The village has only 300 human inhabitants (and 500 sheep as we were told) and does not exist on Google Maps, we could however see on the satellite image that there are a few buildings. When we entered the village with our bikes, the children immediately stopped playing football and ran towards us. In no time we were surrounded by at least 20 children and also some adults who followed us through the village. I wonder when that village has seen the last tourist. It was then a local family who invited us for a tea which we happily accepted.
That’s when one of the most memorable evenings here in Iran started. As often when being invited for a tea, we were afterwards invited to stay for the evening and the night at the house. This was very welcome because it was getting dark and cold outside.
Badianly is a village on the countryside where religion still plays a central role. Therefore Lucie got dressed up by local women according to their dress code (see picture in gallery), then she was taken around the village to be photographed with other families, while I enjoyed a moto ride on the hill too see the hills in the evening. For dinner we were asked if we would like Kebab from fresh sheep meat for dinner. We agreed because we both felt like eating meat again.
Getting the meat for Kebab
What we did not realize when agreeing for Kebab is that fresh meat means, that the sheep was still alive when we were asked the question. Only when they showed up with a living sheep in the garden and a giant knife we understood what is going on. They are killing a sheep extra for us to show us their hospitality and feed us with meat! Even though we both felt a bit sorry for the sheep, we both knew it was pointless to convince them not to kill the sheep. They were very proud to sacrifice one of their three sheep for us and would have been very disappointed if we changed our mind.
So things went how they went and two hours later we ate very delicious Kebab from the grill. I don’t remember if I ever ate mutton, but I have to say, the meat was excellent. They were so proud of their meat, they even offered us an extra portion when we were already in bed. We refused however.
Religious evening program
After dinner, it seemed that half the village assembled at the host family’s house. At some point there were around 60 people in the two room measuring 20 m2 each. As it is a traditional Islamic village, Lucie spent her evening with around 30 girls and women, while I had the pleasure to spend my evening with the same number of boys and men.
The topics were the same for me and Lucie: Religion. I was basically facing 30 Muslim men, all strong believers, and was interrogated about my religion, played me recordings from prayers, made prayers every now and then. It was a quite challenging situation. Even though I am still member of a church, by no means I live religion the way they do, and when they asked me, how I believe life on earth was created, it was basically impossible to explain them what the evolution theory is and why I don’t believe that God created the world in 7 days.
However, I have to clearly point out that even though I don’t share their religion and views at all, they always respected my opinion and at no point did they judge me about my beliefs or try to convert me in any way or mobbing me for being different. The Islam as it is lived by the Turkmen here in Iran is very conservative, but in accordance with the Koran. And the Koran asks of every Muslim to be tolerant.
Max elevation: 1226 m
Min elevation: 299 m
Total climbing: 1651 m
Total descent: -1398 m
Total Time: 07:19:24