Thursday 23rd July – Tabriz to Zanjan via Kandovan
Lonely Planet recommends to visitors to Trabiz a visit to Kandovan, approx 60km south-east of Trabiz, and Ali – the retired English teacher we’d spoken to at the bazaar yesterday recommended it as well, so after leaving our Azerbayjan Hotel about 07:30am and stumbling across the road leading toward Kandovan whilst looking for the road to Zanjan, we agreed on a little detour. At one stage I’d got a bit lost inside a town enroute to Kandovan as it’s off the main road, so I pulled in to get some benzine and showed the attendant the Farsi that Ali had given me the day before and with that the attendant explained how I could get back on the right road. Iranians are so helpful!
Ali had described Kandovan as the Cappadocia of Iran, but when we arrived at the little village – and once we’d paid the bridge troll 50,000IRR to enter the village – we couldn’t quite see where to go. The village itself had a cobblestone street running parallel to a river, and on the other side we could see what looked like merchant’s stalls, perhaps enroute to a walk to see the sights, but neither of us were inclined to go exploring, and after an orange cordial drink and a few biscuits from the Tabriz bakery, we headed back north to Tabriz, enroute for Zanjan via the main road to Tehran.
Fortunately it was much easier for us to pick up the road to Tehran coming in from the south, and after dodging an ugly traffic snarl – road workers resurfacing the centre lanes of a four lane highway with no advance warning signs – we made our way steadily towards Zanjan.
We stopped once at a fuel stop for lunch, and met some lovely people – Reza and his friends from Esfahan, and Saaed and his wife, also from Esfahan. Both Reza and Saaed have invited us to join them in Esfahan when we pass through. Further down the road we stopped again at a roadside stall as Karen wanted to buy a sheet of rolled fruit, and Reza saw us and pulled over again for a quick chat, as did a gentleman in an old car that we’d overtaken a few times previously just to have him pass us – gesturing for us to stop for a drink as his wife waved to us. He couldn’t speak any English but we had a quick chat, and he drove off with a big smile on his face.
The landscape we passed through today was stunning in its beauty. The road passed through a mountain region, dry and parched except the for irrigated land in the valley that looked like it was being watered from bores as the river was dry. Further east we passed through a sedimentary area devoid of any plant life, but the colours in the earth brought the scenery to life.
We encountered a few toll booths but they all waved us through, sometimes asking first where we came from. About 85km west of Zanjan we turned off the six lane highway and picked up the “Old Road to Zanjan”, an old dual lane road that followed the contours of a river, and divided the market gardens from the dry slopes to the south. Just as I was applauding myself for not having been stopped once for speeding on the trip so far I caught the attention of two policemen standing next to their parked car, so whilst one policemen pointed out on my speedo what the limit on the road was (100kmh, a bit less than the 117kmh I was doing when flagged down), his offsider was having a photo opportunity with Karen. After a round of smiles and handshakes and greetings, they waved us off and we carried on down the road, just to be stopped at a police checkpoint by another young officer – this one just curious about where we had come from.
At this stage we were only about 15km out of Zanjan, so within a few minutes we were picking our way along the Main Street looking for a hotel – any hotel. A taxi driver had us follow him to the main square or roundabout, and we quickly spotted a hotel, so Karen jumped off the bike and entered to make the arrangements, whilst I wrestled the bike off the road and onto the footpath, out of the way of traffic. We checked in and parked the bike underground, and then after a shower had a stroll around town looking for food, which turned out to be surprisingly difficult, but the friendly and generous staff in the little hamburger joint we eventually located more than made up for the effort.
Back at our hotel it’s out with the iPad and Mac as we have four days of notes to catch up on – no rest for the wicked!!!!
About 8:00pm it dawned on us that Zanjan comes alive in the cool of the evening, as all the stalls that had been shut during our afternoon walk were opened up, and the footpaths were full of families out for a stroll. We went down to the street to join them, diving down some side alleys so Karen could check out a few manteau shops, and eventually found our way to the covered bazaar. I tried some small grape-like fruits offered in the fruit section – very bitter and tart but refreshing as well, and Karen snapped a few photos of sheep heads for sale. Back on the main road we slipped into a place advertising pizza, but it was essentially a bit like an Iranian Subway. Two young men came in for dinner and one of them – Amin – struck up a conversation with us.
Amin came from Kurdestan, and aged 18 he had just arrived in Zanjan the day before to start his compulsory 21-months military service. Prior to arriving at Zanjan he had aspired to study the sitar at a musical academy in Tehran, however despite teaching himself from books and videos due to the lack of music classes at his high school, he hadn’t been successful in the entrance examination. Amin was hopeful of being placed into the medical side of the military training, and planned once he finished his training to travel to Finland and study nursing as one of his aunts lives in Norway. Obtaining a passport was quite difficult he said, and completion of his military service would help towards getting a passport. We had a very pleasant conversation with Amin, and wished him the very best for the future.