Editor’s Note: We have a special guest post, Photo Essay Iran, from travelers and adventurers John Fiddler and Kathleen Egan. The recently visited the country and share a unique look at Iran and it’s people – as well as it’s adventure sports.
Photo Essay Iran: Shifting Perspectives
Last spring, John Fiddler and Kathleen Egan managed to get a visa for Iran just days (or even hours) before the travel ban chaos ensued. It was a chance to combine love for travel, skiing, and climbing and changed their perception of Iran 1000%. Out of all the countries in the world they have visited, Iran is the absolute favorite. Below are some of their defining travel moments that took from the streets of Tehran to snow peaks of Mt. Damavand (the highest volcano in Asia), to small mountain villages. These moments changed their perception of Iran and it’s people. Discover their journey of shifting perspectives on Iran and enjoy their adventures.
Nou Rouz turned out to be a fantastic time to be in Iran. The Persian New Year is a time when Iranians travel around their country on vacation. People picnicking is a common site in parks and along the road side. Traveling at this time of year meant there were more cultural activities and music going on. We were able to meet people from all corners of Iran since they were all seeing the same historical sites. For many people we were the first Americans they had ever spoken to. (Photo: Kathleen Egan and John Fiddler.)
Mt. Damavand. The highest volcano in Asia at 18,403’ and a mountain of legend. In Zoroastrian mythology a three headed dragon was chained within. In other versions it was an evil emperor named Zahak that was imprisoned inside the volcano. It last erupted 7300 years ago and steam fumaroles (vents) can be seen at the top. Nowadays thousands climb the mountain during the summer and in the spring it is possible to ski the entire mountain. We found the Saheb al Zaman Mosque as we skied up to the Barghah Shelter halfway up the mountain. High winds and icy conditions kept us from being able to go over 15,000’ when we tried for the summit. (Photo: Kathleen Egan and John Fiddler)
Many people are surprised to find out that Iran has 20+ ski areas with the biggest and most famous being Dizin. The top of the mountain is 12,000+ feet high so it was a good place to acclimate for our upcoming Damavand adventure. From the top you can see 12,000’ to 15,000’+ peaks for as far as the eye can see. The backcountry skiing is boundless. Shemshak is another resort that is reported to be smaller but have steeper terrain. Many of the smaller resorts are just a short chairlift or T-bar. Iran has not been able to import a ski lift since before the Revolution (1979) so the tiny gondolas and fast moving non-detachable chairs were interesting relics. Our wide skis would not fit in the gondola ski racks since back then skis were much narrower. There were many signs on the mountain that “Iranian dress codes must be maintained at all time” but some girls were getting away with just a large headband. (Photo: Kathleen Egan and John Fiddler.)
As we passed through the bazaar in Kashan we stopped to admire a flute salesman’s wares. As is natural, he asked where we were from. When he heard the United States he immediately rummaged around and pulled out a music book. The next thing we knew we were being serenaded with “The Star Spangled Banner” on an Iranian flute. It is different from the classic orchestral flute. Instead of blowing over it you stick the end between the front teeth and blow, playing it more like a recorder. Afterward he told us that he had never met Americans to play that to and that he wanted our email addresses so that he could practice and send us a video with a better rendition. (Photo: Kathleen Egan and John Fiddler.)
The food to us was a mix between Turkish and Indian which makes sense geographically. It had a wonderful mix of exotic spice blends. Beef, lamb, and chicken either as kabobs or mixed into vegetables and fruits such as apricot, dates, and prunes. A favorite of ours was a stew called “dizzy” which came in a bowl with a pestle to grind up the vegetables into each other. Flat breads were served with each meal. In the bazaars spice shops would have large mounds of all the different choices as seen above. (Photo: Kathleen Egan and John Fiddler.)
Iran is still psychologically scarred from the effects of the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s. In 1980 Iraq invaded Iran hoping to take advantage of the post Revolution chaos to take control of additional oil fields. They were quickly repelled and the war bogged into a WW I type affair with extensive trenches, human wave attacks, and the use of chemical weapons by Saddam Hussein’s troops. Over half a million men and boys died over those years. Every town had signs (like above), posters, and street names commemorating the fallen martyrs. (Photo: Kathleen Egan and John Fiddler.)
Driving is by far the most dangerous thing about being in Iran. Both crossing the street and riding in a vehicle involve risk. Car lanes are not really a thing. You would be surprised to know that on a 2 lane street it is possible to line up 4 cars and a motorcycle in that space. Turn signals are optional and oncoming traffic is only partially a deterrent. When crossing the street it is recommended to do it at the same time as a local person and keep that person on the side of the oncoming traffic. Photo: (Kathleen Egan and John Fiddler.)
Women have a large and expanding role in Iranian society. School is encouraged and the literacy rate is 97% in the younger people. Just under 50% of university students are female including a majority in the natural sciences. At least in the cities we saw women pushing the cultural boundaries of what is acceptable. As this process has happened across the nation women have started to gain more freedom than they did even 10 years ago. (Photo: Kathleen Egan and John Fiddler.)
An old door in Abyaneh. There are separate door knockers for each sex. This would allow the people inside to know who should open the door and what to wear under Islamic culture. Everything about this ancient village seemed to tell a story. (Photo: Kathleen Egan and John Fiddler)
Three older women in the village of Abyaneh. Most of the young people have moved out of the smaller villages into the cities leaving the elderly behind. Only 300 people live here now. This village is known as one of the longest continuously inhabited settlements in the world at over 2500 years. A Zoroastrian fire temple was built there in the 3rd century CE and overlooking the town is a 13th century fort. (Photo: Kathleen Egan and John Fiddler)
About the Authors: John Fiddler and Kathleen Egan
Within an hour of meeting, John and Kathleen started talking about taking a trip around the world for a year. Three years later the plan had developed into a three year trip around the world. Tales of those adventures can be found at www.knuckleheadadventuretours.blogspot.com. Kathleen can be followed on Instagram @ kathleen_egan. Now based back in Seattle they spend their time trail running, climbing, and skiing while plotting their next adventure. To pay the bills John works as an Emergency/Critical Care veterinarian and Kathleen is working for a hydration pack company called Ultraspire. Last spring they managed to get a visa for Iran just days (or even hours) before the travel ban chaos ensued. It was a chance to combine love for travel, skiing, and climbing and changed their perception of Iran 1000%. Out of all the countries in the world they have visited, Iran is the absolute favorite.