The train pulled into Tehran central at around 9am. I fannied about for a while trying to find somewhere that would change my US dollars before heading off to the Indian embassy.
Some of you might remember a few months ago we ran the story about Mr. Samaddar, the chap from India who holds the current world record for visiting every country in the world. He did it flying, though, so I’m not treading on his toes with my record attempt. Mr. Samaddar got in touch with me not long afterwards and invited me for dinner when I arrive in Dubai were he lives, and asked if I needed any help with visas and stuff. I asked him if there was any way to get an Indian visa double-quick smart while on the road (it usually takes 10 working days). He suggested I talk to the embassy’s consul, so that’s what I attempted to do.
While in the queue attempting to make an appointment to speak with the consul I got chatting with a wonderfully friendly Iranian guy called Arash. I told him about my travels and he offered to show me where I could get some wi-fi action. After I had made my appointment, we headed out on the streets of Tehran – a remarkably cool city with a cracking backdrop of soaring mountains in the distance – reminded me of Santiago in Chile.
Eventually we found an internet café and we made arrangements to meet up later. While online I learnt two things – one was that I was now the OFFICIAL GUINNESS WORLD RECORD HOLDER for the most countries visited in one year without flying….
Kudos to Mandy and Lorna from Lonely Planet for sifting through all the evidence on my behalf.
The second thing I learnt was that this cruise from India to Sri Lanka and the Maldives was nothing but a mere apparition. It didn’t actually exist. Panic over, I could get my Indian visa all in good time. But still I headed back to the Indian embassy – no harm in at least trying – if I could pick up the visa on Sunday, it would be worth the wait. Otherwise, I’d press on to Kuwait and do the Arabian peninsular countries that I still had to visit.
But alas, it was a big no-no. The consul was friendly enough, but it was the old no exceptions rule (yes, we all know there are exceptions, but be nice). It looked like I’d be getting the overnight coach down south. I headed out of the embassy and met up with Arash again, who introduced me to his mate Arsi – a big fan of Radiohead and Maggie Gyllenhaal (who isn’t?). Arash then invited me back to his place for a bit of an impromptu party. Awesome!
First we went out for the obligatory kebab, walking back in the rain through the streets of Tehran with us all belting out a rendition of ‘Creep’ at the top of our lungs. We could have been walking back from the Krazy House. When we got back to Arash’s flat he copied all 3,000 of my kick-ass iPod tracks off my hard-drive along with my copy of Secretary, which Arsi was incredibly excited about – he had never seen it thanks to Iran’s draconian censorship laws. Then Arash pulled out the piece de resistance – a bottle of wine that he’d smuggled into the country and was saving for a good excuse.
After Arash invited a couple of his female friends around I marvelled at just how many of the stupid Iranian laws we were currently breaking. But, you know, we’re not children in a 1950s boarding school. Rules against alcohol, having girls round for dinner, covering your hair, all that kind of jazz… I mean, seriously… every chick in Iran (and, I’ve got to say, Persian chicks have GOT IT GOING ON!!) wears the little back hoodie uniform prescribed by the gruesome bearded old virgins who run the show, but they’re damned if they’re going to wear an inch of it more than they have to. As a consequence, the skirts are wonderfully short (jeans and sneakers underneath) and the hoods are worn as far back as they can get away with – what’s the point of going to the hairdressers if nobody can see your damn hair?
I hear you sister!
At first Arash was planning to join me on my trip down to Shiraz, but he changed his mind after the girls turned up (I don’t blame him) and so at 11pm I was bundled into a taxi and sent on my merry way. What top chaps! I’m beginning to really, really like Iran… I wonder what other treats it has in store?