Continued from … Kurdistan!
I was waiting in Van, Turkey for the Trans-Asia express that runs from Ankara, Turkey (originally Istanbul) to Tehran, Iran. The train that left Ankara almost 36 hours earlier, was due to arrive in Van at about half past nine at night. But it finally arrived around midnight, about 2 and half hours late, which we learnt later that was not very late. Inside the train, I was greeted in my bay by two Iranian postgrad students studying in Ankara who were going home to Iran for holidays. It was about a two hour journey to the border at Kapıköy and just as we finished chatting and fell asleep, the train pulled into the station at 3am. We got down, went to the office and got our passports stamped with an exit stamp from Turkey. I remembered my postcards and just as a random thing, asked the border guards if there’s a post office in the station, and to my absolute surprise there was one and it was open at 3 am! It wasn’t an ‘office’ but just one employee handling the letters. I handed over my postcards and watched as he stamped them. I wasn’t confident at all that these postcards would actually make it around the world (UPDATE: it actually worked, and everyone received them!)
At the border I met up with a few more travellers from France and Belgium. One of them, Gaspard was travelling by land all the way from Belgium to Auroville in Tamil Nadu, India! We had a quick intro session with each other and went back into the train to get some sleep. The train was originally supposed to arrive at Tabriz at 06:30 am. But it finally left Kapıköy at 06:30! I was still hopeful to go around Tabriz a bit since it was just a 200km journey further and my next train in the evening going out of Tabriz was only at around 17:30.
I was glued to the window as we crossed slowly through the border into Iran through hills covered with snow. It took almost an hour for the 5 km ride to the Iranian border station Razi. We pulled in at about 08:15 am Iran time. Iranian border guards came in and collected all our passports and after a few minutes returned them with an entry stamp into Iran. I was relieved that it was so quick! But little did I know, the day was just beginning!
We were asked to get down, but this time unlike the Turkish side of the border, it was not just us, but also all our belongings. We waited patiently in the queue for about 3 hours as they searched everyone’s bags thoroughly. Finally it was our turn – the foreigners. The guards checking the bags looked at our passports – Indian, Swiss and Belgian and just waved at us smiling, and asked us to get back into the train. They didn’t even touch our bags, let alone open them! We had waited all this while for nothing!
The train finally left the border station at about 12:45. By now, I had given up all hopes for having any time in Tabriz. I was just keeping my fingers crossed that I could at least catch my next train! We gathered in the restaurant car and had coffee – the only thing they had! Gaspard told us about his paper balloon project – https://balloonarchitecture.wordpress.com/. It was a really cool idea! All of us contributed our ‘art’ by drawing our hand prints! It was a calm journey around Lake Urmia. Our fellow travellers spoke about how once it was a much bigger lake than what it is now.
By now, I had bonded so much with my fellow travellers that I didn’t want to get off in Tabriz and take another train to Tehran, since this one was going to Tehran anyway! I asked the ticket collector if I could extend my journey on this same train. He reassured me that I could make it on time before the next train leaves from Tabriz. We finally reached Tabriz at 16:30, after a delay of 10 hours! The 10 hours that I had initially planned to spend going around Tabriz! I felt really sad saying goodbye to all the fellow travellers, as I got down in Tabriz and made my way to the local Iranian train to Tehran that left at 17:15.
Continued here … Tehran – A warm welcome