A Travellerspoint blog

One Dirty Traveller

There are a couple of girls I wouldn’t mind to impress with my worldliness when I get back – this is not gonna help me…

sunny 35 °C
View Asia Less Travelled on askgudmundsen's travel map.

No Shower in the Cave Hotel

No Shower in the Cave Hotel

Travelling often reminds me of attending a festival. I’ve changed my daily routine, I’m absolutely free to do with the day’s 24 hours as I please and the normal rules for when to drink, relax and shower gets somewhat blurred. In fact, they often disappear altogether!
Granted, I’ve never been a freakish about my personal hygiene at home, but I usually take my daily shower, at least on days where I plan to actually leave my apartment. Anyway, I’m sure I have a rather complementary natural scent as my roommates and friends rarely complain. But I know people back home, in comparison, which would shower up to three times a day – that’s just silly.

Bath and Clothes Wash

Bath and Clothes Wash

These people probably won’t continue talking to me once I’m back after they read this. But personal hygiene just isn’t that important when I’m on the road. And I’m not alone to embrace these doubtful standards of cleanliness. Loads of fellow travellers’ standards drop when they leave home on longer trips. I like to think that it’s somehow related to the historic and romantic notions of travelling. James Cook’s sailors, the great African explorers or the first settlers of the Wild West weren’t too concerned with showers in the face of the rather dire odds for survival… But that is hardly an excuse in this day and age.
Or is it? I have, plenty of times, on this trip gone for days without getting close to a shower. Days and days where the closest to a shower I got was when I spilled water on my shirt while trying to drink it… The longest runs have probably been longer than ten days, but I haven’t really counted – that would be too disgusting!

Desert 'Camp'

Desert 'Camp'

Some of my rock-bottom accommodation didn’t have a shower (or what they called ‘showers’ would have made me even dirtier had I dared enter). For nights in a row I have been travelling on night trains or night buses, gone trekking in the mountains or camping in the dessert. Showers won’t be available for days like those, though other times I just haven’t bothered getting clean.

Somehow it just seem to be a good idea to mentally accept that you’re kind of filthy, sweaty and wearing dirty clothes in order to enjoy travelling around on a budget. When it’s not always determined when I’m gonna get my next shower, it’s just easier not to care. And once you’re there, it becomes hard to bother – even if there’s a shower right next to the dorm.

Bazaars Die Down

Bazaars Die Down

When temperatures hit 35+ you’ll be sweaty again minutes after you’ve showered, dust will cover you as soon you step outside and the dirty clothes (I’m only packing two trousers and less than a handful of boxers, which get less washed than me) suddenly feels very disgusting on my clean, baby-powdered skin.
I mean, I still brush my teeth and tongue, I still use my deo and I still splash my upper body in a sink-shower most mornings – but actually taking a full shower? I really can’t be bothered taking the time out of my schedule for that. I get up too late most mornings anyway. There always seem to be a bus leaving soon, a bazaar about to close or an epic sunrise I need to catch.

One Dirty Traveller

One Dirty Traveller

And evenings… If I’m during this travelling right am I often too exhausted – or drunk – to do anything that just flat out on a teabed or in my dorm. Usually discussing the day’s findings, the visa requirements for different citizens (for countries I’m not going to anytime soon) or whether there is an Irish Pub in Kabul (there is) or North Korea (there isn’t) with my fellow travellers. And who can possibly find the strength to get up in the middle of blood racing topics like that?

I’d almost argue that being covered in a layer of old sweat, dust and sunscreen is healthy. At least it makes me very comfortable with all my small shortcomings that people are still willing to share rooms and talk to me in such a condition… And as long as nobody can actually smell me, I really don’t need a shower… Right..?

Posted by askgudmundsen 14.08.2013 11:11 Archived in Iran Tagged dirty bath shower clean travelling wash Comments (0)

Iran’s Bazaars

Less about shopping and more about people-watching, soaking up the atmosphere and a feel of a world far, far from home.

sunny 35 °C
View Asia Less Travelled on askgudmundsen's travel map.

Mountain of Spices, Shiraz' Bazaar

Mountain of Spices, Shiraz' Bazaar

There is really only one way to visit Iran’s bazaars: Get lost! And chances are that you’re gonna get lost no matter what, so embrace it: Just wander aimlessly and hit upon one beautiful hall or interesting shop after another by change.

Bazaar Timchech, Tabriz

Bazaar Timchech, Tabriz

Getting lost in Iran’s bazaars is one of the absolutely best ways to spent time in the country. Every city has at least one and they are all structured fairly similarly: A maze of madrassas (religious schools with an attached mosque), caravanserais (open courtyards), timchehs (domed halls), and narrow arch-covered lanes, twinkling in every possible direction. A few of these passageways will be slightly wider and act as the main thoroughfares.
The biggest and most important is Tehran’s bazaar, the prettiest – and Unesco World Heritage listed – is the bazaar in Tabriz, while the most atmospheric arguably is Shiraz’. Other great bazaars are to be found in Esfahan, Kerman and Kashan, but really, every Iranian bazaar is a unique window in to local Iranian life!

Golshan Caravanserai, Kerman

Golshan Caravanserai, Kerman


And an unnamed Old Cavanaserai in Tehran

And an unnamed Old Cavanaserai in Tehran

Men at Work

Men at Work

While you wander, try keeping an eye one the shops and alleys you pass. It is not always easy as it can be tricky to navigate through the hordes of people and jump out of the way for busy workmen pushing wagons loaded with goods… Or odd motorbike mindlessly shooting through the crowds. If it all gets too much, pause. Join a carpet seller or handicraft maker for a cup of tea and watch the busy world pass through the covered lanes.
If you don’t want to have your ear twisted about Persian rugs or handmade figures carved in camel bone, retreat to one of the teahouses that are always hidden, halfway underground, in the bazaars.

Bazari on a Break

Bazari on a Break

Depending on the time of day they are perfect for watching the bazaaris (bazaar shopkeepers) or local shoppers socialising.

Teahouses come in two variants: The authentic and the ‘traditional’. The former being unattractive, cheap and full of bazaaris having lunch or just a break, while the latter – often set in old hammams (bathhouses) – are stunningly beautiful, more expensive and inhabited by a mix of regulars (men only) and shoppers adding some relaxation to their shopping. Both kinds are well worth spending some time in.
Just make sure you don’t set out for your bazaar adventure on a Friday. You will have your hopes of catching a glimpse of local life shattered by the fact that everything is closed and all the bazaaris have gone to the mosque....

Traditional Teahouse, Kerman

Traditional Teahouse, Kerman

Tehran's Carpet Bazaar

Tehran's Carpet Bazaar


And search for more bazaar-photos yourself, among my photos from Iran...

Posted by askgudmundsen 14.08.2013 10:25 Archived in Iran Tagged market shopping bazaar sight iran bazar Comments (0)

Travelling During Ramadan

Some might think it’s a terrible trial, and while I in no way welcomed the Ramadan it makes for an interesting challenge for the head-on traveller.

sunny 40 °C
View Asia Less Travelled on askgudmundsen's travel map.

No food, no drinks, no smoking; none of this during daylight hours for a month. The holy month of Ramadan is – depending on who you’ll ask – a test of faith, an occasion to remember the poor or a cleansing of soul and body. Half of my visit to Iran took place during the Ramadan and it did add a level extra to the country – in both positive and negative ways.

Empty Teahouse

Empty Teahouse

For the traveller experiencing this month, it is an interesting view into Islamic culture, especially here in Iran where the month is taken very serious by the government too. But it is not necessarily all a positive experience in local culture. I found two aspects of the Ramadan particularly terrible as a guest. Firstly everybody stopped inviting me for tea, from the shopkeeper to the guy giving directions. And secondly, most restaurants shot close, not only for daylight hours, but for the entire month. Ramadan means missing out of many a cultural encounter, interesting conversations and culinary experiences.

But what about the hunger, did I really have to fast like everybody else? Not really, the Koran states that neither non-Muslims nor travellers are bound to fast. Neither are the sick, menstruating women, children or the old. The religion here shows its more pragmatic sense of 8th century thinking. Travellers where riding or walking and need the energy to survive, so is the case for the rest of the groups mentions.

Smoking the Qulyan in Hiding

Smoking the Qulyan in Hiding

This doesn’t mean that I as a Christian traveller am not affected by the Ramadan. It is very, very bad form for anybody from these groups (maybe except children) to eat and drink in front of anybody fasting. You might think I don’t need to care, but how would you feel having to look at a guest eating while you had to fast? And after all, I choose to visit Iran during Ramadan – if I didn’t want to follow the social rules I should have stayed away or visited at another time.

Indeed it was hard not to drink on a four hour afternoon trip to an ancient pyramid-temple under a burning sun and 40 degree Celsius in the shade (not that there was any in the desert anyway).

Visiting Pyramid Temple

Visiting Pyramid Temple

Luckily, not everybody down here follow the Ramadan, plenty of people ignore it – at least in parts. Some fellow travellers have called these local hypocritical, but are clearly forgetting that hypercritic is a buzz-word when talking about any kind of religion. And that even if you believe in the one true God and that Mohammed is his prophet you might find it a little silly to still be following rules and preaching’s 1300 years old.

So how did I actually survive travelling during the Ramadan? Here follows a few tips:

  • The summer sun rises at 6 a.m. I’m not getting up before that to eat breakfast! Instead buy something for breakfast the night before and eat it in your room. If your hotel restaurant doesn’t stay open for all its travelling guests, that is.

    Ramadan Open Fast Food Joint

    Ramadan Open Fast Food Joint

  • Learn how to identify open restaurants. Their windows are usually covered by newspaper and they look somewhat under construction.
  • Carry a small bottle of water hidden in your bag and sneak in to an alley, or somewhere else where people won’t see you taking a quick drink. Especially important when temperatures hit 35+.
  • Travel in more pragmatic parts of the country. Iran is divided in to plenty of areas with different ethnic majorities. The Kurdish west and Turkic northeast are good places to find least fanatic fasters while the east and to a lesser degree central Iran are more problematic.

That Important Tea

That Important Tea

  • Locate the nearest Armenian Quarter. The Armenians are Christians and restaurants stay open in their neighbourhoods. Churches and cathedrals are also surrounded by high walls making their garden good places for picnics!
  • Take night or evening buses. While the sun won’t set before 8 p.m. the fact that travellers does not need to fast keeps (very bad, but very cheap) restaurants at bus terminals and train stations open. Getting on a bus in the early evening will secure a late lunch. Combine this with a late breakfast and you can go the day without worry.

So while it might be more challenging and less fun to travel during Ramadan it is in no way impossible and you don’t need to think far ahead to make it work. Most frustrating are the lack of traditional meals, and invitations for tea and the conversations that follow!

Posted by askgudmundsen 08.08.2013 11:31 Archived in Iran Tagged travel travelling iran ramadan fasting surviving Comments (0)

Iranian Kurdistan

Iranians 'brag' about having the World's slowest and least reliable internet, so I've been off the blog for a while: Here's a re-launch! Welcome to Iran - where you'll be passed up in an alley and offered a nights sleep and breakfast free of charge!

sunny 35 °C
View Asia Less Travelled on askgudmundsen's travel map.

Despite having their languish, national costume and a number of cultural events outlawed by the Iranian regime the Kurds does stay obsequiously Kurdish. Many other Iranians view the Kurds as dangerous – a misconception like the one, Westerners has towards Iranians. The Kurds counter this unfair perception by being kinder and more hospitality than one of the World’s friendliest people; the Iranians.

Kurdish Mountainside Village

Kurdish Mountainside Village

My first experience with the province came in the form of a night bus from Northern Iran to the city of Sanandaj, the Kordistan capital, where I arrived at the ungodly time three in the morning. Getting on a taxi, driven downtown and left in front of a way-too-expensive hotel, I had a nice night-time walk down the main street only to find my to guesthouse options shut (either for the night or for good).

Of course it is still Iran<img class='img' src='http://www.travellerspoint.com/Emoticons/icon_wink.gif' width='15' height='15' alt=';)' title='' />

Of course it is still Iran;)

Wondering what to do next two guys show up, cornering me off so I can get out of the portal that makes it for the shut hotel entrance. I (very) broken English the first question is the same every Iranian will ask: “Where’re you from?”
Verily about being passed up in the middle of the night, but unable to make an escape I put on my biggest of smiles – one normally reserved for crooked officials and embassy bureaucrats – answer them and hold my breath.

When they inform me that the hotel was, clearly, closed I agreed with an it’ll-be-alright attitude, but the whole situation seems to turn out alright. And indeed it does… The two guys are a couple of orphanage, jobless teenagers on their way home. From what was never answered and it didn’t seem like a subject I should push too hard on.

Orphanage Housing

Orphanage Housing

Their ‘house’ was an old crumbling ruin of a building with only a single room still having its window intact. Inside it, I was but up on one of the two bunk beds. None of them had any mattresses or covers, but somehow they found a blanket I could lie on while they went off to some other room to sleep
To make that kind act of hospitability truly insane they insisted on buying me breakfast the next morning, and it might only have been worth a couple of dollars, but that was guaranteed a notable size of their budget. The only sensible thing was to hide around five bucks under the blanket as a token of my gratitude.

Palangan Village

Palangan Village

Heading for the picturous mountainside village of Palangan next I made my way out there, with the only incident of kindness being that the taxi driver did not try to rip me off.
Once out there four guys on a road-trip add me to their crew. Not only for a two hour drive round in the mountains, but also for the 100 km back to their home towns. Dinner is taken at one’s family, his father being one of the most interesting men I’ve ever met!

Roadtrip Buddies

Roadtrip Buddies

A local high school teacher in Persian literature, all his students are Kurdish like himself, but since Kurdish languish is banned in public he’d sat up secret operation teaching Kurdish languish and literature – as well as other cultural subjects and unbiased history – with a couple of other teachers.
Highly illegal, if caught they would risk (and surely get) long prison sentences, but they insist keeping their culture and national treasures intact is worth it. If students can’t or don’t dare to enter the secret teachings they can at a minimum load Kurdish books and literature (also illegal) home with them.

Kurdish Family Dinner

Kurdish Family Dinner

Besides this, the dinner conversations spun around a future independent/autonomous Kurdistan in Northern Iraq, Iranian society, word politics and anything Danish. Sadly, only my some of my road-tripping friends spoke English, so all if this was done through interpretations. Otherwise I might just have stayed and converted for a lot longer!

The night was spent at one of the guys’ home – of course he insisted on setting me up in the guest room. Taking a rest I spent most of the next day, chilling with him, his family, plenty of tea and BBC World. Satellites are just another thing that’s illegal in Iran – bringing in uncontrolled news and thoughts are highly dangerous for any conservative regime. But somehow, often no less than a day after police raids, satellites are back on the rooftops, just as numerous as before!

Water Piped Relaxation

Water Piped Relaxation

Leaving actually proved difficult as the entire family insisted that I stayed another night and I had to pull together all my best visa-is-expiring-soon excuses to get out of there. But not without one last token of kind hospitality; a partnering gift of traditional Kurdish pants – probably the most comfortable piece of clothes I’ve ever had touching my body!

Posted by askgudmundsen 04.08.2013 06:37 Archived in Iran Tagged friends iran hospitality kurdistan kurdish Comments (0)

De Facto States and Cold Wars

Stuck between Russia, Turkey and Iran, the three countries of the in the Caucasus shares little. An exception is a number of de facto states and cold wars…

overcast 30 °C
View Asia Less Travelled on askgudmundsen's travel map.

The iron netting in the lower part of the gate had already been kicked in, so access to the courtyard was easy. Inside a concrete skeleton of a mosque was all that remained…

Nagorno-Karabakh's Foreign Ministry

Nagorno-Karabakh's Foreign Ministry

Most people have heard about South Ossetia because of the 2008 Russian-Georgian War that resulted in Russian control of the Georgian province. I tried to get in, but got turned back by the last Georgian check post, making the province the only of three de facto states in the Caucasus that is inaccessible for travelers. The easiest to access is Abkhazia, also in what is official Georgian territory, on the Black Sea coast. It has been quasi-independent since the early nineteenth and just as South Ossetia it is backed by Russia.
More interesting however is the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR), tugged into the mountains of southeastern Azerbaijan (at least if you ask the UN or your government). Recognized by no-one the province claim independence, but is in reality controlled by Armenia, just as the people remaining are all Armenian.

Memorial/War Museum

Memorial/War Museum

The conflict started in 1989 when local guerillas fought the Soviet and Azeri armies before tit turned into a full blown and bloody war as the Soviet Union collapsed. Mainly between the armies of Armenia and Azerbaijan (backed by Turkish officers), smaller Armenia had conquered both the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh and about 9 % of Azerbaijan when a shaky ceasefire was agreed in 1994.
It wasn’t pretty; both sides committed atrocities and took part in ethnic cleansing (more forcing people to flee than actually killing them). To this day there are still sporadic skirmishes along the ceasefire line…

NKR Mountains

NKR Mountains

So why go there? Because I am – as a student of international relations – hopelessly intrigued by these de facto states and the idea of secession. There is however plenty to keep the casual visitor interested, other than the post-war sights of building rippled by bullet holes, abandoned cities and war memorial museums: Beautiful pine-covered mountains, some fascinating Armenian monasteries and historical towns like Sushi – cradle of both Armenian and Azeri culture.
Though the most moving, though-provoking and unique parts of NKR are related to the war. All but one of the province mosques are mere concrete skeletons, ripped of everything valuable by scavengers as the Armenians are Armenian Christians and the Azerbaijanis Shia Muslims.

Defaced Mosque

Defaced Mosque

The mosques are usually fenced off, but in some are still accessible like the one in Sushi where the fence has been kicked in. So why go trespassing on for religious sites like this, not considering the emotional part of the empty concrete shells that used to house so many religious feelings the minarets (rocky and dangerously leaning as they are) are perfect spots for 360 degree views of the towns and cities you’re in as well as the surrounding valleys and mountains.

The Destroyed City of Agdam

The Destroyed City of Agdam

Nowhere more than NKR’s most interesting place of visit: the abandoned city of Agdam. Not part of the Nagorno-Karabakh province, but part of those 9 % of conquered Azerbaijan 55.000 Azerbaijanis used to live in the city, with another 100.000 in the rural areas around it. Only a handful is left…
As a military zone it is strictly off-limit to foreigners and three French guys got turned back at the entry to the city hours before I arrived. However, my taxi-driver was able to navigate the back streets, avoiding any of the military checkpoints getting me into the city.

If you can call it a city, there’s nothing much left after it was captured, sacked and looted. For the last decades professional scavengers and the local NKR population have picked clean anything of value and they are still removing bricks for cheap building material.

Bricks being driven away

Bricks being driven away

Shredded playgrounds sprout with shrubs, the streets are cracking open with trees, and ponds fill in bomb craters. Tall, shattered tower blocks stand in the distance, past a sprawling city center of one- and two-story buildings. Towering over the former central square stands a towering mosque – sadly defaced – where I climbed one of the minarets granting me a 360-degree view of the crumbling and overgrown city.

Agdam Ruin

Agdam Ruin

It’s a sad experience in the human tragedy of war and their damages, especially when considering that the 150.000 former inhabitants still live in temporary refugee shelters in Azerbaijan.

Posted by askgudmundsen 01.08.2013 09:09 Archived in Azerbaijan Tagged war azerbaijan armenia karabakh stepanakert agdam shushi de_facto Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 5 of 45) Page [1] 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 »