It was time to leave the strange and bizarre city of Ashgabat and time for my last border crossing in Central Asia. I was leaving behind one of the least visited regions in the world. A region full of domineering and beautiful mountains, endless deserts, stunning blue-tiled buildings, exotic and colourful markets, and a wonderfully rich history.
I was bound for misunderstood Iran!
By now I’d been travelling in Central Asia for a couple of months and had a few border crossings under my belt. But my border crossing into Iran from Turkmenistan proved once again that border crossings in this part of the world were far from ordinary and full of surprises!
I was fortunate enough to team up with a fellow backpacker from Sweden for the border crossing and knowing we had a long journey ahead of us we met up early the next morning in central Ashgabat close to my hotel.
We weren’t quite sure how easy it would be to find a taxi to take us the short distance to the border but we were pleasantly surprised when a car stopped nearly as soon as we tried. Whether it was an actual taxi though, who knows?
We arrived at the border to find long queues of locals pressed up against a fence. As foreigners and tourists we were lucky to be waved forward and we presented our passports to a man inside a small building. He checked our passports and then it was time to work out what next.
On this side of the fence people were milling around and after a short amount of time a mini-van pulled up. As it did the local people rushed at it in a frenzy! We were a little puzzled and after watching this happen a few times we figured this must be the way through no-mans land to the actual border.
When the next mini-van arrived we rushed at it like the locals, in a crazed frenzy! I was pushed really hard from both sides by the local women. These women were broad shouldered and strong! Throughout all this pushing and shoving I was wearing my rather large backpack. I somehow managed to pass my backpack to the driver to put in the back and in the melee I ended up in the back squeezed next to my traveling companion and lots of local women.
The mini-van climbed a winding path into the mountains for at least 20 minutes or more, and we started to realise why we’d been charged USD10. When we arrived we were the last to reach the actual passport control office as we’d been at the back of the mini-van.
There was one small window for immigration processing surrounded by local women. We tried to push to front and once again I found myself being forcefully pushed to the side by the strong local women. I tried again and quickly realised I had no chance against these determined women.
Somehow they didn’t bother by male travel companion and he managed to push to the window without any problems.
Eventually it was my turn to present my passport. It was quickly checked and I was stamped out of Turkmenistan.
A quick pause to allow me to don my headscarf and cover my hair, and we were on our war to the Iranian border control. As we approached the Iranian immigration a soldier approached us, took our passports and indicated we should walk into the building in front of us without them.
Inside we waited and soon the soldier appeared with a stack of passports. He gave them to some other officials and after more waiting our names were called. We were given our passports and told to go to another window. Here we were stamped in and then one final check with customs and we were finally in Iran!!
There were no buses so we decided to take a taxi to Mashhad. We agreed the price of USD30 but as soon as left the taxi driver started demanding more money. My travel companion argued the negotiated price was USD30 not USD35. They argued back and forth for a very long time. It was extremely frustrating!
After a long four hours we finally reached Mashhad and the welcoming hospitality that is Vali’s Homestay!! My final Central Asian border crossing was complete and I was excited to explore Iran.
I stayed at Hotel Dayhan whilst in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan.
For detailed information about border crossings in Central Asia I highly recommend the excellent www.carvanistan.com