Through the Kopet Dagh Maountains
North of Mashhad the Kopet Dagh Mountains seem like the natural place for the border of Iran. The mountains mark the edge of the Iranian Plateau like a giant doorstep. The height of the land south of the mountains is generally around 800 m while to the north of the mountains the Karakum destert is close to sea level. The highest peak of the mountains is 3191 m above sea level.
On this day we travelled from Mashhad to the border of Turkmenistan which is in the middle of the mountains. We had an appointment to meet our 'guide' (nanny) the next morning on the other side.
The Kopet Dagh Mountains are part of the range of mountains that are the backdrop to much of the Silk Road. From the Pontides of northern Turkey through the Lesser Caucasus in Georgia and Armenia, the Alborz that border the Caspian coast of northern Iran and into the Kopet Dagh which rise from the southern edge of the Karakum desert. They join in the east with the Pamirs, the Hindu Kush and the High Himalaya to form a snow-capped region that is called the roof of the world.
We waved goodbye to the Ayatollah.
We arrived at a small town and the person who I was sat next to on the bus was very helpful in negotiating a good deal for us to get a taxi to the Turkmen border some 3 hours' drive north through the mountains.
It was pretty remote. We passed through just one village. In Iran you dont really see farmsteads out in the countryside.
The road descended down through deep gorges. It went down and down all the way. There was no other traffic to speak of. At one point it was blocked with a big pile of mud and rubble that looked like it had been put there deliberately which seemed strange. The taxi had to do a U-turn and go off up a dirt track and find another way 'round. When we approached the village at the border army guards stopped the vehicle and checked our passports. The taxi driver spoke to them and then drove through and turned around and drove back up again toward where the soldiers were. It stopped. We weren't sure if there was a problem or it was just more formalities. But it turned out that was where we were being dropped off. There was a newly - in fact still-being-built building. Not sure whether it was a hotel or not we approached and tried to find the entrance. There was a small hatchback English car parked at the side covered in stickers and with 3 or 4 young English lads hanging around. They looked like students. There was somebody standing on a wall wearing a black T-shirt with TURKMENISTAN printed in bright yellow letters accross the front. I guessed we were in the right place! We were in a building site and were a bit confused where to go. He pointed us round toward the entrance. We went in, taking off our shoes at the entrance. The entrance led into a wide square room with a small TV on one side, football blaring, and on the other side were four or five lads sitting eating piles of rice. I think they were Iranian or Turkmen. They didn't speak Farsi (Iranian) but Turkmen, a different turkish dialect I hadn't come across before. I was able to make myself understood. One of the young lads seemed to be in charge of the hotel. We wanted to share a room for 3 people. He told us we couldn't do that we had to get two doubles. The cost was extortionate! We bargained a bit and he easily dropped the price to something much more reasonable. The room was large and clean and brand new. We hadnt had a chance to eat all day and were relying on there being some kind of cafe or take-away in the village. We were told there was none, just a shop. We went up the road to the village to investigate. There were a few small basic shops selling hard dry flatbread, processed halal chicken frankfurters, tomatoes, salty cheese, Iranian sweets and large bottles of coke etc. So that was the kind of thing we ate for our dinner and our breakfast.
:-( I was looking forward to having a pint in Turkmenistan the next day!