Iran 2010: Orient Star Travel

This is the report that I wrote on my return from Iran; it outlines some of the practicalities of organising a trip to this beautiful but controversial country. Single travelers require a sponsor for their Visa before departure but the process was quite straightforward and caused me no difficulties. Now that more than a year had passed it all seems a little unreal but this account reminds me of the hospitality and consideration that I received during my visit. It also gives me the opportunity to upload another gallery of pictures.

As the travel arrangements for our recent trip to Iran were made separately, I thought it might be helpful for readers to see how a much less intrepid voyager had fared. I wanted very much to be able to join Elisabeth but wasted a lot of nervous energy worrying about my two weeks visit, particularly over being British and the difficulties in traveling around on my own before we linked up. Fortunately I had Mozaffer to re-assure me electronically and to plan out the four days that I would have to spend on my own.

Because I was arriving in the early hours of the morning and because I did not have the confidence to “Lonely Planet” around the city (if the expression can be used as a verb) I left all the arrangements to him. The pick up went very smoothly and it was fantastic to see my guide, Ahmad’s, friendly face at the airport. I was taken to my hotel for a brief rest and then enjoyed the best possible itinerary around Tehran which took account of my personal preferences and priorities. Elisabeth has already told you how enthusiastic and entertaining a guide Ahmad is – well, he was Mozaffer’s introduction and I met him first!

Later I met Mozaffer at the office and we discussed business. I told him that I was a little disappointed that he had put me in a four star hotel as I would be paying the double rate for four nights, even though two were really only “half nights”, and I was worried about the (carpet sized) hole it might make in my budget. He told me not to worry about it but even so I knew I would have to cut back as much as I could on other expenditure. I concentrated on enjoying Tehran to the full and it was on the evening of my last day there that I found out just how good were the hands in which I had left my travel arrangements. I returned from sightseeing to find that my flight of the following morning had been canceled and arrangements had already been made by the office to put me on an earlier one. I certainly wouldn’t have found out about this problem myself until too late and, given that it this was the holiday season, I might easily have lost a precious day(s) in catching up with Elisabeth.

Well, as those of you who have been following the blog know, I did catch up with her and we had some wonderful adventures keeping minimal contact with base. Elisabeth was traveling independently, just having Mozaffer’s office available for emergencies, and I was more than happy to do the same. In fact, when the time came for me to return to Tehran, I breezed into the airline office to book my own internal flight and then into another one to change it for an earlier flight. “This is all too easy” I thought “What a waste all that anxiety was”.

Even when I arrived at Shiraz airport to be told that my flight was delayed by two hours I knew I had enough time to make my connection so Elisabeth and I decided that it was all right for her to leave me with her extra luggage to be dropped off in Tehran as planned. Shortly after she left an announcement changed the delay to four hours and, since I could see 

all flights leaving Shiraz were habitually leaving 20-50 minutes later than scheduled, my connection for the flight home was in serious jeopardy. I was on my own, had very little cash left and more luggage than I could carry; this is the closest I have been to panicking on this or, come to think of it, on any of my travels. All the negative thoughts about my selfishness in causing unnecessary anxiety for my family at home came crowding in, to say nothing of the obligatory “I told you so”.

The airport staff were singularly unhelpful but a manager in the airline office tried to be reassuring and took Mozaffar’s mobile phone number. I sat down to wait for developments and tried not to cry. It’s just as well I was not sitting there clutching a handkerchief because at this stage things started to happen quickly. First somebody came up to me with a mobile phone so that I could speak directly to Mozaffer who told me that everything was taken care of and that I was not to worry. Then two men in orange overalls came with a huge trolley and took the two big bags, giving me baggage receipts in exchange. Next an airline official came up to me and handed me a boarding card for an earlier flight. A boarding card! I clutched it as if it were the most precious jewel imaginable. A friendly Iranian family appeared to have been deputed to tell me where to go through the barriers and so I gradually began to allow myself to believe that I would be able to get back home after all.  

It was nearly 1am by the time Mozaffar met me at the domestic terminal in Tehran so there was no time for the planned meal; anyway my stomach was so knotted up that I didn’t think I would ever be able to eat again. He took charge of Elizabeth’s luggage and we sat on the terminal benches and went through my expenses before he put me in a prepaid taxi to Khomeni airport for my onward flight home. Best of all, he handed me a large bundle of £20 notes as my total bill with him was only $700. This was for hotel, transfers, two and a half days guided tour, internal flight to Avaz and Visa support; amazing considering that the cost of the hotel was at least $300. We both agreed that it hadn’t been the right choice of accommodation for me but I was delighted to find that everything else had been balanced out to fit my budget.

Based on my experience I would be very happy to recommend Mozaffar and his company Orient Star to anyone looking to plan a semi-independent trip to Iran. Completely independent is, after all, almost impossible and anyone who wants to be fully supported will probably want to book with a company at home. He did not “mother hen” us like the chap from Elisabeth’s first budget hotel but he certainly measured up when it came to emergencies and helped to make my trip to Iran one of the most (pleasantly) memorable ones of my life.

Categories: Middle East

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