(Pictures in previous post)

A letter with exact entry and exit dates, the reasons for the travel, two filled in application forms, 2 passport images, a color copy of the passport, of the visa for Uzbekistan, and of the Iran visa is what you need to apply for the Turkmenistan Visa in Tehran. Five minutes to 11, i.e. 5 minutes before it was about to close for 2 days, I reached the small flap in the wall of the embassy. I planned to cycle to mashha, collect the visa from the consulate there after 10 days, cycle to the border in 2 days and then leave Iran.

Finally on the road agian
I chose the less direct but more beautiful route along the caspian sea and through golestan national park. That means I had to cross the Elburz mountains again, but I like mountains more than desert. The second I stepped out of the flat of my host in Tehran and sat on the saddle I felt this rush of happiness again I was missing for 2 weeks now. I had to shout out loud out of happiness, totally crazy, I felt like getting my drug after 2 weeks of deprivation.  I had to go more than 1000 km in 10 days, but despite the mountains I did 430 km in the first 3 days. Truck-surfing, a great tailwind as well as incredible hostibility of the people along the way made it possible. I didn't use my tent in 4 out of 5 nights. As soon as I entered a city in the evening, people invited me to stay in their homes. My hosts from the caspian still write me messages every other day and ask if I'm fine, what's my position and that they are worried about me. Another evening I was cycling toward the Golestan "Jungle" (everyone uses this word. After all, it is just an ordinary, rather dry forest) as the police stopped me and ordered me to stay with the bros of the nearby red crescent, because it would be too dangerous in the jungle at night. The red crescent bros welcomed me with tea and cookies, they prepared dinner, gave me a massage and even offered to wash my bike. Winged by all these nice people, I arrived almost 2 days earlier in Mashhad than I expected.

The additional day off I spend with the family of a friend on Warmshowers, where I could fully recover and got all my body batteries refilled. I was ready to set off to the Turkmenistan desert, but the consulate did not have my visum ready after the 10 days but asked me to come back after 2 more days. This happened 3 times in a row: I had big goodbyes with my lovely host family after breakfast, rode the 15 km to the consulate with full luggage, expecting to get the visa issued and then leave. Instead, I had to hang around to ask again in the evening, until at night, I kept crawling back to my family.

The holy shrine of Mashhad
In the end, I spend 9 days in Mashhad, a city that has not much to offer except a nice artificial mountain from where you can see the beauty of an illuminated city at night, and the biggest mosque in the world with the mausuleum of holy Imam Reza, the most important pilrgimage destination for all shia muslims. As a non-muslim, you are not supposed to enter the inner of the mosque. Instead, an official will pick you up on the entrance, show you quickly around the courtyards and tell you some fun facts about islam, the mosque and Imam Reza and leave you at the exit gate.
On one of the days, which I spend lurking around the consulate, I decided to visit it, anyway. I parked my bike in front of one of the huge gates, deposited my bags in the officials room, got my body inspected for weapons and enterd through one of the big gates. Officials in subtle uniforms were giving directions to the crowds by means of waving with some dust ................. in different colors. Blue guides you to the holy shrine, and green guides you to the next exit. The wide courtyards were amazingly decorated, with fountains, wood carvings and detailed stucco. Hundreds of people were sitting on carpets on the floor, resting, waiting, praying, eating or chatting. There were huge water supply stations with cues for men and women. From the outer courtyard, I followed a group of men to one of the inner courtyards, which were decorated even more crazy. Mosaics, beautiful tile and inlay works on the lower parts and stucco above. The crowds became more dense, women in full, black chadors were looking for shade to rest, but many of the carpets were in direct sun. It was fall already, but in here the heat had no chance to escape. My heartbeat increased when I kept following the men, still no guide for me in sight. Also, I didn't see a single tourist. I was determined to proceed until I get stopped, and avoided any eye contact with the officials that waved with the dedusters only 3 m away from me. Facing the floor, my beatles shirt and the blond scruffy hair still would have been enough evidence to reveal me as a western tourist. But I managed to take off my shoes and put them in a plastic bag, and follow the others over the door step, being the only one who didn't french kiss the wooden gate. I had to walk slowly now, the corridor was full of men, as far I could see.  The men chanted some verses starting with "Ah, Mohammed,..." and from time to time, someone shouted out some extra words, and the crowd responded accordingly in synchrony. I was mesmerized by all the spirituality in the air and the corridor that was completely covered in gold and mirrors. And then we entered the central, small room of the mosque, the mausoleum of Reza. Meanwhile, I had no influence on my movements, I couldn't even move my arms. The crowd was pushing me towards the shrine. I actually didn't want to go there, but all others did. So I had no choice. In despair, everyone tried to grab the grid around the shrine, and who managed to find a hold was not far away to pull himself close and exchange deseases with the others by sobbing against any part of the shrine. The spiritual atmosphere changed into an agressive one, people were pushing each other, yelling, only to be able to touch the shrine, and the pressure on my body was getting uncomfortable. With the recent events of mecca in my head, I was looking for green dusters..........
In the other rooms of the mosque it was much more comfortable. People were sitting or standing around, many of them read in one of Kuran books they took from the many shelves around. Some were reading aloud, some were disucssing things, and some were talking on the phone. I explored the whole place and discoverd the biggest, central praying room of this biggest mosque, which was at least 50 m wide. I sat down on the carpet and calmed down from the hazzle. And then I realized: Whereas outside, in the city, it was impossible to sit on a bench or in a juice bar for more than 90 seconds before a bunch of guys approach and ask thousand questions, in here I was complete left alone. Nobody talked to me within the last hour. This was kind of strange. Here, in a place I shouldn't be, I was left in complete peace.  More and more men were entering, and I realized it was praying time soon. Once I made it into here, I decided to observe this event, so I looked for a quite corner in the back were nobody would notice me. After some minutes, the mosque was full, every square meter was used by someone, and then the iqama started and the crowed became silent, stood up and formed perfect rows.  Only the kids were continuing babbling and crying. Soon after, the men went donw on their knees and bending over, pressing their forehead against a small piece of burned clay on the ground. In this moment I saw thousands of bottoms but not a single head. What a rare view.

The visa still was not ready, but the time I had to leave Turkmenistan was less than 3 days. Still being 200 km from the country and with no hope to get it today, I was making other plans. Changing the dates was not possible. I was exhausted and sad. I got stuck. Applying for a new Visa would take more than 2 weeks. Flying over Turkmenistan would not be allowed by the limitations of cash I had left. Afghanistan was not an option. The border regions in turkey were troubled by fightings as well. I  contacted some Iranian friends I made on the way, to visit them again on the way back, and changed 50 € in Rials, since I had only 2 € left in cash, which would have been enough for a train ticket to the border.
Just for fun, I went to the consulate again the next morning, having 30 hours left to go to the border, enter, cross the country and leave. Not possible even with a taxi. But then, the miraculous happened: The officer offered to issue me a visa for 5 days, starting the next day. I really got it in the evening. So again, I paid 55 US$ in perfectly unused bills, changed my Rials back at the first and last creepy black marketeer I could find, before my train left 15 minutes later. I reached Sarakhs at 10 p.m. and looked for the house of the Red Crescent, who were again welcoming me with open arm. However, these fellows were some adolsecent kids who wanted to see all my pictures on my phone, which is ok, but it took them ages, and everytime they saw an image of a woman with bare shoulders or skirt to the knees, they showed the same behaviour than 16 year old boys in Europe when you would show them a porn. They had fun to wake me in the night and smoke in the room I was supposed to sleep. So, this last time as a guest in Iran was also the least nice one, and with less than 3 hours of sleep I crawled out of my sleeping bag and towards the gates of the border terminal. I wanted to cycle across Turkmenistan, and every minutes is valuable.

I left Iran with a happy and a sad eye. I made many friends in this country, more than anywhere else on this trip, and I love the enthusiasm and the generousity of the people and how they love to share the great things in life and talk about almost everything. This gave me a lot of energy all the time. I liked the lively parks and the public services that make travelling very convenient (drinking water from the tab, free electricity plugs everywhere), and the feeling to be safe everywhere. On the other hand, I sometimes had too much people around me. I was excited what the other countries will bring. How the people look like in the Stans, and what they tell. I am looking forward to see the lonely desert in Turkmenistan, the monumental cities in Uzbekistan and the snowy mountains in Kyrgysztan. I am looking for change. Travelling is change. Life is change. Everything is change.

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