Being on the road in search of the real Iran is something many of us crave. Can it really be a country of pure evil, as we are so often told? Since the collapse of the Soviet Union no country has been vilified to such a degree, but why? Getting on our bikes and riding through it is the way to find out, but of course no woman would be able to do that…
Lois Pryce not only set out to investigate but also followed in the footsteps of Dame Freya Stark, a quite remarkable character who explored the middle east and Afghanistan producing dozens of beautifully written books from the 1930s onwards.
Although Lois regularly refers to Freya’s notes as she rides similar routes almost a century later, it was not Freya’s writing that provided the impetus for this trip. Instead it was a letter left on her bike when it was parked one day in London’s Kensington. It was a simple plea for the bike owner to visit Iran – particularly Shiraz – to see for themselves what Iran is like; to experience the reality on the ground despite the recent collapse of diplomatic relations between Tehran and London.
The polite and intriguing nature of the note set in motion a series of events that saw Lois utilise a visa loophole to get her bike into the country via a train journey, which provided her first encounter with a level of hospitality from strangers that was alien.
The first Authority figures she met certainly didn’t present the same bonhomie, and this existent discord between the people and the public face of the regime is a recurring theme.
Lois’ easily accessible prose is mixed with conversation, which ensures a wonderful flow and brings every social encounter to life as she experiences unconditional hospitality regardless of class. Whether young urban intellectuals sharing a drink, laugh and political discussion, or a Bakhtiari tribal shepherd in the Zagros mountains close to the Iraqi border who immediately invites her to meet his family, the absolute welcome is the same.
But it’s not all social anthropology and there’s more than enough motorcycling interest – like attempting to ride high passes through knee-deep snow – to keep the adventure juices flowing.
A super, thoroughly engaging book that’s highly recommended.
Review By Paddy Tyson
ISBN: 978 1857 88657 3
288 pp £14.99
Published by Nicholas Brealey Publishing (2017)