I travel with many people. Strangers who I meet on the journey, foreigners who I accompany and ex-colleagues I have worked with. I really enjoy having people to share the experience with but traveling with friends who I dearly love and with whom I share interests is what I so thoroughly look forward to. Every six months me and my best friends make plans for a new trip. Or really I do the planning and they just come along. They trust my choices and I get to pull the string exactly as I want. A luxury that I don’t normally get when traveling within a group. This time we were all in for Khuzestan province!
We had been swooning over the idea of visiting Khuzestan province for the longest time. But for many reasons it had been delayed till now. It was winter, the weather was perfect there, there weren’t going to be much tourists and so we thought this was it. It was going to be now or never.
We found a date that would work for everyone and set a budget. We’re not the kind of people who look for luxury accommodations or join arranged group tours. We prefer to experience as much of the local life and feel less of a tourist which also helps with the budget. I have to admit that planning for Khuzestan has been the most difficult travel plan I’ve ever made. There’s minimum information on the internet, accommodation is limited and it’s a big province where all the attractions are scattered around. Thanks to my many friends who work in the tourism industry I was able to find local contacts and after many many phone calls, find a flat to rent and hire a driver. We had no plan of having a full time driver with us but considering Khuzestan province was too far away for a road trip and we’d have to make day trips everyday it was the best option, even though not a cheap one.
Everything started from Tehran’s train station. It was going to be a 15 hour train ride to Ahvaz and I wouldn’t really go for it if I wasn’t going to spend it with my best travel buddies. We had our own private cabin which provided us with 6 beds. These trains are really old and I hadn’t been on on one since my last school trip more than 10 years ago, but I was feeling very nostalgic to get back on the rail.
And so the adventure began…
These trains have a restaurant and you can also order dinner to eat inside your own cabin, however the food is not that great. So two of us prepared dinner and the rest of us took dessert, nuts, fruits and snacks along. To say the least, it turned out to be a quite a feast. 🙂
Once we arrived to Khuzestan province, our driver came to the rail station to pick us up. We headed to our flat to leave our stuff before we head off for Shadegan lagoon.
As soon as things were settled we hopped on and routed for the lagoon. The international lagoon of Shadegan is a UNESCO world heritage site and one of Khuzestan’s top natural attractions. For many of us, this was the best part of the trip. The experience of drifting swiftly over the lagoon, watching a variety of migrant birds in their natural habitat and having huge water buffalos swim by our boat was so rewarding. Not to mention the locals live right beside the lagoon. While to them it seemed we were justing passing through their backyard, for us it couldn’t get any more authentic.
Since we were visiting on a monday and there weren’t tourists around, there weren’t any boats to rent. So we found a local who took us to his home and accepted to give us a ride on his boat. Almost all locals in Khuzestan province are Arabic speaking Iranians who have sprinkled their Persian routes with Arab culture.
Our host was kind enough to invite us to stay for lunch which we sadly had to refuse since we had planned to be in Abadan by noon.
We arrived to Abadan, a city in Khuzestan province very close to the Iraqi border which is mainly known for its oil refinery. The oil field were first discovered in the 20th century and due to secret negotiations the whole city was rented by the British. The Anglo-Persian Oil Company was first to build the refinery which quickly became the biggest in the world which was shut down years later due to the nationalization of oil in Iran. During the Iran-Iraq war and the sudden attack of Saddam’s troops, Abadan was besieged and the siege was only broken by Iranians 12 months later. We were all extremely saddened and heartbroken to see that after more than three decades since the end of the war, Abadan was still not completely back on its feet. Even though a large amount of Iran’s economy depends on it. Before the war, Abadan used to be one of Iran’s most cosmopolitan cities!
Abadan is small and there’s not a ton to see so we headed to Khorramshahr after a few hours. Khorramshahr bears witness to gruesome tales of war, suffering and murder. Once a sprawling city with wealthy residents and then ravaged as the result of Saddam’s earth scorch policy. It took Iraq 34 days to capture the entire city and 18 months later it was liberated by the Iran which was also a significant turning point in the war. As of today the anniversary of the liberation of Khorramshahr is celebrated every year on May 24th.
We went as far as Shalamche, only meters from the border. This place was a main battlefield during the war and is pretty much kept as it was. It’s easy to imagine the atrocities unleashed on this chunk of land that used to hold thousands of dead bodies and nightmarish sounds of suffering, death and explosions.
We went back to Ahvaz in the evening. Had dinner at the huge Falafel market and went to bed rather early due to our lack of sleep from the previous night on the train.
Next day we were up to head to Bostan, a small village with majority Arabic speaking residents. Our driver had suggested chicken barbecue for lunch. Despite me insisting to buy prepared chicken for the barbecue in Ahvaz, he assured me that we were going to find it on the way. Little did I know that a real chicken was what he had in mind!
We then headed to the desert. Or really a desert that was located right next to a jungle with bright green pastures! So we went for a hike.
After lunch we headed for Susangerd where we would visit the Heidari family in a Mozif they have submitted internationally in their own name. A Mozif is a special structure belonging to Khuzestan province that dates back to Sumerian times made entirely out of bamboo sticks. It was long forgotten but some years ago a family in Khuzestan brought back the memory by building a massive one here where they would practice the rituals of Mozif and Arabic coffee/tea drinking ceremony.
On the third day we routed for Susa and Shushtar and visited the UNESCO world heritage site of Choqhazanbil on our way.
We arrived late to the small village of Pamenar right beside a massive lake where a local family had agreed to host us and rent us a room.
Next morning we woke up to a lovely breakfast. Honey right from the hive, butter made by the locals and a delectable bread which we had an incriminating amount of.
We had such a lovely time in this tiny village that it was so hard to say goodbye. If we didn’t have a train to catch we would have definitely stayed for longer.
On our way back we decided to catch the train from Andimeshk rather than going back all the way to Ahvaz. We also got to visit Dezful on our way to the station.
Our trip to Khuzestan was one of the best and unexpected journeys I’ve ever had. I had never expected to find such variety of landscapes along with so much diversity in ethnicities. There were times we would meet people whom we could not understand due to language barriers. We saw so many ways of life within one province, and heard of so many languages and cultures.
Khuzestan is definitely not a popular destination to visit in Iran but its richness in so many way is incomparable with many other regions in the country. I couldn’t recommend it any more.
This was definitely not the typical post I’m used to write here on the blog but this lot make every second count when I travel with them and I couldn’t resist to share our story with you. 🙂
You can also read a similar post of our last summer trip to Filaband here.