A sculpture in the Prince of Wales Museum, Mumbai.

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"So where abouts in England are you from", asked the gentleman propped at the bar, "Oh I'm not from England my friend, I'm from Iran", I semi proudly responded, cautious to not seem too snooty as I glanced around at the various leathery northern England sorts that out numbered me. I got a similar response then as with all the other times I was asked while away, which was a slight pause in anticipation of a punch line.

I think the slight sense of cultural elevation carried over from stepping into Bombay's attempt of an international airport and seemed to continue throughout my trip. I can clearly remember the smell of Tehran as I first stepped out of the airport nearly 5-years ago and I'm sure the smell of Mumbai will remain just as long. India was to be a recorded for me by smells and it begun there as a waft of warm moist air literally hit me, filling me with memories of my hometown as I sensed the sea being nearby. If I found freedom from the Islamic Republic is was in air quality – I could breath in the literal sense – which was odd as most Indians I met complained about Mumbai's pollution for which could be seen lining the sky so thinly as we landed. I kept tasting the air as we made our way to the terminal at which the smell blended to a slightly soggy, chlorinated whiff, much like that of a water park.

I was in Mumbai for two days where I met my sister who'd been in India for nearly month already. My visit was to coincide her birthday, Christmas and meeting with my mother and a brother from England. My two days in Mumbai were to be followed by four in India's former Portuguese ruled Goa - now very much a tourist spot recognised as much by many Iranians before I left.

There was no consistency in anything I thought as rich and poor shared every square metre that could be found

During the lengthy journey from the airport to the hotel my sister filled me in on her adventures with many a surprising story of her lone travels. I was lost between following this and nine months of catching up as I tried to absorb the scenes from our tin can of a taxi in which the driver repeatedly sat on the horn or shouted some form of abuse when not. There was no consistency in anything I thought as rich and poor shared every square metre that could be found. Animals would do the same as dogs or cows lay rested where they would least be hit. Billboards tried to keep the standard up with their flashy graphics and English slogans but directly below would be families housed in corrugated metal sheet shacks with men idling, women cooking and children playing in the dust. Our journey ended as we reached a part of town that closely resembled Europe with its Gothic sculpted exteriors presumably gifts of the colonial past.

Those two days continue with much of the same as my sister and I chopped it up between rejected the barrage of harassment, "hello, come take at look at these", and the, "sir, can I help you - buy this!". It was a peculiar environment where I would remain baffled by how English was spoken everywhere, even with natives among one another. Think accented nationals would wonder the museums informing their children of the exhibits in English while I would accidentally respond to people in Farsi through confusion of a second language.

Continued IN GOA...

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Sometimes the views can be good from inside the taxi.

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"...And then we pulled away, only to stop a few metres ahead whereby another person had gotten in with us!", I often retell, as if a great punch line is about to be dropped, "in horror I turn to my Dad who's nonchalantly looking at nothing in particular – 'Dad, what's going on, why did they get in our taxi?', I whisper...", and so goes another anecdote of my first Iranian experiences. My sister came to Iran for some of the same, and in my efforts to prepare her for the Iranian oddities I'd deliberately left off the shared taxi part. I'd looked forward to seeing her face with this moment, like a child in wait of some lame prank – I'd set my bucket above the door and now I just needed to wait for her to open it. She did open the door and without a flinch she sat beside another person and just like my father she glanced straight ahead – why didn't the bucket fall!? She later informed me that she'd traveled to Bolivia where share taxis are also usual practice – damn my ignorance.

Shared taxis are now too much of a feature in my daily life yet I still amuse myself when thinking of the tacit rules, the variables and the knack one needs to utilise this national nightmare of a transport system. I thought I'd take it upon myself to add another entry for a possible guide thingy, I've done money and now here is one on taxis.

Being anywhere near a road invites the sound of a car horn as taxi drivers anticipate customers, the more lost you look and the less you move the more the horn will sound. This will continue with car after car until you get in or get away. A single toot will announce the taxis' presence followed by a toot-toot - "where you going?". Then there's the 'approach' as the driver aims for your legs to pull to the side. This can take a few forms – eye contact is made as both parties lean in, the driver won't commit to a stop unless you are going on his route yet the distance and noise leaves a small period where one's lips pucker for a location name. "Straight ahead", I yelp, shuffling my feet back, yet I'll often get the Iranian 'tut' – a slow lift of the head – "where the fuck else is he going", is normally what I mumble to myself as the I gear up for another approach. Occasionally hand gestures can aid the approach but one must know the layout and assume the driver does too. A circular stirring index finger gets you to the next roundabout, four fingers gets you the next cross roads and three gets you the next intersection and I imagine two or one get you run over. Mostly I give the point and wag - 'straight ahead' – but this more often than not needs a stated location.

basically they don't sit in the middle-back, unless there is another female beside or the knight is defending a bishop and the king might slip into check. Ok, basically, if the piece is black do what you can to not touch it

Once the driver gives you a lowered head – "yes" – you must then prepare for a little seating rearrangement, this can take two forms. Firstly there is the location rearrangement whereby by passengers will get out, thus putting you deeper to the left – assuming you get the back three seats – this of course means they will alight sooner. This is a 50/50 may-or-may-not happen scenario whereby other variables will effect the decision: mostly ease-of-arrival-shuffle or predicted ease-of-departure-shuffle, mostly to traffic. The front seat is also subject to seating rearrangement whereby passengers will naturally free the space in the rear when possible – yet not always. The second rearrangement come with the positioning of females – a minority passenger but respected one. If possible women sit beside women and if not, by a door or in front, basically they don't sit in the middle-back, unless there is another female beside or the knight is defending a bishop and the king might slip into check. Ok, basically, if the piece is black do what you can to not touch it.

At this point if you don't know your route then you've made a mistake – know your route and it's corresponding price, or, ask in advance! You will be safe in numbers or on short runs but if you are alone and not certain then don't be surprised if you get into an argument as you pay upon arrival. It should be noted that you are hugely advantaged in an argument if you have smaller denominations of money and also profess to only have on you the money that you think is fair for the journey. As a rule, keep smaller denominations, it does everyone a favor - I once had amounted four unopened packets of chewing gum in my pocket (bought quicker than I can chew) to get change in anticipation of taxi troubles. Now I think about it there was a series of experiments regarding this Iran taxi payment dilemma. OK, ultimately you can walk off without paying but if you've given a large denominator and are sitting waiting for change then your loosing and if you've exited the car to wait for it – you've lost.

A series of computations will be needed for alighting. One must simultaneously judge the speed of the moving taxi, foresee the traffic and times one things by another, divide something else, do a square route thing and then calmly say, "may your hands not be tired", to which you will get, "are you getting out?", from the driver. If you get the computations correct you will stop just where you wanted, which would normally involve cutting up a few cars before a possible reverse seat rearrangement. Excuse mes and thank yous are said and then as you walk away, wait for it – toot, toot toot.

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Fights breaking out at my local petrol station as rationing is brought into effect.

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"I've got no cars", said the man behind the desk in an oddly jovial fashion, "ration cards... two hours ago... queues...", was what I then made out between his fast talk and the loud TV he kept pointing to. "Well is there another agency near by?", I inquired, "yes, I own the next one down the road, it's the same there too". Following this news I took to the street to thumb a 'door closed' taxi, where I stated my destination, suggested a priced, all parties agreed and off we went.

I'd heard our destination before I saw it, the box yellow glow of petrol station was resonating with human noise, "I'll get out here", I said to the taxi driver, as if I had a choice what with the clotted final road to my apartment. I reflexively set the phone to record and watched the screen as I entered the roar of angry car owners. A driver cut in from the exit of the station passing me so closely it went unnoticed on my screen, he didn't however go unnoticed by the army officer and angry 2nd, 3rd, 4th place customers waiting for his door to open. "Six hours!", he yelled, "get back in the car", they shrieked, "I was at the end, six hours", he continue as at least eight pairs of hands were going for him. Nobody was backing off, the hungry crowd especially, I surveyed the forecourt, capturing the commotion, in my screen I saw at least ten other amateurs also poised like me, there was as much demand for footage as there was fuel.

It was a race against the clock, half eleven I made it, that meant half an hour to go before the full rations came into effect

Each pump was connected to a car and/or several hands with families attempting to work in teams arranging additional vessels to fill. Instructions spilled out with little manner and little attention paid, flowing continuously like the liquid that had brought miles of junkies desperate for their last unmonitored fix. I tried to make my way around to capture the chaos but my legs couldn't fit between the fronts and backs of vehicles. I had to leave the station to find a gap during the shuffling forward and was amused at the irony of the idoling vehicles with the drivers standing out beside. It was a race against the clock, half eleven I made it, that meant half an hour to go before the full rations came into effect, having only been announced two and a half hours before. I tiptoed to look down the road, there was more than half an hour's worth of queue and a certainty of more chaos.

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"I cannot get away, firmly entrenched in group activities", came an email, "I completely misjudged the situation that we would find at our arrival here. We have been completely swallowed up in a wave of hospitality", I read as my vague plans as tour guide to a group of Canadians went out the window.

There have been a few such requests of late by random folk from around the world fancying a more alternative, alternative holiday or arriving on some business. They find me through my photo journal or they find me through friends. Advice is occasionally sought or mostly provided. "Rule number one, do not let anyone touch your money", I wrote to our Canadian tourists, "rule number two, DO NOT LET ANYONE TOUCH YOUR MONEY!". And so began a list of things to note when traveling Iran.

With this wave of interest I've pondered writing a series of introductions to aspects of Iranian life, both helpful to a tourist and informative to person curious about Iran. In various forms I've been writing these to those faceless people who email yet I wanted to avoid the repetition. Having been stung a few times regarding money I felt that such a prospect would be best undertook with this subject.

And so begins what may or may not turn out to be a series I might call, Doing Iran.


The Iranian currency is known as Tomans and Rials whereby one gets 10 Rials for each Toman. Mostly the currency is dealt in notes although coins are used as well as Bankers' (Travelers') Cheques. Cards facilities are generally not available.

Notes come in the new 5000 form, recently new 2000 form and mostly 1000 form. There are also 500, 200, 100 and 50 Toman notes with coins decreasing down to 1 Toman. Bankers (Travelers') Cheques can come in 20,000, 50,000, 100,000 and 500,000 Tomans


Exchange rate
Last year I got 1600 Tomans for my pound this year I get just over 1800 Tomans. People often say that 1000 Tomans gets you a US dollar, which currently is about right, yet I feel this is a temporary matter as the the US dollar is not (yet!) devaluing like the Toman. Regardless, due to the nature of money one should expect in Iran that prices (all these stated here) will increase, as is often the case, following the new year (March 21st). Don't be surprised if this increase nears 10% per year.


No doubt due to inflation the currency is in relatively small denominators, thus one needs to carry measurable amounts of notes even for day-to-day items. The breadth of price in day-to-day purchases also doesn't help so one must be prepared for many eventualities.

Card facilities
Cards are coming into effect for taking money from the wall, but this is not a facility for international travelers. I never seen a swipe-card machine and can only guess that large hotels have such. What with the near non-existence of bank card facilities one must plan a trip expecting to carry hundreds of notes.

Maybe important
Although I hear of less incidents than in London it is wise to distribute your money around your pockets and bags. I've heard of many moments where motorbike riders travel in twos and bag-snatch. Also, try not to let unknown people handle your money, I've had times where people tried varying techniques to pocket what is mine.


You can fill a 2.0 litre car (75 litres capacity - does around 700 kilometers town driving) for 3000 Tomans. Although petrol prices and means to consumption are changing so expect this prices to both rise are rise sharply in large quantity purchases.

3rd party Insurance is compulsory starting from 200,000 a year and applies to the car and not the driver. There is no road tax (although toll roads connect some cities starting from around 100 Tomans). MOT is compulsory costing around 7000 Tomans per year. All these extras are rarely adhered to and not enforced.

Taxis generally are shared and can connect you to most places while jumping between. In Tehran it may cost you 100 Tomans for a short one hundred metre journey and taking you as far as half a mile depending on the route. Relatively long routes can cost around 500 Tomans. Journeys outside of Tehran may be as much as half the price. Tipping is not appropriate for these drivers but no doubt welcomed.

Private Taxis
Journeys in Tehran can start from 1000 Tomans and getting from the north to central at night can be as much as 6000 Tomans. This price will get you the car thus the price can be split between fellow travelers. There has been the recent introduction of yellow metered taxis which are more competitive yet not as easy to come by.

Inner city buses cost 20 Tomans for any journey around Tehran city. Intercity buses can be equally as reasonable where you can travel from Tehran to Mashad, around a ten hour journey at around 4000 Tomans.

On the relatively few metro lines one can expect to do the full distance of north-central Tehran to the end of the Karaj (Tehran's neighboring city to the west) in around an hour and a half for 150 Tomans. A general price can be paid for a single journey on either of the two main city lines for 75 Tomans.

Trains connect most cities and are also very reasonably priced. I took an over night train to Yazd, which took around 8 hours and had sleeping facilities as well as a buffet with hot food, this costed around 8000 Tomans.


Flat regular bread (lavash) can be bought from the bakers for around 25 Tomans a piece, a pint of milk costs from around 100 Tomans, rice is starts from 1000 Tomans a kilo, eggs start from 70 Tomans each, apples start from around 500 Tomans a kilo.

Iran is fast becoming consumed with corner stores selling basics as well as many types of plastic wrapped junk. A packet of crisps for two is around 300 Tomans, chocolates start from around 50 Tomans, a plastic bottle of Coke is generally 250 Tomans. Freshly made sandwiches (usually filled with processed meat and salad) start from around 700 Tomans

One of the more traditional dishes, Chelo Kebab, consisting of rice, a barbecued tomato and minced muton (sometimes bread and yoghurt) can start from around 2000 Tomans. Fast food joints are fast becoming popular where a pizza starts from around 2000 Tomans, burgers 2000 Tomans, Chips 500 Tomans. Fancy restaurants can have main courses starting from around 7,000 Tomans.


Electronic goods
Electronic goods are pretty much exactly the same price you'd expect to pay in any other country thus the nationals expect to have to work more for these goods as their wages do not reflecting those other (industrialised) countries.

Genuine labeled clothing is hard to come by but a few stores are available in the country. A large number of stores sell fake clothing swearing on their families lives that they are the real deal. Diesel and Levi's jeans are popular and prices can start around 30,000 Tomans, yet these are often rather convincing copies made in Turkey. Women's fashionable manteaus (required Islamic dress) can start around 15,000 Tomans and often get to around 60,000 Tomans.


Galleries are often free, Tehran's Contemporary Arts museum is 300 Tomans and historic sites can cost around 200 - 500 Tomans.

Sports facilities
Swimming sessions can cost from around 3000 Tomans and including saunas can get up to 6000 Tomans or more.


Skilled laborers get paid around 400,000 per month, taxi drivers can make around 400,000 Tomans a month, general teachers start from around 350,000, Doctors start from around 500,000 for junior positions. I think I heard once that the national average is around 200,000 Tomans per month - I'll confirm later.

I welcome any corrections, additions or helpful links, yet would like to stress that inflation may make most of these values redundant shortly. Thus note the date of posting.

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