Alastair's Blog

Classic Persia Rally - October 2016

- Friday, February 10, 2017

In October 2016 I set off for the Classic Persia Rally, a 6,000 kilometer drive across the once mighty Persian Empire from its westernmost reaches in Istanbul, through the empire’s ancient capital Persepolis and across the Persian Gulf to finish in Dubai. This was a 19 day trip, with average daily driving distances of 500 kilometers. For this trip I took my little 1968 Porsche 912, which is a 150 bhp, 2 litre, 5-speed manual, flat 4 cylinder with air cooled twin Weber carbs. It has a short wheelbase with full cage, stripped for rallying.

The route

In Istanbul, we stayed at a fantastic hotel, the Pera Palace. This is the hotel of the Orient Express, this is Hemingway’s hotel, the place from which all the great travellers set off on the long road east. From there we enjoyed 4 days of great driving and stunning landscapes, passing through Cappadocia and Lake Van, before crossing over into Iran. We then spent a couple of days meandering over the mountains of northern Iran before heading southwest into Iranian Kurdistan which offered great driving. We then maee our way along some great back-roads through the Zagros mountains to Esfahan, arguably one of the greatest Islamic cities in the world.Then on to Shiraz, itself a fascinating place – and then on to the ancient capital of Persia, Persepolis which lies in ruins after it was set alight by the hoards of Alexander the Great in 330BC. The final stretch of the journey took us down to the Persian Gulf and we boarded a ferry for Dubai. After taking in some of the worlds greatest historical cities, Istanbul, Esfahan and the ruins of Persepolis, steeped in mystery and intrigue and full of old-world beauty, it was a big contrast to suddenly find yourself driving in the modern business empire of Dubai. 

Here is the route:

We crossed over to France on the Eurotunnel but then had a bad day 2 - stuck on German autobahns for hours like one huge M25, but we finally made it to Slovenia across Croatia and then Nis in Serbia. We reached the Turkish border and on to Istanbul.  

Istanbul to Ankara

We got into huge traffic in Istanbul on the Sunday night, but got there in time for the welcome dinner. Here's the car dressed up in its rally plates. We crossed from the west to the east across the magnificent bridge over the teeming Bosporus - my old New Zealand mechanic, Tim, was on the rally as support, that's him changing a plug on the Porsche. Went over some good roads to Ankara - and the adventure had started!


The next stopping point was Cappadocia, we saw some fantastic sights and stayed in a lovely hotel there. Cappadocia is world heritage site and is a semi-arid region in central Turkey, known for its distinctive “fairy chimneys,” tall, cone-shaped rock formations clustered in Monks Valley, Göreme and elsewhere. Other notables sites include Bronze Age homes carved into valley walls by troglodytes (cave dwellers) and later used as refuges by early Christians. The 100m-deep Ihlara Canyon houses numerous rock-face churches. We had two punctures and a new tyre, but otherwise the car was running well and the weather was perfect.

Here are some photos of the spectacular Cappadocia sights.

Mount Nemrut

The next three days were very busy. Had a great trip up Mount Nemrut to wonderful statues, erected around what is assumed to be a royal tomb from the 1st century BC. The actual mountain is made of small stones stacked by the billion. On the way to the Iranian border we were sent back as there was an incident (!) going on on the road, so we did a big loop on a hard-to-find, almost impassable road but the little Porsche was magnificent again. We made it across into Iran without incident to Tabriz, went to the market and then had an easy drive to the shores of the Caspian Sea. We then set off over the mountains again for another very full day's driving.


We arrived at Tabriz and had a nice quiet day. Went to the historic bazaar in the morning, this is a lovely old building, with nobody hassling us to buy, which is a nice change. There must be tourist police enforcing this but we saw no sign of it. The next stage was a drive to Astara on the shores of the Caspian Sea, passing very close to the Azerbaijan border. We had no problems but could see the watchtowers and lots of barbed wire. The hotel was close to where we stayed on the Peking Paris rally where I and my friend Hayden spent the night changing the headgasket on my Alfa 6C in horizontal driving rain. It worked and the car finished well.

The bazaar at Tabriz

Leaving Tabriz, the next stage was driving to the Caspian Sea. Here's a photo of the Porsche, posing by the Caspian Sea, just to prove we'd been there! 

Astara to Zanjan

We then took a different and longer route to take in the famous lovely old village of Masouleh, spent some time there then took a very rough mountain dirt road up to join the rally route proper. Good fun and gave the new navigator a taste of fast dirt road driving. Sadly we lost one car permanently when the steering broke on the Bentley, they are continuing in a hire car. The pre-war Lagonda has broken two rockers in the engine and was driving on 5 cylinders but they've now put it on a truck to Isfahan where parts are being carried and we have 3 nights so hopefully it will be up and running again. 

Traditional dress and the old village of Masouleh.

Zanjan to Sanandaj

A quiet day on good roads across Kurdish Iran so we decided to go off piste on more interesting roads for a while. We investigated a mud village and when we had to turn round in a farmyard the family all came out and insisted that we park and come in. They were very friendly and loved having visitors, gave us tea and tried to get us to stay for lunch but we managed to compromise on fruit. They were delighted and so were we! The red fountain is signifying the blood of the 3rd Iman who was assassinated in 680-ish. There are huge processions going on over two days which we have have got involved in as they block the roads. These involve lots of men chanting and marching to huge drums and stylised ritual self-flagellation with sometimes the women trailing along behind.

The mud village.

Invited into the home of a local family to have tea and fruit. Those are my feet!

The red fountain.

All the men wear these baggy trousers, so I thought I'd try a pair for myself!

Some of the processions we encountered along the way.


We spent two days in Isfahan, Iran, looking at fantastic architecture, lovely gardens and meeting and talking to the locals. They were all delighted to see us and the cars, a very nice experience. Following our 2 day rest, we drove 600k over the mountains on dirt roads to Shiraz. The little Porsche ran well after a bit of attention in Isfahan. Some dirt roads but mostly fast Tarmac, we went to see a lovely waterfall on the way. Once again, everyone was delighted to see us. Here's a weird and wonderful tunnel we drove through en route.


The central mosque in Isfahan

The waterfall

Lots of beehives, they put masses in the same place rather than spread out, it must work. 

The market at Shiraz

Pasargadae and Persepolis

By this point we were nearly at the end of the rally, just one more day's driving to the sea to put the cars on a ferry to Dubai and take a flight there ourselves. Had a small drama today as the only Americans on the trip decided on their own initiative to change their hotel to another. This caused them to get into trouble with the Iranians who were not impressed, they are back in the rally hotel and our local guide is in hot water over this. We spent the day taking in some Persian culture visiting two sites outside the city, Pasargadae and Persepolis. Persepolis, though now just a ruin after being razed by Alexander in 300 BC, is still a magnificent sight and would have been wondrous in its day when it was the centre of power of the huge Persian Empire. The site is enormous and the scale of the buildings mind boggling.


Shiraz to Bandar Abbas

This was our last day of driving on the rally. 650km on good roads, fantastic mountains and terrain all day, it is easy to get blasé about all this beauty but today was stunning for hour upon hour. We got pulled over by the cops but all in good humour and we got let off with a lecture on speeding in Farsi! We aw these strange pointed buildings on the roadside and worked out they are wells for travellers and especially for drovers with their animals. The two we looked at had what looked like clean water in them. Saw a "look out for camels" sign and sure enough there were some. 

Pointed buildings by the roadside

The Porsche posing by the Persian Gulf, just to show we made it. Great trip, lovely scenery and people and the Porsche was great as well. Off to Dubai tomorrow by plane then back to UK Saturday. 

The next trip

The next trip is the New Zealand Haka Rally in November - 30 days round both islands with my 98 year old Mother as navigator again, she is in the Guinness Book of Records as the world's oldest active rally navigator now. 

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