Escapism

Jill Worrall leaves Timaru to take on the world - bringing adventure travel to your desktop

Iran: Shared taxis offer an insight to Tehran

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After a day in Tehran, I'm convinced the only danger travellers in Iran's capital city face is posed by its traffic.

It's not the possibility of a military attack that one realistically has to worry about - the true hazard comes in the form of Tehranis in cars, buses and trucks.

Driving habits here are almost as much of a tourist attraction as Tehran's famed museums. Traffic swirls five or six lanes deep around roundabouts, cars changing lanes without warning, while pedestrians dice with death, threading their way through the metal maelstrom.

Intersections become even more congested because of the presence of knots of people waiting for shared taxis.

Shared taxis are a phenomenon found in many Iranian cities, but to the best of my knowledge nowhere else in the world.

The system is simple but effective. Stand at a street corner, ask the driver of the shared taxi if he is taking a section of the route you need and if so, jump in along with three or four other people.

When your taxi reaches the end of its designated route you leap out and then find another one going your way. An added bonus, if you are a novelty foreigner at least, is that you get to meet dozens of people in one day of travelling around the city.

It's an efficient system but the process of negotiation at the intersections severely impedes the exit of traffic from roundabouts and around corners, and thus adds to what looks like chaos.

However, even if it looks chaotic to visitors, apart from the gridlocks, I've never seen a single example of road rage here.

The excitement of a journey through Tehran is heightened further by Iranians' unique way of turning corners - this involves simply turning in front of the oncoming traffic and then threading one's way through. Add a few pedestrians into the mix and you have a scenario that can provide as much adrenaline as a fairground ride.

Amid all of this are the Tehranis themselves. You do see a few women in black chadors (the enveloping garment favoured by the more conservative) but the majority of Tehrani women are dressed in the height of sophisticated fashion.

The almost prerequisite sunglasses are perched on streaked hair that peeks out from head scarves set as far back on the head as they think they can get away with. Makeup is immaculate and stiletto heels abound.

Despite the requirement for the body to be modestly covered, many Iranian women stretch the rules to the limit - the manteau or short coats are often extremely figure hugging.

On my second evening in Tehran we sat in the basement restaurant of the Ferdowsi Hotel where white-shirted musicians played traditional music and girls smoked qulyan (hubble-bubble), nibbled on dates and pistachios and sipped tea.

It is not a Tehran that most people in the West would recognise.

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