You expect to wait in line when you're crossing a border. So there was no surprise at Tehran train station when it took a long time to get through security and passport control. The x-ray machine was out of order so we all had to open or suitcases for checking.
Then it was "all aboard!", lots of whistles, and we set off in a great cloud of steam, bound for Turkey.
Nah, the steam was a joke. Diesel train.
I've already described my feelings about the train, so let's skip forward to the next afternoon and our arrival at the border. Our German travelling companion had done the trip in the opposite direction a few weeks previously. He warned us of the long delays on both sides of the frontier.
He wasn't joking! Iranian police boarded the train to check passports. We queued for quite a long time in the dining car before a table of officers.
My turn came and I was ordered to sit in front of a rather stern officer. He stared at me for a minute holding my passport open at arm's length. "What's your name?" This was no doubt a trick he learned at the passport control training day he did 20 years ago to see if I'd crack and say a different name to the one on my papers. I got it right. "Where are you from?" I started to sweat. But I got that one right too. Then he did a pen-and-paper calculation to see if my exit date was within the 15 days allowed on my visa. "Go!" Sigh of relief.
I went back to my cabin to relax and get over the trauma. We were just starting to laugh about the situation when a guard stuck his head on. "All off the train, with all your baggage." Not funny anymore.
All 300 passengers trundled into a hot waiting room with no air conditioning and waited for something to happen. Nothing did for over an hour, then we got the order to file into the next room where our bags would be checked again. I suppose this was just in case we'd manufactured some illegal or immoral items since the check at departure.
In the event both George and I were waved through without having to open our bags, so out we went into the sun to wait again. We couldn't get back on the train as the police were checking the compartments one by one. Another hour later we finely got the OK to board. But not before another quick check of every passport, visa and exit stamp.
God knows how long later we finally got going again, but not for long. Around five minutes and 200 metres later we arrived at the Turkish border post.
This time we had to disembark sans bagages. The queue moved reasonably fast and within only an hour all 250 or so passengers were checked. But we still couldn't get back on the train. They had to change the locomotive from an Iranian one to a Turkish. But the Turkish one was not yet available...
Frustrating! The word isn't strong enough. Infuriating would be closer, but still doesn't quite do the job.
Overall we calculated that we wasted six hours with bureaucratic nonsense. Why didn't the Iranian border police board the train at Tabriz, the last boarding station in Iran before the border, and go through the cabins while the train was moving? The Turkish police could do the same. Why did they have to check our bags again?
I don't expect logical answers to those questions, but I'm going to send them to various official bodies in both countries. If I get any replies I'll keep you posted.
Don't hold your breath.
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