Iran – Been There

An encounter with the veil police

The Hazrat-e-Masumeh sanctuary in Qom, the second most sacred city in Iran, holds the grave of Fatimah bint Musa al-Kadhim, a noted Islamic holy woman. Her shrine is one of the holiest sites of Shi'a Islam and is visited by millions of pilgrims every year.

Photo by Paule Seux / Getty Images

Iran – Been There

An encounter with the veil police

Why fly to Iran when you can take the train?

Minty Clinch
Minty Clinch Travel Writer

The prospect of three weeks in Iran, exciting enough to start with, leaps off the scale when I discover I can board the Trans-Asia Express in Ankara early on a Wednesday and arrive in Tehran late on a Friday.

As the train rolls steadily through the empty February snowscape, I discuss textiles with Turkish traders on sales missions in Tehran and play Scrabble with Europeans who speak English well enough to beat me.

After crossing Lake Van by ferry on Thursday afternoon, I have my first encounter with culture change on the border near Tabriz. With the Iranian central heating rising mercilessly to 32C, the veil police are there to go for the jugular. “Make her cover up,” one snaps at my travelling companion, eyeing me unfavourably.

Barnaby looks startled, then turns to me, so suddenly reinvented as an infidel harlot. Our newly imposed roles are far removed from our normal bantering encounters in London pubs or Alpine ski slopes. Would I, or would I not obey him? As a bad convent girl, I had always resisted pressure from the nuns to take the veil. Do I see a shadow of anxiety in his eyes? No need. I return meekly to the couchette to unwrap my cashmere pashmina.

As the overheated train rolls toward Tehran, I pant for air in a carriage with sealed windows and the control locked on max. Enterprisingly, Barnaby discovers the master switch and cuts off the whole coach. Fortunately we arrive at our destination before the authorities discover the crime.

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