Sunday, 8 February 2015

Screw the media! 7 reasons to visit Iran!

I must admit, Iran was never originally on my planned list of places to travel when I first started out this trip. It wasn't until about 2+ months into my journey that I decided that I would go to Iran. Having read many news articles about Iran and how it is portrayed in western media, I was abit skeptical to visit such a place and question how safe it is really. However, meeting countless travellers who went through Iran, I didn't hear one bad thing about the place and the recurring theme being: The people

Having spent 5 or so weeks in Iran, I must say before visiting Iran, any conceptions you have of Iran from the media, you can pretty much throw out the window! Here are my top highlights of Iran.

1. The Friendliest People You'll Ever Meet!

Iran takes hospitality to a whole new level. Every corner you turn, you're likely to be greeted warmly by a friendly and curious local too eager to talk or offer help to you in any way they can.

Just arriving in Iran and haven't even reached my hostel and already greeted by friendly locals who wanted to strike up a conversation!

Example 1: I walk into a shop to get help finding my direction. The shop owner closes the store and takes me personally to the location of my place of interest. Something you don't see much or at all in all the places I've been!

Example 2: I turn up to Iraqi Kurdistan in the town of Sanandaj at 5am in the morning, after walking 5km from the bus station and spending 3 hours trying to find a accommodation to no avail(all full). I talk to a local Erfan, after suggesting all the hotel I already checked which are full, Erfan walks me around to find a hotel and make sure everything was ok.

Not only that, Erfan turns up back that evening at my hotel to invites me out with him out to dinner and show me around town with his friend. Even checking where I was heading next, and finding out I wanted to head to Marivan, Erfan offer to connect me to his friend who lives there to show me around and host me in Marivan!
Erfan centre and his two friends showing me around town and the best view of Sanandaj from Abidar Mountain before dinner. 
View of Sanadaj From Abidar.
Example 3: Not being a very big fan of couchsurfing and having never really trying it. I was recommended to try by countless traveller I met to do so in Iran. As per above, my host were hospitable, friendly and extremely helpful. There was one bad encounter but that being the exception!
On the left: My Couchsurfing host in Tehran, Reza during one of his weekly Hafiz poetry session. Reza came highly recommended from fellow travellers and hosted me for more than 1 week in Tehran! 
I can go on about other experience but in Iran, this seems to be the norm rather than the exception! I think Anthony Bourdain summed it quite well in his coverage of Iran "I am so confused. It wasn't supposed to be like this — of all the places, of all the countries, all the years of traveling, it's here, in Iran, that I am greeted most warmly by total strangers."

Two friendly locals(Dana on the right and can't quite remember the one guy on the left name) who saw me as at sitting at Sanandaj bus station and just decided to strike a conversation with me.

2. Authentic Bazaar Experience

While there was much talked about UNESCO World Heritage Bazaar in Tabriz, I found just about any bazaar from any city in Iran I visited amazing with friendly faces. Many talk about the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul and Bazaar in Turkey. Personally, I do not rate Turkey's Bazaar as they are too touristy and filled with PUSHY merchants being on the borderline of harassment which kills the whole bazaar experience in my personal opinion. Iranian Bazaar are nowhere near as tacky, commericialised or tourist-filled. The merchants are friendly and welcoming without pushing you to buy their products.
A blacksmith in Yazd
Bazaar in Shiraz

A carpet seller in the bazaar in Shiraz
A friendly merchant in a bazaar in Shiraz selling silk products who i spoke to for more than half an hour and he didn't push me to buy a thing! 
A skilled craftswomen in the bazaar around Esfahan Square.
The friendly fruit vendor who gave me free grapes in Esfahan!
Daily rountine: Kashan

No.1 selling fabric colour in Iran...

3. Irani Kurdistan

If you think the Iranian are friendly wait till you go to Kurdistan! Did I mention earlier Erfan was Kurdish and originally from Sanandaj? Besides this, seeing the men in their traditional Kurdish dress is pretty damn cool and unlike the Turkish and Iraqi side, the Iranian side of Kurdistan is pretty safe.

Picturesque villige of Palangan in Irani Kurdistan  

A Kurdish man in traditional oufit walking through alley of the bazaar in Sanandaj

Herb/tea seller in Sanandaj

Shoe polisher/repairer on the streets of Sanandaj
Zarivar Lake in Marivan, Kurdistan

Fishless morning in Zarivar lake.

Friendly and interesting local who offer me some tea on Zarivar lake.

Friendly locals out and about in Marivan

Friendly locals out and about in Marivan.

4. UNESCO World Heritage Site: Persepolis

For the history buffs and fans of ancient history out there, Persepolis is a must see and one of the best preserved site I've seen. A spectacular ancient city built by Darius I and once the capital of the Achaemenid Empire before being conquered by Alexander the Great.
Towards the entrance to to Persepolis.
View of Persepolis from a hill.
Part of the Gates of all Nations.
Palace of 100 Columns
Entrance to Apadana Palace
Artwork on the walls in Apadana hall depicting stories of nations coming and bearing gifts.
The Treasury.

Tachara Palace
Tomb of Artaxerxes III

5. Beautiful Mosque

With countless mosque, you're bound to be mosque outed but it still doesn't take away from it's beauty!
A random Glass Mosque I walked into in Yazd, Iran.
Masjed-e Nasir-al-Molk Mosque in Shiraz. One of the most photograghed Mosque in Southern Iran and for good reason!
Masjed-e Nasir-al-Molk Mosque in Shiraz.
Masjed-e Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, Esfahan
Masjed-e Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, Esfahan

6. Esfahan

A beautiful city with many things to see but just seeing Imam Square is good enough reason to visit Esfahan!
Imam Square

Imam Square 
Enjoying a ride around Imam Square

The alternative reason to visit Esfahan. New Jolfa lies a small Armenian community and some beautiful artwork inside the numerous Christian churches.
The alternative reason to visit Esfahan. New Jolfa lies a small Armenian community and some beautiful artwork inside the numerous Christian churches. 

7. Kashan

In this town south of Tehran lies some exquisite old mansions!
One example of the 19th century mansions in  Kashan. Khan-e Tabatabei
One example of the 19th century mansions in  Kashan. Khan-e Tabatabei

One example of the 19th century mansions in  Kashan. Khan-e Tabatabei.
There's probably many many more reasons to visit Iran and I definitely haven't seen everything. But hey, that's travelling and something for next time!

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