Why Travel to Iran?
It was the question addressed to me in the days, weeks and months prior to my trip to Iran.
I traveled to Iran because I wanted to see if the conflictive view most people get from the outside is accurate or real. As it pleasantly turned out, in many ways it is not. Iran is a conflicted place, a misunderstood destination, a cradle of culture, a million things all at once. Iran is a country where contrasting understandings of the world live side by side every day and everywhere. One of the countries I longed to visit since infancy happened to be another jewel on the globe’s map and probably the safest country in the region.
Perhaps the main question should rather be:
Why wouldn’t you travel to Iran? 🙂
Unfortunately, as it happens to many other places, Iran has become infamous for its political turmoil. The Revolution of 1979 in only a couple days saw the country transforming from a liberal nation, under the Shah of Iran (known for his liberal view and his excessive lavishness), to a suppressive regime under the hands of the Ayatollah Rurollah Khomeini.
Khomeini, then the Supreme Leader, overthrew Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, took over and things started to change, for better or for worse. With him came the Sharia law and with it the use of compulsory Hijab, religion acquired a much more significant role in everyday life and the country started to regress dramatically.
Nonetheless, Iran struck me as one of the most attractive and friendliest countries I have ever been to.
Let its friendly people, incredible architecture, vibrant cities and mystic deserts enchant you…
Iran is a huge, it occupies1.6m sq. km. Its borders reach the same latitude as Athens and the southern boundary falls on the edge of the Tropic of Cancer. It is six times the size of Britain and three times that of France. Iran is really big.
My trip started on a very cold winter day in Tehran, the dynamic capital, after landing in what I believe it is the second most silent airport ever after the one in North Korea.
It didn’t take long to realise that the only danger Tehran poses is traffic. I learnt how to be fully aware on sidewalks, major path for bikes to flow in and out.
Tehran is a lively peculiar city. On the one hand Iranians are notorious for their friendliness and hospitality, their unrestrained kindness, their love for culture and luxury, their passion for ornamentation of their art and their sense of amour propre, yet their restrictions and sensitivities are widely displayed.
From people, to food, to gardens, every corner shows all the polite formality of their language with its inbuilt metaphors and phrases and its simple rules of syntax.
Here I discovered the endless cradle of art, architecture and culture, Iran is pioneer of multiple concepts and words that are nowadays used all over the world such as the enclosed and carefully structured Pardis (the origin of our ‘paradise’), which provides a setting where variety of spiritual and secular activities happen in the same space.
If you take media reports with a pinch of salt, Iran is actually very safe. I felt safer here than in Mexico, where I currently live, on in the US with the current wave of mass shooting. Also, once you meet some friendly Iranians, you will understand what I’m talking about.
I never encountered people being so helpful anywhere else in the world. Not even at night I felt a whim of insecurity.
Iran can also easily be the ultimate backpacking destination. It’s cheap, it has hostels in major tourist places, cheap hotels and guesthouses in others, comfortable buses, and friendly locals. What more can you want when you backpack…?
It’s true that Iran has a fairly negative image and very bad press on issues such as freedom of speech and human rights. This easily pushes a country down the bucket list and leaves it up for the most intrepid travelers only.
But times are changing, and even though Iran basically is still literally invisible on platforms like Instagram travel feeds, Iran is shifting its political spectrum. After my visit in January 2017, the government turned towards the progressive party. Sharia law is still enforced and with this I mean also death-by-stoning and mandatory dress code for women. “Mandatory” has become a fluid concept really. Truth is the reality I witnessed in Iran was quite different.
Iran is not a country where women have no voice and drape themselves with black chadors. On the contrary. In Tehran I saw the vivid and livid image of women not willing to be subjected by such impositions. Especially in Tehran. Women style has nothing to envy to Paris or Rome female icons.
Women and people in general are very well educated and seem to have a thorough knowledge on many things. They are curious, they ask questions about you and your country, they love hearing how much you like their food and they’re even willing to discuss politics if you will.
Iran in the end, is a land of eye-watering beautiful minarets and shrines, bustling and cheerful bazaars, tea houses with shisha, tabernas with sublime lamb and saffron dishes, and so much more.