What’s it really like inside Iran? World Expeditions Travel Group CEO, Sue Badyari, shares her observations as well as her must see highlights.
For a long time the idea of travelling to Iran had been frequently returning to my conscience. Having met dozens of others who have, including well travelled colleagues in the travel industry, they’d speak avidly about the ancient lands of Persia; often placing Iran as the most interesting destination they’d visited.
So last month, with much anticipation, I stepped out of my busy work life to take this long anticipated trip to Iran. Travelling with family and friend on the Emirates flight into Tehran, I witnessed the tattooed, the blue haired, the tight clothed female travellers around me, don head scarfs and long jackets, transforming their image very quickly to the conservative attire of Iranian women.
I had been curious about how to dress but quickly learned that by covering your hair with a scarf and your bottom with loose clothing you fit right in.
January is winter in Iran and as a keen trekker, many of the mountain trekking opportunities in the north and ascents of Mt Damavand are ‘off limits’ at this time. That however, certainly doesn’t limit the possibilities to still enjoy an active holiday in Iran at this time of year. In a little over two weeks I was able to compile a quite lengthy list of travel highlights.
In Tehran, head on a short hike just above Tehran city through a ‘cultural gorge’, enjoy the atmosphere of the night markets and visit the Golestan Palace, National Museum.
The old city of Yazd’s Zoroastrian Sky Temples are truly impressive, while in Isfahan it is easy to get lost among the various book shops, tea & coffee houses or while shopping for carpets, jewellery or perhaps hand printed tablecloths and painted pottery. Shiraz however, was my favourite city, with its beautiful decorative structures, the Nasir-ol-Molk mosque, Eram Garden, the Vakil bazzar and bath, and Haezieh.
The Persian Gulf Islands provided wonderful escapes into nature, with great hikes on Qeshm Island’s Valley of the Stars in the Chahkuh Valley while Hurmoz Island was simply an incredible natural wonderland. Then there’s the stunning Rainbow Valley, Silver Coast, Statue Valley and the interesting Portuguese fortress to keep you occupied.
The caravan serais, ancient bathhouses and the delicate mosques of Kerman and the nearby desert provide plenty to do for the active traveller. Explore the ancient fortified mud city of Rayen, hike in the Kaluts in the Lut Desert while enjoying a traditional homestay in Shahdad Kaluts.
There really are so many more highlights of places to see, but the experience is complete with the warmth and genuine local people, beautiful food, exotic smells of spice markets, ease of travel and the many comfortable lodgings, some quite ornate.
It must be said that Iran is a very misunderstood country. It is a highly educated, sophisticated society, progressive in industry but also sustainability and utterly fascinating in its culture and historic aspects. Many associate Iran with desert landscapes yet mountain ranges carve the entire country hemming vast tracks to desert but also verdant valleys.
I loved every minute of my time there and cannot wait to return, which I’m already planning for. And it was not just me affected by this journey, the words from my 25 year old son to his community are very telling and are written below.
“My musings of Iran… I knew from the moment we met, that my nightmarish imagination of a murderous, anti-American, missile making, woman muting land was but a misconception meticulously manufactured by mainstream media to muddy the mind But I won’t remember Iran for its military might or Khomeini command, I will remember Iran for its mastery of mosaic, bringing magic to every medieval mosque, I will remember the musical mayhem of marketplaces beaming with miraculous Persian mats and manicured men with musky perfumes and mysterious moustaches – the merchants of menace I will remember the many images of immortalised martyrs, mystical mullahs and modest yet cosmetic mothers, I will remember the majestic mountains and it’s meadows of mouth-watering mandarins But most of all, I will remember the amazing mates whose warm welcomings made me feel so at home.” J. Badyari