When we come back from our trips, its not just the places we visited that makes our memories special, its the kind deeds of strangers, the people and the city’s culture which makes a trip truly magnificent. And somehow we always remember how strangers went out of their way to help us when we really needed it in a strange new land.
In this second series, my friend narrates the beautiful memories that he brought back home from Iran, not of just places but people who were generous and kind and who went out of their way to make his trip a splendid one.
Here it goes:
The first thought that crosses ones mind when they hear about travelling to Iran is how safe is it anyway. Right?
Although the apprehensions are quite warranted given its neighbors – Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan which are not exactly the most peaceful or ‘stable’ countries in the world. However, what US President Jimmy Carter had to say about Iran in 1977 still holds true: “Iran is an island of stability in one of the most troubled area of the world”.
The amount of frisking and checking in public places in Iran was visibly lesser than in India, perhaps suggesting lower terrorism risk-perception. Especially, security at domestic airports or Tehran metro seemed relatively less stringent compared to India. Of course, security at the Tehran international airport was at par with major airports in India.
This brings me to the random instances of kindness that made my trip a memorable one. I was invited by a guy I just met at Tehran airport to his home in north Iran (Gilan province), not very far away from the Caspian Sea. Although not in my itinerary, I kind of made a detour as I did not want to let go of the opportunity. Although you can call it risky, but the greed to see something more than what I had planned for made me bite the dust. Needless to say, I had a great stay, the family went out of its way to make me feel at home and the elder sister of the extended family even took a day off from her bank job and drove us to the nearby attractions of Lahijan. The traditional food and the ride to the mountain area is still afresh in my memory.
Iran certainly is not like any dystopian Middle-Eastern patriarchy where women are barred to venture out of homes without male companions or not allowed to drive or work. Also, interaction between members of opposite gender does not seem to be a taboo, as I can attest from my own experience. One of the many female students who worked as staff (or volunteers) in Isfahan’s tourist attractions was kind enough to take interest in my expedition and actually showed me around the city in evening after completing her shift. Isfahan is a great heritage city and there is a saying in Farsi: ‘Isfahan, nesf-e- jehan’ meaning that Isfahan is half the world.
Besides being very generous to tourists, people are generally very polite and extremely well-mannered. Just a small tip to travellers from India; when you hail a cab, sit in the front seat. That is what seemed to be the norm there.
It was common sight to find posters commemorating heroes (often martyrs) of the eight year-long Iran-Iraq war (1980-88) at any round about. The war, also referred to as the ‘Arab-Iran war’ by Iranians, started when Saddam Hussein attacked Iran just a few months after Iran’s 1979 revolution, trying to take advantage of the post-revolution turbulence in the country.
Reminders to the revolution and the eight-year war are a common sight, especially in the capital city Tehran,often in the form of large murals over buildings. The huge cemetery of the war martyrs, Behesht-e-Zahra or ‘Zahra’s Paradise’ in south Tehran, was quite busy when I visited on a Thursday afternoon in 2014, some twenty six years after the war. Apparently, it is tradition for families to picnic at the gravesite and also to distribute food/sweets/candy to other people/strangers nearby. The cemetery was dotted with countless photos / posters of young soldiers, presumably all martyrs. The cemetery gave me the vibe that the revolutionary fervour is still quite alive. Of course, drawing too much inference can be risky because of three reasons – one, a war memorial will always display greater zeal or fervour than the average population; secondly, the period I visited was just before Nowruz holiday and might have distorted the number of visitors and lastly, other people besides martyrs of the war are also buried there.
How safe is it for women?
Owing to my limited experience in Iran as a solo male traveller, I am not in a good position to comment on how safe Iran would be for a woman traveller and you are advised to check other online resources on this subject. It is indeed true that there is a mandatory dress code for women in public, i.e. the hijab, with covering of hair (often by a scarf) being an essential part. The most common attire for women, as I observed, was jeans plus coat or jacket plus scarf.
This is the second part on my 2014 trip to Iran. The first part had dealt with planning the trip. The next and final part will dwell on some practical advice for travellers. However, due to my work schedule for the coming week, I would be able to post about it only on the next Sunday, i.e. 14th May 2017.