I sincerely apologise to my readers and my dear friend who took time out to write about the beautiful journey through Iran. As promised, this is the third and final piece from my friend. Please read on and send in your queries and feedback, we would love to help you if we can 🙂
Here, I want to share some possibly useful tips from my 10-day experience in Iran.
Iran: Some useful tips for travelers
I do not know Farsi and I was fine and faced no major hurdle. Nevertheless, I would recommend at least learning the Farsi numerals (they are written in the same way as in Arabic or Urdu), because often menu prices in restaurants or in other places are only written in the local language. It would be better if you can count one to ten in Farsi, especially when you haggle while hailing a cab. It should not be very difficult for Indians as the numbers sound very similar to Hindi.
This brings us to the issue of managing currency, which can be a little bit difficult at first because of the confusion between ‘rials’ and ‘tomans’. Iranian currency is officially known as ‘Rials’ and currently (in May 2017) one US Dollar can buy more than 32,000 rials. One rial is equal to 10 tomans and most prices in shops are written in tomans rather than rials. However, in actual conversations and haggling, the last there zeroes of the tomans are often omitted. So when a cab driver quotes a fare of five tomans, he most likely means five thousand or ‘panjhazaartomans’.
Commuting within the country
Although a railway network does exist, you need to book tickets well in advance. In hindsight I am glad I failed to get train tickets as it allowed me greater flexibility. Overnight buses appear to be a popular mode of long-distance travel within the country and the buses and terminals are quite clean and well-maintained. I found buses to be a cheap and comfortable mode of travel. An overnight journey from Isfahan to Shiraz, almost same as Mumbai to Ahmedabad in distance terms, cost me 18,500 tomans or Rs. 370, in a semi-sleeper 3-seats-in-a-row (2+1) bus.
Airfares also seemed much cheaper than fares in India. I booked a flight from Shiraz to Tehran – equivalent to a Mumbai to Bangalore flight – which cost me only 128,000 tomans or around 2,500 Indian rupees, despite booking just one day in advance and that too in Nowruz season.
Things to do in major cities
In Tehran, the entire stretch from old Bazaar to Golestan Palace to the National Museum would be a good starting point to acquaint yourself with the history of the country; the entire area is well connected to the Tehran metro network. Also, I would recommend a visit to the Milad Tower, which offers a good panoramic view of Tehran.
Isfahan is a great heritage city and the entire Naqsh-a-Jehan square and the surrounding area should be part of your itinerary. Also, it is a nice place to buy traditional Iranian delicacies like ‘Gaz’ candy (you can also buy it from Tehran International Airport on your way back home). I would also recommend a visit to the Vank cathedral in Isfahan, which stands in testimony to Iran’s history of religious tolerance. If you are interested in history and would like to see and know more about the Armenian genocide, then Vank cathedral and the accompanying museum would be good investment of time.
If you plan to visit Shiraz, I am sure that Persepolis, the ancient capital city which was attacked by Alexander, would be in your itinerary. However, bear in mind that the local name for Persepolis is ‘Takht-e-Jamshid’ and that is likely to be the only name by which taxi or bus operators identify that place.
Finally, you should know that alcohol is banned in Iran (except for maybe some religious minorities). However, there are tea houses and places where you get hookah.
Although there is little to worry, but please be on your guard
I have already discussed how easily I found help, often more than asked, whenever needed. I did not discern any tendency to fleece tourists. My hotel in Isfahan helped me with my onward bus and airline tickets and I have no reason to believe they tried to make any extra money. On one occasion, I had forgotten my mobile at a restaurant in Isfahan and got it back when I went there after about an hour. Nevertheless, I can recall atleast two instances where I suspect street vendors tried to fleece me. Also, I was never sure if I was paying the correct fare for taxi because there does not seem to be any concept of paying by metre. Thus, while there is no reason to be paranoid, it is better to be on your guard.