When you think of the Middle East, inevitably the thoughts of countries like Iraq and Iran come to mind, and for good reason. Being two of the largest countries in the region, it’s nearly impossible to look at a map without the two of these catching your eye, but what do you really know about the inner workings of formerly “shut off” countries like Iran? What is it like inside for foreigners? Unfortunately the West would have us believe that it’s full of less than reputable characters and it’s highly dangerous for foreigners to go wandering around in, but nothing could be further from the truth. While on an official, government level there seems to be some hotly contested ideas and ways of doing things, down in the ditches with the every day people, Iran is a traveller’s absolute dream come true.
Iran – A Country
Regardless of what you tell people, if you mention your desires to go to Iran, many people will call you “crazy” or ask if you have a death wish. This is a common thought for people who haven’t actually been to a country and just instead choose to believe only what they hear in the media. Iran is a beautiful, diverse and enormously enriching country with people who are warm-hearted, welcoming and incredibly hospitable. Travellers have reported that their trips through Iran have resulted in being invited for many a cup of tea or meal with peoples families – often people you have just met on the street that morning. Having been cut off from the outside world for so long has made a beautiful undercurrent in Iran with the people being welcoming to foreigners and genuinely curious in the world outside of their country. With so many regions to choose from though, it could be difficult for someone who is pressed for time to pick the best bits of the country, but for those who have little time, the must see places include Shiraz, Tehran and Persepolis, the old ruins of the first capital city of Iran, dating back to the 6th century BC.
Shiraz and Persepolis
For visitors to Shiraz, the ultimate must see is the Nasir-ol-Molk Mosque, also known as the Pink Mosque. Its name is derived from the majority pink tiles used in the interior décor and it is a huge draw for visitors due to the stunning rainbow light shed throughout the interior when the sun comes through its brightly coloured stained glass windows. Dating from 1876, this mosque is protected under the Nasir-ol-Molk Endowment Foundation, one of the former Qajar rulers of the area, and the man who commissioned the construction of this impressive site.
Another must see in Shiraz is the nearby ruined city of Persepolis, which was the ancient capital of Persia. Persepolis remains one of the most prominent cities of the ancient world, now ruined, that played host to many historical events over time including a sacking by Alexander the Great, during which it can be argued that he additionally razed the city in a revenge attack for a Persian partial razing of Athens. Some of the ruins today which have been dated to that time period show that they were destroyed by fire, further providing evidence to this event.
A Final Note
Due to Iran’s relatively still ‘closed off’ nature, it can be difficult for travellers of certain nationalities (such as Americans, Canadians and British) to obtain visas. Some may be able to get visas by going to Iran on an arranged tour, but there are ways around it to get a visa to travel through the country solo. It’s useful to note here that as Iran is an Islamic country, women must wear a hijab (headscarf) in their visa photo and while passing through borders or in official buildings and the like. It’s been largely reported though that outside of these areas the rules are relatively more relaxed, but it’s always a good idea to have your scarf on hand in case you are asked to put it on. In many places in the countryside and even in the cities you will see women just wearing a scarf loosely over their heads. When in doubt, do what the locals do.
So there you have a quick rundown on Iran and why it’s a travellers paradise. The added benefit too is that while it’s still difficult to get in and the country still has somewhat of a poor reputation in the larger international circuit, this makes it a real traveller’s dream come true with unexplored areas and unrivalled experiences with locals to fill a book. So if you’re looking for the ultimate in travel experiences, consider Iran. It’s the next best destination for people looking to recapture the essence of travelling.