don’t go to iran

 
“… you might just fall in love”.

That’s how I thought I’d start this post (inspired by this video) after buying the tickets for my 10 day trip and reading up on this otherwise atypical tourist destination. That’s what my research showed me — that it was a country that took you by surprise, a place of contrast with incredibly welcoming people and rich culture; that once you embrace Iran, you fall in love it with and want to go back.

But that’s not quite how I felt. I saw a country in transition, one that’s still looking for its place and identity, torn between the old and the new, seclusion and embracing our ever more globalized world. Indeed I saw very welcoming, kind, open-minded people, but I also saw people who have realized they can make money off foreigners, yet haven’t understood that you need to provide value against the premium you’re charging them. I witnessed a nation that is respectful of its roots and traditions, but also a nation that has in certain ways departed from its great cultural heritage. I roamed around the incredibly large markets that are the center of public life and trade, but often they were full with cheap “Made in China”-like trinkets and lacking the craftsmanship qualities you hear of. I went in many great mosques you read magnificent things about in books only to find little effort has been made to preserve their former pristine grandeur.

Perhaps my mistake was being burdened by expectations and wanting to see things from a certain angle. Perhaps I read a bit too much on Iran before going and had a picture in my mind that I kept comparing to, which ultimately made me feel disappointed it wasn’t what I was experiencing. And perhaps it wasn’t enough time to really get to know Iran better, I stuck mostly to well known cities (Tehran, Isfahan, Yazd, Shiraz) — although visiting a fairly new destination for tourists, you tend to stick to what guidebooks tell you.

I purposefully waited a couple of months after the trip (it was in September) before I sat down to write this so I can try to be as objective as I can and distance myself from emotion. From the perspective of time, I see how going in with expectations wasn’t the right approach because I didn’t allow myself to openly take in things without judgement. Because others I’m sure would have a different reaction. In fact, a few friends of mine were around pretty much the same places a month before me and they did love it. Shouldn’t have talked to them in detail I guess 🙂

So perhaps the way to title this post now should be “Go to Iran, it will move you”. Because one thing’s for sure, it won’t leave you indifferent. It’s just so contrasting to every other destination that you can’t ignore it.

And that’s a good thing.

****
 
The amounts and diversity are nuts! (sorry, I couldn’t help it 😉 )

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The art of salesmanship is taken to a whole new level in Iran — not only are you supposed to sell commodities and find a way to differentiate, but you also have to dodge heavy traffic as you’re doing that. This guy was a pro.

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Yep, that is indeed wads of cash being handled casually on the street. The Iranian rial is so devalued that 1 Euro is around 34,000 rials so you have to walk around with millions in your pocket if you’re a foreigner. Chances are your card won’t work so it’s cash only. The figures get so big that there’s an unofficial currency, the toman, that is widely used (1 toman = 10 rials or you just drop a zero) because it makes calculations easier.

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The famous Tehran Grand Bazaar, as packed as they come.

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Mosques from the inside.

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Almost a full moon over Tehran… one of the only quiet places in town.

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The desert city of Yazd. From the wind towers you see in this photo to an incredibly vast and complicated network of hand dug irrigation channels, it’s inspiring how people have adapted in these harsh environments.

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It’s hard to explain why, but this image really works for me.

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These grandpas playing an unfamiliar game with dice reminded me of Bulgaria back in the day for some reason. There were a few times where one could spot certain similarities in our cultures.

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Restaurant Muslim, the most packed restaurant I’ve been to anywhere, by far. It’s absolute must in Tehran, both because of the delicious food and the impressive system they’ve developed to make sure hundreds of people can go in, order, eat, and leave in a manner of minutes. The line to get in was over 50m long, 4-5 person wide, and I’m not even exaggerating! So worth it though 🙂

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It somehow feels reassuring that people even back in the 1800’s were inconsiderate enough to carve their names on ancient monuments…

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Afternoon naps.

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I love this (sneakily taken) image. Tradition meets modern Iran, it just works on so many levels.

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I call this great UX 🙂

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Shadows make for interesting shots.

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Kids playing football in one of the parks under the swaying willow trees. It was a nice moment, very contrasting to the general madness of Tehran.

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Can’t tell you why, but this staircase left an impression on me. Perhaps it’s because I wasn’t expecting this giant painting of roses in a city where architecture and aesthetics don’t seem to be priorities.

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Overlooking Yazd.

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A city that never sleeps.

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Before the markets open.

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Morning workout in front of the mosque.

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The Naqsh-e Jahan Square in Isfahan was one of the most incredible places around 6-7am before the people came in and the shops opened. In the end there you see the Imam Mosque, which is under renovation works.

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Enlightenment! Favorite photo.

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Morning rituals. I have to say they did have some amazing teas! Considering I don’t drink coffee, this was quite nice.

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Most rivers we came across were dry in this season. Makes you appreciate how good they are at agriculture since there were really fresh, Iran-grown fruits and veggies all the time.

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National holiday celebration that I can see why to an untrained eye can seem… well, a bit scary even. A procession of thousands of people, smoke and fires, someone screaming incomprehensible things through the megaphone.

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These 4 guys were the best! After a long overnight bus ride to Yazd, we decided we didn’t want to eat the included packed lunches/dinners so we gave them to these guys. It’s hard to fake their enthusiasm from meeting foreigners who gave them snacks to munch on 😀

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I have to say, the food was delicious! I am a rice fan so not hard to impress me 🙂 Lots of meats, be prepared.

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Iran is known for its fine Persian cloths, tapestry, and carpets.

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Apadana staircase in the palace of Xerxes and Darious, Persepolis.

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Little back alley at night.

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Perhaps one of the most well known sites in Iran, the Nasir al-Mulk Mosque (or the Pink Mosque). Although mostly a tourist site and not an active place of peayer, it’s not surprising that it’s so well known throughout Iran and beyond — it’s stunningly beautiful early in the morning when the sun hits the colorful windows. I will do a separate post just on this at some point 🙂

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Zoroastrian tower of silence. It’s where the followers of this ancient religion (look it up, quite fascinating) left the bodies of their dead exposed to the sun and the scavenging birds. The rationale was that bodies would contaminate anything they are in contact with so this was a “clean” way of disposing of them as safely as possible. Obviously this tower isn’t in use anymore, but it was until not so long ago and there are still functioning towers of silence across Iran.

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Tehran is a huge city, its population is pretty much that of New York, for comparison. And the traffic is even worse 🙂 The bus lanes were a nice touch though.

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Jame Mosque in Yazd at night.

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These super friendly Iranians (total strangers, I should add) saw us struggling to find a cab from the edge of town so they offered a ride, even though there were already 4 of them in the car. I felt a little odd that he asked the 4 women to sit in the back so I can have room with him at the front and only talked to me instead of addressing my female friend directly when asking questions about her, but nevertheless we took that as idiosyncrasies of the culture 🙂 By the time we got downtown, they offered to take us to a dessert place they were headed to and then proceeded to take us to this great dinner place some 30km away, refusing to at least let me pay for any of those! What a welcoming nation 🙂

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Prayer time.

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Sunset over Persepolis.

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The Tomb of Hafez in Shiraz. Definitely worth a visit.

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Staircase to… nowhere?

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The shrine of Shah Cheragh is one of the holiest places and pilgrimage sites in all of Iran. Incredibly well preserved and maintained, it houses the tomb of the brothers Ahmad and Muhammad, well known martyrs in Iranian history. Packed in the day time, it’s an extraordinarily peaceful complex at night so it was a welcomed break from the craziness of the city around it.

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19 thoughts

  1. What a fantastic photo compilation. I have too many favorites (shadow, enlightenment, kids, threesome taking photo). Thank you for allowing us to see this country through your lens; I for one will probably not see this place first hand. Cheers!

  2. These photos are amazing and beautiful! You should publish them in a book. I have so many favorites – the little boys with the snacks – the young women – the incredible architecture – photos in the sunlight – they are all stunning. Thanks so much for sharing this with us. What an incredible experience. Betty

  3. Pingback: don’t go to iran — In A Search of Balance | bellasartescom

  4. Interesting gallery. I share your sentiments. Great people, average country.

    The river through Isfahan isn’t dry because of the season, but because they have permanently redirected the water away to fields outside the city. It’s an ecological mess, of course, but it’s required to secure the food supply.

    • People make up a country though, no?

      Thanks for the clarification on the river in Isfahan. All postcards with the famous bridges in the city are with the river in full bloom so we asked and were told it was seasonal.

    • It took me a while to figure out which one you meant, there are a few mosques in the photos 😉

      Sorry for the slow reply, for some reason the comment had slipped through the cracks. Thank you for the kind words!

  5. Your post was excellent. I LOVED your picture called “overlooking Yazd”. Great colors and it just speaks to me.
    I appreciate your honesty in your post. It makes it real.

    You made my day with this post, honestly. 👍🏻👍🏻👍🏻

  6. Every single picture is just awesome! Tell its own tale! Hailing from pakistan, just in neighbours of Iran, i had wanted to visit it one day! Maybe soon! Maybe one day! I want to fall in love with it !

    I blog at amuslimmama.com

  7. The stair case to nowhere is actually a “mimber” a high point where the Iman sits and delivers a sermon as per the Prophetic custom.

    And i utterly loved the pic called enlightment!

    • Hi Asbah, thank you for the kind words! I hope you do get to go to Iran (with your family!) and fall in love with it 🙂

      ps. The staircase to nowhere joke was lame perhaps, but it was too easy not to do 😉 We asked what it was at the mosque and they explained.

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