‘Fear is the cheapest room in the house. I would like to see you living in better conditions.’ – Hafez
Words of wisdom from a 14th Century Persian poet and why you should make up your own mind about Iran.
“Why Iran?” That was the reaction I received from most people when they heard my latest holiday destination. The question was generally posed with surprise rather than disdain, but still, after the umpteenth time, it began to irk. Nobody asks why Paris? Why Venice? It’s not just the negative and incorrect representations of Iran in the media at the forefront of people’s minds that made this question difficult to answer. How could one possibly select one reason, out of so many, for heading to Paris? And so for Iran with one of the richest and longest histories of, religion, art, culture, and commerce in the word and stunning landscapes to boot.
After several same-same surf trips, I needed to exit the surfing ‘bubble’. I packed my bags for Iran and felt no regrets as I strolled through fairytale palaces and mosques, sipped pomegranate juice in walled rose gardens, wandered through the ancient city of Persepolis – the worlds first cosmopolitan city (550 B.C.)– and drank tea under the stars in the deserts and caravanserais.
In Iran, you can experience ancient wonders, contemplate mindboggling architectural splendour and exquisite beauty in art, and explore unique places from deserts to mountains to jungles.
Inspiration, art, and ingenuity are literally all around you. Over the centuries Persian artists have created staggering floral and abstract geometrical designs on carpets, textiles and tile work. The mind-blowing geometry of Islamic art and architecture is designed to help you lie back and contemplate the infinite… it works.
Marvel at ancient vernacular architecture – irrigation systems, wind towers, (air conditioners) and desert freezers – dated from 400 B.C.E. The beautiful walled gardens rising up out of the desert are monuments to this ingenuity. The Persian word for paradise is the same as garden.
Persian people have a wisdom drawn from millennia of civilization. Situated on the silk road connecting east and west, it is desert custom to look after the wayfarer and people are proud to host you, ‘Thank you for coming to my country’ is a frequent refrain that reflects Persian hospitality for which they are renowned.
While Iran is a majority Muslim country, it is highly secular and of course Iranian people are as diverse in their beliefs as any people, and usually, they are Persians, poets or Zoroastrians first.
Poetry is a national obsession in Iran, having conquered the world through the ideas of literary masters such as Hafez, Rumi, and Saadi. The poets are the real leaders venerated in people’s hearts and minds (President Rohani replied to Trump’s antics through poetry just the other day).
Since the revolution in 79. women must observe Islamic dress. Most women I spoke with would unveil given the option, but for now, all women must at least wear a headscarf. This relatively new rule is deeply resented by many who hope it won’t last.
The Iranian government’s record of human rights transgressions of political and civil liberties of its own citizens is scary but no worse than many other countries favoured by tourists. The best hope for change surely lies in increasing understanding and supporting the moderates in government rather than isolating and antagonizing them with the arrogant ‘We don’t talk to Evil’ mindset. After all Iran was on a natural and steady path towards democracy, led by Mossadegh, until concerted British and American interventions and the CIA backed coup derailed everything in their greedy scrambling for oil. (They have so much to answer for and yet everyday Iranians still have no beef with the West).
Like any good adventure, Iran astounds and confounds in equal measure. Iranian families love to pull over by the side of busiest most awful road and picnic, a ritual I couldn’t understand. But once you arrive at your jaw-dropping, traditional hotel you might feel more like a Persian prince or princess than Marco Polo doing it tough.
Iran is an incredible destination for a holiday full of wonder. But don’t take my word for it, I am no expert. Step outside the house of fear put a plank across the fetid stream of media drivel, and find out for yourself about Iran.
Words and photos by Melitta Firth