‘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 France? Why Italy? 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, it was time to exit the surfing ‘bubble’. I 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 in the deserts and caravanserais.
In Iran, you can experience ancient wonders, contemplate mindboggling architectural splendour and exquisite beauty in art, and explore 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 and scale 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. Beautiful walled gardens rising up out of the desert are monuments to extraordinary persian ingenuity and perseverence. The Persian word for paradise is the same as garden.
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 - those who remember a time when headscarf was a choice - and even more so by the growing youth population who are becoming increasingly vocal.
The Iranian government’s record of human rights transgressions is scary for its own citizens, yet tourists are very safe in Iran. There is almost no petty crime and no terrorism, despite being surrounded by volatile countries. Supporting the moderates in government, rather than isolating and antagonizing them with the arrogant ‘We don’t talk to Evil’ mindset, seems like the best hope for change. 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 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. Step outside the house of fear, put a plank across the fetid stream of mainstream media drivel, and find out for yourself about Iran.