About a month ago I traveled to Iran – and I had an absolute blast. 35 degrees and blazing hot, this desert country is unlike anything I have ever seen. The daytime sun is intense and makes you so drowsy – no wonder the shops shut at lunch time so everyone can have a nap. Even as the sun goes down the heat remains, and you never truly manage to cool down. But not even the heat could stop me from experiencing what an absolutely incredible country Iran is. It is so full of a rich culture that transcends goodness knows how many centuries. Many cities, such as Isfahan which I went to, contain a lot of this ancient history.
Isfahan in fact, is one of the most glorious cities I’ve ever seen. It is famous for Naqsh-e Jahan square, a large square situated in the centre city, which is filled with a massive bazaar as well as several shops selling traditional Isfahani gaz and other goodies. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage site, and is home to the Ali Qapu palace, which was built for Shah Abbas in the late 16th century. You can pay to go in here and walk up the several staircases that show off the various chambers in the palace, until you reach the top where there is an outstanding view across the whole square, even gazing out into the mountains in the horizons. Back in Shah Abbas’s time, the square was used to host sporting competitions, so the Shah would sit at the top of the palace in order to watch. The whole palace and every structure within the square were built with such intricate detail and you can’t help but look at the architecture with total admiration – it is definitely very unique. The square is a definite social hub for the city and I spent a lot of my time here both at night and during the day. There are stalls where you can buy ice-cream (saffron-flavoured!!) and faloodeh and so many gift shops to buy yourself and of course family and friends too a nice souvenir. You can definitely lose track of the time here winding in and out of the bazaar and into all the different nooks and crannies!
I spent most of my time in Mashhad, where I really just got to soak in the culture and the atmosphere of the country. Everyone is so friendly and helpful – shopkeepers try to help you in every single way possible, some shops selling dried fruit and nut even let you try their wares – even without purchase! There are fruit shops everywhere selling gigantic watermelons that just make you drool to think about and almost any other kind of fruit you want. The introduction of a new internet taxi called Touchsi, similar to Uber, has been causing strife due to having an extremely cheap rate compared to usual taxis meaning street corners were full of irate taxi drivers trying to find passengers. There are female only gyms where you can wear what you like, and they have Zumba classes as well as several other kinds of fitness classes – being here was an extremely powerful experience.
The mountains are not far away, and on a couple of extremely early mornings – rising before 5, and it was still insanely hot! – we went for a nice trek up there, resulting in some stunning views of the city. Mashhad is famous for being home to the shrine or mosque of Imam Reza, which I had the extreme honour of visiting. This was another early morning, and had us clad in chador, and the shrine was packed! Some areas of the mosque are gender segregated, and when we went to the female only section women were clambering over each other in order to touch the Imam’s grave. For fear of getting caught in the melee, we hung back and let my aunty go and take the rap for us – before we then went on to pray our morning namaz.
Another great experience was a trip to the grave of the great poet and writer Ferdowsi. A large tomb encases his grave as well as a little museum. The site of the grave is beautiful, the surroundings containing gardens, a gift shop and little stalls selling ice-cream. It was totally awe-inspiring to be in the presence of Ferdowsi’s spirit, who is so celebrated and renowned.
At the end of the day it was the little things I think that mesmerised me the most; the coffee shops and how different they were and how cool all their drinks and food items were, like the fact that they had a Nutella bar! The food shops and bakeries that sold the most amazing bread and cheese; the driving, which would surely kill you from a heart attack, due to the complete lack of road rules and etiquette over there… the roads were total chaos in my opinion and I spent most of my car rides clinging to my seat, yelping as soon as anything unexpected happened.
Iran is an amazing, amazing place, that I recommend everyone should travel to. Honestly, you’re missing out on so much if you don’t. I’m itching to go back.