Fact File: IRAN

Growing up as an Iranian in Australia is a pretty unique experience. You eat rice all the time, get lectured on the many benefits of vitamin C, and even though you are a grown-ass man, you are still are referred to by your mum as the cringeworthy “mummy-joon”. I’ve visited Iran every two years, and still to this day whenever either of us tell our friends we’re about to go visit the homeland, we get asked, “But is it safe?”

Well, it’s not only safe, in fact, it’s actually pretty damn beautiful. And with the travel warning for Iran recently being lowered, now is an opportune time to expound some of the many reasons why you should pay this country a visit. Ready? Here we go.

The Islamic architecture is one of the best in the world, with the walls and ceilings littered with mirrors and lights, making the interior looking like solid gold. I remember the inside having clashing scents, with an overwhelming aroma of rosewater mixed with the less pleasant smell of pungent feet. You can see droves of people all struggling to get as close to the burial site of Imam Reza as possible, believing that if they touch it, his blessings will pass onto them. It’s an amazing sight. I’m not very religious myself yet still feel moved spiritually whenever I visit.

The bitter downside to this spectacle is that the Iranian government spends millions on this shrine, erecting dome after dome, minaret after minaret, when the money could be put to much better use by investing in, you know, feeding the people. But like many countries you have to take the good with the bad, I guess.

The ruins of Persepolis, near Shiraz, are like nothing else. My favorite part is the tomb of Cyrus, one of Persia’s greatest kings. This tomb survived two conquests, with Alexander the Great leaving it untouched out of admiration for the man, and the Arab invaders being fooled by the locals into thinking it was in actual fact the tomb of King Solomon, thus leaving it alone. We, Persians, were thinkers, to say the least. To this day it resonates with me as a sign of Persia’s resilience over the centuries.

Vibrant bazaars (markets) can be found everywhere from cities to small towns, flowing with Persian fruit and spice. Spices like saffron are so cheap! So you know I’m always packing these bad boys through customs, what with them being crazy expensive in Australia. In fact, not only do the bazaars dot the streets above; underground Bazaar of Tehran, a series of underground tunnels and caves. A place where your wallet may be lost or that special magic carpet can be found.

The capital city Tehran has a strong clash between the traditional and contemporary, with large modern shopping malls and traditional bazaars. There are many cool museums there too, you can even visit and go inside the Niavaran Palace, one of the palaces where the last Shah of Iran lived.

If you get sick of all the hustle and bustle of the city, there are more serene sights to experience such as the mountain walk up ‘Darband’. You can enjoy the open nature of Iran and stop for tea and coffee at the countless Iranian cafes on the hike up with Iranian hipsters (yes, they exist). I guess it’s because Tehran has the more artsy-type people, and Darband feels remote enough from the government’s prying eyes to allow for a greater sense of freedom and self-expression.

There are all types of tourism to experience in Iran, and I highly recommend everyone to experience the unique beauty that is modern day Persia. These are only some of the cities I have had the pleasure of visiting, some of them I had seen up to eight years ago. Yet, the memories and emotions I received from these places are still strong in my heart.

One of the amazing things about Iran is that each part is so different and unique. So the fact that I have seen some parts of Iran has in no way prepared me for the rest to come. That’s why even though I only visited about a year ago, I’m already pumped for my next trip there. Who knows, maybe you can come with? But is it safe? Pfft.