You know that feeling when you’re getting a crazy idea in your head and you know it won’t go unless you do it? My most recent crazy thought was making a trip to Iran. I always assumed that it was impossible to travel to Iran, and certainly as a woman travelling alone. But I’m really here! It took me a few days to realize that I’m in Iran, but I’m really here and I love it!
Iran is probably the only country I’ve ever visited of which I had absolutely no clue what it would be like. Yet I think this is exactly why I like it so much here: I’m suddenly in a world that’s so different than what I’ve ever experienced. After travelling for a while, I love being in a place that’s so significantly different than anything else. Yet, it makes it really hard to write down everything.
The question that keeps everyone busy before coming to Iran is whether it’s safe to travel here. It is! Life between men and women are kept separate here as much as possible. For example, in a bus or metro, I’ll have to sit in the ‘women’s wagon’. It sounds weird, but to be honest, it gives a very safe feeling. And also at the airport, the women’s section for security is a cosy section where women chat and laugh. Nothing intimidating or scary. Moreover, in other countries you’ll get a lot of unwanted attention from men. But in Iran, unmarried men and women are not allowed to hang out, so you won’t be harassed on the street (Morocco can learn from this!).
Of course, you need to follow certain rules. For example, you need to cover yourself. Yup, you get arrested if you’re not covering your hair. But it’s not as bad as it sounds, and because it’s quite cold, I’m happy to put that scarf around my head (I don’t even want to think about coming here in the summer, must be awfully hot!).
I have to admit that I still don’t understand the country. For example, I’m sleeping in mixed dorms, men and women together, which seems perfectly fine (ok, maybe not perfectly fine, since dorm rooms are officially not allowed). But as soon as you leave the room, you need to cover everything again. Weird!
I’ve been here for a week now and keep being amazed by everything. The architecture is stunning, nature is beautiful and people are friendly (and everyone speaks English! It’s heaven, much easier than the struggles I had in Turkey).
I wrote this blog in the bus from Kashan to Esfahan, while I was wondering how to process everything. Iran is so different and therefore so interesting. Snow-covered mountain peaks are passing, yet this morning I was still at a salt lake in the desert near Kashan. It was a 2 hour drive into the desert, but then suddenly at the horizon you see a white glow appearing. Amazing! Iran has so much to offer.
A highlight last week was my visit to Qom, which is sometimes called the ‘chador city’. You’ll understand this as soon as you get off the bus. Almost everyone wears a black chador (literally: tent). And in general, not just in Qom, most women wear a chador in Iran, even though it isn’t obliged. Qom doesn’t have many sights and most people skip it, but Fatimeh’s holy shrine is worth the stop. Iran has many beautiful mosques and shrines, but what made this visit so special was the woman who showed us around. Tourists are often not let in, but we got a full tour from a lovely woman who spoke perfect English and patiently explained everything to us.
You’re not allowed to visit holy places in normal clothes, so we had to dress up in a chador. I’d never realised that this is actually super difficult! With one hand you hold your chador closed, with the other you hold your handbag and camera. But as you walk, your chador catches wind and slides back. So unless your headscarf is super tight, you’ll be struggling to keep your head covered.
Another absolute highlight is all the bazaars. You thought the bazaar in Turkey is big? That’s nothing compared to the bazaars here. And I found my travelling buddy who likes buying fabrics as much as I do. This resulted in 2 full days in the bazaar in Esfahan with lots of haggling and laughing!
My absolute favorite so far is Yazd, a desert town in central Iran. Here, craftsmen still work in their workshops. We watched an amazing sunset over the city, while the call to prayer sounded through the narrow lanes of the city.
On our way back, we saw many women covered in flowing chadors rushing through the dark narrow lanes. It gave me the feeling that I was in a village where they are still living 500 years ago. The perfect place to really relax and reflect on all the crazy and amazing adventures I’ve had here in the Middle East.
I think if I need to summarize my first week in Iran, it can best be described by amazement. I’m amazed by how clean it is, how well-educated people are and how safe it is. I’m curious about the rest of the country!