Dispatch from Iran
Respect our culture and be our guest
PAKISTAN & IRAN (eTN) - When I was sitting in the departure lounge of Lahore Airport for my flight to Mashhad, Iran, I had a perception of a country that is barely surviving through economic stresses due to international sanctions clamped on, with images of long, black-clad women and a conservative society coming to mind.
As I touched down at Mashhad International Airport, I was thinking I would be disconnected from my friends and family, as people had warned me that international calls could be almost impossible to make and Internet connectivity was very difficult in Iran, as the government was allegedly controlling all communication means, just as it was in the former USSR.
However, such impressions were dispelled when I reached my hotel and called my family to inform them that I had reached Mashhad and checked my email. Yes, Facebook mostly does not work in Iran, but Skype, Vkontakt, Yahoo messenger, and other social media networking are available.
One will see top of line cars and SVUs that testify this is a rich oil-producing country, and you will hardly find an old car plying on the road. French, Korean, and German cars are popular among the people, and Mashhad town has an international standard mass transit system of light rail, while Tehran has a mass transit bus system, along with other modes of public transport.
Mashhad city is divided into two parts - the old city and the new city. New town is situated at the outskirts of a bypass road, and this area is like a valley having beautiful gardens and fruit trees. While traveling on this bypass road, one can find new construction of villas on both sides, and roads are so good that normally people drive at the speed of above 100 kilometers per hour, so be careful while crossing the roads.
Mashhad is popular for its religious tourism and old bazaar (old market) where men and women shop together. Eating out is quite popular among the youth, with their first target being ice cream parlors. It is amazing to see that you will not find a cigar shop at every corner of the city, but you will definitely find an ice cream parlor, offering you dozens of flavors. When I asked my companion why there were so much ice cream parlors in the town, she smiled and said, “We are a sweet nation, and we like to eat sweets.”
When you are in Mashhad, of course, you should not miss visiting Roza Imom Reza, the biggest and the most important religious place to visit among religious tourist sites. This place is a remarkable example of how Iranians have preserved their architectural history, while expanding and providing the latest facilities to tourists and visitors.
This place has a huge underground car parking garage from where one can directly reach Roza by using electric stairs. It is interesting to mention that the construction style of the Mosque adjacent to Roza is similar to Imom Bukhari Madarisah in Samarkand, and they have the same patrons of calligraphy, the same colors of fresco and kashi (ceramic) work you find at both places, and for a minute, I felt I was standing at Imom Bukhari grave in Samarkand instead of Roza Imom Reza.
My next destination was Tehran. Domestic flights are not very expensive, so it is better to get a one-and-half-hour flight from Mashhad to Tehran instead of going by road. Yes, if you have enough time than you can surely travel by road to Tehran, as the road network is of international standards all over the Iran.
When I entered the airplane, I found the Russian alphabetic indicating In and Out. My natural question to my companion was, why would the Russian language be used in the plane, when it was not Russian made. She informed me that the majority of pilots on domestic flights are Russians.
Tehran has two airports - domestic and international. The domestic airport is within the parameter of town, while the international airport is around
40 kilometers away from the main town, and you need around 30 to 40 minutes to reach Tehran International Airport.
My stay in Tehran was only for a few hours, so I could not see the whole city, but decided to get a feel for the city by walking and window shopping. The weather is very pleasant in Tehran during May and June, when the subcontinent usually has above 45c temperature. It was quite pleasant for me to walk, when the temperature was just 28c, and the sky was full of clouds, and shopping malls and food shops are usually open till 2300 hours. I found Tehran to be a modern city that has all the components to fulfill international tourism expectations, provided you have respect for the culture and norms of the Iranian society. I was greeted with a smile almost at every shop and corner, and people mostly understand English and try to help you to find your way if you have a map and need their guidance. I found a natural respect for foreigners in Tehran although Tehran is not very popular among international tourists, who mostly visit Kish Island - a duty-free zone and hub of international tourists.
Traveling through Iran, I found this country an amazingly beautiful place where pizza shops have more of a rush than traditional cheloo kebab outlets, and where women and men work together at shops, factories, and crop fields.
I found Iranian girls know more than most girls of any other country of this region, how to apply 4 different shades of colors of nail polish on one small nail, and women’s jeans are sold more than traditional outfits. The world is changing, and so are the Iranians. The younger generation uses more than two cell phones at same time, where texting and enjoying social media is as popular among the youth as it is in India and Pakistan.
Early in the morning while going to Tehran International Airport for my flight to Dubai, I felt that Tehran city is a place I wished to come back again. When I was sitting in the departure lounge, an old man asked me whether I am from India or Pakistan, his question giving me an opportunity to talk with him. His English was excellent, and he informed me he was a retired pilot from an official Iranian airline.
Our conversation was about our cultures and the world economy, and other issues two men could discuss without knowing each other much. I expressed my viewpoint that Iran is an excellent tourism destination, and I wished to visit his country again. His last comment before I was departing to my plane can be used as a keynote comment by any speaker introducing and marketing his country. He was of the view that his country welcomes tourists, but visitors should respect his culture and norms while traveling in Iran. “Respect our culture and be our guest,” he told me with a smile, and we said goodbye to each other.
While walking to my plane, I was thinking that the Iranian society is changing fast, as the whole world is, but this change is very positive. It shuns propaganda from western countries that Iran is a place where you can find altogether two different societies of men and women, and women are not allowed to socialize with men, and they are caged, like women in Afghanistan, during Taliban rule. When I was going to Iran, I thought I would find a society similar to Afghanistan - a country where you find women only in Burkas (canopy-like face cover). But I found Iran to be a totally different society - a society that follows its tradition and norms, and respects its historical background, but does not live in primitive times like Afghanistan, - a place where western countries have put huge resources into during the last 11 years.