Magical Iran: the land of hospitality, courageous women and open people

in #travel5 years ago (edited)


Hello, fellow Steemitians!

I joined Steemit a few weeks ago but it’s only now that I finally settle myself to make my first real post. As you can see from my Introduction story, I am currently on a traveliving adventure on a wonderful island Koh Samui in Thailand. However, the first story that I’d like to share with you is not on my current journey but on the one that I took almost a year ago, in August 2017, my short and yet still memorable trip to the beautiful capital of the great country Iran – Tehran. I hope you will enjoy my story as much as I enjoyed this adventure. And please do not be too critical of my writing style and photos, I am still new at writing, and all the photos presented here were made on a simple iPhone 6 camera 😊

I have to say that last year I was on this crazy travel vibe where my biggest dream was to travel to any possible place every single month. In June, I finally went to visit two of my friends in the Netherlands where I spent two incredible weeks in Amsterdam, Eindhoven and Bergeijk. And to a big surprise, the first day after I came back home, a university friend of mine from Iran sent me a message saying that he was getting married in the upcoming August and would like to invite me to his wedding! As you can probably understand there was no way I could’ve possibly said no to this new unpredictable adventure!

My today’s article will not go into exploration of Tehran’s places of sightseeing, where to go, or what to see (well, not too much, at least). Instead, I am going to focus on the people’s culture and hospitality, and expectations and reality on several social aspects. Hopefully, this will also inspire you to take a tour to this magnificent country whose territory was once a part of the great Persian Empire often referred to as the cradle of civilization.


I can definitely say that never before or after had I prepared for a trip as thoroughly as I did for my journey to Iran. Every time I plan a trip I like to educate myself on the places worth visiting but, most importantly, on the culture of the country. And with Iran, the latter became even more essential than with any other destination.

One of the most interesting things before the trip was dealing with reactions of my loved ones to my decision of going to Iran. Certainly, Iran is not on every person’s ‘Wish to Go’ list, in a big part due to the predominantly negative media around it. “Ohohhh!!”, “What??”, “Are you sure it’s safe?”, “Are you crazy? There’s war in there!” were the most popular comments from my friends and family. “Why didn’t he just invite you to Syria?”, - was the response of my sister who’d been living in Australia for the past 12 years and who had of course been to a certain extent influenced by the Western mass media. The reason I was just quietly smiling to all these comments is because, first of all, my friend would not invite me to a place knowing that he would be putting me in any kind of risk. Secondly, he would not be living in a dangerous country himself. And thirdly, I had two other friends from Iran who had lived in Kazakhstan and who had told me all the positive stories about their home country.

So there I was, reading and asking my friends about this mysterious yet inviting country that up until 1935 had been known as Persia. The points that I researched on the most were history, culture, mentality and dress-code.


Important question: what should I put in a suitcase? What am I going to wear?

Most of you probably know that Iran is an Islamic country with strict rules on how men and women should dress in their daily lives. Women must wear long pants and a loose blouse, shirt or jacket that goes down to at least middle-thigh, with sleeves covering at least elbows. Head must be covered with a head scarf. Although the dress-code for women is stricter than for men, gentlemen should also follow some rules: long pants and a shirt or a t-shirt with short or long sleeves (no shorts, no sleeveless tank tops).

Having said that, not all of you might know that this has not always been the case for Iran. As a country of an immense historical heritage, Iran experienced cultural and religious changes nearly every 10 to 40 years, with the rise of a new leader. Ok, let’s not go too deep into the ancient times… At the beginning of the 20th century, women in Iran predominantly wore white hijabs entirely covering their heads and did not use any makeup. However, this was the time when movement for women’s rights was arising, and by 1920s, hijabs became more colourful, and one could notice curly hair locks coming out from under the head covers.
taken from this source

In 1925, Reza Shah Pahlavi came to power and implemented possibly the biggest modernization and westernization policies in the history of the country. Although many historians still question his actions in terms of Iran’s foreign affairs, Reza Shah did a lot of work towards introduction and defense of Persian women’s rights. In 1930s, he banned the use of hijab. Unfortunately, implementation of the law was too harsh and even cruel, which resulted in a negative reaction from women themselves, especially those who were truly religious and of the older generation. They in fact perceived unveiling as degrading.
source article

The ban was subsequently revoked, which, again, led to a contradictory response. Veiling now became considered by Iranian women as a relic of the past and a sign of a lower class. Thus, in 1940s, Persian ladies started dressing up practically in the same way as most women in the Western world. Iranian women became (and I am not afraid to use the word) fashionable. They started putting on makeup, getting beautiful hairstyles and, eventually, wearing close-fitting clothes revealing their legs and arms.

The photographs from the 70’s magazines vividly demonstrate the dressing style of those times. Iran rightfully became one of the centers of fashion where women enthusiastically expressed their independence and self-confidence through the bright stylish outfits.

click here for the source

click here for the source

Unfortunately, this did not last long, and the Islamic Revolution of 1979 once again reversed the modernization, this time, enforcing even more severe laws and restrictions on women’s rights than, I suppose, ever. The only choice of clothing for a woman was now a black hijab.

Thankfully, about ten years later, these laws started to gradually diminish. Now, women in Iran do not have to wear an actual hijab. They can put on regular clothes but still covering most of their bodies.

Moreover, having come to Iran, I saw that the majority of women only cover half of their head with a shawl showing big parts of their thick hair. Despite the strict control of the government, women, especially their young generation, maintained their amazing sense of style. All their clothes, makeup and hairstyles are in line with the latest fashion trends. Yet another proof that, whatever the law, it’s never easy to break the spirit and inner independence of a strong woman.

So, it was important for me to choose the right clothing items for the trip in order to comply with the country’s law as well as not to lose my individuality. And shopping was, of course, a very exciting task.


En Route

I was pleasantly surprised by how easy and quickly I got a visa to Iran. It certainly depends on a traveler’s citizenship. I am a citizen of Kazakhstan. All I had to provide to the Consulate General of Iran in Almaty was a work certificate, a hotel reservation, an application form and my passport, and the next day I successfully received a free pass to this wonderful country.


I don’t know about you but when I travel by plane I like to relax in my seat (however possible), watch a new movie, enjoy (however possible) an in-flight meal and savour some wine or beer. This time, the latter was not exactly the same. I knew that in Iran it was forbidden to consume any alcohol. Besides me, there were only two-three other non-Iranian persons on the airplane. And thus, in order not to demonstrate disrespect to the friendly Persian nation, I decided to order a glass of tomato juice, instead of a beer. But you can probably imagine my astonishment when all (and I mean ALL!) Iranians on that plane started ordering beer, whiskey and other hard liquor. The flight attendants could only manage to pour one drink when a new order came in. This was the first time in my not-so-little experience of traveling by plane that the entire stock of alcohol on board was finished in less than two hours…

And then it hit me. The laws in Iran and the opinions of the Iranians are two totally different things. The majority of the Iranian population (well, at least, Tehran citizens) do not support religion that much. They only follow the law of Shari’a because it is the law enforced by their government, and it’s impossible to do otherwise, but not because they believe in its rightness with all their hearts. And what happened that day on board of the plane could not have been a better demonstration of how impossible it is to alter the true opinions of such a strong nation. Uhm, and, of course, that a forbidden fruit tastes the sweetest ))

Having landed in Tehran after four hours of flight, all women including myself put headscarves on and headed to the International Airport of Imam Khomeini. On the way to passport control, I noticed a young woman who was as I thought from South Korea. Her headscarf was made of very smooth silk and kept sliding off her head. Evidently, she was very concerned by this fact constantly lifting the head scarf back up. Nevertheless, by no means did the passport control officer judge the lady whose headscarf was already not on her head but on her shoulders, and granted a positive stamp in her passport.

After passing the passport control and getting my luggage, I went out of the airport and headed to the straight rows of yellow taxis. Showed a paper with residence address in Farsi printed by my friend beforehand, and off I was.


The City

Soon enough, magnificent views of Tehran appeared before my eyes. The first thing that you notice while driving along the wide roads of the city is the disproportionately big amount of national flags. They are everywhere! On every bridge, along most highways, on many buildings. Yet another proof of how much the government is trying to demonstrate its authority and implant the spirit of patriotism in its citizens. One way or another, the sight of these numerous flags waving in the breeze is truly breathtaking.

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Stretching along the mountain slopes for many kilometers, Tehran embraces its inhabitants and guests with an absolutely special vibe. An interesting mix of the contemporary and the traditional, the clean and the dusty, the rich and the poor, the luxury and the simple. Old monumental buildings complement new constructions made of glass and metal. Numerous murals on buildings’ walls fit well into the rather brownish landscapes. Beautiful green islands with flowerbeds and small trees are laid out along every big road. Despite the high air temperatures in summer season and the lack of rain, all plants look vivid and well-groomed. Among the dense streams of expensive and no-so-expensive foreign brand cars, all of a sudden one can run into a Soviet “Lada” probably imported here somewhere in the 70’s. This energetic metropolitan city is filled with magnificent historical museums, splendid palaces, busy bazaars, cozy restaurants, contemporary shopping malls and pleasant parks.

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Having just stepped onto the Persian land, I was given a chance to taste one of the Iranian delicacies when my taxi driver, not speaking any English but constantly smiling, treated me with big black sunflower seeds roasted in lemon 😊 This cute friendly gesture marked the beginning of the four days of Iranian hospitality.


Persian Hospitality

Three years ago, in Almaty, Kazakhstan, I met a good guy from Iran who very shortly became one of my best friends. Having found out that I was going to his home country, he immediately contacted his parents who willingly opened their doors to me now in Tehran. There are several nations in the world that are famous for their hospitality. Georgians, Thais, Armenians, Kazakhs, Colombians, Italians, Swiss… Well, you know what? Go to Iran, and you’ll discover the whole new level of hospitality! Never before have I felt so comfortable in somebody else’s house like it was at the home of the parents of my Almaty Persian friend. They treated me with the most delicious home-made breakfasts and lunches (Persian cuisine, by the way, is a whole new topic for a different article), introduced me to numerous sisters, aunts and nephews, took me to different restaurants and city’s sightseeing spots, and under no circumstances let me pay practically anywhere. When we were walking at one of the bazaars, my friend’s mother’s niece bought me Iranian sunflower seeds and pistachios, a bag each. Her sister presented me with a beautiful hand-made pedant at the end of my stay. I really felt like another child of this incredible family. My friend whose wedding I came to attend was also unbelievably generous, giving me as a present a day of relaxation at his wonderful spa center and splendid copper kitchenware as a souvenir of Iran.





The third day of my trip was the wedding day. Before this moment, my idea of a Persian wedding had been the following: traditional ceremony in a large traditionally decorated palace with Persian carpets, wall ornaments and massive chandeliers, women wearing gorgeous traditional gowns and headscarves… and lots of food. Well, it looks like I was only right about the food.

The wedding took place in a spacious out-of-town events venue with a big garden. Half of the tables were set in the garden, and the other half was inside. Everything was in light colours. White tablecloths and chairs, ivory and light pink flowers, white bows and lights on the trees, reception area made of light marble, with a big swimming pool filled with red rose petals. The entire décor was modern, fresh and delicate (no Persian carpets or ornaments).

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Another important question that I faced before the trip was: what should I wear to the wedding? My friend convinced me that people do not follow the same conservative style at weddings as they do in the city, and I could wear whatever I liked. But it was only after coming to the wedding that I came to understand why. Before going to a wedding, Persian ladies put on beautiful dresses covering their legs and arms and cover their heads. However, weddings are purposefully held in the venues that may be rented entirely for this one event only. When guests drive into the territory of the venue, the gates are locked, and people inside are free to wear whatever they wish. Women take off their headscarves and bulky gowns revealing fashionable tight-fitted dresses with open shoulders and back or cleavage.

It’s highly likely that my dress was the most conservative among other young women at that wedding 😊

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Similar situation happens around the alcohol at weddings. In spite of the strict ban on the consumption of liquor, some people in Iran are secretly occupied in production of high quality alcoholic beverages or somehow import it from other countries. It is usually the friends of a bride and a groom who bring alcohol to a wedding and then serve it at the back of the house. No one talks about it but everyone knows. The wedding venue gates are usually guarded by one of their own. If the police comes, the gatekeeper can warn all the guests or pay the police off.


The wedding started off with the arrival of the newlyweds who marched down the green carpet to the garden, to the applause of family and friends. The bride was wearing a gorgeous ivory dress with beads embroidered top and a full skirt. The groom was in a classic elegant black suit with a bow-tie. Greetings of the couple were followed by an approximately forty-five-minute wedding ceremony. A man with a well-trained voice asked the main question to the bride and the groom, and after getting a positive answer, read wishes and words of wisdom to the newly married couple. Guests listened very attentively, smiled and sometimes laughed. Then the man invited the closest family members and friends, one by one, to come up to the newlyweds, give a short speech and present gifts. According to the Persian tradition, all wedding presents should be made of gold – golden jewelry for the bride, and golden watch for the groom.


After the ceremony, everyone went to their tables to savour various canapés and the most delicious non-alcoholic punch, dancing music by contemporary Iranian singers was playing inside, guests and the newlyweds vigorously danced for at least three hours straight. Everyone was happy, everyone hugged and cheered each other. I was also greeted by the friends and the family with special kindness and friendliness. After the joyful dancing, the dinner was served – a beautiful buffet of luxurious and savoury Persian cuisine, main courses, salads and desserts. At the end of the wedding, all guests were given presents – photographs of the married couple and little souvenirs.

A wedding is always a special occasion. You become a witness of love of two people. But also of love of their families and friends. And although I didn’t know anyone at that wedding except for the groom, I enjoyed being a witness of the sincere love and tenderness that these wonderful people shared and expressed to one another.



I was leaving Iran with the sense of gratitude but also with the feeling that it wasn’t enough. Four and a half days is not enough to see and experience everything.

I was blown away by the gorgeous views of Tehran from 435-meter tall Milad Tower, the sixth tallest tower in the world.



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I visited all halls, bedrooms and studies of Saadabad Palace, home of Reza Shah during his years of reign and, subsequently, of his son – Mohammad Reza Shah.




I learned what tableware was used and what cars were driven by the members of Pahlavi dynasty from the museums attached to the Palace.





I enjoyed breathtaking sights of the night capital from the 270-meter long Tabiat Bridge.



I walked through multiple bazaars of the city including The Grand Bazaar where one can find nearly anything one wishes – from the most delicious dried fruits, nuts, saffron, tea and nougat to the most shiny copper kitchenware, splendid Persian dresses, and even cheap electronics.





I found out how mouthwatering the lamb stew may be when cooked together with fruits and berries, in the most savoury dishes of the Persian cuisine.


It wasn’t enough not because there was lack of something but because there was a lot of everything, and I wanted more!

Iran is more than Tehran. It’s also other historical destinations like Shiraz, Esfahan, Yazd, Tabriz, Sanandaj, Gorgan…

I am grateful to the destiny that it brought me to this amazing country. I am not talking about the government. I’m talking about the people. About the proud yet open-minded Persian people. About the women who, even in these circumstances, stay true to themselves and do not lose their spirit. About the men who love and take care of their women and, despite the government, treat them equally. About the sincere, friendly and hospitable people willing to open their doors to a foreigner. About the waiters, shop assistants and simple passersby who smile and try to speak to you in broken English and even Russian.

We live in the world of information but that information is far from always correct. By no means do I encourage you to thoughtlessly travel to any part of the world while actually risking to get into the center of war activities or the epicenter of a terrible disease. But usually it’s enough to simply re-check the information. In the era of technologies, it is, thankfully, very simple, quick and free. Ask people. Those who live in the country of your interest, or those who have already visited it.

Most of the time, we just need to push the boundaries of the accustomed, cross off the stereotypes, open our minds and hearts, and the world will reward us in the same way.


About 20 minutes after take-off of the passenger aircraft flying from Tehran to Almaty, the flight attendant made an announcement: “Dear ladies and gentlemen, the Captain has turned off the ‘Fasten Seat Belt’ sign. In a few moments, we will offer you soft drinks and alcoholic beverages”. And one and a half hours later, the entire stock of alcohol on board was finished again.


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Love those classic cars. Love travel. Love your photos. Was in Vietnam and Canada and Hawaii. Love your fashion. Love pistachios and nuts in general for the brain. Love eating from my own gardens.

Hey Joey! Thanks for the nice words!
I’ve checked out your profile. Looks like you’ve done some outstanding things. Keep traveling and discovering the unknown. This is one of the great ways to grow! 🙏🏼

Awesome. How are you?

Great! Just trying to keep up with all other successful steemians :)

Sweet, how are you?

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