My name is Mohamad. I live in Iran, in a small town located in the west of Iran. As i go to school(university i mean :D ) there in Tehran I should remove and go over there in a few weeks.
Since I've never been out of my country, I have no idea how getting a visa for going to Iran could be hard (or maybe easy ;)) but i can share my information about Iranian culture and what you need to know while being in Iran..
actually about what people said here I have to say, I've never heard and never seen that a green head scarf can put you in trouble here and people normally don't judge you based on your clothes and like every where if you want to look quite normal, your appearance needs to look like other people;
It's Ramadan, but there isn't any Little in the way of productivity! just some restaurants are closed during the day and people try not to drink and eat outdoors during the day as a way of respecting other fasting people.Of curse You can surely find something to eat and drink.. :D
About the other problem, don't worry if you have blond hair and blue eyes. many persians are blond and have blue eyes (specially in the west part of Iran); some of my cousins have green or blue eyes or blond hair.. it's not so weird here ;).
I hope this message was useful enough..
but feel free to ask me your questions about Iran and Iranians and what's going on here..:)
I send you my email address,so we can meet and talk online.
Take care and welcome to Iran when ever you come, we are waiting for you :)
One of the important aspects of tourism in each country is its cultural features such as local traditions, feasts and rituals. Iran is quite rich in its cultural qualities, customs and religious rituals. Iran, as a Moslem country, has many religious ceremonies and rituals rooted in Islam. While there are many old customs originating in Zoroastrianism, Islamic rituals have enjoyed a lot of popularity both due to the majority of Moslem population and uniqueness of the customs per se. Iranian-Islamic rituals are indeed unique as they have blended both Iranian and Islamic cultures. With Shiite majority, Iranians have developed many rituals related to commemorating Shiite Imams. Imam Hussein is the third Imam (leader of Shiites) who was killed unfairly and brutally by some Arab tyrants of the time. Even after 14t centuries, the innocence and brevity of Imam Hussein and his fellowmen dominates the Shiites culture.
Every year the Shiites round the world commemorate his sorrowful and unfair martyrdom by mourning for 10 consecutive days at the beginning of the first month of the Lunar year, Moharam. The 10th day is called Ashura which marks the martyrdom of Imam Hussein in Karbala (Iraq).
There are a number of rituals held in this period among which Ta’zieh and Nakhlgardani seem very interesting to many visitors as they depict some aspects of Ashura events. Ta’zieh is a kind of street theater which narrates the story of martyrdom of Imam Hussein and his followers and the sufferings of their family members. The narration and laments are so emotional that impress all the audience even the foreigners who may not know much about the sufferings of Imam Hussein and his family.
Nakhl Gardani (carrying the palm tree) is another mourning custom on Ashura. This one is uniquely held in central Iran particularly in Yazd city and nearby towns. Nakhl is a gigantic wooden structure like a leave and has nothing to do with a palm. It is covered with a black cloth and decorated with daggers, swords and other ornaments. Many believe that it refers to tents of Imam Hussein family. Others say this is a symbolic funeral as the martyrs were buried without any ceremony or proper respect.
The name Nakhl (palm) perhaps refers to raised stature of martyrs. The Nakhl is so huge and heavy that requires more than 50 people to lift and carry it. During one week, the senior and elders decorated the Nakhl, cover it with different ornaments and picture of lion covered with blood. The lion is symbol of the Imam and the daggers are symbol of the swords lunged into his body. Finally, on the 10th day hundreds of people gather and help in lifting the Nakhl and carrying it around. A man standing on the nakhl hits the cymbal and laments while others carry the Nakhl around a holy shrine 3 times.
The Moharam mourning period begins November 25, 2011 this year and Tasooa (the 9th day) and Ashura (the 9th day) are national holidays. If you happen to be in Iran in the first week of December, do not miss the chance!
Persepolis is a must-see in Iran. was the ceremonial capital of the Persian Empire during the Achaemenid dynasty (ca. 550-330 BCE). Persepolis is situated 70 km northeast of the modern city of Shiraz in the Fars Province of modern Iran. In contemporary Persian, the site is known as Takht-e Jamshid (Throne of Jamshid) and Parseh. The earliest remains of Persepolis date from around 515 BCE. To the ancient Persians, the city was known as Pārsa, which means "The City of Persians".
UNESCO declared the citadel of Persepolis a World Heritage Site in 1979.
The Imam Mosque stands in south side of Naghsh-i Jahan Square.
Built during the Safavids period, it is an excellent example of Islamic architecture of Iran, and regarded as the masterpiece of Persian Architecture. The Shah Mosque of Esfahan is one of the everlasting masterpieces of architecture in Iran and all over the world. It is registered along with the Naghsh-i Jahan Square as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its construction began in 1611, and its splendor is mainly due to the beauty of its seven-color mosaic tiles and calligraphic inscriptions.
The mosque is depicted on the reverse of the Iranian 20,000 rials banknote.
The glorious Sheikh Lotf Allah Mosque is one of the architectural masterpieces of Safavid Iranian architecture.
The mosque was built in 1615 by the orders of Shah Abbas I of the Safavid dynasty. The architect finished construction of the mosque in 1618. The mosque was used as a prayer hall as well as a lecture hall. Oviously in 1618 there were no microphones, to fix this problem the architects created the dome in such a manner that if a needle drops you can hear it loud and clear.
Before my trip, my work mate, who's parents are Iranian, told me that her mother had said that I HAD to visit these caves as they were very special. So I was pleased to see that this was on my itinerary.
The caves are considered to be one of Iran's main tourist attractions. It is located between the cities of Tehran, Qom and Hamadan, so is in reach for many Iranians to visit on Fridays and public holidays.
They are hidden under the Subashi Mountains of Kaboudar-Ahang in the village of Ali Sadr.
The cave was originally discovered during the reign of Darius I (521-485 BC) . There is an ancient inscription at the tunnels entrance which confirms this.
For some reason, the caves existence wasn't known of again , until, the early 1960's when, a shepherd discovered the cavern, whilst searching for a lost sheep, and followed the entrance tunnel. (other versions are that he was looking for water - and for some reason many articles claim that this happened in 1978- 3 years after the caves were open to the public!!)
A team of mountaineers from Hamadan entered the cave on 28.09.1963 and visited the various parts, then in 1973 Hamadans mountaineers widened the tunnel entrance, before it was opened to the public in 1975.
The Caves attract nearly a million visitors annually from Iran and further afield, all coming to get a glimpse of 'The Worlds largest Water Cave' and its crystalline formations.
There are 11 kms of tunnels discovered at present (this was verified by a joint German/English team who surveyed the caves with state of the art equipment) in 2001
The width of the cave varies between 1.5 and 60 meters.
In some sections the caves' ceiling, more than 15 meters high, is covered with stalactites of various sizes and shapes. Some resemble cauliflowers and grapes. There are many stalagmites reaching towards the caves roof.
We arrived into a large car park, then there was a walk along paths to the ticket offices.We also passed through a shopping area with stores selling souvenirs, CDs, snacks etc - but NO POSTCARDS!!
The entrance Hall reminded me of an airport lounge, with rows of seats and a TV screen.
We showed our tickets, but there appeared to be a problem - Majid told me to carry on as he had to go back to the car for something. Apparently, he had forgotten a document that proved he was a tour guide- his badge alone wasn't enough this time.
Descending into the cavern, I could see many posters of different Ayatollahs and Mullahs, with 'thought provoking messages' in Farsi and English. (I presume they were passages from the Koran)
There were also many 'Do Not' signs. This was the most oppressed I felt during my entire stay in Iran!
Majid soon re-joined me, and we walked a bit further until we came to an area, where we had to wait to board our boat for the next part of our journey. Three plastic vessels, were linked by rope to the boatman's pedalo. As we chugged along, he pointed out items of interest (which Majid translated for me) These were various rock formations eroded by centuries of water trickling over them, or else created from the mineral rich water forming deposits of crystalline shapes.
One of the highlights for me, was as another group approached us, in their boats, a woman was happily singing - (It's illegal for females to sing (or dance) in public in Iran) Majid smiled and whispered, "There aren't any police down here"!
to be continued..
CLICK HERE FOR ALISADR CAVE WEBSITE(farsi and english)
CLICK HERE FOR GEOLOGICAL INFO
Our journey to Bijar took us past an old caravanserai. These places of rest were introduced by Shah Abbas the Great in the 17th Century. His idea was that there would be such places throughout Iran for merchants and traders etc to be sure of a place to sleep and eat for themselves and their animals. They were also places where trading and business discussions could take place. Goods such as carpets, silks and cotton were common products.
The caravanserai were built 33km apart, which was equivalent to 1 days walk. (In mountainous areas, the distance was 25km).
They were also used by the faithful, making the Haj to and then from Mecca.
We were now in Kurdistan province, another one of Iran's 30 provinces.
On the road, I noticed a few lorries carrying cement. Majid explained that the town of Bijar is important for cement production. This is used in buildings and roadworks. The Kordistan Cement factory is one of the largest employers in the area
Bijar is especially famed for its carpet and rug makingSome info about Bijar carpets
Surprisingly Majid didn't mention this fact- Apparently, there is a large bazaar here too.
We stayed just outside Bijar for lunch at the Hotel Bam Iran, where I enjoyed yogurt, trout and rice,
Kurdistan province is mainly mountainous. The area around Bijar is a popular ski resort in winter. There are also many mineral water springs.
The capital of this province is Sanandaj, which has a reputation for being a very friendly city, with students hoping to practice their English.
After lunch, we headed on towards the Kurdish town of Gharve, passing by a twin minaret-ed mosque at a place which I think was called Soroushabad.
I was quite surprised to see some waste bins in Gharve were on fire. It didn't take long to see that this was how the bins were 'emptied' in this town!
We still had a bit further to go until we reached the Ali Sadr caves, which are in Hamadan province. This is the area where the Lahr tribe reside, so I was seeing many different styles of clothing on this journey (I'm hoping to cover the different costumes and traditions etc in my local customs tips)
I think I'd misinterpretted my LP, when it read that here, 2 mosques share 3 minarets. I thought that this meant that they were joined. As far as I could see as we drove by, one mosque had 2 minarets, and the one further along the street had 1. However, it could be that there was another mosque hidden from street view, sharing a minaret or two!
We stopped so that I could take some pics of the mosques. It appeared to be quite a sleepy village, with men huddled in small groups chatting in the shade, while women in distinctive flower printed chadors walked with their children, along the roadside.
We returned through Ispanjan after our visit to Kandovan, where we passed a huge trailer transporting a caterpillar treaded vehicle, that dwarfed us, and held up the flow of traffic for a while. (pic 5)
Mount Damâvand is a dormant volcano and the highest peak in Iran. It is located in the middle Elborz Range about 70 kilometres northeast of Tehran. It is the highest point (5610 m) in the Middle East and the highest volcano in Asia.
It has a special place in Persian mythology and folklore in Zoroastrian texts and in Persian poet Ferdowsi masterpiece Shahnameh. Damavand is like the Mount Olympus of Persian mythology.
It was so unexpectedly when I saw it out of an airplane window! It was so beautiful that everyone was staring at this extraordinary sight.
Our flight went on over Qeshm and Abu Musa islands in the Persian (Arabian) gulf. Qeshm is an island situated in the Strait of Hormuz off the south coast of Iran and east of the Persian Gulf and about 180 kilometers from the UAE. The island is 135 km long.
Abu Musa is a 12 sq.km island in the eastern Persian Gulf, part of a six-island archipelago near the entrance to the Strait of Hormuz. The island is administered by Iran, but is also claimed by the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Saddam Hussein attempted to justify the Iraq-Iran war by claiming that one of the objectives was to "liberate" Abu Musa.
Alborz, also written as Alburz or Elburz is a mountain range in northern Iran stretching from the borders of Armenia in the northwest to the southern end of the Caspian Sea, and ending in the east at the borders of Turkmenistan and Afghanistan.
In Russian transcription we call it Elburz and we often confuse it with the Elbrus which is a volcano located in the western Caucasus mountain range, in Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachay-Cherkessia. Their names are very similar but the name of Elbrus is many times popular in Russia than the name of Elburz. Only people who learnt geography well in their childhood and people who ever were in Iran know the difference.
The Elburz mountain range forms a barrier between the south Caspian and the Qazvin-Tehran plateau. It is 60-130 km wide and I was lucky to see this beautiful mountains with my own eyes out of airplane windows.
Day 2 and Guide Number 2 - Majid, who was to be with me for the next 6 days.
After breakfast, I checked out of Hotel Mashad, and we set off through Tehrans 'rush hour' traffic, heading for Qazvin, Masouleh and Rasht, before reaching Bandar-e- Anzali, where we were to stay for the next 2 nights.
Qazvin is well worth visiting, to see the stunning tilework of the Friday (Jameh) Mosque, the 3 gates of Rah Kushk, Ali Qapu and Tehran, Chehel Sotun Palace, and my favourite, the OTT Imamzadeh-ye-Hossein. (Please visit my Qazvin pages for more info and photos)
Qazvins other attractions include its bazaar and caravanserai, cisterns and Hammams, churches, mosques, shrines and historical houses.
The city dates back to the 3rd century BC, when Shapur 1, the Sassanid King ruled. It developed due to its fertile soil, making it a centre of agriculture. Fruit- particularly seedless grapes, nuts, wheat, cotton are its main crops. Sheep provide wool for the clothing and carpet industry, as well as their meat for food production. Many flour, wool and cotton mills, textile producers, clothing factories and electrical goods factories are established in Qazvin city and its Province.
Qazvins other 'claim to fame' is its non- PC 'joke' that the men of this city are all predatory homosexuals. I'd read this in my guide book, and in other travel articles, where guides or visitors from outside Qazvin had mimed limp wrist , or bending down movements to emphasise their point!
Majid just said that it's a joke in Iran, that the men here seemed to prefer the men to the women.
The men of other cities don't escape lightly - Those from Rasht - our next destination, were seen as 'sexually liberal and constant cuckolds!! So perhaps THAT'S the reason why Majid drove through without stopping!
Majid had suggested that it might be better to alter the planned itinarary. Instead of going to Masuleh today, we'd drive to Bandar-e- Anzali, then go tomorrow, when we'd have more time. I was quite happy with this idea.
We left Qazvin behind, after lunch at the Iran Hotel (Chelo Kabab (mince meat), salad, yogurt, Fanta and cay) in a north westerly direction heading towards Rudbar
After visiting the Ali Sadr Caves, we set off for Hamadan, where I was to stay for the next night. I was feeling a bit sad, as I'd be saying Good Bye, to Majid, also a bit apprehensive, as I'd be meeting my new guide, also called Majid, who I was to spend the next 12 days with.
Arriving in Hamadan, I was quite impressed, it looked like an interesting town, bustling with life. It was hard to imagine that this was once one of the ancient worlds greatest cities, when it was known as Ecbatana.
Passing round Imam Khomeini Square, there was a very impressive centre piece (with sculpted figures and faces), from where 6 roads led away, like the spokes of a bicycle. I also glimpsed a mirrored dome of a mosque.
I needed to change some money, so we drove to a nearby street, where there were exchange offices. This was near a small bazaar, which I was hoping to look around later.
As we drew up outside the Hotel Arian, Majid got out to talk to a man standing outside - This was Majid, who was holding out a red rose to me. My room wasn't quite ready, so I waited in the hotel reception, which was quite smart. I'd been told that Majid would be returning to Tehran that evening, but he had changed his plans - the 3 of us were going to eat out that evening.
My hotel room was quite modern and smart, I had a corner room with windows onto 2 streets.
I just had time for a quick shower, before we met up. The restaurant was on the outskirts of Hamadan. We were shown to a terrace, with the typical carpeted platforms. The clientele appeared to be smart looking professionals, female students and family groups.
I had salad, yogurt with spinach and cinnamon, flat bread and kebab of lamb and chicken. Both Majids had lamb stew. Oh, and we all had rice and non alcoholic beers.
Both the men chatted together for most of the meal - yes, I did feel a bit invisible! but I was tired, so I quite enjoyed just people watching.
Back at the hotel, I said my goodbyes to Majid and gave him his tip, and a small gift I'd brought from home. He'd promised to leave some cd's for me back at my hotel in Tehran that he was having copied for me, of the music we'd listened to in his car during our journeys. It seemed much longer than a week, since I'd been here in Iran, I'd done and seen so much already.
A short drive from Zendan-e-Soleiman, we arrived at this Unesco World Heritage Site.
It was once known as Azergoshnasb, and was important as the Spiritual centre for followers of Zoroastrianism in the 3rd Century AD. This was the main religion of Iran until the Arab Conquest. Followers, believe their omnipotent and invisible god, is represented as fire, hence Fire Temples, which can still be seen around Iran. Many mosques have been constructed on the sites of former fire temples.
Today, Zoroastrians mainly live in Yazd (Where its Temple flame has been burning for over 4,000 years) and Tehran.
Zoroastrianism is also known as Mazdaism - (Ahura Mazda, being their supreme god) and Majism - as the ancient priests were called Magi. The 3 Wise Kings, or Magi in the Bible are believed to have been Zoroastrian Magi.
Besides worshipping fire - Water, Wind and Earth are respected elements, and this site was ideal.
Naturally produced gas from the volcanoes, was chanelled to the temple, to maintain an eternal flame. Water formed in the crater lake, which is one of the centrepieces of the site today, and this was also chanelled into the temple.
Due to its location, high on an open plain, it is often quite windswept.
Later, Takht-e-Suleiman was inhabited by the Mongol Ilkhanid khans, who used it as a summer retreat. Over the years, the site became neglected, with the structures collapsing, and decaying.
Much restoration and reconstruction has taken place, and is still on going.
A museum has been set up in the former Hunting palace, with displays of pottery, stonework and other artifacts. There is also a display of photos and information of work by UNESCO, scientific projects etc. Staff are on hand to answer questions.
After purchasing some post cards and a laminated plan of the site (3,000 rials), we set off for the drive to our next destination the famed Ali Sadr Caves.
I've started my Takht-e-Suleyman page, but I think it will be a while before it's complete!
Although I'd hardly slept - it was quite cold, and I couldn't get comfortable, the early morning view of Mount Sabalan woke me up. There was a whisp of cloud across the top. A few more tents had appeared overnight. Today was Friday, (the holy day) when many Iranians head to the countryside
We took down our tents, and headed for breakfast at one of the small cafes.
I'd noticed quite a few sheep, sitting in small groups, at intervals along the 'street'.
While Majid ordered our breakfast, I wandered outside to have a look around.
I didn't get too far, right in front of me, one of the sheep was taking its last breaths, as a couple of men were holding it still. Luckily, I didn't see the knife cutting the sheeps jugular vein.
I was quite surprised as to how quickly and calmly the procedure was over, with its fleece being expertly skinned, then the carcass being suspended from a nearby rack, where it was gutted, then washed - bits of entrails were caught in a bucket, which a woman took away.
This scene was being repeated all along the length of the village street.
In less than an hour, all the sheep had been slaughtered, and were hanging in jointed pieces from racks. A few patches of blood on the ground was the only clue as to what had happened, and these were being washed away, or swept over.
If I hadn't stepped outside when I did, I would just have thought that there were a lot of butchers shops in the small village!
Well, I managed to eat my breakfast after all this.
I don't get over-sentimental about animals being killed for food, and I'd been quite impressed at how calmly, quickly and efficiently, this had been carried out, and the sheep hadn't seemed to be unduly stressed. Also, I'm sure that none of the meat etc. would be wasted.
Warning - pics 2 - 5 show pics of the butchered sheep
More Regions in Iran