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Famous Iranian hospitality

Ian Docherty, Who traveled to Iran with Oriente Viajes told us about his experience:

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Ian in Iran

“There are certain topics one may contrive to introduce into conversation, the reaction to which will almost invariably provide a damning insight into the depth of prejudice of your fellow conversationalists. One such subject is Iran.

My wee lad is half-Irish, half-Iranian but circumstances have dictated that the task of instructing him on both aspects of such a magnificent national identity has fallen unto me. (While a proselytizing citizen of the world, I also firmly believe that in order to know who we are, and, indeed, where we are going, we must be fully aware of where we come from). This noble undertaking, aided by a profound distrust of western media and abetted by an insatiable wanderlust, were the reasons behind my first visit to the country formerly known as Persia.

Just as when flat-hunting, the timing of any visit is significant, and there is no better time of year to experience Iran than Norooz, the new year holiday period. In the Persian calendar the spring equinox marks the beginning of the year and seems to me a much more logical time for such a celebration. For me it´s an extra-special day because it co-incides with my son´s birthday, 21st March.

The ideal weather and the holidays translate into a pervasive good mood and everyone spends the whole time outside so the streets and squares are effervescent. You can meet visitors from other places which perhaps would not be the case at other times of the year and during my stay I got to know Kurds, Azerís, Pakistanis, Afghans, Turkmen, Armenians, visiting Iranians living abroad, and, of course countless, countless locals.

My somewhat nondescript appearance means I can usually blend in or even pass myself off as native in many countries I visit (at least until I open my mouth), but travelling in a group precluded such subterfuge. For once, however, standing out as foreign tourists had a positive side as we frequently became a magnet for intrigued passers-by with people unhesitatingly approaching for a chat. English is far more widely spoken in Iran than many would have us believe, and since my travelling companions were Spaniards, I was only too happy to bear the full brunt of the famous Iranian hospitality and friendship. On various occasions small orderly queues would form spontaneously, comprising individuals of all ages, eager to exchange a few words with someone from a western nation, or simply chew the fat – although not pork fat of course. A glance through my travel diary will reveal such phrases as, “this is exactly how all people should be” or “now I know what it must feel like to be a film star,” but I am aware that these were special dates and everyday life is perhaps not so enchanting.

Guidebooks or the internet can inform you of the myriad sights, delicious and healthy ciusine, intense history and unrivalled culture of Iran; what I can tell you that the afore-mentioned cannot is of my own rich experiences. Isfahan, the third largest city, instantly jumped to the top of my list of favourite places in the world after playing a random game of badminton in the majestic Naghsh-e Jahan Square and spending a whole afternoon cycling around the town and along the river, finding that upon returning the rented bicycle there was no charge. The whole time you are not only being offered tea, but also invitations into people´s homes; I have honestly never witnessed such open-hearted goodwill and generosity. In Tehran I was involved in, or rather caused, a traffic accident. My initial shock and guilt were allayed by my friend Shima, who assured me that such incidents are ten-a-penny in one of the largest cities in the world where there are half as many cars as people.

To what was a thoroughly enjoyable holiday and a most enriching personal experience, I feel I must add a token note of negativity, if only for the sake of balance. This will not take the form of any clichéd criticism of state mechanisms, repression, real or perceived, or mourning the lack of alcohol, but rather a much more scatological observation. The toilets in Iran leave a lot to be desired and, outside the hotels, they are not pleasant places to visit. Thankfully the food, with which I was already familiar, thoroughly agreed with me and there were no untoward inconveniences regarding bathroom experiences, and I am eternally grateful for not having to make full use of public toilets.

Our trip was with Oriente Viajes, tried and trusted specialists in the field of Oriental travel, with whom I would not hestitate to travel again and heartliy recommend.”

Ian J.E. Docherty

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