Posted on May 26th, 2009 No comments
The country the highest population of all Persian countries (with about 65 million inhabitants), Iran is also a land of incredible cultural diversity, with dozens of languages, several recognised religions and a broad spectrum of ethnicity in its people. Religion, the dominant faith being Islam, pervades every aspect of Iranian life, an aspect that the majority of visitors find one of the most fascinating features of the country and its people—for Westerners, few other destinations can provide a cultural experience that lies so many leagues away from the familiar. Although Iran does display some similarity to the West in that its governance incorporates a degree of democratic process, the fact that this ideology is balanced against, and often outweighed by, a theocratic authoritarian rule means that trying to draw parallels between the two is sometimes hard to reconcile. Regardless, as a traveller in the country, Iran’s similarity to the West in any sphere seems unimaginable.
Iran lays claim to the largest population of nomads in the world, the vast majority of whom continue to dress in traditional attire, live in traditional housing and follow customs handed down through countless generations of their ancestors. It is a country wherein a unique tribal culture has survived over millennia, leaving a legacy that allows travellers an intriguing sneak-peek into ancient Persian life, and a land that brings the past to life in a contemporary setting. In a similar vein, the remnants of eras gone by dot the Iranian landscape and even the most modern cities, like the capital Tehran, make concerted efforts to preserve the beautiful monuments, art and architecture from the country’s long and fascinating past. Ancient ruins, a plethora of colourful, exquisite mosques and magnificent palaces dating from a multitude of different dynasties lie in wait for the traveller who chooses Iran as a tour destination, sights that only add to the irrepressible impression that Iran is a land of great historic importance.
The enigma that is the Arabian Gulf will cause you to ponder societal directions and intentions. The rapidly modernizing Middle East is in a constant tug-of-war between the traditional past and the pressures of our times. Oil is big business, but trade is much bigger, leading to an awful appropriation of resources and workforce into stunningly ambitious projects. Some of the wealthiest countries on the planet are oases of excess, founded on under-appreciated foreign labour. The surprises continue along the gulf until we reach Oman; jaw-dropping scenery, exciting remoteness, and unspoiled beaches seemingly presented solely for you.
This is a unique opportunity to explore a corner of the world previously misunderstood and almost ignored.
Our Middle East Tours journey to where it all began; to the Cradle of Civilisation and to the birthplace of four of the world’s major religions. Often misunderstood and seldom given the credit it deserves, the Middle East’s recurrent troubles in recent history have seen it relegated to one of the last alternatives when it comes to opting for a tour destination. What lies in wait for travellers on tours to the Middle East, however, is an ancient land of richness and plenty and one whose bounties yield incredible rewards.
Posted on April 8th, 2009 No comments
Iran By Lindsay Mackenzie
Perhaps more than anywhere else I’ve led tours, Iran has a tendency to exceed expectations. From experiencing the grandeur of the sites we visit, to witnessing first-hand the dramatic pace of change in this young and politically significant country, to constantly encountering the unbelievable kindness of the locals, almost everything is surprising to travelers new to Iran, who have heard so much and yet know so little about the country.
Iran saturates the senses, from gardens drenched in the fragrance of orange blossoms in Shiraz, to the bright colors of the tiny village of Abayenah (population 300), to the taste of tamarind tea enjoyed with impossibly sweet dates on an afternoon break in Esfahan.
Many sites leave profound impressions: the immensity of the third largest public square in the world in Esfahan; the simple ingenuity of the ubiquitous wind towers in Yazd; the solemnity inside the tomb of Ayatollah Khomenini in Tehran; the power and historical significance of Persepolis.
It is the warmth of the locals, however, that leaves the most lasting impressions. Wherever we stopped during our two week tour a giggling group of local schoolgirls would creep closer to us as we listened to our guide’s explanations. Knowing that his voice was no match for a group of shrieking teenage girls, our guide would usually stop for a moment to allow the girls to ask their questions.
Generally, after being prodded by her friends, the bravest of the group of girls would shyly greeted us with a reluctant “Hello, how are you?” before hiding behind her headscarf. She would stay hidden for a moment, then her curiosity would get the better of her and she’d reemerge to observe our reaction.
“Well hello! How are you?” one of the members of my group would reply, their response always met by an eruption of shrieking and laughter from the girls. They would move closer to us and, emboldened by their first success, begin to debate among themselves how to construct the next English phrase. After a few more questions, any semblance of order and restraint would break down and they’d gleefully shout whatever came to mind between fits of giggles: “How are you! I love you! Where are you from!”
Then someone would ask for permission to take photos and after a moment of hesitation, the girls would smile, agree, and pulled their cell-phone cameras out from within their black chadors. A shoot-out would ensue, with both ‘sides’ pointing cameras at each other to document the encounter in a delightful chaos of camera clicks and broken-English, the small mob of kids just as eager to ask questions and take photos of us as we were of them.
My group of American and Canadian men and women were consistently greeted by locals with curiosity and kindness. One day in Yazd, for example, a man talking to his friends in the hotel lobby overhead a member of my group mention he needed to find replacement hearing aid batteries. The young man, who was not a staff member at the hotel, picked us up in his own car early the next morning and took us to a store he knew would have them. He expected nothing in return. Later in the afternoon on the same day, another member of my group and I climbed to the top of the Amir Chakhmagh complex during our free time, where we had a brief conversation with a group of local men who were serving in the Iranian army. After climbing down, one of the men asked us if we’d like to see the practice of a traditional sport called Zurkhaneh. We said we would, and followed him around the corner to a gym where a ceremony was underway. Without our knowing it, he paid both of our entrance fees. When we realized what had happened and attempted to pay him back, he told us to enjoy the ceremony and disappeared out of the building.
In perhaps no other place in the world is there such a wide chasm between outsider’s perceptions and the in-country reality than in Iran. I hope many more travelers have the opportunity to bring home new impressions of a truly spectacular country.