Tehran, Shiraz, Isfahan: friendly people Iran’s main attraction

Tehran, Shiraz, Isfahan: friendly people Iran’s main attraction...
tags.news.com.au 16/12/2016 Fun

Keywords:#Hafez, #Iran, #Isfahan, #Islamic, #Islamic_Republic, #Kashan, #Persia, #Persian, #Shah, #Shiraz, #Silk_Road, #Tags.news.com.au, #Tehran, #UNESCO, #US, #World_Heritage, #Zagros, #Zagros_Mountains

The tourist-friendly city of Isfahan in Iran.

* * * JANE FREEBURY The Australian12:00AM December 17, 2016
As I look around on the flight to Tehran, none of the other female passengers is wearing a headscarf. Not yet, anyhow, and not until we land.
And Argo, the movie about US Embassy hostages escaping post-revolutionary Iran, seems a rather surprising in-flight entertainment option as we make a low-key entry into the Islamic Republic.
So day one and here goes. I drape a scarf over my hair. There will be two weeks of this imposition, but with the prospect of ancient palaces, a caravanserai on the fabled Silk Road, the heady experiences of Persian bazaars, and romantic Shiraz and Isfahan all ahead of me, it will surely be well worth it.
Our overland tour with Peregrine Adventures will wend through central Iran, beginning in Shiraz, a lovely, laid-back city where it’s not hard to find ice cream, cakes and coffee that are second to none, though not of course any of the famous wine that originated here.
Shiraz is Iran’s cultural capital, a centre of philosophy and learning down the centuries. Persia’s most famous poet, Hafez, who lived in the city in the 14th century, is buried here and our local guide reads us some of his verse.
Celebrating love, spirituality, longing, and the lack of restraint afforded by wine, it forms the basis of many sayings used today. Our guide says you can find Hafez’s book of verse alongside the Koran in almost every Persian home. The claim seems a bit far-fetched, but later I realise it’s not as I experience first-hand the culture of these thoughtful and engaging people.
On our walk across Shiraz we enjoy an excellent espresso but the young barista won’t let us pay. A couple of days later in the Zagros Mountains on a walk past an orchard, we pause uncertainly as a young man runs towards us. He thrusts three big, rosy apples at us and they are crunchy, juicy and delicious.
On two occasions, we dine at local homes, including with a middle-class family in Kashan. These are friendly, relaxed occasions at which we sit on the floor around a vast spread of home-cooked food, with delicious eggplant dips, chicken stews in walnut and pomegranate juice. Though, for me it is the impromptu moments that stand out. It’s impossible not to feel welcome in Iran.
Iranians throng to their parks and gardens and we also enjoy our time within Persian gardens, a UNESCO World Heritage-protected concept. It says something that creating beautiful green, harmoniously proportioned, communal spaces in such a harsh environment has been a feature of this civilisation for a long time.
However, I do notice that music is missing. A licence is required to perform music in public but we do happen upon singers in Isfahan, under the arches of a graceful arched 17th-century bridge.
As we pass by, a smiling woman in black robes welcomes us to Iran and it’s a greeting we hear many times over from men and women, young and old, from Shiraz to Tehran. The Lonely Planet guide to Iran is right to list the people as the country’s No 1 attraction.
After a couple of weeks aboard private minibuses through the country’s magnificent, mountainous desert interior, we return to the convenience of Tehran with a tinge of regret, although the metropolis is just as fascinating. We all observe that nose surgery is quite the thing and we spot men and women with telltale Band-Aids across the bridge of their nose.
Aboard the metro on our way to some palaces of the former Shah, I travel in the designated female section, observing how stylish young women turn themselves out. I can say they push at the margins with a great sense of style. Feeling emboldened on a day out with my husband, I ride the mixed carriage with him on the way back.
There are two young women aboard, one of whom gives me the friendliest smile. Nobody else turns a hair.
---As I look around on the flight to Tehran, none of the other female passengers is wearing a headscarf. Not yet, anyhow, and not until we land. ---
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