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Iran Adventure by Hollie Stebbings

Our Sales consultant Hollie talks about her latest trip to Iran below:

Day 1: Tehran - After years of dreaming about going to Iran, I was finally there - hurtling through the streets of Tehran in a clapped-out taxi. It was about 8:00 am but things were pretty quiet on the streets. It was Ramadan and city life was somewhat subdued (a toned down version of the usual hustle and bustle). We would come to learn that travelling during Ramadan was perhaps the best decision we could have made (a decision that some of us made by accident!).

We were a group of eight; six solo females and a couple travelling together, and we all possessed a yearning to explore this mysterious and largely misunderstood country. Owing to the nature of the long visa process, travellers who end up in Iran are really passionate about being there. With the help of our Intrepid leader Nadia, we began to peel the layers of Persia, starting with a walking tour of the capital. We began at the Golestan palace which boasted some of the blingiest rooms I've ever seen - decorated from floor to ceiling with hand-cut Venetian mirrors. Luckily we all had our sunglasses handy! We then moved on to the winding streets of the main bazaar, finishing up at the Imam Mosque. It looked pretty impressive but Nadia informed us that it was nothing compared to what we would be seeing as we progressed through the itinerary.

 

Day 2: Tehran/Shiraz – This morning we stepped through an unobtrusive doorway and in to a secret café. This is a space for cultured Tehranis to read banned literature, watch western films and create art away from the prying eyes of the Government whilst enjoying a decent cup of coffee and some cake. It was so interesting to see this example of the Iranian underground.

 In the afternoon we took a short internal flight to our next destination - Shiraz. This is Iran’s fifth most populous city but it’s considerably less busy than Tehran with noticeably cleaner air!

Our charming hotel set in an old traditional house with a beautiful inner courtyard was located in the old quarter of Shiraz. After we’d settled in we went for dinner in a nearby restaurant and then got an early night in preparation for the next day.

 

Day 3: Persepolis/Shiraz – We travelled over to Persepolis today for a few hours of exploring and learning about what was once the centre of the Persian Empire. What remains is still very impressive with row-upon-row of well-preserved columns and intricate stone carvings.

In the evening we visited the majestic Vakil mosque and then the tangle of alleyways that make up the city’s bazaar. 

 

Day 4: Shiraz/Homestay – This morning was free for us to enjoy the optional activities and we chose to spend most of our time at the Nasir-ol-molk Mosque, more commonly known as the ‘Pink Mosque’ amongst travellers. This place is iconic for its stained glass windows which help create the most incredible kaleidoscope of colour on the floor of the prayer room as the sunlight cascades through the panes.

 In the afternoon we set off on a journey up in to the stunning Zagros Mountains where we were to spend the night with a family in a remote village. An afternoon of bread-making with Grandma (the matriarch of the house) and mountain walks ensued before we sat down to an impressive array of home-cooked dishes for dinner which we enjoyed outside in a carpeted bell tent. We wound down after the feast with Nadia reading us poems by Hafez as the sun set over the mountains.

 

Day 5: Eghlid Everyone slept well in the cool mountain air and we were gently woken by Grandma who had breakfast all prepared for us. We took this opportunity to learn more about her simple yet rich way of life in the village where she had always lived. It was fascinating.

 We reluctantly tore ourselves away from the tranquillity of the family home and set off for our next stop – the sleepy town of Eghlid. We visited the Jameh Mosque which doubles as a shrine to many who lost their lives in the Iran-Iraq war. The huge loss of lives devastated this small community and we found it a sobering and poignant visit.

Eghlid is not a touristic town by any means and the biggest attraction turned out to be our tour group as we were followed around the streets by over-excited school children and youths who wanted to take selfies with us to post on Instagram.

 

Day 6: Abarkuh/Caravanserai Zein-o-din – We left the friendly locals of Eghlid and journeyed in to the vast Dasht-e Lut desert. Our next stop was the small town of Abarkuh which boasted several attractions worthy of a visit including a huge conical structure once used as an ice house, the modern Jameh Mosque with beautiful tile work, and a 4000 year old Cypress tree. We were also able to enjoy an illicit round of cappuccinos in a very nice café (we were still in the midst of Ramadan).

Next stop was the 11th Century Gonbad Ali Dome which presides over Abarkuh in its hilltop location, followed by a short visit to the ruins of an old fort, before we reached our accommodation for the night – the majestic Zein-o-din Caravanserai. This roadside inn is part of a network of 999 caravanserais commissioned by Shah Abbas to aid the flow of commerce on the Spice trail of Asia and Europe. Zein-o-din is a fine example which has been lovingly restored and now functions as a tranquil place for tourists to stay en route through the country, following in the footsteps of spice traders from yesteryear.

 

Day 7: Yazd – Yazd is a city with a strong Zoroastrian heritage and our first stop as we approached was the Towers of Silence complex which was once used for sky burials before the practice was outlawed by the Islamic government. We then visited a Zoroastrian Fire temple to learn more about this peaceful religion and witness the ‘eternal flame’.

The heat of the day became too much and we retired to our beautiful hotel – a characterful old mansion set around a huge courtyard – and enjoyed a long afternoon sleep in true Iranian spirit.

We set off at sunset for a walking tour of the old quarter which included a visit to the stunning Jameh Mosque which boasted some iconic tile work and a striking front façade with the tallest pair of minarets in Iran. We finished our tour with some fresh pomegranate juice and cake on the rooftop of a busy café which afforded stunning views in every direction of domes, minarets and Badgirs; archaic air-conditioning towers that have kept the desert city’s residents cool for centuries.

 

Day 8: Yazd – We had the whole day reserved for sight-seeing and shopping starting with a visit to the Water Museum to learn how water was channelled to the city back in the day. We then wandered through the bazaar, went shopping for baklava, and gazed in wonder at the majestic façade of the Amir Chakhmaq Mosque complex.

Lunchtime was spent eating with a Zoroastrian family in their beautiful home just outside Yazd, where we were able to learn more about their traditions and way of life.

When the heat of the sun had dissipated we continued shopping, this time for Persian rugs and we were able learn about the symbolism of the classic designs.

 

Day 9: Kharanaq, Chak Chak Temple and Meybod – We had a free day and most of us chose to participate in the optional activity visiting these three important places. Kharanaq is a 4000-year-old abandoned mud-brick town which we were free to explore. This ancient site is soon to be given UNESCO World Heritage status and so visiting will become more restricted from October onwards.

Next stop was the Chak Chak Temple built in to a mountain-side which is one of the holiest places for those practising Zoroastrianism. It was a serene place with a calming atmosphere, which was enjoyed by all. We continued on to the town of Meybod to visit the Citadel and the curious Pigeon Tower, before boarding a VIP luxury coach to Esfahan.

 

Day 10-11: Esfahan – We spent most of our first day in Naqsh-e Jahan Square – one of the largest, and arguably the most beautiful, in the world. There is plenty here for everyone – amazing shopping opportunities, a beautiful palace to explore, two stunning mosques, a plethora of cafes and a huge open green space where families and friends congregate for picnics, games and general catching up. The atmosphere is buzzing. The highlight for me was the Lotfollah Mosque (known as the Women’s Mosque) which has some of the most beautifully intricate tile work that I’ve ever seen.

We spent our second full day exploring the Armenian Quarter and also visited the very well presented Music Museum.

 

Day 12: Kashan – Our final stop before heading back to Tehran was the desert city of Kashan which is famous for its traditional houses built around lavish courtyards. Our hotel for the night was a classic example. We visited Tabātabāei House, Abbasi House, and the simple yet beautiful Agha Bozorg Mosque. We enjoyed dinner that evening with a local family in the suburbs of Kashan.

 

Day 13: Tehran – We made our way back to Tehran via a quick stop at the Shrine of Ayatollah Khomeini which is still under construction but already a dominant feature of the landscape.

It was nice to return to the slightly cooler climate of the capital and we made the most of the afternoon by visiting the leafy Taleghani Park for a walk, then on to the spectacular Tabi’at Bridge – a fete of engineering – before enjoying one last meal together.

By the end of the trip we had all become great friends and it was a very emotional farewell the next morning!

 
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