Tourist & Resident Guide to Iran

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Kermanshah

Kermanshah is the capital of Kermanshah Province. The city of Kermanshah is situated 525km west from Tehran about 120 km from the Iraq border.

Kermanshah mountain lake

The main places of interest in the province are the historic gardens of Taq-e Bostan and the bas relief carvings at Bisotun.

The Greek hero, Hercules, is carved into the rock at Bisotun and is believed to date from 148BC and the Seleucid dynasty. Earlier are the Bisotun Inscription and a bas relief of Darius.

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Hosseinieh

Hosseinieh are like religious clubs.

They get especially packed during the Ashura festival when men pack in to pound their chests while listening to intense, repetitive music.

Hosseinieh door

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Tehran Joob

Water which flows from the Alborz Mountains runs through Tehran in a network of joob, which are deep gutters that line most north-south running streets. Plenty of trash gets dumped in on the way and they often get blocked.

Tehran Joob


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Thursday Night at the Bakery

I’m sitting on the step in the last of the evening light, waiting in a queue of around five. It’s mostly men in the evenings, wives will be at home preparing dinner. It’s also the first day of the weekend, so tonight, demand for fresh “naan sangak” - a wholesome flat bread cooked on hot pebbles - is high.

Little brother scoots past my knees carrying a bundle of separated newspaper pages, ready for customers to grab to wrap their hot bread. The family business starts from the littlest one up on this Thursday evening shift. Inside, a boy not much older retrieves the cooked bread on a spatula as it appears on the revolving stone plate which carries them through the oven. The lad’s stout frame suggests he’s the older brother of the chubby little newspaper boy. His advantage in years puts him one step closer to the production end of the family business.

At peak times you won’t find a single Tehran bakery without waiting customers spilling into the street outside. Mass-produced bread is available at supermarkets but the reaction at home when you bring back a still-warm armful from the local bakers’ speaks of a link between man and his staple food that plastic packaging somehow comes between.

There’s a dull clang of wood on metal as the twenty-year-old baker’s apprentice drops the long palette handle into its holder. Even before it stops rattling his hands are in the aluminium trough to grab another slick, wet pat of dough. He’s the hard-running fly-half of the operation, the living link between the raw stuff and the furnace. If he wants to run his own bakery one day he’s got to serve his time at the oven door.

While the midfield dynamo continues to hum, the master baker’s assured eyes are on the doorway, watching the fading light of the evening. He’s transferring the last of the dough from the big aluminium mixer to the trough for the apprentice to work with. Pulling out a larger lump of the gloopy raw stuff than I think two hands can handle, I worry that the dough which is lolling over and around his wrists, is going to fall onto the floor. But his hands know the consistency of the stuff of his trade better than that. They guide the lump into the half-empty trough and it falls in with a slap.

The lanky understudy with his Roman nose watches as the master baker gives his last orders and departs. I imagine the young man’s thoughts are on the possibilities of the weekend as he continues to eye the doorway with his hands in the dough.

“How many do you want?” the apprentice asks a youth standing in line.

“Seven,” the boy answers. He’s no more than a teenager but the stains on his clothes, tanned neck and arms and world-weary expression suggest he’s already spent more than a little time working to pay his keep. Perhaps he’s one of the hundreds of young men who dig around in trash cans to collect recyclable materials for cash.

“You can have seven ‘nun-e salavati,’” the apprentice motions to the pile of bread kept aside for those who don’t have the money to pay.

“No,” the boy answers stoically.

“Take them, they’re fresh,” the apprentice insists. According to Iran’s tradition of ta’arof a genuine offer is never made only once.

But with an upward nod of the head which Iranians employ to express an outright objection, the pauper boy insists the issue is closed. He turns his back and rejoins the rest of the customers waiting in line.

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Friday, October 10, 2008

Milad Telecommunications Tower

The Milad Telecommunications Tower (Borj-e Milad) opened this week in Tehran. At 435m, the tower is the 4th largest in the world.

Milad Telecommunications Tower

Designed by architect, Dr. Mohammad Reza Hafezi, the tower is part of the new Tehran International Trade and Convention Center. The tower has restaurants at the top with amazing views of Tehran below.

The Milad Tower is designed to withstand earthquakes of 7.5 on the Richter scale.

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Friday, September 12, 2008

South Khorasan Province

South Khorasan Province is located in the extreme east of Iran bordering Afghanistan. The main towns of the province are: the provincial capital Birjand, Ferdows and Gonabad.

South Khorasan Province

The previous province of Khorasan was the largest province of Iran until it was divided in 2004 into North Khorasan, South Khorasan and Ravazi Khorasan.

Birjand has a population of approximately 160,000 inhabitants and Birjand Airport has flights to Tehran and Mashhad.

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Iran Collection British Museum

The British Museum in London has some of the finest pieces of ancient Persian art outside of the National Museum in Tehran.

Iran Collection British Museum

Many of the pieces were excavated by Robert Gordon from Persepolis in the early 19th century.

Iran Collection British Museum

The citadel of Persepolis was constructed by Darius I around 500 BCE and the iconography of the sculpures and relief works included influences from Egypt, Greece and Mesopotamia. Persepolis was destroyed by the Macedonian invader Alexander in 330 BCE.

Iran Collection British Museum

British Museum

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Iran-Japan Relations

When President Khatami visited Tokyo in 2000, he was the first Iranian leader to visit Japan since King Reza Shah Pahlavi in 1958. At the time, he and the Japanese premier, Mr Mori, made plans for friendly relations and greater economic cooperation.

According to official Iranian statistics, the volume of bilateral trade between Japan and Iran reached US$14.3 billion in 2007 and this is expected to increase to US$20 billionin 2008 as a result of rising oil prices.

At the people-to-people level, things look positive. There are 5,227 Iranians officially registered as living in Japan and around 300 Iranian students. According to Ambassador Araqchi, academic exchanges between the two countries 'play a vital role for further deepening of our relations.' Culturally, there has also been some interesting collaboration in areas such as cinema - for instance, the 2003 movie 'Kaze no Jutan' (The Wind Carpet).

Japan is also active in Iran holding events such as Noh theater performances and recently hosting a ceremony at its embassy in Tehran at which it presented equipment for a charitable project, for the benefit of children with intellectual disabilities.

Ambassador Araqchi is optimistic for the future, declaring: 'We would like to expand our regional and international cooperation with Japan. At the same time, we are looking forward to seeing further expansion of economic, technological and cultural cooperation with our Japanese partners.'

This is a shortened version of a longer article on J@panInc

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Ardabil Province

Ardabil (also spelled Ardebil) Province is located in the north west corner of Iran, bordering Azerbaijan and the Caspian Sea. The city of Ardabil is the capital of the province.

Ardebil Province map

Being cooler than the rest of the country, Ardabil attracts many tourists especially in the hot summer months.

There are flights from Tehran and Tabriz to Ardabil Airport, 11km from downtown Ardabil. There are buses from Ardabil to Tehran, Tabriz (4 hours), Qazvin (7 hours) and Rasht (4 hours).

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Sistan and Baluchestan Province

Sistan and Baluchestan is the largest of Iran's thirty provinces by area. Sistan is the area to the north and Baluchestan lies to the south bordering Pakistan.

Sistan and Baluchestan Province

The province as a whole has a population of over 4 million people and is one of the driest and poorest areas of the country. Zahedan, with over half a million inhabitants, is the provincial capital and it is possible to pick up visas here for both neighboring Pakistan and India.

Zabol (pop. 132,000) is an exotic and dangerous border town with Afghanistan to the north of Zahedan.

There are flights to both Zahedan (daily) and Zabol (weekly) from Tehran. There are shared taxis (savaris) from Zahedan to Zabol.

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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Baluchestan and Iran

IranVisitor recently took a trip to Baluchestan which is a pretty traditional place compared to Tehran. Wherever we were received as guests women and men were strictly separated. I attended a wedding without even seeing the bride.

When I saw women and girls in the streets they were often wearing black chadors loosely draped over outfits like these. But the black covering never fully hid the bright colours beneath. It was just one of so many ways that Baluchestan reminded me of India and showed me more clearly than ever that Iran is a diverse country and is essentially nothing without this diversity.

Baluchis are not separatists by any means. The Baluchi people are a relatively new ethnic group and accept their position sandwiched between the two great civilisations of Iran and India. Baluchis from Pakistan seem to have no problem crossing the border into Iran where they find plenty of work and higher wages. Unfortunately, some of the lawlessness of Pakistan also makes it over to Iran and there have been some high profile kidnappings of foreign tourists in the area and a bomb attack on Iranian soldiers in Zahedan.

More on Baluchestan soon...

Baluchi women's clothes

Baluchi girl

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

National Museum of Iran Tehran

The National Museum of Iran in central Tehran is not to be missed on any visit to the capital.

National Museum of Iran, Tehran

The original building of the museum, which houses the pre-Islamic exhibits dates from the 1930s and was designed by French architect, Andre Godard.

Building 1 of the museum houses artifacts ranging from Iran's prehistoric past to the Elamite, Achaemenid and Parthian periods.

Image © Camille-Helene Lemouchoux & IranVisitor.com

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Baseej Parades for 22 Bahman (11 February)

Rally to mark the 29th anniversary of the 1979 revolution.

Baseej Parades for 22 Bahman, Tehran
Baseej Parades for 22 Bahman
Baseej Parades for 22 Bahman
Baseej Parades for 22 Bahman
Baseej Parades
Baseej Parades for 22 Bahman

Taking Pictures in Tehran

Taking pictures in Tehran, IranThe rallies to mark the anniversary of the 1979 revolution are an uncomfortable mix of festive gaiety and political posturing. Walking down "Revolution Street" towards "Freedom Square" there were people begging to have their photos taken. Every time I stopped to point my camera, passing groups would shout for me to look. Kids in camouflage gear and pro-Palestinian check scarves puffed out their chests and waved their flags more vigorously. At one point a group of about twenty-five men all lined up neatly and patiently for me. Best of all, one middle-aged lady sitting by the side of the road looked up at me as I passed – her eyes just begging me to take her picture. She smiled a sweet smile, beaming innocently and incongruously over a poster showing the frankly lascivious grin of Ayatollah Khamenei and a black and white "death to America" placard.

Iran's biggest show of nationalist pride is actually one of the easiest times for a photographer (foreign or otherwise) to take people's photographs. With the whole day almost entirely devoted to showing defiance against foreign meddling, the theory is, the further this message travels the better. And since "the enemy" speaks English, it makes sense to translate the printed material.

Taking Pictures in TehranThe national psyche has been so long moulded by opposition and Iran's pariah status in the western world that I even sensed a degree of knowing self-parody. Chanting slogans against America, Israel and, to a lesser extent, Britain has taken on the air of a national pastime. The role of 22 Bahman (11 February) as a political as a national day of rememberance has at least been equalled by its new role as a street festival – a kind of super-politicized Carnaval. There was even a tent by the side of the road giving kids the opportunity to throw darts at a crude mockup of Uncle Sam. A geopolitical fairground game. The host was wearing a comically-tall stars and stripes top hat.

Taking Pictures in Tehran, IranAt any other time, taking pictures in Iran can be sensitive to say the least. And it’s hard to put your finger on why. Once I was taking a picture of bus. A normal city commuter bus. A plain clothed man, no uniform, no ID approached me and asked me if I had permission to take pictures. I said that we were in a public place and there was no need for permission. He assured me that I was wrong. After some time talking I think I got to the bottom of it. He told me that many foreigners come to Iran and take pictures of things to present Iran in an unfavourable light. I asked him what about the good things in Iran? What if foreigners want to show Iran in a good light? I had taken my picture and he was getting bored so we parted without reaching a conclusion.

Taking Pictures in Tehran


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Monday, January 21, 2008

The Sounds of Tazieh

The Sounds of Tazieh.

Listen to the sound of Tazieh

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God mourns for the Imams?

"Faith in the imams cures cancer and makes the lame walk… I’ve seen it with my own eyes, you’ve all seen it too"

The little man with the microphone. Unshaven, wearing a faded mismatched suit. Reminded me of snake oil sellers in Western movies. Do Iranians really hold beliefs so out of step with the given scientific mindset of the times? This was a speaker to the masses. He appeared to know his audience, and the 1000 toman notes were flowing.

From what I can gather, the folk legends surrounding the Imams arise from more sources than one. There is the history. Events of the time are well documented and acknowledged also by Sunnis but this only provides the barest framework. Woven into the history are parables of the strength of Abol Fazl, the moral uprightness of Hossein, the justice of Ali – superhuman qualities all, but imams are not messengers of God and nor are they miracle workers. This is one essential aspect of Shiism which suggests roots in something other than Islam.

Maybe the key can be found in the stories of pre-Islamic heroes, Rostam and Siavash. Stories which are, at heart, legends from Zoroastrian times handed down through Ferdosi’s Shahnameh. Perhaps the habit of eulogizing heroes simply got transferred. Another sign of non-Islamic influence is the imagery – fantasy portraits of the Imams, full-bearded but with glowing almond eyes, almost feminine – an unquestionably Persian beauty.

“the earth, the heavenly sphere, time itself are mourning for the Imam. Even He, yes HE is mourning for the Imam with all his angels”

The little man continued his amplified lament, bent forward, with knees bent and free hand appealing to the sky, the ground, his heart, the crowd. God mourns for the Imams? In Christianity God allowed his son to die on the cross but in Shiite Islam he weeps for Hossein. The Imams are not prophets, not messengers of God but heroes, and their powers are still felt in everyday life. Ronaldinho may belong to Jesus but Iranian weightlifter Rezazadeh pledges allegiance to Abol Fazl on his chest. The exclamation “Ya Ali!” is heard whenever an Iranian faces an out of the ordinary situation and needs help – our equivalent would be “God help me!” but critically, the Shiite version doesn't appeal to a God but a long dead mortal.



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Sunday, January 06, 2008

Parsi Cola

Parsi Cola
The name “Pars” is an expression of Iranian national pride which goes a long way back in history. The province of “Pars” (now “Fars”, capital Shiraz) was the centre of Iranian civilization during the time of Cyrus the Great. The name “Persepolis” comes from the Greek rendering, “Persis”. The name of Iran’s language, “Farsi”, also derives from the same - the change to “F” came after the Arab invasion and reflects the lack of a “P” sound in Arabic.

Now, “Pars Online” is Iran’s number one internet provider - one arm of the business empire of former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani no less. The “Peugot Pars” is an automobile based on the old Peugot 405 which is assembled in Iran. Parsa is a popular boys’ name, Parisa for girls, and Parsi Cola is a home grown soft drinks brand which still does the rounds in reusable bottles all over the country.

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