Pakistani tourist: Iran, an ancient land with vibrant culture

Islamabad, Dec 19, IRNA - Iran, an ancient land with a vibrant culture and absorbing history, is our next-door neighbor, but surprisingly, not a popular destination for most Pakistani tourists, says an article by a Pakistani tourist who had a recent visit to Iran.

'Iftikhar Salahuddin' who has recently traveled to Iran, in his article published in DAWN, a leading Pakistani newspaper, says the fear that the US may not grant a visa to those who visit Iran, keeps many travelers away.

Excerpts from the article say: 'Obtaining the visa was not a problem for us; the Iranian Consulate in Karachi issued the papers within 48 hours. There are regular and convenient flights from Dubai to Tehran.

This city, surrounded by the snow-covered Alborz mountains, is picturesque but heavily populated; its most impressive tourist attractions are the Golestan Palace and the collection of Royal Jewels, which are securely housed in the basement of the National Bank of Iran.

On display is an assortment of bejeweled swords, crowns and exquisitely handcrafted jewellery from the Qajar and Pahlavi dynasties. Nadir Shah’s Peacock Throne, which he brought back to Iran from India, the splendid crowns that the Shah and the Shahbano wore at the centenary celebrations of the Pehalvi dynasty at Persepolis in 1971, are a feast for the eyes.

Foreign media news about Iran would make a negative image of Iran in your mind. We were therefore quite surprised: Tehran airport is modern, and our domestic flights were always on time.

There was not even a minute of power failure.

We saw an occasional traffic policeman on the streets, but certainly no visible weapons nor any VIP motorcade. You know you are in a civilized and progressive country.

The Iranians have not forgotten their martyrs of the 1980 war with Iraq. The main streets of the towns are lined with photographs of them affixed to lamp posts and on billboards.

Reza, our English-speaking driver-cum-guide, holds a Master’s degree in Persian history,
and his vast knowledge about the Achaemenids, the Sassanids, the Safavids, the Shahs and the religious leaders kept us engaged in lively discussions during long drives through the modern connecting small and large towns.

He explained the delicacies on offer in traditional restaurants where we sat on raised takhts.

There is more to the Iranian menu than Chello Kebab and we were ever ready to try delectable Persian cuisine, washed down with a glass of delicious yogurt.

The most romantic city in Iran is, of course, Isfahan. It is called Nisf-i-Jahan(half of the world), and indeed it is. The fragrant gardens and fountains around the 'Chehel Sotun' and 'Hasht Behesht' palaces offer a blissful quiet broken only by birdsong.

A short, pleasant walk from our hotel was the 'Naqsh-e-Jahan' Square. Here, around a large 400-year old maidan are the exquisite Safavid mosques built by Shah Abbas.
I was smitten by the city and am considering applying for permission to move here!
Iran is definitely not isolated from the world; it is, indeed, very popular with international tourists. In our hotel, we met Europeans who were not deterred by economic sanctions.
In fact, it is not very expensive to travel to Iran as tourist. It is almost affordable.

Persia is the home of legendary poets and philosophers. The works of Hafiz Shirazi, Saadi, Rumi, Firdausi, Omar Khayyam and even Allama Iqbal (known here as Iqbal Lahori) are abundantly displayed in bookshops and hotel lobbies.

To offer our tribute to the poets, we travelled to Shiraz and visited the mausoleums of Hafiz and Saadi. For most Iranians, Hafiz is not merely a poet; they believe his poetry transcends the mundane, and they often use it for faal, to guide them in making important decisions.

Just a few miles from Shiraz is Persepolis, the once-glamorous city built by King Darius of the Achaemenid period, and destroyed by Alexander the Great.

Nearby are the Royal Tombs, at Naqsh-i-Rustom although the burial site of Cyrus, the most celebrated king of ancient Persia, is in Pasargade.

Iran, a vast country, is veritably a museum of Zoroastrian and Islamic dynasties, of marauding nomads, and Sufis and saints.

They have left behind indelible imprints of their cultures and languages, which still resonate across Iran. Two thousand years of history flash by us in a blink.'