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4 Myths And Realities About Travelling In Iran

Friends have always asked me where am I travelling next, and I’m usually happy to share and talk about my next destination. But there was one destination which I was reluctant to mention for I knew the questions coming my way, given the unusual choice of country. It’s the country that has a bad reputation in the West and there are not many news media releases that state the good stuff about the country. That country is Iran. You must be thinking, “but…why Iran?”  Typically, I would have responded cheekily, “hmm…why not?” but prior to the trip, I gave vague responses like Iran was very rich in history, architecture, and that I had a deep interest in those topics. Because I hadn’t left to experience the country yet and coupled with the negative media publicity, I wavered a bit in explaining to my friends. Truth be told, I was curious about the country but fearful at the same time, wondered if I had done the right thing. However, after spending eight wonderful days in Iran, soaking up rich Persian history, architecture, art, delectable food, and most of all, enjoying the generosity and hospitality of Iranians, I was able to share

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Farewell to the Land of Persia!

Yes, this is my last post on Iran, a travel series that I had written for the past 3 months, capturing the places that I had visited and experiences that I had went through during that 8-day trip. It seems quite a lot for an 8-day trip but rest assured, we had quite a lot of free time as well to experience Iran at a more leisurely pace. We left Esfahan on a Friday – it was a start to their weekend and the city was quiet. There were not many cars on the roads. Shops were closed and not a soul could be found in the streets. However, we managed to find an Armenian café opened in New Jolfa, the Armenian quarter in Esfahan. Fully satisfied with a lovely cup of Armenian coffee and some cake, we left Esfahan for Tehran in the afternoon to catch our flight back to Kuala Lumpur at night. Our guide, Maryam and her husband drove us to Tehran. Maryam mentioned that she and her family had plans to spend their weekend in Tehran, so when she was informed of our itinerary by the travel agency, she offered to drive us there since they

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Churches and Coffee in New Jolfa, Armenian Quarter in Esfahan

New Jolfa is the Armenian quarter of Esfahan established in 1606 by Shah Abbas I during the Safavid era. The Armenians were fleeing the Ottoman Empire’s persecution and because Iran and Armenia had a long history of close relations, Shah Abbas relocated 500,000 Armenians to Persia. New Jolfa quarter became their new home and over time, the Armenians became active in the cultural and economic development of Persia. Shah Abbas treated the Armenian population well, as such, the Armenians were able to assimilate with the Persians while keeping their Christian faith and Armenian traditions. In the 20th century particularly during the times of Reza Shah and Mohammad Reza Shah until the Islamic Revolution in 1979, the Armenians were quite influential in the arts and sciences, economy and services sector. However, due to the Revolution, about 20,000-25,000 Armenians left Iran for Soviet Union or Soviet Armenia. The current population of Armenians in Iran is approximately 300,000 residing mainly in Tehran, Tabriz and Esfahan. Their community and culture are still flourishing amidst Iran’s Shiíte Islam rule. There are Armenian churches, schools, cultural centres, sports clubs, associations, libraries, newspapers, books, journals, etc. They are also represented in Parliament. Iranians are mainly tea drinkers

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More Discoveries in Esfahan: Frescoes and Sunset

Our time in Esfahan got better each day. Not that the previous trips to Tehran and Shiraz weren’t great, they were just different. Each city has a special theme: palaces and museums in Tehran; gardens, poetry, Islamic shrine and Persian ancient cities in Shiraz; and mosaics and frescoes in Esfahan. And the frescoes in Esfahan are so well preserved like they were recently painted in the 21st century. Just a stone throw away from Naqsh-e-Jahan Square is a pavilion called Chehel Sotoun, a palace situated amongst beautiful landscape of gardens and a long pool. The pavilion was built by Shah Abbas II specifically for receiving and greeting noble visitors, dignitaries and foreign ambassadors. Chehel Sotoun means “Forty Columns”, 20 wooden columns supporting the entrance of the pavilion plus reflection of the 20 columns in the waters of the pool, therefore 40 columns. As we walked across the gardens approaching the pavilion, I thought the facade looked rather fragile. The columns were not made of solid marble but delicate, slender-looking wood. It didn’t seem adequately strong to support a roof which looked as if it was going to collapse any moment. However, never judge a book by its cover though it didn’t

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Scenes from Naqsh-e-Jahan Square: Ali Qapu Palace and The Grand Bazaar

Last week I shared with you a glimpse of Scenes from Naqsh-e-Jahan Square in Esfahan, mainly the southern and eastern part of the square – Imam Mosque and Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque – both feature beautiful and jaw-dropping Persian-Islamic architecture and mosaics. Moving on to the western side of Naqsh-e-Jahan Square is the Ali Qapu Palace. The palace was used by the first Shah Abbas of Persia in the 17th century to greet and entertain noble visitors and foreign ambassadors. It has 7 floors and is accessible by a spiral staircase. We climbed the stairs all the way up to the 7th floor which was the upper gallery for Safavid rulers to watch polo matches and horse racing in the square. Restoration works on the palace roof and frescoes were in process on the upper gallery. Some frescoes were still intact such as the ones depicting Persian women during the Safavid era. We moved down to the 6th floor which is the Music Hall or Banquet Hall; back in the day when various ensembles performed music and sang songs. Deep circular niches are found in the walls for acoustic reasons, and the hall was suitably decorated with motifs of vessels and cups.

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Arrived in Esfahan and Scenes from Naqsh-e-Jahan Square

The melancholic Persian songs played on the car radio lulled us to sleep. I don’t know what the songs were about as Mustafa, our driver from Shiraz, spoke very little English, but it must have been about love, lost love, heartache, or…perhaps a lost goat. Although the car had air-conditioning, we could see the weather outside was hot. It was spring in Iran but there were times when temperatures shot up to mid 30 degrees Celsius and got uncomfortably hot. We drove past dry and rugged landscape – though some areas were dotted with cypress trees – but the land was arid and barren. Mustafa was a careful driver and he took care of us during our 5-hour journey from Shiraz to Esfahan. He made sure we were comfortably cool with the air-conditioning, and he helped us find someone in a restaurant to translate the menu to us 🙂 Actually we didn’t need translation, we’d thought we could glimpse at what others are eating, and if it looked good, we would order whatever they were having! But Mustafa went all out to help us. Lo and behold, he managed to find a tour guide who was dining with a group

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In Pictures: Ancient City of Persepolis and Tombs of Necropolis (Naqsh-e-Rostam)

Persepolis is located 70km from Shiraz and was the ceremonial capital of the Archaemenid Empire circa 515 BC. Persepolis means city of Persians and its construction began during the rule of Darius the Great. Archaeological evidence shows that Cyrus the Great chose the site of Persepolis and according to ancient tablets found at Persepolis, Darius planned for an impressive complex of palaces for government administration and cultural centre of the Archaemenian kings and their empires. Darius lived long enough to see only a small part of his plans materialised but the rest of his grandiose plans were executed by his son Xerxes I. Persepolis was claimed to be the richest city on earth. Its treasury held vast stocks of gold, silver, ivory and precious stones. Sadly, the splendour of Persepolis was short-lived when its palaces were looted and burned by Alexander the Great in 331-330 BC. It was said that the treasury of Persepolis was looted and carried away on 20,000 mules and 5,000 camels. The ruins of Persepolis were laid buried until it was discovered and excavated in the 1930s. Bas reliefs in Persepolis ***** Necropolis or Naqsh-e-Rostam is another ancient site, 12 kms from Persepolis. It is the site

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Shah-e-Cheragh Shrine in Shiraz

In my previous post, I wrote about our visit to Nasir al Mulk Mosque in Shiraz. We were thrilled to see the morning light streamed through the stained-glass windows of the mosque, resulting in rich and vibrant colours of red, pink, blue, green & yellow splashed on the deep red Persian carpets laid on the light green marble floor. While the experience at Nasir al Mulk Mosque was certainly delightful, the visit to another mosque in the afternoon was more exciting because I had read earlier that the entire walls and ceilings of the mosque are adorned with intricate coloured glass and mirrors. It is the Shah-e-Cheragh Shrine, a mausoleum and mosque wherein lies the tombs of important figures of Shia Islam – the brothers Amir Ahmad and Amir Mohammad, brothers of Imam Ali Reza, the eighth Imam of Shia. Shah-e-Cheragh means “King of Light” and the shrine is one of the most important pilgrimage centre of Shiraz. The shrine became a pilgrimage site in the 14th century when Queen Tashi Khatun erected a mosque and theological schools by the shrine. Queen Tashi commissioned for the tombs, walls and ceilings inside the shrine to be covered with millions pieces of coloured

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Colours and Poetry in Shiraz

The first leg of our trip in Tehran was just an initial peek into the ancient and rich heritage of this misunderstood country. As much as we wanted to see more of the capital city, it was time for us to move on. We left Tehran for Shiraz via a domestic flight with Qeshm Airlines, flight duration of 1 hour and 20 minutes. The flight was fine but I was knackered. I was tired from the massive traffic jam to the airport in Tehran; another 3 hours waiting at the airport; the warm weather (sometimes it was uncomfortable because I was wearing a head scarf – we should have been there during autumn!); and eating too much. How can one get tired from eating?! Well, we might have indulged more than we should when we first arrived because we found Persian food absolutely delicious but the portions were huge. By the time we were up in the air that night, I couldn’t eat anymore. The flight attendant was slightly taken aback when I declined their sandwiches. It might have been her first time coming across a passenger who chose not to eat on flights! As soon as we landed in

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Vivid Colours of Flowers in Iran

I was captivated by the variety of flowers while I was travelling in Iran. It was towards the end of spring moving on to summer when we visited, and coming from the tropics, I never realised that parks and gardens could be an attraction. Moreover, with the dry and arid landscape especially in Shiraz, a visit to the gardens was a refreshing change – flowers bursting with vivid colours, as if welcoming me to their lovely abode, their lovely country. ***** Pin it!

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