Iran is known for their famous Persian history, which given a lot of trouble towards the Roman empire. In a lot of movies, books, Romans are always the 'good' guys, and Persians being the 'bad' ones. Today (2019), Iran is always associated with the terms like nuclear, war, terrorist, sanctions....etc. Nonetheless, these association done more harm than good towards the lives of million Iranians trying to live a normal life, like you and me. On top of that, throughout the world's Muslim population, 80% of them are Sunni, while 20% are Shia, and most of the Shia came from Iran.
By the way, who would ever believe that image below are the life of Iranians in 1970s, before Islamic Revolution?
Geopolitically, Iran is a huge country, surrounded mostly by Arab-led alliance (Sunni), and rich in resources in Persian Gulf. Also, Lut Desert of Iran, is actually the hottest desert in the world. I've always wanted to visit Iran, due to the historical points & interesting facts mentioned above. And finally in 2019, I strike this country off from my travel bucket list!!
As usual, I planned my trip with the objective to explore how Iran really looks like, as compared to the image portrayed by the mainstream media. On the first day, I landed in Tehran, and tried to catch an evening bus to Isfahan. As usual, a series of unexpected events unfolded one after another 😂😂. Firstly, I miscalculated the travel distance from the airport to bus terminal, causing a little delay and panic while trying to look for the right direction. The good thing is, I met Ali, an Iranian guy (from Yazd) who kindly brought me to the ticket counter in the bus terminal.
Ali (left) and his friend has been very helpful
But later on, only I found out that the ticket that I purchased online, got cancelled automatically in their booking system. Again, luck was with us that tickets still available for the bus going to Isfahan. Throughout the years of backpacking, one of the important lessons I learned is to be positive and forward-looking. We will never know what lies ahead, and we can only take a small step at a time, but more importantly is to keep walking!
After resting one night in Isfahan, I walked to the nearby Naqsh-e Jahan Squar .
In the afternoon, I wanted to go Vank Cathedral and used their taxi-hailing app, Snapp. The indicated taxi fare was 55,000 IRR. (By the way, the currency being used in Iran is super confusing. There's Iranian Rial, and there's Toman. Different city used differently. And to make it worse, 500,000 IRR sometimes referred as 50, and sometimes 500. On the other hand, if you have made any research for the exchange rate before you land in Iran, you can toss those information away. They will not be accurate, as the effect of sanction is too great and the international rate varies too quickly). Sorry for the digression 😅. When we reached the Vank Cathedral, the Snapp driver asked for 550,000 instead of 55,000. Without second thought, I'd just handed the money to him (only to realized later that the correct amount should be 55,000).
After lunch in nearby pizza restaurant, I moved on to the next destination - Jameh Mosque . Unfortunately, it was Friday, and the interior was closed for the public. Therefore, I could only walked around the public square of the mosque.
Not long after, there was a guy approaching me and telling me he has the connection and able wanted to show me the restricted areas of Jameh Mosque. It was a mistake not being cautious with strangers at that point of time. He asked me to follow him, into some praying rooms, after passing through some dark alleys which were under construction. After around 30 minutes, finally he was asking for money. I offered him 200,000 (2 USD) and his faced turned aggressive and demanded 1,000,000 (10USD). In order not to escalate the confrontation, I decided to pay him the money, but it was a really bad experience.
Scammer in Isfahan
After Isfahan, I moved on to the next location - Shiraz. It's best known for its beauty and people. More specifically, Nasir al-Mulk Mosque (also known as Pink Mosque) has became famous for its colorful backdrop as well as Instagram spot.
Foreigner (professional model?) posing in Pink Mosque
Exterior of Pink Mosque
In the hallway next to the famous colourful Nasir al-Mulk Mosque, there's an exhibition (but I'm not sure what's the theme of it). Some guy there introduced me a nearby mosque named Syed Alaedin Hossein Shrine which looked beautiful from the catalogue, and camera is also allowed there. However, I've never came across this name anywhere on the internet. and I ddin't have any high expectation compared to the famous Shah Cheragh which is more famous.
After googling for about few minutes, finally I reached Syed Alaedin Hossein Shrine. Exterior-wise, it looks normal and not 'grand' enough. However, once I stepped foot inside the mosque, I was amazed by the beautiful interior, with the green lights being reflected everywhere. After a while, there was an old man asked me to follow him, and he wanted to show me something. It was the inner section of the mosque, and once he opened the door, I was speechless, as it was too beautiful to describe.
Syed Alaedin Hossein Shrine (Exterior)
Syed Alaedin Hossein Shrine (Interior)
Syed Alaedin Hossein Shrine (Inner section)
After a while, I moved on to the next stop - Shah Cheragh. I had a higher expectation since it's famous on the web. Unfortunately, when I arrived there only I was being told that I could only use my phone to take pictures, and dslr is not allowed inside. On top of that, non-muslim can only go to a common public area inside the mosque, and not allowed to go further in. Foreigners had to follow a designated person inside the mosque, and I was 'grouped' together with two Japanese. One of the Japanese guy tried to walked away and took photos using his DSLR, and later on being confronted by the security out of the mosque. At the end of the tour, I told the Japanese he could visit Syed Alaedin Hossein Shrine and given him the location. He felt thankful.... haha.
Shah Cheragh looks quite similar to Syed Alaedin Hossein Shrine, but with a lot more restrictions
By around 3pm, I was actually planning to go to Persepolis. Instead of following any tour, I booked a cab using Snapp, and it was 10 times cheaper compared to any tour package. Unfortunately, the weather is moody and with light rains. Therefore, I requested to the driver to wait at the entrance, and I would pay him the similar amount for the return trip, and he agreed. Without further delay, I walked quickly into the compound, and the view of Persepolis was magnificent. I was wondering how on earth human could build these structures 2500 years ago?
Ancient structure on top of the mountain
Landscape view from the top
After strolling for 1 hour, it's time to return to the taxi driver. Only then I realized the taxi driver has long gone. The price for the Snapp taxi cost 3 times, and maybe that's why the driver is gone. Maybe he got a better offer. After waiting for sometime, there's no driver willing to pick us up since it's quite far from Shiraz town. Seeing a police car, I asked them if they could help to find a car to Shiraz town. The police officer was kind enough and spoken to a few guys nearby and asked them to help me find a taxi driver. Not long after, the taxi driver came and send me back safely.
After spending few days visiting mosque and popular landmarks, next day I had a booking with local guide to stay overnight with a Qashqai nomadic family in Zagros Mountainous area. It was another eye-opening experience for me.
Local guide having conversation with the nomad friends
The kid using the gas-lit lamp to do his homework
The eldest sister preparing the meal for guests. Psst...she is going to marry next month (Dec-19)
I slept outside the stone house that night. Luckily it was not raining ~
Making the bread in the morning
Iranian carpet is famous around the world. And the design varies according to the city and one of the unique Iranian carpet is the nomadic design. I've bought a carpet hand-made by this girl. She was very happy as it helped her wedding preparation.
My last destination after Shiraz was Lut Desert. The rocks formation across the Lut desert landscape is unearthly
I spent a night camping in the desert. It was relaxing for the BBQ in the night desert
It's relaxing and soothing, starring at the sky full of stars, in the middle of desert.
Throughout the entire journey in Iran, I've met nice people, bad people, good things and bad things. The same things happened everywhere. So yeah, I see none of the extremist, terrorist nor nuclear bomb. As usual, I would suggest everyone pay a visit to this friendly and awesome country. There are just too many things to explore and experience.