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Iran , an open opportunity to learn
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TehranTimes , Shahrivar 28th 1391   

IRAN HIGHLIGHTS , TRAVELOG : We are now in Kurdistan. The other day we arrived in Hamedan , and checked into the worst hotel we’ve been at yet. Because It is a national holiday , the large park and square across from the hotel was filled with thousands of people “ picnicking “ . Now , Iranians take the concept of a picnic to a whole new level. They arrive in cars laden with supplies. First come the coolers full of food. Then come the Gas stoves one for cooking , another for the tea. Off comes the carpet - yes , they put real Persian rugs right on to the ground ; talk about one hell of a picnic blanket. And to top off this very civilized picnic set up , they put up a tent and stay the night ! One any weekend or holiday , you can find Iranians “ camping “ or picnincking in every patch of green space there is – including the road sides.

Anyway  , our hotel was across from this giant picnic , meaning we were already bracing for a loud night. But the hotel itself was worse. After the blandest kebab meal yet  , we settled in for a long night of listening to Iranian pop blasting from the wedding party beneath us , car alarms going off , and traffic.

Sanandaj is the largest city in Kurdistan , and is not too far from the Iraqi border. Nestled in a valley between mountains , it is the centre of the copper mining industry , and apparently a pretty sophisticated little place. Our trip through the bazaar was anything but sophisticated. A Thursday night , the place was elbow to elbow with shoppers vying to complete their work before the bazaar closes for the holy day ( Friday ). Very few foreigners venture to Sanandaj , so the staring is paramount here. After a long  , hot drive  , we were feeling pretty exhausted , not to mention frustrated with the elusive and ambivalent attitude of our guide. I guess it was my frustration with the in sane pace of our tour , the fact that I have not had a good night’s sleep in days , the sadistic heat of the sun that really just got to me , but I concluded that I was NOT in the mood to be stared at. We did a blitz of the bazaar during which our big purchase was laundry detergent to do a hand wash.

From Sanandaj , we set out on a long drive to Takht-e-Suleiman , or Soloman’s Throne , one of the highlights of northern Iran. The Centre of Zoroastrian faith , it actually has nothing to do with Solomon. During the Arab invasion , the Zoroastrian save it from imminent demise by saying that Solomon had stayed there at one point konowing that the Arabs would not destroy anything with a link to the Qu-ran. Nice work , Zoroastrians ! Takht-e-Suleiman is beautiful.

In the centre of the temple complex is an aqua blue lake that would have fed the temple aquifers. It is surrounded in mystical , barren mountains and rolling hills of tall grass and reeds. The sky was very atmospheric when we arrived - the sun was partially obscured by clouds  , creating a very supernatural hue. It’s pretty high in altitude , too , according to my trusted water bottle test that we developed years ago , in Peru ; when you go up in altitude , a half full water bottle will become concave as the edges are sucked in. After descending  , you screw off the lid and you should hear a long fizzing sound of the air pressure changing. Wow , that was abysmally unscientific , but for someone who has not studied science since grade 10  , that’s as good as it gets.


What I learned or didn’t learn in Iran

Our extended four days in Tehran were fantastic. But what really made it fantastic was the warm hospitality we experienced. My friend from work is married to an Iranian man. He gave us the contact number for his brother in Tehran , telling us to call him for help with buying a carpet.

What we thought would be a quick shopping trip to look at rugs turned out to be a three day extravaganza  in to the wonderful world of Iranian hospitality. The family took us shopping , out to meals , hiking in the Alborz Mountains , and had us over the coffees , ice cream , and dinner. My stomach still hurts ( delightfully ) as I hear them telling us to “ eat more “ ( eat more fruit , eat more pistachios , eat more ice cream , eat more kebab , eat more cookies , eat more cake , eat more omelette , eat more watermelon…

So I went to Iran with a desire to see and know for myself ; to encounter a piece of the world “ the way it is , not the way I ( or the media ) imagine it to be. “ Isn’t that always why we travel  , after all ? Several years ago I read Alison Wearing’s book on travelling through  Iran called “ A Honeymoon in Purdah. “ I came across the quote “ The purpose of travel is to be transported and return transformed. “ Ever since then , I have allowed this to govern my attitude to travel. I go as a guest and try never to treat someone else’s home as a pleasure  periphery for a privileged white Westerner , but rather as an open opportunity to learn – not just about the place , but about myself. So what did I learn ? I thought I would conclude  this year’s e-tale edition with “ Things I learned or didn”t learn “ ( as a spin-off of my “ what to pack or not to pack “ e-tale that started off our adventure ).



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