Saturday, September 13, 2014

The charms of Iran envied by its neighbours

People who have visited Iran have many upbeat stories to tell which makes one wonder why we only hear the negative side of this country. It also gives more credence to what non-Westerners say about our Western media manipulating our thinking and not letting our imagination "think outside the box".

John Simpson writing at TelegraphUK: 
Iran is the most charming country on Earth.  

All right, so I’m a travel extremist when it comes to holidays. Don’t come to me with your tales of fortnights in Dubai or the Maldives: it’s Afghanistan and Papua New Guinea that I’m interested in. The first thing I think of, when I hear of trouble in Egypt, is the Valley of the Kings emptying out and being able at long last to get a decent look at Tutankhamen’s belongings.

This being the case, though, please don’t simply disregard the country I want to suggest to you for a strenuous but immensely rewarding holiday: Iran. OK, now you’re thinking of seething crowds of angry men and black-wrapped women screaming “Death to” whoever it is this week. Stonings. Glowering ayatollahs.

These things exist, just as the danger of being hijacked in South Africa exists, or being randomly shot in America. But they aren’t the norm. They’re just what people like me put in our news reports.

So let’s start again, with a clean sheet. Think of a country, largely cut off from the outside world, with a lovely dry climate, sophisticated and charming people, superb archaeological monuments, mountains, deserts, the Caspian Sea. If recent history had been different, it would be the India of the travel business, only without the beggars and the chaos. Iran is, quite simply, the most charming country I know.

Until recently, it has been a complete secret. But in the past year or so it has opened up a little. I’ve started reading patronising little mentions of it in travel editors’ diaries. A few discerning people are coming back quite starry-eyed from their visits there. Of course, there’s a definite delight in shocking the neighbours, who have only been to Bali. But after the general intake of breath at the drinks party, yours will be a genuinely fascinating story.

What always strikes me in Iran is the normality of it. If you wandered down the street in Tehran – say Dr Fatemi Avenue, where the old and much-loved hotel, the Laleh, stands – you would find it suspended between West and East, between the modern and something altogether older and more attractive: the Persian past.

This is not Saudi Arabia: women drive cars, run businesses and often forget to cover their hair as they’re supposed to do. The systems of control exist, but they’re usually discreet. A westerner wouldn’t come into contact with the nastier side of Iranian coercion, as long as he or she behaved and dressed sensibly.

What you would encounter is a genuine delight to see you: a distinctly old-fashioned affection for westerners, who have vanished from everyday life in Iran. Eating in a Tehran restaurant can sometimes be a trial: so many people want to greet you and indeed pay for your meal.........

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