Reflections Upon Visiting Iran
Tehran is an impressive city, says John Weru in this travel blog.
It’s 2015 and I write this from a balcony in Velenjak, a northern neighborhood in Tehran. Earlier today, we watched with our host as US Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif met in Vienna, Austria, and took the first steps toward the lifting of sanctions on Iran. It’s a beautiful afternoon with the sky blue and the birds chirping.
Iranians are out celebrating on the streets in downtown Tehran. I can hear the cars honking and people shouting a few blocks away.
It helps that this deal has been reached during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, and the distant cry of the muezzin calling the faithful to lunchtime prayer can be heard intoning. It’s easy to tell the optimism in the air, and young Iranians seem to be the vanguard.
In many ways, Iran has surprised me. Before coming here, my impressions of the country were largely shaped by Argo, a movie that detailed the role played by Canada in helping American diplomats leave the country. It would be fair to say that I had a mild apprehension on whether my trip would be a reality rerun of the same.
Taking off from Doha, Qatar, I sat with a young Iranian girl and her mother returning home from Denmark where they live. She was attending university in Copenhagen and looked quite happy to be going home to Iran.
Soon enough, we were at the Imam Khomeini International Airport or IKA. Courteously, the signage in Tehran is in both Farsi and English, so it is quite easy to find your way around the airport terminal. The visa office is at the end of a very long corridor, where we handed in our passports as we waited for what seemed to be an eternity.
A Kenyan journalist wrote sometime back that carrying a Kenyan passport did come with some leverage, and it didn’t take long to find out. The immigration official finished with my passport first and, tellingly, inquired about whether US President Barack Obama was my uncle. Actually, lots of Iranians asked me that question. Never mind what I told them!
The airport is about an hour’s drive south of Tehran on a smooth highway surrounded on both sides by flat country. In some distance on your right is the mausoleum of the man for whom the airport is named, and that is Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
Tehran is an impressive city. It has an extensively developed road network with expressways, tunnels and underpasses that would rival any other major city in the world.
That’s not all since the Burj Al-Milad, one of the tallest buildings in the world, is also located in this city. One of the highlights of the trip is to take the escalator all the way up to the Aftabgardan revolving restaurant, where you can watch 360 degree, rotating views of the evening Tehran rush hour.
It would be a crime not to try Iranian food in Iran. My firm favorite is something called shishlik. I had it for lunch, and in echoes of a Pavlovian experiment, I salivate in anticipation for the evening.
Coming Back One Day…
Soon enough, the evening comes and we head out to the Dareke neighborhood, which is home to a high density of restaurants. We settle on the SPU Restaurant. The fast is still continuing, and about an hour later the muezzin calls off the fast and we can begin with our food. Alcohol is strictly forbidden in Iran, but the food more than makes up for that. It is a wonderful evening as we watch the skies grow dark and Iranian families come to break the fast at the restaurant.
Being an archaeology buff, I’d love to visit the archaeological sites in Persepolis, but that’s for another time. The evening continues till around one in the morning, giving me just enough time to get my suitcase from the hotel and head to the airport, an hour’s drive away. It doesn’t seem so long as my driver regales me with stories of his days as a pilot.
Tehran has been a revelation. I can only hope to be back some day.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
Photo Credit: Borna Mir
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