Iran is one of the best kept secrets in the Middle East and combines the best of Asia and Europe. It has a landmass three times the size of France; an incredibly diverse landscape of massive mountain ranges, prehistoric deserts and ice age forests; a unique climate that allows for trekking and mountain biking 12 months of the year and one of the most hospitable and friendly populations in the Middle East. It is birth place of one of the oldest civilizations in the world with a fascinating history and culture and yet it is a modern country with modern aspirations.
Iran offers some of the finest trekking, mountain biking and skiing in the world.
The Myth and the Reality
Our perception of today’s Iran is still very much shaped by the ancient Greeks who were the old enemy of Persia (Iran). For many years kids have been taught at school about the noble Greeks taking on the wicked Persians at Marathon, while simultaneously inventing an Olympic event, and not much has changed since then.
Today, the myth of a hostile, wild country is fuelled by the news media, but the reality could not be more different. Visitors are amazed by the incredible friendly hospitality and warmth of the Iranian people towards them. And contrary to common perceptions Iran has one of the most Western oriented populations in the Middle East who are far more open to Western trends than the cultural influences of their Arab neighbours. In many Iranian cities people held spontaneous candle lit vigils for the victims of 9/11.
What Are the Locals Like?
Iranians are proud of their distinct Persian identity and culture. They speak their own language Farsi (Persian) and they have their own calendar which is different from the rest of the Islamic World and is based on the old Zoroastrian interpretation of the four seasons. “Norooz” or the New Year is on the first day of spring or Spring Equinox. It’s the biggest and most important festival in the Iranian calendar. Iran has a very young population, over two thirds of its 70 million citizens are under the age of 30.
Iran is a highly developed country with an educated and cultured population. Iranian cinema has blossomed in recent years with renowned directors such as Abbas Kiarostami and Mohsen Makhmalbaf, receiving international recognition; Tehran also hosts an annual international film festival and book fair and: the city is a centre for modern art and photography and has many galleries.
Is It Safe?
Iran is one of the safest countries to travel in. The crime rate is extremely low compared to most Western countries and the anti-Westerner sentiments prevalent in some Middle Eastern countries simply do not exist in Iran. For example, a growing number of Americans play in the Iranian basketball league and are very popular with the supporters. Even the most religious conservative person you come across in Iran would never dream of harming anyone just because they happen to be a Christian or a Westerner.
What’s It Like for Women?
This is where Iran often surprises. Although Iran is an Islamic country, Iranian women are very assertive and actively take part in all spheres of life. Activities include not only driving cars but also racing them too. And each year more women enrol at universities than men. In Iran, women have the right to vote and be elected as members of parliament. They make up a good proportion of the workforce and it is not unusual to see women doctors, engineers and lawyers in everyday life.
Women are not obliged to wear the veil or chador as it is known in Iran. It is sufficient to dress modestly and cover the hair with a scarf. Men too have to observe modesty in what they wear.
Women are highly respected in Iranian society and unlike some countries women are not subjected to constant unwanted attention when they are out and about.