Iran Unveiled; By Wendell Rodricks
Through the ups and downs of centuries, monuments stand tall while highways criss-cross the country. They exist in peace, along with benevolent citizens and a delectable cuisine. What more reason do you need to jump on a flight to Iran?
Wendell Rodricks, fashion designer, writer and environmental activist from Goa, shares what he learned about Iran on his recent trip with Cox & Kings (published in HT and Mumbai Mirror). And no, it’s probably not what you expected…
“I went to Iran expecting Persepolis and nothing more. What I got instead was time to spend with friendly, beautiful people, see a wealthy country with great infrastructure and modern facilities, an ancient culture, fabulous Islamic art and architecture, delicious cuisine, huge bazaars and yes, Beluga caviar at Tehran Duty Free airport on departure.” – Wendell Rodricks
A Challenge Before The Challenge
Introducing Iran as your travel destination is like introducing your love interest to an over-protective family for the first time. Apprehension runs wild. Everyone doubts Iran’s intentions towards you. You’re made to look like a soldier who is going into war. They want to know what you saw in Iran that made you so blind to the obvious.
The obvious. What is the obvious? How do people know the obvious about a place without having gone there? They’ve probably read about it off the internet, or watched videos of terrorists claiming attacks on some part of some city the pronunciation of which takes a second or third attempt. Media portrayal, denouncements by friends, family lectures on fundamentalists…on and on it went. That didn’t stop Wendell Rodricks from going through with his plan. Come what may, he was going to Iran!
When Iranians Work Their Magic
A Qatar Airways flight took him from Goa to Doha, where Wendell had a short stop-over to look around the fantastic Museum of Islamic Art. He woke up to the city of Shiraz as the plane touched down in the early hours before dawn. Mortazaa Namwar, an affable guide, greeted him warmly before driving Wendell to the hotel. It didn’t take long for Wendell to see that there was more to Namwar than just a local showing tourists around his captivating homeland. That’s what Iran does. It’s what Iranians do. They forge relations. As the days went by, the glass built around Iran was smashed to bits. Iran revealed herself to Wendell.
Presenting The Women Of Iran
How does Wendell describe the people in one word? Friendly, or, over-friendly even. The women brought to mind a phrase, beauty with brains. Iranian women are open and chatty with tourists, they drive cars, and do not need bravery as a tool to walk about the streets after dark. Quite contrary to what was expected. The hijab, though worn conservatively in certain cities, is more like a head scarf which spills over to the level of the ponytail. Through most of his journey Wendell did get to see blonde-streaked, fringed, and luxuriant hair under the hijab.
Wait, Is This The Same Iran We Were Told To Expect?
Iran is quite chic, and quite a wealthy country. The planning is spot-on with wide highways. A joy to drive on. No bumpy rides here! Beggars and garbage are almost non-existent in the places he visited. Wendell did go hunting for both, but nada. If the smooth ride was not incentive enough, the highway journey also came cheap as petrol prices hover around Rs. 20 per litre. The restaurants along the way were hygienic and cooked up some fabulous food.
The Cultural Capital Of Iran
Delightful in many ways, Shiraz is a playground of roses, greenery, and mesmerising monuments such as the 18th century Arg-e-Karimkhani Citadel, the maze of Vakil Bazaar and Bath, magnificent mirrored walls and ceilings and beautifully set up gardens of the Narenjestan Palace, not to forget the pink-tiled 19th century Nasir ol Molk Mosque. The tile work in all these places left him tongue-ti(l)ed, while the mirror work of the Ali ebn Hamze mosque was nothing less than dazzling.
Indian Gola In Shiraz
Sufi Saint Hafez’s mausoleum and garden is where Wendell went to see the sun retire into the night. He indulged in an Iranian version of falooda, and shaved ice laden with lemon and pomegranate juice (remembering the Indian gola!) at the garden café.
Shatregan Restaurant is quite a hit with the tourists, and Wendell found out why. The Lamb Shashlik Chops and Koobideh Mince Kebab were extremely appealing. Not leaving the vegetarians behind, the brinjal and tomato shashlik with rice was delicious too. The flavours won his heart and one meal had the power of bringing together the sweet taste of six vegetables!
Indian Dream In Shiraz
Wendell had pretty much one place in mind all his life whenever he thought of Iran. Or rather, the said place is why he had Iran in mind at all- Persepolis! It is a few hour’s drive from Shiraz and the biggest tourist attraction. He had dreamed about this so much that he didn’t see the shock coming. Shock of the scale, the grandeur, the magnificence, and the dramatic visual beauty of the Persepolis. Once the capital of Achaemenid kings, it is where the palaces of Darius, Xerxes, and Artaxerxes stand. The city was plundered and torn apart by Alexander the Great, and these very ruins paved the way for an on-site museum. Columns rise high above the ground, stone reliefs convey the glory of the Persian court, and rock structures are testimony to a great empire that ruled across Asian and African continents. Wendell was so overwhelmed by Persepolis that had it been his only experience in Iran, he would have been satisfied.
Located not too away far from Persepolis is Naqsh-e-Rostam, the royal tombs of three Persian greats (buried high in the cliffs) and Sassanian rock reliefs. What is amazing about this site is the intricate architecture. The tomb of Cyrus the Great sits aloof some seven kilometres away at Pasargadae in the spread-out plains of Dasht-e-Morghab.
Sand Mountains & Turkish Bath (Hamam) In Kerman
Leaving Shiraz behind for Kerman was tough for Wendell, but the road promised new adventures. Adventures through pretty salt lakes, olive orchards, fields of pomegranates, figs, and mountains. He suggests you explore Kaluts desert early in the morning to avoid scorching temperatures which hit the desert during the day. It is known to touch 72°C in some parts. Salt and sand towers, complemented by sand storms and high wind, create a special design for Kaluts. Sand mountains are everywhere, and Wendell climbed one of them to be rewarded with an enchanting view unlike anything he had seen in all his travels.
The drive continued towards Mahan and the cool cocoon of the Shazdeh Garden. A looming snow-capped mountain towers upon this 19th century garden and house from the Qajar period. The fountains sizzle with their cool water, and Iranian families go all out on fresh sweet melons, saffron rice, dried fruits, nuts, and fragrant grilled meat on coal. Picnic spots around the world have some serious competition with this garden.
The Ganjali Khan complex in Kerman is where Wendell went to strike a Turkish Bath off his list. This hamam is exquisitely furnished with blue tiles and painstakingly detailed artwork. In the hamam for women, there are Iranian dresses from around the country put on display. Textile and costume fanatics are certainly in for a surprise.
Sibling Of The Parsi Dhansak In Max Sofrakhane
The Sofrakhane way of dining is a traditional Mediterranean style where a group of people sit together on a carpet and eat in harmony. Wendell found instant delight in the Abughoost (Dizy) stew with lamb, onions, potatoes, and grams at Max Sofrakhane, where the meat is kept aside and the rest is pestled into a sauce. He claims it is a sibling of the Parsi Dhansak.
Along The Ancient Silk Road To Yazd
Moving on (not quite) from Kerman, Wendell journeyed along the famed Silk Road to Yazd and the Zoroastrian Fire Temple. Tempted to see the Kariyan fire (which has been burning for more than 1,500 years) Wendell gave up the option to stop by the several Caravanserais along the highway. He was overwhelmed by the sacred flames, and paid his respects twice before going to the 17th century Zoroastrian Towers of Silence close by.
Yazd is an ancient city with a lot of wind towers. It is a centre of Zoroastrian culture. Wendell tried to cover as much of the city as he could, right from the spectacular Jame Masjid to the distinguished Dowlat Abad gardens. He swears by the Water Museum, Daraee (Ikat) fabric, and Termeh fabric here. Wendell recommends you see the Amir Chakhmaq Complex lit up in all its glory.
Isfahan: One Of The Prettiest Cities Of Iran
Next on his tour was the pretty city of Isfahan. En-route he stopped by an 1800-year old mud brick town called Mehbod, where he walked around Narin Qal’eh- one of the oldest castles in Iran. The love for wind towers extends here as well, with Yakhchals (dome-like structures which are antique refrigerators used to store ice). Another stop was at Na’in desert where there is a Jama Masjid without minarets.
Isfahan showed Wendell how a night on Naqsh-e Jahan Square can bedazzle anyone. When it was first built, the square was arguably the largest of its kind in the world. Wendell is still not over the sheer enormity of this place.
The Final Stop-Over
The last leg of his journey was in Tehran, but before that, Wendell made a quick stop at the Tabātabāei Historic House in Kashan for the badgirs (wind-catchers), rose water, rose tea buds, and rose petals.
Wendell was invited for dinner by a local in the posh, northern area of Tehran. When in Iran, grab at any chance to dine at a local’s home. The experience will stay with you forever, because Iranians are extremely hospitable and their tables are never free from the delicious weight of food. Tehran is cocooned by the Tochal mountains which safeguard the many famous landmarks of the city–the fountains, the dazzling salon mirrored rooms, and the royal Marmar throne of Golestan Palace, the National Museum which holds testimony to a great inheritance of the Iranians with objects that date back to 7600 B. C., the grand Imam Mosque with the Ayatollah Khomeini tomb, Tabiat Bridge designed by a lady architect, the Sa’ad Abad Palace and Mellat Palace in North Tehran, and Azadi Tower.
Wendell walked into his date with Iran with both eyes open, but still he got blind-sided. Iran took his breath away, its beauty hit him hard, his knees buckled, and he fell right over. Sounds like the acting out of an emotion we all know well, right? His date is over, but the romance will live on.
See Iran through Wendell’s lens on Instagram.
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