Iran for us was not so much about the many mosques visited there (although they were quite magnificent), or even about Persian carpets or cats that they are known for. If we had to summarize our Iran experience in one word it would be – Iranians. Here we give you a short glimpse of the people we met and the stories behind it.
On our first stop in Iran we landed in Tabriz at night, clueless about where we were or how to get to some hotels when we approached some students standing nearby for help and they turned out to be our first friends in Iran. They not only helped us get to the right place but came along with us looking for hotels and we spent the next 3 days seeing Tabriz with them!
While spending one such day at Khaqani Park in Tabriz with our new found friends, an older disabled man came up to us, though he was using crutches it didn’t stop him from walking across the park only to talk to the foreginers he spotted there. He introduced himself and asked where we were from. Soon we were chatting away with him, spoke to his wife on the phone and he even taught us (not without tricking us with them first) some mathematical puzzles and tricks, all over cups of tea. At his age he had taken up learning English by himself and even showed us his notes. Quite inspirational!
When we arrived in Esfahan, we were lucky to have planned our trip in such a way that we arrived on a Thursday, beginning of Iran’s weekend. The large Imam’s square in Esfahan was filled with 3 generational families picnicking together. We only had to walk a few metres before someone would offer us tea, or wave hello to us or shout out ‘Welcome to Esfahan!’. It all felt really welcoming and made us think of the way we usually react to tourists in our own countries.
Not long after a bunch of students approached us and asked if we would meet with their group and answer some of their questions as they were keen on practicing their English. This ended up in a 10 minute long ‘interview’ between Pawel and the young boys, with questions ranging from ‘What’s your favourite Iranian dish to your favourite soccer team’.
In Esfahan itself, in an urge to smoke some shisha/hookah we stumbled upon this (normally all male) chay khaneh / tea house, where they welcomes us both. Between words of English and Farsi they asked us where we were from and on hearing I’m from India were only more than happy to play out old Hindi film songs from their mobile phone (Iranians LOVE Bollywood). We later found out that women are generally not allowed in such places and I probably got special treatment being a foreigner!
We met Maryam at a restaurant in Kashan where we dropped in for a quick bite before heading off to see the city. Seated by herself in the next table she shyly asked if she could join us and soon we spent the next hour chatting over lunch. She even joined us for the day going around the town of Kashan and told us which sights were better to visit and which were not.
During our trip around the city of Yazd we came across these students on a school trip at one of the old forts in the city. They were quite friendly, not shy at all around us and even requested for a photo together.
At the ancient temple of Zoroastrian religion, in Chak-Chak we met yet another school group. These were quite a chatty and boisterous bunch. They were very keen on us taking their photos and on seeing the pictures later on the camera all of them clapped and shouted out in glee – Merci! Merci!
We also had a chance to meet with other travellers who were in Iran at the same time and funnily kept bumping into the same people in different cities and sometimes even at the same hosts in each city. For some of the hosts it was very normal to have more than 1/2 guests staying with them at the same time so their homes usually felt like small guesthouses but with twice the fun.
There were countless other such experiences but in order to protect the identity of our hosts (from CouchSurfing) and at other times for lack of photos we can’t put them up here. I can tell you one thing though – to really experience Iran and learn that the real people of the country are nothing like what is shown and talked about on the news, you only have visit it. And I know I’m going to return there one day!