We flew into Tehran, the capital of Iran, from Muscat and prior to landing, all the women started putting on their long coats and headscarfs. The rules of dress in Iran is relatively lax compared to many other parts of the Arab world. Women have to wear long-sleeve tops that are mid-thigh in length and cover their hair. We booked the CIP service where they meet you as you disembark the plane and escort you to their lounge where they process your passports, pick up your luggage, and other customs formalities while you relax and have a coffee and surf the web. They then take you to your car which is already waiting outside the lounge with the luggage in the boot. It costs about US$100 per person and makes your arrival into Tehran pleasant and hassle free especially if you have arranged for visa-on-arrival. If you are flying business class on some airlines such as Emirates, Qatar, Turkish etc., the CIP service is included in your ticket when you leave (unfortunately only on outbound flights). So make sure you have your car drop you at the CIP lounge building and not at the main terminal. Similar to the arrival services, you hand them your luggage, e-ticket, and passports and they check-in for you and return with your boarding passes and luggage tags. Then when your flight is ready to board, they will shuttle you to the tarmac or gate. All customs and security checks are done at the CIP lounge. At the time of writing, there are no international hotels in Tehran. In fact, there are very few, if any, new hotels in town. We stayed at the Sepehr Apartment Hotel in a residential part of town near my friend’s house. The decor is a bit dated but the apartments are spacious and clean and in a nice part of town.
Tehran has a wealth of cultural attractions, it being home to the two last monarchial periods of Iran. The royal complexes of Golestan, Saad Abad, and Niavaran can be found in the city as well as numerous museums dedicated to art and culture. We started our visit at the Iran National Museum learning a bit about the history of Persia. Then we continued to Golestan Palace which translates to Roseland Palace and is the former royal Qajar complex. It was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2013. The Qajar dynasty ruled Iran from 1785 to 1925. Golestan Palace is one of the oldest historic monuments in Tehran and was once enclosed within the historic citadel. This large palace complex consists of numerous halls and palaces used for different occasions such as coronations and other celerations.
Other than the Golestan Palace, another highlight was our visit to the Crown Jewel Museum with all the jewels of the Shah. Diamonds and other precious stones the size of marbles. Unfortunately, photography is not allowed. The Contemporary Art Museum was a bit of a hit or miss. I was later told that one could arrange to see the vaults where the truly impressive art are kept.
The following morning, we visited Imamzadeh Saleh Shrine at Tajrish Square. Saleh is one of the sons of the Twelve Shia Imams and is entombed here. The female prayer hall is covered in mirrors and worshippers pray on the carpet and there is an inner central room where one can touch the tomb. Unfortunately, no photos allowed inside the prayer halls. There is also a small bazaar at Tajrish Square which is cute for a quick walkthrough.
After visiting Tajrish Square, we had lunch at the beautiful Yas restaurant which has been around some 150 years and are famous for their Persian kebabs. After a delicious lunch, we went to the Saadabad complex. The grounds are beautiful but most buildings are relatively new and not all that interesting.
After 3 days in Tehran, I feel that the media portrayal and the image we are used to associating with Iran is heavily biased. It is such a misunderstood country, often lumped together with Iraq and North Korea etc., where in reality, it is a vibrant country with very beautiful architecture, culture, and friendly people. People would come up to us on the streets and ask us where we are from and welcome us to their country. So far, there is still a limited number of tourists. Let’s see how the locals will react once the country is overrun with rowdy tourists! :) I felt totally safe walking around town, more safe than in many other parts of the world. In general, people are just going about their business like in any other city in the world. One thing I noticed is that picnicking seem to be a national pastime. Not only are families having picnics in the parks and squares, but also on the side of highways as well as in parking lots which seemed a bit strange to me. Oh well, to each their own! :)
That evening, we fly to Shiraz to continue our adventure in Iran.
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