THE ADDRESS Magazine Summer 2014 - Page 410

of emerging travel destinations. Whilst the leadership may be a regime, the majestic landscapes lapping the land scream freedom. Iridescent mythic mountains ring-fence plateaus and basins, serrated peaks glint in the hazy heat as I cut gravel for days. Beguiling backdrops belie bodies of water; the Caspian Sea, Gulf of Oman and Persian Gulf, popular holiday spots for Iranians. Persian conquests & invasions In it’s former life as ‘Persia’, the land was credited with the creation of some of the world’s most formidable dynasties. A long and convoluted history of invasions, from Alexander the Great to the Arab Muslims to Gengis Khan and the Mongols, has seen Iran frequently clawing at democracy, only to be overthrown into a new regime. The culmination of millennia of invasions has been the Islamic Revolution since 1979, which firmly installed religious orthodox Shi’a leadership, a regime that endures. On the streets, this translates as mandatory hijabs (headscarves) for women and full-length loose clothing, meant to hide any hint of a figure. Although interpretations vary, every female abides the law, including tourists. Tourism in Iran So what prompted my visit? In the aftermath of independence, the world’s eyes have lingered upon this politically unsettled vacuum on the tourist map, which cradles a treasure trove of history. Aided by the Iranian government’s recent decision to loosen the chokehold for visas, international arrivals are growing from the hundreds to thousands. This year, Iran features on the Top Destinations of 2014 lists of major global travel publications and newspapers. Though still on the US State advisories list with warnings and the British FCO list advising against ‘all but essential 410 travel,’ Iran has been stable for some years and, as I find, is richly hospitable. No other country I’ve visited contrasts so wildly from its international persona. I’ve never felt so welcomed by a people eager to engage in open intelligent conversation, with invitations to their homes for family meals and being passionately guided through their beloved country. And in provincial towns where the hospitality doesn’t always translate, intricacies of culture, architecture and landscapes will keep you in awe. As for the hijab, even that’s an experience to which one acclimatises surprisingly quickly. Iranian officials recently made a landmark US state visit; a sizeable step for two countries that have been glacial since the seventies. On the ground right now, young professionals are jobless and struggling to afford to live. The battle shows no sign of surrender, although, talks are set to resume between the US and council of Iran over nuclear ambitions. If a compromise can be reached, it could signal the let-up of strict sanctions, currently crippling everyday Iranians with rising prices. Since the US visit, tourism arrivals have increased from the hundreds to the thousands Facilities for tourists are minimal and I see little sign of change. But you don’t visit Iran for the ‘facilities’. Bazaars, mosques & minarets You’re lured by the dusty incense-filled warren of bazaars, myriad mosques and minarets emblazoned in mosaics, fabled cities, well-preserved ruins of great Persian empires and wealth of world heritage sites. With a history of spawning poets, philosophers, scientists and mathematicians, the legacies of whom form the foundation of modern medicine and thought, it’s no wonder that world-class art, architecture and archaeology pervade every corner.