minaret iran yazd view

Why You Should Visit Iran, Now

W

e truly live in an absurd media-driven-world. In between click-bait distraction (“37 Things the Kardashians have Actually Swallowed, You Won’t Believe Number 23”), the internet and television are overflowing with stories of fear-inducing geopolitical events, their complexity melodramatically and mysteriously reduced to simple fables of good vs evil. For the last several decades, as seen through the prism of the mostly American-led mass media, the entire nation of Iran has been one of the firm mainstays on the evil side of the fairy tale. Vilified to the point of children’s pantomime, Western media has made sure that just like “Celine Dion”, the words “Islamic Republic of Iran” conjure imagery of moustache-twisting bad guys. Like Celine, Iran is portrayed as evil, unpredictable, and dangerous. Why is it then, that people who visit Iran have such a different story to tell?

Unfortunately, for those shadowy madmen behind the “news”, a generation of trite and hackneyed Iran propaganda is slowly, but surely, being unwound. The myth of Iran as a main spoke on the axis of evil is being dispelled. More and more Westerners are travelling to Iran, and experiencing Persian hospitality for themselves first hand. What these tourists experience in Iran, and the stories they return to tell, is certainly not what the media, their friends and family, or Doris in HR down by the water-cooler, told them to expect.

Earlier this year, I would have admitted perhaps a little personal bias in my glowing and painterly words about my previous Iran visits. However, having just wrapped up my third Yomadic “Untour” of Iran, I had a chance to hear a whole new set of opinions about the reality of visiting Iran, via the twenty-nine fresh pairs of eyes checking out the venerable Islamic Republic for the first time. Tellingly, I noticed that many of the intrepid Untourists™ from the USA, Canada, Spain, England, Australia, and some island-nation east of Tasmania, identified the same major problem with visiting Iran. Honestly, I couldn’t make this up. Several people told me, the problem with vacationing in Iran is, your future vacations may not ever again be as good. Iran, right now, is “peak-vacation”™.

 

sibil coffee esfahan iran
This is probably not what you were expecting Iran to look like. My coffee man in Esfahan.
yazd skyline iran
Maybe this is what you expected Iran to look like, but, yes, I know, it kinda doesn’t look real. It is. The desert city of Yazd, the largest “mud” city in the world.
photography street esfahan iran
Iran really is a street-photographers dreamland, despite this guys shirt. Esfahan, Iran.
kashan skyline
Kashan, Iran.
iran esfahan phillipa portrait
Phillipa, Esfahan, Iran. I can’t say enough about all the work that Phillipa has done to make the Untours a reality. She also proof-reads this blog, and makes a mean cheese-cake.
tower of silence yazd
This guy, I’ve forgotten his name, has a serious problem with his eyes. I’ve met him a few times now, he hangs outside the Zooastrian cemetery by the ancient “Towers of Silence” near Yazd. On each visit, he remembers me, but doesn’t remember my name. That’s cool.

girls of iran
I’m pretty sure I’d just asked them “who looks younger, me, or the guy sitting next to me?”. They were deep in discussion, searching for a way to answer me without causing offence. Hanging out in Esfahan, Iran.
sar yazd iran
This was once the largest treasury on the planet. I visited twice in October, and each time, there were no other tourists. Sar Yazd, Iran.
sar yazd ticket man iran
And, this is the guy you buy your tickets from at Sar Yazd. He was surprised to see me twice in one month.
tehran skyline
Tehran, is a monstrous city. Some people find nothing to do in a city of this size, for them, there is no hope.
mercedes bus old iran
We hit the city streets, and also got off-the-beaten path. I had one of my Untourists ask me one night “Nate, can we PLEEEAASSE go back on the beaten path tomorrow?”. I told her, no, but the day after, yes. BTW, I wish this was our bus, but it wasn’t.
necropolis iran
Of course, we checked out many of the best ancient sites in Iran.
ashura grand bazaar iran tehran
This is Dustin, Vahid, and a friendly old dude who decided our entire group should get a free lunch on this day at the Grand Bazaar in Tehran. They’re swapping Instagram and Facebook details.
vahid tour guide shiraz
My partner in crime, in Iran. Vahid knows the country better than anyone else. In every city we visit, Iranians come up to me and tell me “you have the best guide in the entire country”. I know. One of our Untourists wrote a poem about Vahid, another wanted to give him a tip so large it would be embarrassing, sorry Vahid I talked her out of it. This is on the roof of Vahid’s grand-mothers house in Shiraz, he thought since we were in the neighbourhood, we should take the entire gang around to his Grandma’s for a cup of chai and a biscuit. Good idea, Vahid. BTW, they are not his Grandma’s slippers.
DSCF1237
We have made a tradition on each journey through Iran, of grabbing a huge amount of fireworks, legal and not-so-much, and shooting them off in the desert. Pictured from left to right – Vahid, some random dude who showed up in the middle of the desert, and Mori, our driver. Mori is also a human GPS, and an essential part of the Yomadic Iran Untours.
kashan ashura
Kashan, Iran.
down with usa
Iranians really love Americans. Indeed, they often seem a little disappointed when they realise I’m Australian, not American. Jen, one of our American Untourists, modelling the latest in disposable coffee cups in Esfahan, Iran.
tower of silence yazd
Little known fact about the Towers of Silence – you can run down one hill, and up to the top of the other, in less than two minutes.
abyaneh iran
Paul and Stu help an older gent load his Donkey, in the ancient city of Abyaneh, Iran. Those bags were really heavy, at least, they looked heavy from behind my camera. In any case, these are the wonderful moments you can’t script, or plan for.
DSCF0574
Spencer and Illona are deeply in love with one another. So, I made them stand slightly awkwardly apart in every photo I took of them. Abyaneh, Iran.
DSCF0538
Spencer and Illona being awkward again.
iran dopelganger
This guy runs the market near a place I always stay at, in Esfahan. One of our Untourists looked like his brother, so we captured a photo of them together, and printed it. Manuel, you will be happy to know when I returned, to shoot this photo, the photo of you and your “brother” was proudly on display in front of the cigarettes.
OK, just one more photo.
OK, just one more photo.
moslem tehran
Damn, I have too many photos. Really. This is the line for lunch at Moslem Restaurant in Tehran. They serve thousands of people every day, and the food is great. The photo kinda shows the varying fashion styles of Tehran women, but really, I have to stop posting photos now, I could go forever.
kharanaq iran
Things you can count on in Iran: if you bump into a family outside a 4000 year old abandoned village, they will cook you BBQ chicken, pour tea, and pack the Shisha pipe. Kharanaq, Iran. Last photo for now.
view minaret yazd
Yes, we were atop a minaret, at sunset, during call-to-prayer, overlooking an ancient city, in the middle of the Iranian desert. I always make sure that any photographers that tag along, get some shots they will never forget.

This is perhaps the best time ever to visit Iran. Local optimism about the future of the nation is palpable. Good vibes fill the markets, streets, and the actually rather cool coffee-shops that have sprung up all over the country. Even better, right now, this remains very much the “before” Iran. With few tourists, you can still visit some of the most remarkable historical sites on Earth, and have the place to yourself. On the mean streets of Iran’s cities, you’ll be treated like a celebrity. I know. I’ve seen it happen too many times to count.

It’s the same for everyone who visits Iran. I’m not aware of any other country that has such a deep culture of treating foreign guests with such genuinely welcoming hospitality. Perhaps, maybe, when Iran is inevitably flooded with tourists, the VIP rockstar treatment won’t be quite so common. But for now, it’s all dinner invitations and cups of chai, and don’t even think about paying for the bill – your new found Iranian friends won’t allow it.

One problem I have – it’s truly becoming difficult for me to write with a fresh perspective about the Iranian tourist experience. I have no idea how to sort through my many photos in order to give you an “overall” impression, because Iran is a photographers dreamland, every moment is a photo opportunity, and I enjoy taking photos at coffee-shops just as much as at UNESCO listed ancient abandoned cities. Even though I’ve checked out the same places in Iran over and over again, on each visit I get the same thrill as though it were my first. I’ve visited Iran three times just this year, spending months travelling around the country from the snow to the desert, and honestly, you may as well stick me on repeat, because my simple summary is this – Iran is really fucking great.

I’ll try to explain it.

The thing is, growing up, I would love listening to the recounted memories of older travellers. To a young guy who hadn’t seen the world, their tales and depictions of exotic destinations seemed so exciting, and so surreal. With nothing but a backpack and the advice of other travellers, people journeyed along the “hippy trail” overland from Turkey all the way to Afghanistan, or grabbed a Volkswagen van, with a little bit of rust but nothing too serious, a hand-painted map on the back door, and cruised around Europe without a care, in the days when communism was still at thing. Long-haul central-American treks, before wifi, Lonely Planet, and social-media, to countries whose names I was hearing for the first time. For the people that created those adventures, back then, those journeys are burned into their memories, to be recalled daily, with a cheeky smile, for the rest of their lives.

Because they really were special journeys, back then.

Adventures from a different world, odysseys, through a different time.

Well, that’s Iran, right now.

Nate

 

PS, the longest PS ever is coming…

From the perspective of this very non-commercial blog, this is where it gets a little tricky. Here’s the short version: two more Yomadic Untours through Iran in 2016 are now available for booking. Click here for more details.

And, especially for my long term readers, I want to make one thing clear:

I’m determined that Yomadic won’t ever turn into one of those half-connected ghost-blogs that exists only for the purpose of self-promotion. I’m here to document my own travels, and bring a little of the unknown to Ken down in accounts. I’ll continue to take photos of places in the world that are changing rapidly, and even disappearing, and hopefully, through this blog, inspire more than one of you to expand your own horizons. 

Honestly, I find the web promotion of my Yomadic “Untours” a little stressful.

I prefer to do my promotion face-to-face, so you can see my sincerity. Because, I genuinely believe, along with Phillipa, and our team in Iran, that we have created something truly special with our Untours, and I wish all of the world could experience Iran in 2016.

Check out all the Iran tour details right here, and bring your camera.




13 thoughts on “Why You Should Visit Iran, Now

  1. What the fuck?! Why did I get demoted to “Ken down in accounts”?!

    Btw, how are the plans for Eastern Europe coming along?

  2. Iran is indeed “peak vacation”. Every word in Nate’s post is true. We did the October tour and are still marvelling at the whole experience. And we are a “mature couple” who have been travelling for 40 years and did some of the hippie trail back in the 70s. (I had Tehran on the itinerary in 1972 but the plane could not land: the airport was snowed in.) We had never been on a “tour” until this “untour” and it was the best travel experience we have ever had. More in our blog: http://www.thesmallestsuitcase.blogspot.com Visit Iran with yomadic; you can’t go wrong.

    1. Hey John! Apologies for the slow reply. It was fantastic to meet you and Candy this year, genuinely, meeting people like yourselves is the main reason I do these trips. Until next time!

  3. I love these photos, and I could honestly look at them all day, Nate! Really hoping to figure out my job situation in the upcoming month before your April untour is sold out!

  4. Wow, great photos of Iran and the people. Thanks for sharing.

    Once, my friend shared that he visited Iran, and he had a wonderful time there. The people are friendly too.

    So hopefully I could visit Iran soon! ;-)

  5. Having travelled there myself in 2012 I can say that your experiences are spot on. Yazd was my favourite city, but the experience and the people as a whole was amazing. Not so sure about those coffee cups – I probably would have bought coffee somewhere else!

  6. hello,Im from iran /yazd and saw your photos and just i want to say thank you for coming here , but there are a lot of amazing things that you didnt see yet , come again and see villages, thanks.

  7. Hi, I am from Iran, Tehran.

    just a tiny note:

    I believe,
    Iranian youths loved the Australian TV-show titled “snowy river” ( of course dubbed in Farsi back in 10 or 15 yrs. ago and popular show in Iran )- staring Andro Clark, Guy
    pierce…throuhg state-run broadcast. Next time you remind them along being Aussie. They might love you even more. Most Iranian,especially the youngs love American through some nice movies.

    Nice Iran articles, btw.

    cheers!

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