Touring in Iran
We met a lady from Perth yesterday. Her husband wasn’t interested in visiting Iran, so she just took off by herself for a few weeks. No tour guide, no itinerary, just DIY Iran. So she was striding along a street in Yazd and stopped to chat when she heard our Aussie accents.
There are a few others and good luck to them.
But the reality for most tourists is that they – like we – are part of an organised tour group.
Here’s how it works
One forty-seater tour coach. Airconditioned, big panoramic windows, reclining seats, tray tables, two doors. Luggage below, small carry-on bags above. Two drivers to share the load on longer legs, and to assist in manoeuvring in cramped streets.
A couple of official tour guides, licenced by the government and trained to herd tourists through cultural and tourist sites, manage the finances, accommodation and meals, and deliver information. We have a very experienced guide in Parri, about a metre and a half tall, but a powerhouse in action. Her assistant is twenty-something Javid, gaining valuable experience under Parri’s mentorship.
We have Bruce and his assistant Vicki, who organise the Australian side of things. Bruce is the Persian carpet expert who combines his auction business with leading tours. He has been doing it for twenty years or so and is a wealth of knowledge. He knows the trends, he knows the people, he knows the deals.
And twenty-three Australian tourists. Retirees, for the most part, couples likewise, experienced travellers all.
We’re here for two weeks. Fly into Tehran, fly down to Shiraz, bus our way back to Tehran and fly out again.
Most cities, we’re staying for two or three nights, always at a good hotel.
A typical day
If we’re staying in the hotel for the day, it’s a blessing. Otherwise, we have to pack our bags and have them outside the door by a set time. Usually earlier than we’d like.
Breakfast buffet and a rush for the coffee. Every hotel is the same but different. Breakfast cereals, a range of cold and hot foods, and maybe an omelette chef.
Meet in the foyer for the coach, load up, wend through narrow streets full of traffic for the first mosque of the day. Or castle, or garden, or some other cultural delight. After we’ve looked at enough history, art, and architecture, we’ll hit a local restaurant for lunch. Barley soup, soft drink or beer* or water, salad, and a main. Dessert might be some sweet cakes or custard or jelly. Sometimes tea and coffee to follow.
More of the same for the afternoon, back to the hotel for a quick break, then dinner, usually a buffet featuring the same foods as lunch but in greater profusion. Sometimes there will be a local speciality, and I have learnt to trust our assistant guide for his advice on these.
On days when we are moving from one city to the next, there will be long periods of driving, usually through a flat and dry landscape, but sometimes through spectacular mountains and gorges. On the afternoon legs especially, the party will doze off. We’ll pull up for morning and afternoon tea somewhere, a table will be set up and an urn dispenses hot water for tea or instant coffee.
And the rest
Everywhere we go, we encounter other tour groups. The great sites like Persepolis are popular, and the car parks will have the big tour coaches lined up a dozen at a time. Other places, maybe only two or three.
We see Germans, Italians, French and British. The occasional Chinese group. And some from other places. Tourism is really ramping up here, and everywhere we look, another fabulous five-star hotel is going up.
Usually, the hotels are over the top in decoration. Arches, decorated tiles, gold trims, acres of marble. Glorious, but after a while, I long for something a little more restrained and practical.
Rooms are standard. Apart from the glitzy decoration, you could be in a hotel room anywhere in the world. Iran is not an uncomfortable country by any means. Free wifi at most places, albeit sometimes a little slow and patchy, and subject to the restrictions imposed by the government. Tea and coffee facilities, but buy your own milk. No iron or ironing board; either wash your clobber in the sink or use the hotel laundry service.
All told, it is a supremely comfortable way to see the country and some of humanity’s greatest treasures. Highly recommended.
* Zero alcohol beer, unfortunately. Often lemon, peach, pineapple or mango beer.