November 04, 2015

Iran Uncensored

When I first said I was going to Iran some friends were horrified. Not only was it seen as being extremely dangerous (being situated next to both Iraq AND Afghanistan), surely you would have no freedom, and you could not drink alcohol and would have to dress modestly. Why would I want to go there?

Of course the reasons to travel to Iran are varied, from the beauty of Isfahan, the ancient wonders of the city of Persepolis and the Rock tombs of Naghsh-e Rostam, and the lively city of of Tehran. The people are friendly, the food is good, although possibly over obsessed with kebabs of all kinds, and it is an easy, and safe, place to travel around.

Yes, you do need to cover up. No shorts for men, and of course women do have to wear a chador (head scarf). You can't drink alcohol, although you can get round this at your own risk. And you have lots of freedom to walk around and to go to most places you want to see, this is not North Korea.

The look is not "Is this person perhaps an American to taunt" but "What on earth is that man doing climbing on the roof of a metro station to take a photo"
The anti-American rhetoric, which does not particularly encourage North American visitors, is mostly for show, and the many Iranians I talked with only had a problem with American politicians, and often their own politicians as well, and not the people. The few Americans I did meet on my travels were having a great time, were warmly welcomed by everyone they met, and wished they had not put off coming to Iran for so long.

The only major annoyance I encountered was the internet being over enthusiastically censored. The BBC, all major newspapers, blogs, shopping sites, you name it, all appeared with the nice Iranian blocked notice page. This was easily circumvented with a VPN, which I belatedly organised while travelling in Iran. But even having a VPN did not resolve the issue of some of the slowest internet speeds I have ever encountered in the last few years. It was back to the speed of dial-up connections, with photographs taking a few minutes to slowly appear. This may well be because it is suggested that Iran actually throttles the speed to 128 kbps and forces all connections through a centralised facility which examines the traffic.

A long distance shot of Russian built radar facilities in the mountains around Isfahan
Security is visible, particularly around Embassies and Government buildings, where photography is not allowed, but not more so than in Western Europe. The only place where security was extremely tight, with camouflaged and fully manned anti-aircraft positions, army camps, and lots of advanced Russian built radar installations, was at the nuclear research facilities near Isfahan. Not surprisingly really as Israel has long made its displeasure known of Iran's nuclear facility and has a track record of attacking Middle Eastern nuclear facilities.

A holiday in Iran is a chance to take a break from Facebook, let your liver detoxify itself, and see some beautiful ancient cities, while not being bothered by crowds of tourists. And with the exchange rate at extremely favourable rates for foreign visitors, there really is no reason not to go and travel around one of the more unexplored countries of the world.

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