Iran: An Independent Travel Guide

This travel guide to Iran is intended to show foreign would-be travelers and residents what Iran is really like, unbiased by glossy brochures or homepages by Iranian authorities or individuals. No offense meant to any of these homepages, but I think they are often of little practical value to foreign would-be visitors to Iran. Consequently, you should not expect any photos/sounds/smells from Iran in these pages: for fast downloads, this guide is limited to textual information, the rest can wait until you get there or can be found on other sites. This travel page is thus not redundant with (most) other services on Iran, as it is only about travel, with special focus on independent travel! I have no affiliations with Iran, be it by blood, marriage, or money.

Note that this travel guide is just a service I provide as a pastime, but not as my profession (I am an academic in computing science!). Please contact an on/offline travel agent, and/or the nearest Iranian consulate, if you can't find the desired information starting from this travel guide. But I will reply to "interesting" requests (if you promise to give feedback), especially that I have made some wonderful friends this way!

In 2012, I decided to stop maintaining this guide, but it still contains a lot of correct and useful information.

Contents

1. Online Information 2. Printed Information 3. Letters from/to Readers of this Guide

Many thanks to Roland Beutler and Thomas Maurer for enthusiastically contributing to this travel guide!

Happy traveling in Iran,
Pierre Flener

Copyright © 1996-2012 Pierre Flener. All rights reserved. Do not duplicate or redistribute in any form without written permission. Last modified: Thu Jun 7 09:50:43 CEST 2012


1. Online Information

Facts & FAQs | Safety & Health | Languages Spoken | Money & Exchange Rates | Independent Travel Information | Impressions from Foreign Visitors


Facts & FAQs

The CIA World Factbook has lots of interesting facts about Iran.


Safety & Health

The US Department of State gives an up-to-date, though overly paranoid (it's for US citizens!), estimate of the current political/economical/religious/... climate in its Travel Warnings and Consular Information Sheets. See Letters from/to Readers of this Guide for other opinions.

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention have excellent information about staying healthy in Iran


Languages Spoken

The Ethnologue Database has an astoundingly long list of all languages spoken in Iran.

Michael C. Martin's Foreign Languages for Travelers has some basic lessons (with sounds!) for the traveler on the Farsi language and pointers to many other language-related resources.

There are a couple introductory courses on the Kurdish language (the Kurmanji dialect, actually).


Money & Exchange Rates

The OANDA Currency Converter allows you to find out the daily exchange rates of the Iranian Rial vs. other currencies. However, this site gives the Interbank rate, which in Iran is artificially fixed, whereas the open market rate may be much higher. The interbank rate is only relevant for commercial transactions.


Independent Travel Information

There are some excellent travel-related homepages for Iran: Many, many others are listed by all of these.


Impressions from Foreign Visitors

Pierre Flener (that's me!) has written The Tale of a Journey in the Islamic Republic of Iran, based on my trip in July 1996.

Kathy and Rick Wilson, from California, have an amazing set of annotated photos from their trip in 2003 and 2006.

Karsten Filsø reports on Travelling in the Islamic Republic in October 2000.

Doug Burnett has a travelogue from his trip in April 1999.

Derek Szabo is a professional photographer who has some nice photos of Iran, from his trip in 1998.

Marie Javins passed through Iran on her journey from Kathmandu to Damascus in spring 1998.

Jan Van Assche and Ayse Ergürbüz have some photos of their Iran trips in 1996 and 2002.

Some other trip reports by Westerners have been published by The Iranian, namely at least:

Lonely Planet Publications have travellers' feedback from Iran and the Thorn Tree on the Middle East, which is a bulletin board for travellers.


2. Printed Information

Lonely Planet | Other Publishers


Lonely Planet

Lonely Planet Publications have several region and country guides covering (at least parts of) Iran. They are all highly recommended!

Lonely Planet Publications also have:


Other Publishers

Enthusiastically recommended by a French reader.


3. Letters from/to Readers of this Guide

How to Get a Visa? | Miscellaneous Information | Yazd | Mashhad | Crossing the Border to/from Turkey | Crossing the Border to/from Turkmenistan | Women Travelers | Snow Skiing (this is no joke) | Opinions on the Book/Movie "Not Without My Daughter"

Editor's note: I often edited the following messages so as to keep them short, informative, and spell/grammar-checked. I also annotated them whenever I don't agree with other people, or have updates to what they wrote.


How to Get a Visa?

Editor's note (January 2001): Things are improving rapidly in recent years! So do not be repelled by some of the older, negative reports that I still keep in here, but actually do try those "black-listed" embassies, as they may have changed their policies. And let me know if that's the case, so that I can safely delete those older reports.

Tehran-based travel agents can do visa assistance very cheaply, and will usually not insist (too much) in selling you a package tour! For many nationalities, this seems the most reliable, cheapest, and fastest way to a travel visa. For instance [but an independent traveller has reported denial of help, somebody please confirm or contest]:

They charge $50 (hopefully less in the meantime?) for their services, but can swing it all within one week. You'll get a reference number to take to the previously declared embassy, and visa delivery is then immediate.

Transit visas (say between Turkey and Pakistan) are quite easy to obtain, and much cheaper. You'll only get about one week, but recent travelers' reports confirm that such visas are as easy to extend, once in Iran, as regular travel visas. Japanese and Turks can get visas at the border (as far as I know, but please check to be sure).

---

From: Fabrizio & Linda (fab.lin@tin.it)
To: the editor
Subject: holiday in Iran (in summer 2000)
Date: January 2001

We were very lucky in the Visa challenge, because we manage to obtain our
visa in only 10 days.  We decided do go to Iran only two weeks before the
departure date, but we found a travel agency which managed to obtain our
visa (before the payment of the air tickets) in such a short time.  The
agency in Milan is specialized in Iran and some Iranians work there:  their
contacts in Teheran were efficient; we paid 60$ each for the Italian
Consulate taxes and we were obliged to reserve a room for the first night
in Tehran, which cost about 50$ for a double room for a night.

---

From: Jan Ewens (jwe@tv.dk)
Subject: Iran
Date: December 2000

It is very easy to get a visa now, at least in Denmark (Embassy/Consulate
Engskiftevej 6, Copenhagen Ø, telephone +45 39160073 (open 9-12).  It is
issued in less than a week (it is actually issued in Copenhagen and not in
Tehran), and it is OK if you write you're a journalist in the application.
It is, according to information, but not actually experienced, OK to have
an Israeli stamp in your passport.

---

From: Hongtoy@aol.com
To: the editor
Subject: Visas to Iran
Date: April 2000

I keep reading on web sites about people having problems getting visas,
unable to leave because of various delays.  If leaving from the U.S., my
practice has been to use a visa service.  It's quick, easy, no pain, expert
service.  A few months ago, for a set of 3 visas, I paid $100.  My time has
always been spent on other, more pleasant matters than calling, faxing,
emailing, and worrying about getting my passport back with a visa(s).  I
live in a more remote location, so using "the local consulate" is not an
option.  Additionally, when researching for a trip, I check on several
small group travel companies as well as what I do for going solo.  It is
not surprising now to find that I can do more of what I want, within my
vacation time, at less cost with a travel group (usually with not more than
8 other people).  Comparing notes on the road with others going solo, I
don't have any disappointments.  A big enjoyment for me is to meet local
people and to have my own space.  I can still do that with the several tour
companies I have gone with.  I have found a side trail a few times and
detoured for a few days, meeting back with the group.  Keep your options
open:  no one way is the best way.

---

From: (name withheld upon request)
To: the editor
Subject: Iran visa for US citizen
Date: February 2000

Well, here's my experience getting a visa.  I am an American, 26, single,
and I work in medical research at a major university, should that have any
relevance to my problems getting a tourist visa to Iran.  My planned trip
was to cover Tehran, Esfahan, Shiraz/Persepolis, and take in a few days of
skiing north of Tehran.

I purchased a ticket between Brussels and Tehran after spending a
considerable amount of time looking at the best airfares, and it was
several hundered $US lower to buy a flight to Tehran that originated in
Brussels than in other cities in Western Europe.  From the airline
websites, both British Airways and Swissair offer fares around $520 US to
Tehran from Brussels, via their hubs in London and Zurich, respectively.
Lufthansa offered a somewhat higher fare through Frankfurt, and Austrian
Airlines offered a similar fare through Vienna.  It is also feasible to fly
starting in Luxembourg on Swissair, as the prices are identical to those
from Brussels.

I applied for a visa through Sogol, as had been recommended in your website
as well as the Lonely Planet guidebook, with about seven weeks to spare
prior to departure.

From the beginning, I should have suspected something was amiss.  The
original e-mail indicated that the visa fee was payable upon entry at
Tehran Airport, which was not the story I got from them later on.  I faxed
them the copy of my airplane ticket and also the relevant pages of my
passport, and asked them to obtain a tourist visa.  I also sent them a copy
of my planned itinerary in Iran, as well as the hotels I wanted to stay in.

It was also difficult to get through to their office by voice, so I relied
primarily on fax and e-mail to communicate.

I did not learn that my original visa application was denied until two
weeks before my trip was to start.  They had some e-mail glitch and I did
not get word that I had no visa yet.  I told them to reapply and to hurry,
and said that I was leaving the United States in a few days and would like
to pick up the visa in the Netherlands or Belgium as a last resort.  So the
process this time was a money transfer of US $70 to their account in Dubai,
and I faxed them the draft to show that I had paid the money.  And from
then on, it was a rather tense waiting game.

I sent daily e-mails to the agency to remind them to hurry and to check on
the status of the visa application.  They said it was approved and ready
when I had arrived in Amsterdam, but there was no reference number yet.
Two days before departing for Iran, I took the train to Brussels, and there
was still no word about my visa.  I called the Belgian embassy and sent
Sogol e-mail.  Sogol said that they were still waiting for a MFA reference
number.

I wisely went to British Airways and the lady was helpful enough to change
my departure date due to the problems in getting a visa in time.  So that
gave Sogol a few extra days to get the reference number.  And I kept
sending e-mails, and heard absolutely nothing.  I called the embassy on
Monday morning (the day before departure), and there was no additional
information from them either regarding my application.

So the end result was that I could not get the visa in time, and in spite
of changing my flight departure out of Brussels for five days later, I had
not heard anything from Sogol and had to cancel the trip.  I will be trying
again, but based on my experience, I do not recommend dealing with them for
obtaining visas.  What was supposed to take 15 days, according to them,
took nearly eight weeks, and I was not able to get a tourist visa and could
not go on my planned trip.

Repeated calls to the Iranian embassies in Belgium and the Netherlands
explaining my situation were unsuccessful, as they were unyielding in the
requirement for a MFA reference number.  I told them that the agency in
Tehran was applying but was waiting for the reference number to be issued,
and in spite of that, they still would not listen to my situation or help
me out in any way.

Incidentally, I had a better experience with Mr. Hashemi at the
Netherlands embassy, as he did ask me about the purpose of my trip, where I
was going, etc.  The fellow at the embassy in Brussels, Mr. Abiverdi,
simply repeated over and over that he could not help me unless there was a
MFA reference number.

I can still use the airplane ticket, though, so I will reapply for a
tourist visa sometime later in the year and see what my luck is.  I will
probably deal with another travel agency in Tehran (any recommendations?)
or try the unsponsored route with the Iranian Interests in Washington, D.C.
I might also try a tour agency in the U.S. or Canada for ease and
reliability of getting and staying in touch.

So that's my story on getting an Iranian visa.  I'm not quite sure what I
did wrong, but I found it rather aggravating that even an Iranian travel
agency could not arrange my visa.

---

From: Kalia (kalia@sludge.phys.nwu.edu)
Newsgroups: rec.travel.asia
Subject: notes on trip to Iran, 8/98
Date: September 1998

We got our tourist visas without difficulty from the Iran Interests Section
in Washington DC.  In Iran, a couple of people expressed surprise at this,
saying that most US citizens they saw had gotten their visas in neighboring
countries, and not in DC where they have to refer everything to Tehran.
But anyway, we got the visas, six-week wait, no charge.

We entered Iran at Shiraz, flying in from Bahrain.  Everything was mellow
and cheerful, no apparent hassle of any kind for Iranians or tourists.  Our
luggage was not opened.  Except for the covered women, it could have been
any of twenty other countries we've visited.  We flew out of Tehran, and
this was the first time in our trip that we saw a stereotypical grim
Hezbollahi with stubbly beard in a position of authority:  manning the
security checkpoint.  There was a hand-lifting-gun Komiteh logo on the
X-ray machine.  The women in the women's line were hurriedly pulling their
clothing closer to themselves and covering their hair.  We'd never seen
this before.  He appeared to be shouting at some of the women, but SO was
ignored.  Before that, we were quickly waved through Customs, but we saw a
Customs officer kicking an Iranian woman's luggage as he screamed at her to
open it.

---

From: John Ferguson (johnf@southernlife.com)
Newsgroups: rec.travel.asia
Subject: Re: Iran visa questions
Date: February 1998

> You can easily extend your transit visa in Iran directly, so don't worry
> about its initial duration. Bring some passport-size pictures. In
> Esfahan, the procedure to extend a transit visa in clearly explained at
> the hotel Amir Kabir (which I recommend, it is clean and cheap).

I was in Iran in October/November last year and the situation regarding
extending transit visas seemed to have changed.  It appeared to be much
more difficult to extend them than previously, although extending my two
week _tourist_ visa was no problem.  In particular, the visa extension
office in Esfahan had a notice posted up saying "We cannot extend transit
visas.  Please do not even ask."

I applied for a visa here in South Africa and was granted a two week
tourist visa without any problem.  However, many other travellers I spoke
to did have some difficulty it getting visas.

---

From: Feher Tamas (72773.357@compuserve.com)
To: the editor
Subject: Experiences and some advice on travelling to Iran
Date: September 1997

The usual story, we were refused, etc, but we contacted Iran Doostan travel
agency (idt@www.dei.co.ir, Fax:  (98 21) 871-29-27), and for 50 US dollars
per person they managed it in less than two weeks.  Usually they didn't
receive our e-mails, so I recommend you fax.  First you write them the
passport-details (they sent us a table to fill in) and your itinary, it
needn't be exact at all, it won't be checked, but they are interested in
it, and they have to write something for the ministry.  After you have to
transfer the money to their bank account (in Germany) and fax them the
receipt.  We tried to contact two other agencies, their e-mail worked
better but their English didn't work at all and they wanted much more
money.

---

From: Roland Beutler (roland@geolepsg2.epfl.ch)
Newsgroups: rec.travel.asia
Subject: Iranian visa in Istanbul
Date: April 1997

You can get either a tourist visa or a transit visa in Istanbul.  The
consulate is on Ankara Street, 5 minutes walking from Sultanahmet.  It is
open every day from 8 or 9 in the morning.

If you want to apply for a tourist visa, you need
- your passport
- 3 photographs.
You must fill the form in duplicate. The actual fee is about 55 US$ for a
European tourist. Your application is sent for approval to Tehran.  Waiting
time is 10 days.

If you want to apply for a transit visa, you need
- your passport
- 3 photographs
- the visa of the country where you intend to go (e.g., Pakistan,
  Azerbaidjan, Turkmenistan)
The fee is the same as for a tourist visa and the waiting time is 5 days.

---

From: s9300647@leonard.anu.edu.au
Newsgroups: rec.travel.asia
Subject: Re: Iranian visa in Istanbul
Date: April 1997

It all depends on whether your country has good relations with Iran.  As an
Australian, I was granted a visa on the spot.  No onward visa was demanded.
Conversely, the hostels in Istanbul were full of Irishmen and Brits who had
been waiting months for their visa; they're probably still waiting.  Dress
conservatively, be polite and try out your Persian.  If you're female, be
sure to keep your head covered and dress modest, and appear that way in
photos you submit in support of your application.

IMPORTANT:  if you intend to travel to Pakistan after Iran, you may be
asked for an onward visa.  (Australians and some other nationalities are
apparently an exception here.)  The Pakistani consulate in Istanbul will
give you hell; the prick in charge will sooner give you his right incisor
than a tourist visa.  Obviously, it's a matter of saying that you intend to
return to Turkey after visiting Iran.  Very few nationals require a visa
for Turkey and, at least in theory, you'll have the Iranians over a barrel.
Once again, if you're Australian you probably won't have any troubles
whatsoever.

Also, if they ask for an Iranian address on the application, be sure to
give them one.  (Just take a hotel name from your Lonely Planet guide.)

---

From: (name withheld upon request)
Newsgroups: rec.travel.asia
Subject: Re: Individual travel to Iran
Date: March 1997

> I'm interested on any information about Iran one could give me as planning
> to visit the country this summer. We're three French citizens (2 girls and
> a boy) and need:
> - visa

Don't bother in Paris -- they told me to get stuffed when I applied. I got
mine in Istanbul on the spot for USD 50. Though it was only valid for two
weeks, it's simple to extend it in Iran. (Fifty cents for a one-month
extension on the spot.) Use your Lonely Planet guide for the name of a
hotel should they ask you for one, and always say that you are returning
overland to Turkey (unless you have an onward air ticket) lest they demand
to see an onward visa.

When applying for a visa, ladies, be sure to be wearing a headscarf in all
your passport photos. Needless to say, you _must_ dress appropriately once
in Iran: a headscarf at all times, loose jeans, a loose blouse and a dark
coat should be considered a minimum. Men, no shorts anywhere under any
circumstances and be wary of wearing t-shirts in some places. Follow these
rules and your stay in this wonderful country will be all the more
pleasant.

---

From: Olivier Peyran (opeyran@ens-lyon.fr)
Newsgroups: rec.travel.asia
Subject: Re: driving through Iran by motorbike
Date: March 1997

> We are completing the forms to get a transit visa to cross Iran from
> Turkmenistan to Turkey using our private motorbike. They are asking for
> a copy of a so-called "carnet de passage", that is a form that will be
> stamped when entering Iran, and that will be required to get out of
> Iran. As far as we understand, this is to make sure that you are not
> selling your engine in Iran. There is a similar system in Turkey, but they
> they directly stamp the passport.
>
> Do you know whether this form ("carnet de passage") is actually
> necessary? (it is quite expensive to get it from the French
> automobile club)

It is essential.  Your bikes may be confiscated if you can't produce one
and you could be fined or imprisoned on top of that.

---

From: Payman Arabshahi (payman@u.washington.edu)
Newsgroups: rec.travel.asia
Subject: Re: Iran: second call for information
Date: February 1997

You may wish to contact a few travel agencies in Tehran:

Holiday Travel: holiday@neda.net Fax: 257-5222
Caravan Sahra : caravan@neda.net Fax: 767-184

Area codes for fax numbers are +98 21


Miscellaneous Information

From: Fabrizio & Linda (fab.lin@tin.it)
To: the editor
Subject: holiday in Iran (in summer 2000)
Date: January 2001

PEOPLE:  We traveled in Nepal, China, India, Mexico, Guatemala during the
last years:  in these countries people are generally kind with foreigners,
but sometimes they are boring or they are trying to sell you something.  In
Iran we found mainly people that only wanted to talk with you for curiosity
about you, your country and about what we, western people, think about Iran
and Iranian people (except carpet sellers).  People generally try to offer
you something (from ice creams to tea), they often invite you to their
houses (where you must accept tea, fruits and gifts:  a woman gave us a
ceramic soap dish, directly from her bathroom):  we also found taxi drivers
which, after talking to you with a generally bad English, tried to refuse
payment (where else in the world can something like that happen?)!  We also
tried to learn a few words in Farsi and people appreciated it very much.
We travelled in three, and people talked not only to me, but also to my
wife and her friend:  some young boys also shook the hands of the two
women!  People also talk about politics:  most of them complain about their
government (some of them for the absence of freedom, some other for the
absence of alcoholic drinks!)  in a discrete way.  Only a few young boys
were fond of their leaders.  Iranians are very tolerant (we never felt
unaccepted or unsafe) except with the Afghan people which are common in the
southeastern part of Iran and Teheran:  according to the people we met,
Afghani are often involved in drug traffic (we spent three hours at a
police checking point near Yazd while our bus was completely `destroyed' by
the policemen that, at the end, did not find anything),

TRANSPORTATION:  We took only one domestic flight (which are not expensive,
but generally full) and we generally travelled by bus (on some routes buses
are also air-conditioned).  For short distances (up to 100 km) collective
taxis are a good alternative.  In the cities, taxis (both individual or
collective, which generally run along a main lane of a city) are the best
way to move; city bus lines are well-developed, but it is not easy to
understand which is the right bus for the desired destination.  For
half-day or full-day excursions you can ask travel agents (for example, you
can organise a guided tour to Persepolis and the tombs nearby for 30$ for
three persons including an English-speaking guide) or rent a taxi (for a
tour from Qazvin to Masule and Anzali and back in 14 hours we paid about
30$ for three.  Remember that your blood must be really cool to face a full
day with a dangerous Iranian taxi driver.

MONEY:  In Iran the black market change rate is now disappearing:  the
banks change at a rate (1$ = 8159 rials) that is similar to that of the
black market (1$ for up to 8200 rials).  We generally travelled by bus:
each city has one or more coach stations (some of them are very well
organised); seats are reserved and the costs are unbelievably low (about 1$
for 300 km!).  We stayed in middle class hotels:  for the same price you
can find solutions of different quality, according to the different cities:
we found a very clean and renovated hotel in Teheran (Asia Hotel, we paid
20$ for a double room with bathroom) for the same price as old and not so
nice places in other towns.  In many hotels, prices are different for
Iranians and other tourists:  you can generally bargain, obtaining
reasonable prices (with respect to the first request).  Food is good
(although often monotonous:  kebab and koresht are the most common dishes)
and in some places is very special.  For a dinner in a high-class
restaurant (both in hotels or not) we generally paid about 4-6$ each.
Generally food was better in local restaurants than in hotel restaurants.
Museum and monuments are relatively expensive:  from 3 to 10$ for the most
attractive monuments such as the mosques in Isfahan and other cities,
gardens in Kashan and Mahan, Arg-e-Bam (5$ each), Persepolis (10$) or the
Iran National Museum of Teheran (8$).  These prices are harder to accept
because they are from 10 to 12 times what an Iranian pays for the same
site:  if you are a student and have a card to prove it you will pay half
of the price (only 5 times with respect to an Iranian!).

PLACES:  We travelled in three weeks from Bam to Teheran along this route:
Bam, Kerman, Yazd, Shiraz (and Persepolis), Isfahan, Kashan, Hamadan,
Quazvin, Masule and Anzali, Qom, and Teheran.  The highlights of Iran are
for sure the Arg-e-Bam ruins (located in a desert landscape on one side and
an oasis on the other), the city of Yazd (with the mud walls of the houses
of the old town, the ganhat and some exciting mosques), the bazaar and
mosques of Shiraz, the impressive even if badly-preserved ruins of
Persepolis, the unbelievably rich and coloured ceramics of the monuments of
Isfhahan (this summer the river was dry and the famous bridges were not so
impressive), the holy sanctuary of Qom (only Muslims are generally allowed
to enter the gates of the outer walls, but you can take a look and pictures
from the gates, but if you ask politely maybe, at least this happened to
us, you may find an official who will accompany you within the outer walls
of the complex).  Masule is quite out of the main routes and in our opinion
it is not so impressive to justify a detour (unless you are in the
surroundings).  The caves near Hamadan are quite impressive:  one of the
most striking features of this place is the organisation (something which
reminds of Eurodisney) and the multitude of Iranian families.  The tour (on
boats) lasts more than one hour and the caves are worth a visit.  Kerman is
a nice place on the way from Bam to Yazd and is worth a two-day stop
(including a visit to the sanctuary and gardens of Mahan, some 50km south
of Kerman).  Kerman has a nice bazaar.  We did not like so much Kashan:  we
found there the least friendly people of Iran and only the old house in the
center of the town is worth a visit (the famous Fins garden is not so
impressive, mainly if you have seen also the garden of Mahan).  Teheran is
interesting for its museums (Ceramics and Glass, Carpet, National museum;
above all you must see the Jewel museum, even too rich of gold and precious
stones:  it is open only a few days in the week, get informed about it);
the northern part of the city is interesting for the residence of the Shah
and for the impressive landscape from the departure point of the cableway
(it is open only two days a week and you have to be informed - or lucky -
to be there on the right day).

--

From: Jan Ewens (jwe@tv.dk)
To: the editor
Subject: Iran
Date: December 2000

[I went in October 2000] to Iran with my wife and teenage daughter.

Exchange rate (Oct 2000) is IRR 8100 (rial) to the USD.  Bring only USD in
new 100 dollar bills.  It seems to be the same rate on the street, in the
exchange offices, in hotels, and in banks, and a bit lower if it is smaller
dollar bills.

Independent tourists are incredibly few.  We only saw a few on their way to
India.  Other tourists are Italian, French, and Dutch elderly people doing
a cultural trip, and some camera trigger happy Japanese.  Most of the women
in these tourist groups were wearing a scarf and loose European clothes
like a duffel coat or winter jacket, and loose jeans.  It looked awful, but
it was apparently accepted by religious police (which we never saw).  My
wife and daughter were wearing long black manteaux and black or coloured
scarfs.  It was OK outdoor in October, a bit hot in Shiraz, and very
uncomfortable in restaurants, but in general it helped us to a lot of
contacts to all kinds of people, women, men, young, elderly.  They were in
general very open about everything, openly criticising the government's
economic politics, and in particular "cultural policies" which are the laws
regarding women's dress code.  Everybody (with a few male exceptions) was
strongly opposed to the dress code.  And everybody was so fed up with the
mismanagement of the economy, forcing them to live in a third world
country, while the religious leadership was pouring petrodollars in mosques
and roads.  Many expressed a hope for leaving the country and seek a better
life, if possible in the USA.  This is true for the people we met, who were
all English speaking.

We travelled to Tabriz, Isfahan, Shiraz, Teheran.  This has been described
by many others.  Isfahan is a clear favorite, but the river that makes the
bridges so nice haven't had any water for the last 4 or 5 years - el Niño?
Shiraz is a bit Southern, outdoor cafés, remarkable mosque, not so
interesting parks - but of course a good excursion to Persepolis.  Tabriz
is not particularly interesting, and Tehran is awful.  The Museum of Modern
Art is certainly worth a long visit, though.

Iran Air is excellent.  It is incredibly cheap, like USD 10 to 12 per
flight.  You'll have to pay in Iranian cash.  It is possible to make
reservations outside Iran and then buy the tickets at the first available
Iran Air office.  All our flights were on time.  We never lost any luggage.
Food was just as boring as on short flights in Europe.  Service was good,
and they always had an English language newspaper at hand.

Lonely Planet is a bit outdated when it comes to hotels.  Some (like Abbasi
in Isfahan and Parsian in Shiraz) are much more expensive and full of tour
groups.  Others are unchanged and fairly cheap (like Azarbaidjan in
Tabriz).  In general, it doesn't matter if you pay in dollars or rials,
because the hotels use the same exchange rate as everywhere else.

Entry fees to mosques, museums, palaces, ruins, and parks are remarkably
high, often higher than prices for similar tourist hotspots in Europe.  As
in hotels, you pay a heavy overprice being a foreigner.  Meanwhile,
everything else like eating, travelling, and shopping, is so cheap that the
final budget will not be too heavy.

I am not sure I would recommend travel to Iran only for beautiful buildings
or nature.  Isfahan has some very nice palaces, bridges, and mosques, but
most cities were ugly, and we didn't see much nature.  But I would highly
recommend a trip to Iran to meet the Iranians who are wonderful people, and
very, very interested in the world outside.

--

From: Kalia (kalia@sludge.phys.nwu.edu)
Newsgroups: rec.travel.asia
Subject: notes on trip to Iran, 8/98
Date: September 1998

My significant other (SO) and I, both US citizens, travelled to Shiraz,
Isfahan and Tehran in August 1998.  Here are some random observations
regarding the trip.  I have not attempted to write a comprehensive trip
report or travel guide; in particular, I have not repeated information
already in the 1998 Lonely Planet book or in this guide.

MONEY

Our attempt to change money upon arrival at Shiraz airport was met with
some consternation and disbelief; we were told that "It is better to change
money in town".  We knew that, but needed money for the cab, so we changed
five dollars.  In town, we used exchange offices, getting a better rate.
The rate may have been slightly better on Ferdosi Square in Tehran, but we
liked the relative safety of exchanging off the street.

Staying in 3-star/4-star hotels, travelling between cities by plane and
locally by taxi, and paying those inflated foreigners' prices for museums
and hotels, we spent about $25 per person per day in Iran.

PEOPLE

I was born in India, and I had been warned by an expatriate Iranian not to
expect quite as much hospitality as a 'real' American such as SO might
receive.  Well, in fact Iranians were very nice to us without exception.  I
saw little aggressive nosiness, for example the type you see in India
("What's your salary?"); but when the opportunity arose, everyone took the
opportunity to make us feel welcome.  In Shiraz, a store owner spoke fluent
Urdu to me.  At the Cheragh shrine, where chadors are required, they were
being lent without charge and without a deposit at the bookstore, and a
male store clerk took the time to tell SO about the churches she could
visit in Shiraz (she did not admit to lack of religious belief).  At
Pasargadae, the guard poured us tea and put his arm around my shoulder
while posing for a picture.  (We had no common language.)  At Isfahan
airport, the uniformed young woman in the women's security line wanted SO
to sit down and have tea.  While waiting for the plane, we had an
entertaining conversation with a businessman about the political situation
and about poets ("You know, they don't know what to do with Hafez...")  A
taxi driver spontaneously apologized to SO for the scarf she was being
forced to wear, and another said, while driving by the former US embassy on
Taleghany, that he wanted the US to come back.  In Shiraz, a young man with
no English insisted on paying for faloodah we'd already ordered.  And so
on.

Several people said, when we commented on how nice Iranians had been to us,
that "But we are not nice to each other."  As a tourist, we of course see
little of what is under the surface, but comments like this hinted at the
tensions within Iranian society.  We saw few other manifestations of this
tension.  Except for the Customs officer (see above), we never saw anyone
in authority behave poorly; in fact, the regular police seemed
exceptionally courteous in dealing with people.  No Hezbollahi ever hassled
us.  I have been told that the word has come down that foreigners are not
to be bothered, but Iranian tradition may prevent such discourtesy in any
case.

Taxi costs (after bargaining...not the initial quote!)  were consistent
with the prices listed in LP's guide allowing for a year's inflation of
~25%, and at the end of the trip the payment was always accepted with a
smile and without counting the bills; no one ever asked for more than the
agreed-upon price.  Vendors on the street offered their wares but did not
insist; beggars asked but did not pester.  The contrast to India was so
extreme as to be disorienting, because in some ways Iranian towns look a
lot like towns in the Indian subcontinent, except for being a lot cleaner
(everywhere there were garbage bins, and the streets were relatively
spotless).

Ordinary Iranians did not seem very religious to me.  We saw maybe three
mullahs in the whole time we were there, we never saw anyone actually
praying, and we heard calls to prayer only faintly or not at all (in many
Muslim countries the amplified cacophony from duelling mosques is
unavoidable).  We saw more theatrical weeping at Shia shrines outside Iran
than we did in Iran.  The Hosseinieh (tomb) of Khomeini looks more like a
railway station than anything else; people are sleeping on the carpets,
kids run around freely...

FOOD

A great Iranian contribution to food is falooda (pelude).  We inhaled large
quantities every day, with and without ice cream but always with lots of
extra lemon arak.  People watching us or serving it were pleased; it must
not be very common to see tourists dive into bowls of falooda.  In Shiraz,
a young man insisted on paying for us.  Falooda is served in Bombay because
of the Parsi population there, but it is nowhere near as good.

In the nineteen-fifties' travel narrative "The way of the world", Nicolas
Bouvier wrote about a stay in Tabriz:  "We ate a great deal of bread---it
was marvellous bread...Only a really old country rises to luxury in such
ordinary things; you feel thirty generations and several dynasties line up
behind such bread."  In 1998, the dynasties are gone, and so it seems is
the quality of the bread.  In Shiraz and Isfahan, we were never served and
never saw anything except lavash, which is cheap thin bread made these days
by machine---dries hard within seconds but remains extremely salty for
centuries.  In Tehran the restaurants served slightly better bread,
although often stale.  We never saw barbari, in restaurants or on the
street.  In comparison, excellent fresh thin and thick breads are always
found in Arab countries and in Turkey.  One new restaurant in Tehran had a
full-page ad, touting among other things their 'special bread...similar to
Indian chapati'.  Yes, compared to the typically available Iranian bread, a
lowly chapati is special.

As for food, we have eaten at Reza's in Chicago to the point of boredom,
and we had hoped that Iran would be more interesting, in the same way that
good restaurants in India are so much better than Indian restaurants in the
west.  Well, we were wrong.  If Reza's had branches in Iran, we would have
eaten there every day.  This is not a comment on Iranian home cooking, of
course, but the restaurant situation is almost uniformly bleak.  All
restaurants in Shiraz and Isfahan, including expensive restaurants in fancy
hotels, served the same things: kabab without rice, kabab with rice,
chicken with rice, frozen fish kabab, and as a special treat for tourists
(drum roll please) schnitzel!

The five-star Abbassi (Isfahan) had one additional item: fessenjan.  In my
opinion this famed Persian dish is better as dessert than as a main course,
and requires very little skill; you just empty a bottle of pomegranate
sauce into the pot.

Tehran was better.  Correspondents from the soc.culture.iranian newsgroup
had suggested some restaurants, but they were all in north Tehran and we
never made it there except once to Darband to eat abgusht.  Abgusht is
based on animal fat rather than meat, but it is quite good once the fat has
been picked out.  With some help from the hotel we found a nearby
restaurant serving ghorest and ghemei (I am not sure what the differences
are, but anyway, these are stews) and we ate there repeatedly.  Loved the
pickled whole lemons cooked with the stew.

A serious problem in Iran seems to be a relative absence of vegetables in
the diet.  This is curious, because Iran is encircled by three great
cuisines (Turkey, Indian subcontinent, Lebanese/Arab) whose variety and
subtlety are largely derived from the use of vegetables.  (I am from India,
but I would rate Turkish cuisine as the best of these three.)  Faced with
this tough competition, Iran seems to have decided to specialize---in
chunks of greasy grilled meat.

A couple of times we followed the LP guide's advice and had pizza.  It was
pretty bad.  I'm not saying it has to be American or Italian pizza or it's
no good; we've had wonderful pide in Turkey.  Clearly the skills of the
pideci haven't crossed the border.  We never tried hamburgers; as far as we
are concerned, it's just a western kabab.

Food will be a problem for all tourists to Iran.  Be prepared for chicken
and dry rice every day (it's better than the ground-mystery-meat-and-grease
kababs, but it is just boiled chicken and very little bland sauce with a
whole lot of rice.)  We never found light lunch food, such as sandwiches.
If you're not too hungry, you can subsist on cookies during the day---we
did, it was better than eating another kabab.  Remember to take your
vitamins.

[Editor's note: I disagree on the previous 3 paragraphs, as there is a
huge difference between the food served in the visible restaurants or
take-aways and the food served in family circles or the top restaurants.
The latter does feature a lot of vegetables and excellent bread.  It is
just hard for a traveller to get access to these.]

CARPETS

We're spoiled by seeing carpets from all over the world.  In Iran, of
course, they sell Iranian carpets only, and a lot of it is same-old
same-old.  After visiting the Carpet Museum, it is hard to buy the quality
of carpet we can afford.  We bought back a small Baluchi with an unusual
design.  Our local carpet store gave us an estimated price, which happened
to be about twice what we paid for it.  This is probably reasonable, given
duties (if imports from Iran had been legal), shipping (ditto) and the
higher costs associated with running a store in the US.  I've seen at least
one claim on the internet that the carpet they bought was similar to
carpets selling at five to seven times the price in the west.  This is just
a self-congratulatory fantasy.  Iranian carpets are exported to Europe
although not to the US, and such price anomalies are improbable.  Rather,
there are many grades of carpets, and what looks smilar trough a shop
window may in fact be very different.

MISC. NOTES, THINGS TO SEE, COMMENTS ON LP GUIDE (of 1998)

We were in Iran in the days immediately following the US cruise missile
attack in Afghanistan and Sudan.  It was amusing to see the newspapers
trying to reconcile their disapproval of US actions with their hatred of
the Taliban.  Mainly they just criticized the US for attacking Sudan.
Iranian diplomats had recently been taken hostage by the Taliban, which
gave us some perverse satisfaction.  Turnabout is fair play.  (I've now
learned that the Iranian diplomats are dead.)

We flew from Shiraz to Isfahan, Isfahan to Tehran, and Tehran to Damascus.
The international flight was at IATA prices, but the internal flights were
$11 each.  Even at these loss-leader internal prices, Iran Air is just
fine.  The flights were not seriously late, and the staff were well trained
and courteous and efficient.

We stayed in 3* and 4* hotels with AC and private bath.  All hotels replied
to my letters by sending faxes to me in the US, and they quoted their
prices in rials at my request, converting their dollar rate at the official
conversion rate.  Of course, since we paid them in rials converted at a
higher rate, it cost us half as much in dollars.  Don't cry for the hotels,
though; they legally charge foreigners much more than they charge Iranians.
Read the LP guide for very useful advice on how to reduce your hotel costs.

Shiraz is nice but not not really worth going out of your way for.  You
generally have to pass through it to go to Persepolis, but if you don't
have time to hang around the city, it's not a big loss.  The grave of Hafez
was a disappointment; we had expected a beautiful Persian garden.  I guess
a visit is a political statement for Iranians.  The tea house there is very
nice, though.  We stayed at the Shiraz Eram Hotel (~$17) a night.  Old
hotel run by nice people, but as the LP guide warns, the restaurant adds
unexpected charges; avoid eating there.  Unfortunately we found no place
worth eating in in Shiraz.

There is nothing I can say about Persepolis that hasn't been said already.
We like Palmyra (Syria), Petra (Jordan) and Baalbek (Lebanon) better for
atmosphere, but Persepolis is one of a kind.  Pasargadae is a long way out
for not much reward, unless you really must see the grave of Cyrus.  We
paid $ 13 for the seven-hour round trip by taxi, including a stop at
Nagsh-e Rostam.

Isfahan was great.  Although LP says the Sheikh Lutfullah mosque on one
side of the square is not so impressive, we liked it a lot.  But the Chehel
Sotoon, very popular with Iranians, is not particularly striking.  We
stayed at the Safir (4-star), next to the Aria and across from the Abbasi,
at $25 per double room per night.  OK hotel, nothing special, and it is run
by, well, by Isfahanis.  Avoid.  A meal at the Abbasi is pleasant although
the food is boring as always; their tea house is very nice.

I liked Tehran; I don't know why it gets a bad rap.  It is not all that
polluted, although it may be worse in winter.  The buses are mostly modern
and there wasn't much in the way of diesel fumes.  The traffic is heavy but
always moves; we were never in an interminable traffic jam.  We walked a
lot and liked it except for the heat.  Crossing the road wasn't too hard.
The LP belittles the Islamic Arts museum next to the national museum, but
in fact it was a highlight of our trip, as were the carpet museum and the
jewels museum.  The national museum is not as well presented and has been
neglected, perhaps because the artifacts in it are pre-Islamic.  The Tehran
bazaar is best avoided, it's unattractive compared to the bazaars in Shiraz
and Isfahan.  We stayed at the Mashad hotel (formerly Semiramis) ($20
tomans/double/night).  Faded but comfortable hotel; it is just round the
corner from the former US embassy, and we strolled around the block and
took pictures (reportedly pictures are forbidden; certainly there were no
other tourists).  We had the best food of our trip in Tehran, although it's
not Istanbul by a long shot.  The LP recommends the teahouse in Shahr park,
but the park is frequented by strange people (reportedly drug addicts) and
is best avoided.  The teahouse was closed when we went.  Laleh park is very
nice.  We rented a car/driver and went out to Khomeini's grave (hossenieh),
and also to the Behest-e Zahra mass graveyard.  The blood-red fountain has
been turned off.  No one batted an eyelid about our visiting these places.

Departure formalities from Tehran airport were expeditious.  LP advises
leaving for the airport 3.5 hours in advance; we did and spent a lot of
time cooling our heels.  The duty-free shop prices items in dollars but
accepts rials, so make sure you have enough rials.  For example, beluga
caviar when in season is about $70 for 100 gms, but it'll cost you $35 if
you pay in rials.

---

From: felixthecatsays@hotmail.com
Newsgroups: rec.travel.asia
Subject: Re: Alexander the Great
Date: March 1998

Iran is perfectly safe and more so than Egypt or Israel - both politically
and crime-wise too - and in fact the official US policy is now to encourage
visits from Americans.  European tourists have been going for years
already, and more than a few Americans have been there and have posted
their experiences on rec.travel.asia or soc.culture.iranian.  There are no
restrictions on Americans visiting Iran imposed by either the US government
or the Iranians.

No one in Iran cares if you're Christian or Jewish - especially since there
are plenty of Iranians who are Christians and Jewishs who are generally
left alone and are considered to be as Iranian as anyone else.  Tehran
alone has 11 functioning synagoges and there is a beautiful church in the
city of Ispahan which you have to see.

As far as your wife is concerned, being a red-head or having green eyes is
not that strange in Iran, which is a multi-ethnic society.  As long as she
(and you) respect the local culture's standards of "decency" in clothing,
you won't have a problem.  In Iran (currently and officially) women wear a
scarf over the hair, and baggy clothes which covers everything from the
neck to the ankles.  No veils are worn there, though the more religious or
traditional women may wear a "chador" which is a long cloth which they wrap
around themselves - but it is not required.  Men shouldn't wear shorts,
t-shirt, or go around bare-chested.  And no public displays of affection.
That's about it - and no alcohol either.  Unofficially, most Iranians are
pretty relaxed and don't care what you do and boozing is rampant.  After
all, it was a Persian poet who wrote "A loaf of bread, and jug of wine, a
book of verse, and thou..."

If you're interested in Alexander the Great - you should visit Persepolis
which was supposedly burnt down by Alexander.  You should also visit
Ispahan too.

---

From: felixthecatsays@hotmail.com
Subject: Re: snow in Iran
Newsgroups: rec.travel.asia
Date: September 1997

> I want to drive to India this winter.  Does anyone know what or
> when it will be possible to drive through Iran, in terms of the weather.

You can drive through Iran all year - the roads are actually pretty good.
Of course, it would be a lot safer generally to avoid driving during winter
when it snows heavily from the Turkish border to about the lower 1/3 of the
nation.  but from there on it gets warm.  The border with Pakistan is
mostly desert - but gets cold at night.  You won't have any problems.  Take
snow chains, and make sure you know how to use them, that's all.

---

From: Feher Tamas (72773.357@compuserve.com)
To: the editor
Subject: Experiences and some advice on travelling to Iran
Date: September 1997

Language:  It's really worth to study some Persian before the journey
because it's easy and about the half of the areas we visited were the most
one-languaged places I've ever seen.  English wasn't spoken even at a
"hello mister" level.  Usually people aren't surprised at all that you
speak their language and they are very ambitous in teaching Farsi and
correcting your mistakes.  Don't be afraid of learning the Persian (Arabic)
letters, they are simplier than Latin letters.  "Teach Yourself Modern
Persian" was excellent for learning the language but its vocabulary misses
a lot of very important words, so it's worth to combine it with a
phrasebook or a dictionary.  (Iranian dictionaries are very good, not
chaotic at all, but the pronounciation is signed only in the biggest ones,
which is a big problem, because Arabic writing itself doesn't sign short
vowels and consonant doubling.)  "Teach Yourself Modern Persian"'s other
problem is that its word list misses a lot of words used in the book, so a
good word list can help much.  I made one in Hungarian, if anyone needs it,
I translate it to English.

Caspian Sea:  On the road from Rasht to Masule there is a small town,
Fuman, which we liked very much.  As far as we know, there is nothing
special to see there, but its atmospehere reminded me of the villages of
Provence, and we found a chaykhane (teahouse) whose owner seemed to be an
Armenian man, and he used to play in a folklore music group, he and the
other guests were very kind.

Rasht:  Hotel Karavan became a terrible place, considering the staff.  All
of them (except the one who was foolish) always behaved as if it was very
unpleasant for them to have guests.  After checking out, we asked them if
we could leave our baggages there.  They didn't seem very happy but they
allowed it.  When we returned in the evening they didn't want to give them
back to us until we pay about the price of our room, we had to argue about
2 hours for them.  We tried another hotel in Rasht, Golestan, it's cheap
and the staff is friendly, but there is no shower (we were unexperienced
enough not to ask it in advance).

Ramsar:  It was a great dissapointment for us, we couldn't find that
monarchic atmosphere and wonderful nature we'd expected at all, but it's
very romantic to sleep in an orange and lemon garden.

Kerman:  It was our greatest positive disappointment, everyone and the
guidebooks say that it's worth to visit it just because of Arg-e-Bam, but
it was one of our favourite places.  Its old part is like a living
Arg-e-Bam, but sometimes some colorful mosques rise over the mud brick
houses.  (We were invited to the one near Meidan-e-Shohada where someone
was just singing.)  The bazar and the square surrounded by it is like
paradise.  The mosaferkhune (lit.  travelers' place, cheap hotel) near the
bus station seems to have dissapeared, fortunately, that's why we stayed in
the center, probably on Falastini road near square ???  (at one end of the
bazar, not Meidan-e-Shohada) in Mosaferkhane-ye-Azadi, very clean and
cheap.

Bam:  The Arg is open until 7PM.  It's worth to walk in Bam itself, too,
for me it was like a South Tunisian oasis town (it's not too surprising).

Tehran:  We loved Hotel Caspian Sea (Mosaferkhane-ye-Darya-ye-Khazar),
except for us it was inhabited by Pakistanis, it was like a great family.
The shower was represented by a tap but people were very helpful, they
brought a door for the bathroom for the girls.

Tehran to Istanbul bus:  All of them leave around noon (from 12 to 2PM).
There are "de luxe" buses which are more expensive, but really faster, who
went by that bus arrived about 12 hours earlier.

Money: Usually they don't like dollar notes older than 1993.

---

From: Jan.VanAssche@ping.be
Newsgroups: rec.travel.asia
Subject: Re: Travellers cheques in Iran
Date: August 1997

> Is it true that American Express travellers cheques cannot be cashed in
> Iran? What about other TCs? Are $US bills still acceptable for exchange,
> or should I carry cash in some other currency?

I'm afraid it's true...  we travelled to Iran last year and we also brought
TC's (Thomas Cook)...  We weren't able to cash them anywhere...  although I
had asked Thomas Cook HQ in London first and they said it wouldn't be a
problem, but they were wrong !!  :-)

US $ bills are no problem to exchange - you get very good rates on the
black market - make sure to bring good, clean, unspoilt bills - the Iranian
moneychangers are a bit difficult about that - no old bills !!

---

From: S. Marvasti (arvas@rpi.edu)
Subject: Re: travel in Iran. Tips on sights and special things to do
Date: April 1997

> What is the best answer (culturally speaking) when asked
> what your religion is?  christian, jewish, buddhist, non-religious?

Depends who your talking to, but any religion would be fine.  Christianity,
Judaisim, etc are officially recognized as minority religions, but that
only applies to Iranians.  As a tourist you can claim whatever religion you
want, and most people would assume you are Christian once you say you come
from Europe.

---

From: (name withheld upon request)
Newsgroups: rec.travel.asia
Subject: Re: Individual travel to Iran
Date: March 1997

> - info on accomodation, food, buses, domestic flights and trains (costs
> on a student basis budget, how long ahead should we book, ...)

Iran cost me USD 6/day on average. I stayed in fairly basic accommodation,
most of which would be reluctant to accept foreign females, but ate like a
pig and travelled first class everywhere. Living expenses, provided you
avoid mid-range hotels that charge in USD, are extremely modest: I defy
you to visit an average Iranian restaurant and eat your way through USD 5
of food. The Iranian train network is excellent. First class (air-
conditioned sleeper) from Tabriz to Tehran, for example, is around USD 4.
Book ahead if you can from your point of departure; I don't think you can
book from other cities. Air travel is also very cheap -- USD 15 or so for
a flight across the country -- but you may wish to take a sedative before
boarding! DO NOT book domestic flights from abroad as you'll be charged
the full IATA fare. Buses are okay but the air-conditioners never seem to
work.

The Caspian coast, Mashhad, Tehran (inevitable!), Esfahan, Shiraz,
Persepolis and Bam would top my list.

--

From: deoxyribose@hotmail.com
Newsgroup: rec.travel.asia
Subject: Travel to Iran
Date: February 1997

Hi Folks- Just thought I'd share with you some experiences I had when I
travelled through Iran recently (from Turkey to India).  In short, it was
FANTASTIC!  First, you should know that I am an American male, and Jewish,
so at first I was hesitant to go because I had fears of being taken
hostage, etc.  But nothing of the sort happened.  I got my visa from the
Irani consulate in Turkey rather easily.  I travelled by bus.  I was not
hassled at all at the border.  They just checked my passport and waived me
through.  I was sort of disappointed that the customs agent didn't even
care that I had an American passport.

Everyone on the bus was extremely polite.  People even helped me carry my
belongings, and shared meals on the bus.  And the Chelo Kebab in Tabriz was
FANTASTIC!  I learned that to tenderize the meat, they leave it overnight
in yogurt (which is a meal of itself there, mixed in with a little bit of
crushed mint, raisins and walnuts) and tumeric.  The rice is the basmati
long grain variety, but it is not all sticky and rubbery like the rice used
in Asian dishes.  And of course, there was the famous tah-deeg which is the
crunchy golden-brown bit from the bottom of the rice pot.  Of course, I had
had chelo-kebab before in many restaurants in LA, but never like this.

The bus driver was a young lady who spoke fluent English and said she was
once an English literature student at Tehran University.  I found out later
that she also had a thriving "import-export" business of Marlboro
cigarettes from Turkey!)  taught me how to eat it Iranian style:  first,
you heap butter on the rice, and mix it all in, then you sprinkle a red,
sour spice called "soumagh" over the rice (which is yellowish from the
tumeric, a popular spice in Iran) and then you have the option of breaking
open a raw egg over the rice (the yellow yolk only, of course) which
thickens quickly in the heat of the rice.  I skipped this part for fear of
salmonella.  That last step was for true chelo-kebab eaters, not me, and
the same with the raw onions, but I loved the tomato which had been cooked
with the meat over an open fire and had a smokey flavor.  It was a really
great meal which put me to sleep all the way to Tehran.  Oh, and I tried
"doogh" for the first time too, which is a drink made from yogurt mixed in
tonic water and a pinch of salt served in a tall glass.  It was different,
but I didn't particularly like it.  I was surprised that there were no
dishes which used garlic, though I was told that in the greener Caspian
coast, there is a popular dish made with egg-plant and garlic.

Anyway, there was some snow on the roads, though I was told that it had
been a mild winter that year.  Tehran was bone-dry though, and dusty but
actually pretty.  it looked like any western city.  The air was full of
exhaust fumes, but the northern suburbs where I stayed in what used to be a
Hilton hotel was pleasant.  Tehran was not at all like a middle-eastern
town.  It had broad streets, lined with trees fed by rivulets of water
which came down from the snow-encrusted mountains, and very clean (no dog
pooh all over the place like Paris!), with modern buildings and freeways.
I was disappointed because I had expected something a little more exotic
(but I got what I wanted when I visited the bazaar, and then Isfahan).
There was a lot of street traffic, and I think they still use leaded gas.
The suburbs were beautiful, with some very attractive houses built on the
mountain sides, though they generally have high walls.  I had the
opportunity to see a real Persian style garden in one of the older homes,
but land prices and demand for housing is so high that people are wrecking
the old houses to build skyscrapers instead.

I met up with a Dutch couple in Tehran.  I had met them before in Turkey,
and they took me to meet some Iranian friends of theirs at a party.  It was
very interesting for me to see Iranians interact on a social level.  They
are very regal in a sense, and extremely polite and well-dressed, but also
very personable and hospitable.  In short, not what I expected at all!
Everyone talked about politics, and they didn't seem afraid about
expressing their opinion of the government openly.  The women came in
dressed in the Islamic manner (with a scarf covering the hair and a baggy
overcoat, but no veil) but they immediately took off the outer-layer to
show tight, expensive western-style clothes.  Everyone was also very well
educated, I counted four doctors, three engineers and two lawyers (one a
woman) in one room.  The older gentlemen also recited bits of poetry to
make their points, trying to out-do each other.  And that was where my
Dutch friends introduced me to "taarof", the Persian tradition of insisting
that a guest take some fruit or anything else which was offered, no matter
how much you protested that you really, really honestly don't want any.  My
friends told me that the best course was to give in and take whatever was
offered.  Oh, and the tea was the best stuff I had tasted ever!  It was
served with little crumbly pastry made from chick-pea dough.  I think the
tea was darjeeling, but served rather dark and rich and hot, straight from
a Samovar.  There was no mint as in Arab countries (I had learned that
Iranians aren't Arabs, by the way) but they served the teas in Russian
style silver tea-cup holders.  Now, the proper way to drink the tea among
lower and middle-class Iranians, according to my Dutch friends, was to
first place a small chunk of rock sugar in the mouth, then pour the tea
from the teacup into the saucer, allow it to cool (I suppose there is a
larger surface area that way, so it cools quicker) and then to sip it from
the saucer.  But no one at this party drank tea that way.  Anyway, the meal
was rice (of course) mixed in with green herbs (basil, I think), lima beans
and lamb.  There was also another dish of "ab-goosht", a thick stew, and
desert was Iranian style ice-cream, which was a little thicker and goey-er
than regular ice-cream, with some spices mixed in.  Salad was served after
the meal, as the European tradition.  The meal was followed by more tea,
and then some music and a little greek-style dancing.  The guests separated
into little groups afterward.  The older men stared playing backgammon, the
younger folk were dancing and chatting, and the older ladies were
gossiping.  I left early because I had to get some sleep.  Next, let me
tell you about Isfahan, which was simply UNBELIEVABLY BEAUTIFUL!

[Note from the editor: sorry, the story was truncated on my newsreader!]

---

From: mayb@iname.com
Newsgroup: rec.travel.asia
Subject: Travel to Iran
Date: January 1997

From a US citizen who visited Iran recently:

If you are interested in traveling to Iran, I suggest you visit the Iranian
Cultural Information Center page (http://tehran.stanford.edu/).

Americans are perfectly free to visit, but need to get a visa.  The Iranian
Interest Section of the Pakistani embassy in Washington DC can handle that
for you.  Extensions are relatively easy to get, especially if you apply
from within the country, or perhaps Turkey.

Americans visiting Iran have commented on how well they were treated, and
how shocked they were to discover that there was no anti-American feeling
amongst the Iranians whatsoever!  Iranians are generally EXTREMELY polite
and friendly, to the point of being annoying sometimes.  Don't forget that
thousands of Americans lived in Iran for years before the revolution, and
so they are not exactly new to the inhabitants of the country.

Women are also perfectly free to travel to Iran, although the Iranian
government is wary of granting visas to single ladies travelling alone.
They will have to observe the standards of "decency" in clothing currently
existing in Iran (the days of the miniskirts have, alas, passed); for women
this means loose fitting clothes which cover everything from the ankles to
the wrists and neck, and a scarf over the hair.  No veils etc are worn as
in some Arab countries.  Men must wear long pants and shirts with sleeves,
shorts and t-shirts are frowned upon.  Make up should be kept to a minimum,
and dark colors are preferred in clothing.

Consumption of alcohol is officially forbidden (but is rampant unofficially).

Oh, and it DOES snow heavily in 1/3 of Iran during the winter, so you may
want to pack winter clothes if visiting those areas over the winter season
(but Spring is the best time).

There are MANY MANY group tours available from all over the world
(especially Canada and Europe) which regularly visit Iran.

Iran is generally considered to be a very safe place in terms of crime.
Recent polls show Iran is safer than New York City and other major western
tourist spots.

Iran, a country which is several thousands of years old and the seat of a
major historical civilization comparable to that of India, Greece or China,
has some of the world's most spectacular Islamic and pre-Islamic
architecture as well as fantastic natural scenery (from temperate forests
to bone-dry deserts, and two major coastlines).  It is also a
multi-cultural, multi-lingual, and multi-ethnic society, though the
majority of Iranians are ethnically Persian Caucasians who speak Farsi, an
Indo-European language.  Turkish and various turkic dialects are also
common.  English is generally taught as a second language in Iranian high
schools.  There are ancient and well-integrated Christian (usually Armenian
Orthodox or Assyrian) and Jewish communities in Iran who enjoy freedom of
worship (though proselytizing is forbidden).  Zoroastrianism, the official
religion of the Persian court before the advent of Islam, still exists,
especially in the ancient and historic city of Yazd, though the number of
Zoroastrians has dwindled over time.

Standard tourist destinations are the city of Esfahan, and the ruins at
Persepolis.  Iranian cities are thoroughly modern and have extensive
airports and roads, though car accidents and traffic jams (and pollution)
tend to be all too common in busy cities such as Tehran.

(BTW- Iranians generally get miffed if they are confused with Arabs, though
there is an arab minority in Iran - mostly Shi'ite refugees from Iraq).

Current US legislation prevents the use of certain credit cards and
travellers checks in Iran, so cash is perferred, especially US dollars.
There are no restrictions on travel to Iran imposed on US citizens by the
State Department, though their travel advisory is pretty paranoid compared
to the reported experiences of Americans who actually visit the country.

Anyway, Have Fun and don't believe the hype!

---

From: Thomas Maurer (tmaurer@access.ch)
To: the editor
Subject: Contributions
Date: November 1996

Customs/currency declarations:  At Tehran airport I was told that a
currency declaration for amounts lower than $1000 is not necessary so I did
not have to fill one out.  Leaving the country, nobody was interested in my
money.  Generally I had the impression that neither on entry nor on
departure customs at Tehran airport was very picky.  Everybody had to open
every piece of luggage but I guess without raising a suspicion checks are
rather superficial.

Carpets and customs:  Foreign passport holders can take out one carpet up
to 3 m2 without going to the customs office a few days before departure.
On this point there seems to be quite some confusion.  Not even carpet
dealers seem to know exactly.  On departure one has to fill out a form in
Farsi (lucky who has an Iranian wife) though.  Nobody wanted to see my
carpet if it was too big or an antique.

To buy a carpet or not?  My opinion:  If you want a good quality carpet buy
it in Iran, it's cheaper.  We bought a high-quality one for about $750 and
it seems to be 5-7 times more expensive in Switzerland.  For low quality
carpets it's probably not worth the pain.  Don't be too afraid of being
cheated (bring an Iranian for the bargaining).  A friend who is a carpet
stall owner in the bazaar did the bargaining for us and he could only
manage to get a 20% discount off the price that we were first told.  The
most important thing is:  shop around!!!  Buying a carpet takes time.  Just
enter stores or stalls that have "something beautiful" on display even it's
not what you are exactly looking for.  I've noticed that most of the
dealers have either just good quality stuff or just bad quality stuff.
Once inside let them know what kind of pattern and/or color you are looking
for so they will only show you kind of what you want.  If you have set your
eye on something leave and come back later.  Thus you know if you really
like the carpet or if it was just a momentary thing and the shop owner
knows that you've been checking out other stores as well and he will take
you more seriously.  After 5 days the owner of the shop where we finally
bought our carpet knew exactly what carpets we were interested in the first
time.

Yazd

From: iranzamin@hotmail.com
Newsgroup: soc.culture.iranian
Subject: Re: Italian in Iran
Date: November 1996

> I will soon be working near Yazd and would like to know if there would
> be the possibility to meet any fiends in this region.
>
> P.S. If someone also could tell me how I can call Italy from Iran and
> what cellular service is available in Iran. Is there GSM yet?

It is good to see a country like Iran with a very rich history. Iran is a
beautiful land with very warm and friendly people. I am sure you will
enjoy your stay there while you are working there.

Yazd is a very small city compared to the capital city of Iran, Tehran.
The temperature is not very cold during winter, and it is kind of warm
during summer. That city has a lot of historical places to see. It is a
very nice city to see.

There are mobile services in Tehran, but last time when I was in Iran they
were talking about having mobile services in some other cities in Iran.
You cannot contact outside Iran by mobile nowadays, but they hope that they
could be able to expand it in a near future.

Mashhad

From: Feher Tamas (72773.357@compuserve.com)
To: the editor
Subject: Experiences and some advice on travelling to Iran
Date: September 1997

Now it was very easy to get into the Shrine, one of us was asked if she was
moslim during the security check at the entrance.  She didn't risk to say
no.  It seemed that for women the chador is obligatory, but it turned out
that in the bazar we could hire them.  (I think it's not invented for
tourists, but there are several pilgrims who usually don't wear chador.)

---

From: (name withheld)
To: the editor
Subject: Mashhad
Date: January 1994

I am from Mashhad, NE of Iran, about 3 hrs drive from Afghanistan to the
West and Turkmenistan to the North.  Mashhad sits on a platau about 1000m
in elevation, just North of the Great Salt Desert.  Its weather is hot and
dry in the summer and cold (with snow) in the winter.  Best time to see it
would be in the Fall and Spring.  Avoid summers, as that is the pilgrimage
season, Mashhad being the second holiest city in Iran (after Qom).

Most interesting sight in Mashhad is the Imam-Reza Mosque, built several
centuries ago.  Mashhad is also the resting place of Ferdowsi, the great
poet and author of the Epic of Kings (`Shahnameh').  You can visit his
memorial located a few kilometers outside of town.

Mashhad is a large city but is quite manageable if you have a good guide.
There are several nice towns in the local moutains with very traditional
life styles and great weather that cater to the city-folk with outdoor
restaurants, and are very popular for picnicing, esp.  on Fridays, the
`weekend'.

If you visit Mashhad, make sure to also visit the old town of Neyshapur,
which is on the southern road to Tehran about 2 hrs from Mashhad.  This was
of course a major city in its hayday, was on the Silk Road, and is the home
of Omar Khayyam, the most well-known and popular (to outsiders) of Persian
poets.  Neyshapur is now a delightful little city/town, most popular for
its memorial of Omar Khayyam.

Crossing the Border to/from Turkey

From: Jan Ewens (jwe@tv.dk)
To: the editor
Subject: Iran
Date: December 2000

If you fly to Turkey, then it is very easy to get from Van to the Iranian
border at Bazargan.  Minibusses are leaving Van every hour in daytime for
Dogubeyazit.  It takes 3 hours on a very good new direct road via Caldiran;
lots of military checkpoints, though.  Buy your manteau and scarf in
Dogubeyazit and take another half hour minibus to the border.

We didn't experience any problems crossing over.  It took approx one hour,
mostly waiting for understaffed Turkish passport control.  On our way back,
nobody on the Iranian side checked anything but the passport/visa.  No exit
visa was required (as we were told entering Iran).  The Turkish side was a
bit chaotic, women and Westeners jumping the queue, but it still only took
one hour.

Bazargan to Tabriz (300km, good road):  take a IRR 140.000 taxi, if
possible a Peugeot or similar (Iranian cars are quite uncomfortable on long
distances).

--

From: Kursad Akpinar (akpinar@bilkent.edu.tr)
Subject: Re: Turkey to Iran
Date: April 1998

> Could somebody gives me information about bus from Turkey to Iran?  Is
> the border difficult to cross, does it take a long time?  I would also
> like to know what the best city in Iran near the border, where I can
> spend a night.

It is theoretically possible to find an Iranian bus, covering the whole
distance from Istanbul to Tehran (or other cities?), however Iranian buses
are old and slow, averaging aroun 50-60 km per hour.  Reaching the border
on Turkish transportation should be much faster and comfortable.  Crossing
the border with a bus full of Iranians and lots of merchandise they
purchased in Turkey will also cause a delay of at least six boring hours at
the border.

It also seems that once a bus is filled in Iran with Iranians who go to
Istanbul for a bit of shopping, a bit of enjoying the freedom of drinking
openly and maybe immigrating to Europe, the return trip is also fixed by
these people.  These buses are also overflowing with goods bought in
Istanbul and to be sold in Iran.

If you still insist on doing the crossing this way and don't mind a
three-day bus trip, then you should look for offices with Persian signs in
Aksaray-Laleli area in Istanbul.  You might get onto a bus this way.  There
are also Turkish buses going all the way to Karachi but this service is
infrequent (monthly?), hard to get tickets and they may not want to sell
you a ticket only for Iran since they will not like leaving your seat empty
after Tehran.

The best way to cross to Iran is to do it in several steps.  This way, you
gain a lot of flexibility, and it is not so difficult.  Use Turkish buses
in Turkey, then switch to Iranian ones in Iran.  Erzurum on the Turkish
side is the largest city before the border and easily accesible from all
parts of the country.  Ankara - Erzurum trip takes 12 hours and Istanbul -
Erzurum should be less than 19 hours.  The city is worth at least a day and
a convenient resting point before leaving Turkey.  ALternatively you could
opt for going rather directly to Dogubeyazit, the last town before the
border.  Dogubeyazit has fewer connections with the rest of the country but
still gets at least one daily bus from Istanbul.  On the Turkish side the
border is known as Gurbulak, it is called Bazargan on the other side.  Once
in Dogubeyazit, you may want to get the great panoramic view of Mt Ararat
from "Ishak Pasha Sarayi" or get on a minibus for Gurbulak, a 35 km drive.
The formalities at the border should be smooth, if you have your visa and
other stuff.

In the Iranian side, nearby town of Bazargan is a 15 minute walk or a 5
minute drive.  It is also possible to stay at Bazargan.  There are several
cheap and clean places, some even has views of Mt Ararat!, since there is a
sizable transit TIR traffic here.  Thus you can spend your first night in
Iran here, only several hundred metres from Turkey and comfortably destined
to reach even Tehran the next day.  This especially comes in handy if you
happen to make the crossing late in the afternoon and discover that Iran
time is 1.5 hours behind Turkey!  Your 3pm is suddenly transformed to 5pm,
and at that time not many passengers are around to justify a bus to Tebriz.
Maku, the counterpart to Dogubeyazit at this side may not have a bus for
Tebriz after a certain time.  The counterpart of Erzurum is Tebriz, the
first large city after the border.

Given the recent political milieu in Iran, I do not expect any particular
difficulties against Westerners at the customs, or elsewhere.

Crossing the Border to/from Turkmenistan

Editor's note: Good news! According to a private communication by Swiss travelers, the border between Iran and Turkmenistan is finally open to foreigners, since about late summer 1996!!! They easily got a Turkmen visa in Teheran (and already had the onward Uzbek and Russian visas), and then crossed overland, by bus. Careful, it was NOT the border between Mashhad and Ashkhabad, but rather somewhere east of Mashhad.

I don't know yet whether the (in April'96) opened railway line between Mashhad and Ashkhabad already has passenger service: somebody please report to me!

Finally, I myself met a French couple in Iran who reported having bought (in Tehran) quite cheap flight tickets between Mashhad and Ashkhabad, with Iran Air, I think.


Women Travelers

From: Kalia (kalia@sludge.phys.nwu.edu)
Newsgroups: rec.travel.asia
Subject: notes on trip to Iran, 8/98
Date: September 1998

The LP guide had warned that men should wear long-sleeve shirts and no
sandals.  I posted a question about this in soc.culture.iranian, and people
said this was nonsense; they were right.  The mullahs' disgust is reserved
for women.  Long sleeves are most common, but short sleeves are worn, as
are sandals.  Of course, shorts are still unacceptable, but that's true in
many countries.

Our observations regarding women's clothing in 1998 differed somewhat from
what has been reported here.  Of course, you still have to wear a tent
(chador) or a scarf and raincoat.  We saw women wearing jeans (which are
themselves hot in the 42C weather), with manteau over it, and chador on top
of that.  These were the loose women...their clothes were loose enough that
we could see the multiple layers.  No one seemed to be suffering visibly
from the heat.  But we saw signs of liberalization.  Brightly colored and
patterned scarves were everywhere, not just in Shiraz but in Isfahan and
Tehran.  Only solid white seemed to be a no-no (we didn't know that in
advance, and we still don't know why).  Hair was usually visible in front
and sometimes in back; necks were sometimes visible; ankles were sometimes
bare (no socks); and I once saw a sleeve pushed back to bare the arm up to
the elbow.  (I was in love.)  These were Iranians, not tourists, and they
were not nervously watching for the morals police (except see above re
Tehran airport).

Contrary to Bertolotto's 1997 report, posted in various places on the
Internet and quoted in the LP guide, we did not find that men refused to
talk to SO.  They did tend to talk to me, which is normal; I mean, even in
the west, I would not approach a couple and start chatting up the woman!
But they directed remarks at SO whenever appropriate, and answered her
questions without constraint.  Some even shook her hand (she knows this is
not proper, but her hand twitches anyway).  She, unlike Bertolotto, did not
experience giggling and pointing; people did turn to stare at her, which
happens in every non-western country, but mainly young girls.  Men and
older women were generally oblivious.

One bit of misinformation I got from a soc.culture.iranian user is that
wearing black would make a woman look like a religious fundamentalist.  The
fact is that the most beautiful and stylish women wore solid black
(although clearly expensive) outerwear.  Perhaps they have adopted the
clothing of the enemy as camouflage.  Of course we also saw manteaus in
stripes, sky blue, and even bright red velvet.  Most manteaus were
ankle-length but some young women wore manteaus that reached just below the
knee.  The other piece of misinformation was that jeans or a skirt with a
loose shirt over it would be okay.  I guess it is okay in the sense that
some tourists were wearing this and were not being arrested, but we saw NO
Iranian woman wearing such clothing.  A single-piece raincoat-type outer
garment is standard clothing for those not wearing a chador, and should be
worn by tourists not wanting to stick out.  But the rule "show no skin
except face and hands" is overstated.

Iran must have a very high concentration of beautiful women; it is not easy
to look good under this clothing, but some of them succeeded and were quite
striking.  Of course there is a mundane explanation:  the average age is
exceptionally low in Iran because of a high birthrate, and it's easier to
look pretty when you're young.

Apologists say that hijab is for women's own benefit, it allows them to not
be hassled on the street and to receive more respect.  I know this is
sexist crap; if men treat women badly, why should women be punished for it?
But the plain fact is that there are far fewer hassles for women in Iran
than in many other countries (neighboring Pakistan is said to be a dramatic
contrast).  Women were far more confident under their chadors than they
might be without them.  In "The ends of the earth" (Bantam, 1996), Robert
Kaplan writes that?

"Women in Tehran stare you in the face.  their eyes meet you dead-on.
Cairo has little of this, and Istanbul much less than Tehran...A male
journalist could go, for example, to Saudi Arabia, to Iraq, even to
Pakistan, and be lectured at length about "the increasing role of women in
public affairs"...and yet, when I entered a restaurant in these countries,
I would encounter only men eating their grilled meat.  Women were rarely in
sight, and usually confined to the 'family' section behind a screened
partition.  In Iran, women could always be seen in restaurants, and were
always approachable.  In Iran, a traveller communicated with both sexes,
not just his own.  In Iran, you could point a camera at a woman and she
would smile.  If you did that in Pakistan, the woman would run away and a
man might throw a rock at you.  In Iranian homes, even lower-middle-class
homes, where women remained in chador, women still talked to you,
questioned you, and did not retreat."

We found that this was perfectly true.  Women drove; women accompanied by
men hailed taxis themselves rather than wait for the man to do it; women
talked freely to a strange man (me); they stood straight and walked with
long strides.  In a leafy park across the street from the tomb of Hafez, we
saw a young woman reading by herself; groups of men were sitting on the
other benches, but she was perfectly comfortable.  This is not normal in
other Muslim countries.  Many women were quite tall (height is partly an
indicator of nutrition during childhood years, and in some eastern cultures
boys get preferential treatment at the dinner table).  It appeared that
middle-class Iranian women lead relatively normal and unconstrained (if
sweaty) lives.  We were disoriented.

It was still a pleasure to reach Damascus and see women who were either
uncovered or covered by their own choice.  Syria is hardly a bastion of
personal and political freedom, but for a brief moment it seemed like
America to us.

---

From: JP (oink@coombs.anu.edu.au)
Newsgroups: rec.travel.asia
Subject: Re: IRAN
Date: October 1997

> Me and my girlfriend (not married) are planning a trip to Iran next year.
> It it possible to share a hotel room with your not-married girlfriend?

Yes.

> Does the Iranian visa contain information about your marriage-status?

No.

Make sure your girlfriend covers herself up.  She should have her hair
covered and expose no more than her hands and face.  She must be so attired
in visa photographs (well, it'll make life easier for you).  She does NOT
need to be clad in black, nor does she need to keep her face covered.

---

From: Leslie Taheri (Ltaheri@dlj.com)
To: the editor
Subject: Iran
Date: October 1997

I lived in Iran from Sep 77-78 with my Iranian-born husband at his family's
house in Tehran. Except for the fact that I was terribly homesick and
young (only 23), Tehran, at that time, was a wonderful, international city
with something for everyone. I left in Aug of 1978, just as the revolution
was starting.

I have since been back for a visit in the summer of '92 with my 2 children
and I have to admit that the Iranians are the warmest, most hospitable
people in the world. No one spit on the ground when they found out I was
American and Jewish at that. They are more curious and interested than
anything. This particular trip was made just by my children and myself, my
husband couldn't get away from work to attend the wedding that we made the
trip to attend. We all went back to Iran in the summer of '94 and again,
just experienced the most wonderful welcome and hospitality that anyone
could ever want.

As far as being a woman in Iran, some are very happy to be "door mats",
others exert themselves and refuse to be treated as such. And as far as
the dress code goes, you must be covered, the montoe and roosarie (coat and
scarve) serve the purpose. A chador is not really necessary besides being
very cumbersome and they take a lot of getting used to.

---

From: Laura M Bertolotto (laura.bertolotto@cern.ch)
Subject: A female tourist in Iran
Newsgroups: rec.travel.asia
Date: October 1997

I have recently spent a few weeks in Iran, visiting Shiraz, Kerman, Bam,
Yazd, Esfahan, Tehran, Mashhad. It was extremely interesting. We
travelled by bus and plane, and saw a lot of wonderful things. Here I
write some of my experiences, as a woman-tourist. I had planned to go
there by myself, but eventually a (male) friend of mine joined me. In the
visa application we wrote we were married (he is Dutch, I am Italian, and
we applied in Switzerland). Of course we said the same to all
hotel-keepers, people we met, etc. Nobody ever doubted about that, apart
from a hotel owner who did not believe that people of different
nationalities can be married. Anyway, we just said it is possible, and
that was it.

Concerning hotels: they always wanted to keep our passports, but since I
did not like the idea, I brought plenty of copies, and it worked. We just
showed our passports to the guy, but gave him the copies. In case of
(rare) complaints, we said we needed the passport to go to a consulate,
etc.

As a foreign woman, I was the object of constant (and unbelievable!)
curiosity. Local women would stare at me all the time. The first who
spotted me would call her friends or relatives, and they all together would
stare, pointing at me with their fingers, and laughing behind their veils.
I was totally covered in black (apart from face and hands), but they would
recognise me as a foreigner from miles away, even when I was not with my
friend. Although my clothing was bought in Europe, it looked very Iranian,
and several people asked me (I mean, asked my male friend) if I had bought
it in Iran. Very few women dared talking to me. The two who did, were
very nice and hospitable, and we ended up having dinner in the house of one
of them.

Apart from endless curiosity, I was totally ignored by the 10000000 people
who approached my friend every day. They would start talking to him, and
quite often they would accompany us somewhere. But having a conversation
'a trois' was almost impossible, for they would not talk to me at all.
This situation can be quite unpleasant, especially when it lasts for hours.
It was also a bit embarrassing for my friend, who either talked to the guy
ignoring me, or the other way round. It caused problems also when asking
for information, discussing prices, etc. It was clear that people were not
at ease when talking to me, and very much preferred to talk to my friend.
Iranians who have contacts with foreigners are different. For a few days
we stayed with the family of a friend who lives in Switzerland, and that
was easy (apart from the fact that they speak only Farsi!).

Since my friend fell ill in Esfahan, I went around by myself quite a lot
there. I think Esfahanis are more used to foreigners than inhabitants of
other parts of Iran. People were nice to me, but they would never
'intrude'. Shop-keepers were friendly, smiled and asked my nationality
etc. In the street I was called every two minutes 'hello madam! hello
mister!', but that was it. In the tourist shops around the Emam square I
was able to endlessly discuss prices and (almost) nobody minded. I also
went around a bit with a Dutch woman I met there, whose husband was ill as
well. She wore flower-patterned trousers, a normal shirt (not too long)
and a head-scarf. No coat, no dark colours. People in the street went mad
at seeing her - the traffic stopped, several men would follow us all the
time, etc. She was apparently unaware of the fact that all this attention
was due to her dress, and of course found it unpleasant. On two occasions,
a soldier bitterly complained at her, but she just ignored him. A few
times, male teen-agers sought some physical contact. I reacted strongly
and they ran away. Once this happened when I was with my male friend.

In Mashhad I was able to enter the Holy Shrine precinct, although they
clearly saw I was a foreigner. They showed me where I had to leave my
hand-bag and waved me in. My friend, instead, was stopped at the gate and
not allowed to enter, although he was with a local.

--

From: Shoshana Maleki (shoshanamaleki@hotmail.com)
Newsgroups: rec.travel.asia
Subject: Re: Women travellers to Iran
Date: March 1997

> I am considering visiting Iran on holiday, and would like to hear from any
> non-Muslim women who have been there recently (ie in the last year or so)
> about their experiences. What was the general attitude towards you? What
> clothing is now considered acceptable? Are chadors readily available to
> borrow? What places (if any) were you barred from visiting? How easy was
> it to make contact with Iranian women?

I recently travelled to Iran with my Iranian-born husband to visit some of
his relatives who still live there, and I can tell you that it was
fascinating. BTW, I am a US citizen and Jewish but no one really cared
about any of that. As long as you observe the dress code in public (from
the time your airplane enters Iranian airspace) you will have no problems.
Though the more religious and conservative types prefer the chador, it
takes some skill to wear it. So I suggest you stick to the "manteau" which
essentially consists of a scarf covering the hair, and long baggy clothes
covering everything from the neck down to the ankles and wrists. There are
no veils worn in Iran. Make up should be kept to a minimum, and dark or
neutral colors are preferred. Men are also required to wear long sleeved
shirts and trousers. Of course, in private upper middle-class Iranian
women wear the latest fashions, with beautifully manicured nails and French
perfume, and throw some pretty wild parties. One is expected to act rather
demurely in public, which for example means that public displays of
affection etc. are not acceptable between members of the opposite sex
(though one can occasionally catch a couple making eyes at each other).
Other than that, Iranian women come and go as they please. They are
remarkably independent and tough, they rule the nest at home, and they are
by no means subservient, and many hold down a job as well. Iranian
families are very close knit and are usually headed by a matriarch. Money
and education counts for a lot. It was also my impression that Iranian
women have a certain social aspect of their lives from which the men are
almost totally excluded. Of course, the society was pretty Westernized
before the 1979 revolution, and today the middle-class women complain about
the Islamic dress code, but things have changed little for the poorer and
more religious classes, though they have increased access to university
education and job opportunities.

I must tell you that I felt very secure walking down the street in Tehran,
especially compared to Athens, Rome, Turkey or even NY. Street crime is
virtually non-existent and everyone was very polite and respectful and
formal. I was not barred from going anywhere, but I have heard that sexual
segregation is imposed in certain types of areas such as public beaches and
swimming pools, and on crowded buses. Some of the mosques I visited had
separate entrances for men and women.

I hope you have a nice trip, and I suggest you start applying for a visa
quickly because they are almost impossible to get, especially for a single
woman travelling alone. However, there are a number of tours available.

---

From: Kambiz Iranpour (m.k.iranpour@fys.uio.no)
Newsgroup: soc.culture.iranian
Subject: Re: Travel - Iran
Date: January 1997

I know of 5 Norwegian women who traveled together to Iran recently (with no
male accompanying them.) They had a very good time. I believe that if you
travel as a group to Iran, there will be no problem. Iran, as a Norwegian
tourist guidebook has mentioned, is among the three-four safest countries
in the world when it comes to the number of crimes. However, I too advise
you not to travel completely on your own but with a group of women or with
a male.

Snow Skiing

From: Nima (inan@ere.umontreal.ca)
Newsgroups: soc.culture.iranian
Subject: Re: Snow Skiing in Iran
Date: February 1998

In answer to the inquiry about ski sites in Iran I am posting this file
that I found on the net a couple of days ago. Unfortunately I don't
remember where I found it and who the writer was.

Re: Skiing on the Damavand. In the early 70s two members of the German
Federation of Mountain and Ski Guides hiked up there and skied in August.
There is a documentary available about it. In the years after that many
other people have done this as well. One of them is an Iranian ski coach
who works in Park City Utah known as "Majic" (Majid).

Dizin

Distance from Tehran: 60 km through Shemshak (110 km through Chaloos road)
the top of the resort is 3700m high. The bottom of the resort is 2200m
high. So the height of the resort is 1500m vertically. The length of the
runs are different but on the average it is something about 7 km. There
are 3 lines of Tele-Cabin (gondola), 2 Tele-si-yej (chairlift), 4 BoshghAbi
(kolangi). 17 years ago in a magazine I read that Dizin was one of the
three largest ski resorts in the world. And of course still it is one of
the largest resorts in the world. When you reach the top of the resort you
can see a spectacular view of Alborz Mountain range (Mt. Damavand, Takhte
SoleimAn Mountain range, and most of the Central Alborz). The view is so
beautiful that when I reached the top, I spent several minutes to enjoy the
view. This resort is open for about 6 months a year (from December till
the end of May).

By the way, the snow in this resort is the best snow possible for a ski
resort.

Shemshak

Distance from Tehran: 50 km. The top of the resort is 3200m high. The
bottom of the resort is 2300m high. The lenght of the runs on the average
is a little less than 2 km. There are 2 tele-si-yej and 3 BoshghAbi in
this resort. The best skiers in Iran are those who ski on this resort,
because there is no any easy run in the resort. In some places the slope
is more than 70 degrees. When you get to the top of the resort you can see
a spectacular view of Mt. TochAl (3933m) in the south, Mt. Kolunbastak (4250m)
in the north-west, Mt. SarakchAl (4250m) in the north, Mt. SeechAl (3718m) in the west
and Mt. Abak (3600m) in the south-east. This resort is open for about 4 months
a year.

TochAl #1 (seventh station of TochAl Telecabin)

Distance from Tehran: 0 km. Yes, 0 km because to reach this resort all
you have to do is to go to Velenjak Ave. and park your car at the end of
the Avenue (TelecAbin parking lot). Then go to the first station of the
TelecAbin, and go to the resort by the Telecabin. Among all ski resorts in
the world the elevation of this resort is the highest. I.e. there is no
any ski resort in the world whose elevation is higher than this resort.
The top of the resort is 3900m high. The bottom of the resort is 3400m
high. From this resort you can see most of the central Alborz which is so
beautiful that you spend more time to see the view than to ski. This
resort is skiable for 9 months a year (from October till June). But
usually it is closed during the winter because of severe snow storms. This
resort is going to be extended down to the bottom of the mountain (near
Shahrestanak), and in this case this resort by far will be the largest ski
resort in the world.

TochAl #2 (fifth station of Tochal telecabin)

Distance from Tehran: 0 km. This resort is located at the fifth station
of Tochal telecabin, this resort is in the front side (Tehran side) of Mt.
TochAl (TochAl #1 is on the back side). The top of the resort is 3100m
high and the bottom of the resort is 2800m high. There are one Tele-si-yej
and one BoshghAbi in this resort. This resort is open 4 months a year.
The length of the run in this resort is about 1 km.

Darbandsar

Distance from Tehran: 50 km. The size and hight of the resort are almost
the same as Shemshak. There are 1 Tele-si-yej and one BoshghAbi in this
resort, I don't know if they have added any more.

Abe_ali

Distance from Tehran: 50 km. This resort is the oldest ski resort in
Iran, I am not sure about the exact height of this resort but since I am
familiar with the mountains in that area I think the height of the resort
is about 2200m-2500m.

Khor

Distance from Tehran: 55 km. This resort is the newest resort near
Tehran. In order to get there one should go to ChAloos road and before
Karaj dam, you should make a right towards Khor village. In the opening
ceremony of the resort it had just a BoshghAbi but now I don't know what
other facilities they have added.

So we see for those people who love skiing, Tehran is a perfect place to
live. About the other ski resorts in Iran, we see there are many resorts
in different cities. For example Zanjan, Tabriz, Orumieh, Esfahan, Qazvin,
HamedAn, ... But there are going to be 2 new resorts which are important
in some sense. And I don't know if they are ready now. One is near
Shahrekord in Zard-Kuh mountains (600 km from Tehran). This resort is
skiable 12 months a year. 8 years ago in August (MordAd 17th), i.e. in
the middle of the summer, there was a ski race among the Iran national ski
team members on this resort. But at the time there was no any ski lift in
the resort and each skier had to carry his equipment by himself or by a
donkey. They were supposed to build a ski lift for this resort, and I
don't know if it is ready by now. The interesting thing is that the
elevation of this resort is not that high. The bottom of the resort is
just 2300m high. This resort is going to be closed in winters. The other
one is near Orumieh. This resort is going to be larger than Dizin and is
skiable 6 months a year. The top of the mountain on which the resort is
located is 3608m high, and the length of the runs on the average is about
10 km. And again I don't know if the ski lifts for this resort are ready
or not.