I spent 8 days in Iran. Here is how the country left a deep impact on me

I went as a sceptic and came back as an admirer.

 |  7-minute read |   07-12-2018
  • ---
    Total Shares

The last eight days of November of 2018 will forever remain bright and beautiful in my memory because this was the period when I made my second visit to Iran, Tehran to be specific.

The first visit, 12 years ago, was a short three-day tour for a conference during which I remained confined to a hotel and the conference venue without much of an exposure.

But this time it was very different.

The first thing that struck me about Tehran is that every nook and corner of the city is absolutely clean.

tehran-690_120618040959.jpgIran has ensured its roads and alleys stay absolutely clean. (Source: Reuters)

No matter which time of the day I ventured out, no matter which part of Tehran I was visiting, I found it clean. I am told the administration ensures the city is cleaned during the night.

Even in the extremely busy Bazaar-e-Buzurg (Old Market), which has a few thousands visiting it every hour, it is difficult to find any dirt, garbage, cigarette butts or plastic packets on the streets. Most types of plastic bags are banned.

I was impressed with the cleanliness in public toilets too and in a public hospital that I briefly visited.

The second thing that made me sit up and take a look at the city was the infrastructure. From wide roads to well-marked small alleys, every destination had an English and Farsi (Persian) signage.

The construction is largely eco-friendly and every effort has been made to reduce energy consumption, especially in the new projects.

When you look at the city from the Milad Tower, you see several layers of roads and flyovers which have been intricately planned. Tehran, from the Milad Tower, look like a European city in the Middle East, with a decidedly a Persian atmosphere and several beautiful mosques.

iran-3_120618084703.jpgThe Allahverdi Khan Bridge is the largest of the eleven historical bridges on the Zayanderud in Isfahan, Iran. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Keivan)

Interestingly, most roads and alleys are named after the martyrs of the Iran-Iraq eighty-year-long war.

The nation, unlike most I have seen, has created a huge ultra modern war museum with images, video, newspaper clippings, and ruins left behind after the war.

Tradition blends with modernity in Tehran and nature adds icing to the cake. So many exquisite mosques, several gardens — one built above an erstwhile garbage dumping ground and you cannot tell it unless told — lakes — one created from the reprocessed sewerage waste of the city — add to the splendour of the city.

One tree against every two buildings, flower gardens, large ‘exclusively for women’ park-garden-gym-pool complex, and a bevy of parks for the elderly and children across Tehran — all of these dot the city.

Tradition blends with modernity in the society as well. Traditional attire, traditional food, courtesies, culture and music, family-centricity blend with modernities to underline what Tehran is — a nation in transition.

Night life

The ease with which the women travel in the city was such a relief for me to see, being the father of a woman in her 20s and professor to hundreds of young women.

women_120618092016.jpgIranian women react while watching the national soccer team play against Morocco in the 2018 World Cup, in downtown Tehran, Iran. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

The female researcher at Tehran University, who took me out for a dinner meet with two top scholars of Iranian unversities at 8pm dropped me to my hotel at 12 midnight and then went back home alone in a cab.

"I have not faced any problem all my life as punishments for harassing women are very strict and range from lashes to imprisonment to even death penalty in extreme cases of rape or murder, and the conviction rate is high. Also, the society in general is value-oriented and shuns violence against women,” is what my host for the evening told me.

nightlife_120618090105.jpgIranians enjoying sheesha in Tehran, Iran. (Photo: Ebrahim Noroozi / AP)

The pubs are open till midnight. They don’t serve alcohol, but offer tea, coffee, non-alcoholic beer, snacks, sheesha or hookah. There is also music and occasional dancing.

Education

Education is wide spread. With government education being provided free of cost, every citizen is bound by law to complete school education and ensure their children study at least up to the higher secondary level. While the government provides free education, it also ensures quality is not compromised.  

One can opt for an expensive private education too. Education at higher university level is competitive but largely free in public universities for those who can make the cut.

Interestingly, education is being increasingly privatised in Iran and Iranians are resisting the change.

I visited a Kendriya Vidyalaya run by the Indian Embassy and found both Indian and Iranian origin children studying there.

Welfare measures

Public healthcare, medical science research and medicinal provisions in Tehran city were impeccable. All public healthcare facilities are free for all its citizens and 98 per cent of medicines sold in Iran are produced locally.

Iran is now the leading destination for medical tourism for people living in the Middle East. Iran has given visa on arrival facility to more than a hundred nations, though India does not figure in the list. A senior diplomat said the reason India doesn’t make the cut is that New Delhi has imposed a lot of restrictions on Iranians applying for Indian visas.

They seek a more open and cooperative approach from both sides.

Religious restrictions

Iran is an Islamic country and hence, there are restrictions on what men and women can or cannot wear.

Both men and women are prohibited from displaying any bare body part. They are also discouraged from any public display of affection (there can be a rare late night exception for a couple in love bidding goodbye after a romantic evening.

blue-mosque_120618084508.jpgShah Cheragh mosque at Shiraz, Iran. (Photo: AP)

All women cover their heads; hijaab is mandatory.

A section of the youths is disgruntled with the restrictions on the colours they are allowed to wear.

Civic sense

The common Indian practice of peeing against the wall is a punishable crime. There is no concept of urinals as even males have to use toilets with closed doors for attending to nature’s call.

Toilets in Iran largely have the desi commode as the country has never been the colony of any western power, though it was under the US-British rule during the Shah rule.

Economy

The country has been slapped with the severest regime of US sanctions that came into effect in November, which has sent the Iranian currency on a slide. While the situation is yet not out of control, the pinch is beginning to hurt.  

darband_120618085551.jpgDarband is the beginning of a popular hiking trail into Mount Tochal, which towers over Tehran. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Diego Delso)

The current unemployment rate is around 11 per cent of the population. As joblessness grows, it is likely to cause widespread disgruntlement. To offset the impact of the Iranian sanctions, Iranians fallen back on the barter system to trade with other countries. For example, the country is selling oil to India in exchange of basmati rice.

Family as an institution

Family as an institution is going strong in Iran, considered a pariah state by western powers. Some say, it is growing stronger at a time when families are disintegrating across the world.

There is a lot of eating out with family and friends as also spending time in the house.

The youth in the country are also making good use of technology, spending a lot of time on social media, buying modern cameras and smartphones.

Iran, despite being an Islamic country is not a land of extremes. Unlike other theocratic nations, Iran doesn’t have its leaders living in obnoxious luxury and it people rotting in poverty.

It has all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds.  There are no beggars to be spotted on Iranian streets, though refugee kids can be seen selling flowers and other such things.

People I met in the pubs were deeply influenced by Indian culture and requested me to sing Bollywood songs.

The country works hard from Saturday to Wednesday and then relaxes completely on Thursday and Friday.

I went to Tehran as a sceptic, I came back as an admirer of everything the country has to offer.

Also read: Why India is worried about a fuel crisis as US sanctions against Iran near

Writer

Ujjwal K Chowdhury Ujjwal K Chowdhury @ukcglobal

Author is currently the school head of media in Pearl Academy, and former dean of Symbiosis and Amity Universities.

Like DailyO Facebook page to know what's trending.