LADIES ON THE MOVE: Iran
Are you dreaming of but wondering if it is safe visiting Iran as a woman? To be honest, before working on this guest article, I had the notion that Iran is one of the countries where I don’t want to go because it is ‘sounds and looks’ unsafe, especially for a woman.
How I was unfair! The wrong presumptions that we have about some destinations and countries are frightening. And the fault lays entirely with the mass media. This is another reason why travel blogs are popular and people look for specific advice on the content.
The reason why I started the LADIES ON THE MOVE series is to allow other women, who are not (yet J) travel bloggers to share their experiences. Because there are so many girls that travel fearlessly and have so much knowledge to share! They go to unpopular destinations, explore the local culture and can tell you from personal experience what you can expect from a destination/culture/sightseeing/etc.
Sunny is a girl I met through my blog. (Love this side of blogging – you meet so interesting and kindhearted people that become your friends and your true inspiration!
Sunny is fascinated by the countries that I’m not keen on visiting – the Muslim countries. She has been to some and plans to visit more. My opinion about these countries (where, in my very feminist way of thinking, women are limited and robbed from opportunities and free choice) has changed a lot since I met her. Now I want to go to Iran. It looks like not only a beautiful country with an amazing culture and architecture but also a country where you can find this sweet hospitality that was somewhat typical in my country (Bulgaria is on a crossroad between the East and West and influenced by both) twenty years ago.
I hope Sunny’s tips will help you change your view on Iran too and that you, like me, will be curious and willing of visiting Iran as a woman.
WHY IS IRAN INTERESTING AS A DESTINATION?
Iran is magic!
In Iran live the most hospitable people in the world. Everyone wants to invite you to their home, to show you around, and to help you in some way.
Don’t listen to the media – because of the media I once had a very bad notion about Iran. But now, when I saw the country with my eyes, my opinion totally changed.
Iran is Ancient Persia. There you can find some of the most ancient capitals and cities like Persepolis and the tomb of the mighty ruler Cyrus the Great.
WHAT WOMEN SHOULD KNOW BEFORE GOING TO IRAN?
Iran has opened to tourists in the past year and introduced visa on arrival for 180 countries (including Bulgaria), which facilitates the tourism. There are cheap flights from Istanbul. The visa is for 15 or 30 days – enough to see the most significant places.
Eating the food is safe, even the street food and the water, which is wonderful! There are no illnesses or other hazards or kidnappings of tourists. Local people will care about you and keep you safe.
The local currency is the Iranian RIAL, but Iranian people use the so-called TOMAN. They simply remove one zero from the RIAL and call the exact same bill as a toman. You should know that your credit cards don’t work in Iran!!! So take with you enough cash – dollars, because it is difficult to send you money from abroad if you need some more.
It is mandatory for women to wear hijab. For the rest of the clothing, it is not complicated – jeans and blouse are ok but it is best to have leggings and tunic. This way you will look like a local. Do not forget your makeup! Because you will cover your hair, it is better to emphasize the eyes and/or the mouth. Iranian women are very stylish and beautiful. If you don’t want to look as out of place, wear your makeup. The headscarf can be worn very loose, just to say that you wear it. Women usually make a high bun back on top of the head and fasten the scarf to it. In this way, the head front is naked and more enjoyable.
In mosques and temples, you will be given a mantle to cover yourself before entering. In some of them, if you say that you are a tourist, you will be appointed a free guide. Sometimes these guides are annoying, but you will learn more. I personally dressed up as an Iranian woman and tried to visit the places with the locals rather than with tourist guides.
The hotels in Iran are nice. There are some international hotel chains, but the most beautiful are the old houses of local merchants along the Silk Road turned into hotels. I recommend you to stay in one of these authentic hotels. During my trip, I stayed only with local people (Couch Surfing), as I wanted to experience the local lifestyle and culture.
The Iranians say that many things have changed in the past 20 years: the remarks about the dress code are rarer now; officially the locals are not allowed to host foreigners, but everyone does; young people go out together and have fun; there are quite modern parents who allow their daughters and sons to choose a partner. Of course, there are still arranged marriages and marriages between cousins. Iranian women can choose whether to work or care for the home. In both cases, the husband is obliged to provide for the family and many women chose to work just to have money for themselves. Influenced by the West, many young people prefer to live in a “European way” – to share the expenses, men help the women in the house work and let their women not to wear a hijab. Every second Iranian wants to leave Iran because of the restrictions, regardless of that the country is rich in oil, gas and has a good standard of living.
WHAT WE SHOULD KNOW ABOUT THE CULTURE?
The Persian cuisine is magical. I loved the most the Kubideh Kebab-a. Overall almost everywhere you can eat kebab on a skewer with tomatoes, wrapped in local bread. Ghormeh Sabzi is a traditional dish that includes beans, green vegetables that they have on hand at the moment and meat. And Iranian rice is indescribably delicious!
NOTE: If you plan to try the local food in the restaurants, read this useful article about Eating out in Iran and useful tips in Persian language
The Iranian culture is something between the Turkish and Arabic but with the difference that since Islam was imposed, many of the Iranians are not so religious. In the larger cities, people do not pray and do not follow strictly the Muslim dogmas. The young people have boyfriends/girlfriends and in the big cities over 40% of women are not virgins before marriage.
In the smaller settlements, it is not the same. People living in these places are religious, wear black chadors and observe morality. But these people are the most hospitable – for them wandering foreigner is a gift from God, and even there are cases of disputes between the locals who can be first to invite the traveler and take care of him/her.
Each house is a party place. Every house, even poor, has a lovely lounge/living room. Because the bars and discotheques are banned, people gather together at home for partying. Alcohol is forbidden, but in big cities, many people have it at home and consume it. In general, Iranians are people with European blood and way of thinking, but with a terrible, forcedly imposed on them regime. They have hoped for better, but now they have regrets.
It is a customary to eat on the floor and every establishment has its rugs. I loved this in Iran! After the lunch, you can order a hookah and relax on the rug. Some people sleep on mattresses on the floor, but even the mattresses on the beds are pretty hard. Due to the fact that Iranians have large families and cannot afford to pay for a hotel, during the warmer seasons when they travel they camp using 1-2 carpets for a dining and sleeping area.
The marital culture is also very specific. The husband is obliged to provide a home – to buy it or rent it and the wife must take care about the furnishings and utensils. It is not usual to live with the parents after the marriage, except in a several floors house and the rights of Islamic women are respected. But of course – her obligations are ‘respected’ as well. She has no right to apply for a passport or travel abroad without the permission of her husband. If a woman foreigner marries to a local, she immediately becomes an Iranian citizen and these rules start to apply for her as well. There is a moral police, which monitors clothing at public places.
NAME THE MOST INTERESTING PLACES TO VISIT IN IRAN:
The most famous for a visit are the capital Tehran, the city of Isfahan and Shiraz (Shiraz for me is the most beautiful), but I personally advise you to visit Kashan (on the road to Isfahan) because of the amazing old craftsman’s houses and the hammam with a beautiful roof. You will feel like Aladdin and Jasmin!
PERSEPOLIS & PASARGAD
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Do you want to be featured in the Ladies on the Move series? Send me an email at contact(at)www.whenwomantravels.com and I will be happy to share your experience and tips!