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Monday, January 18, 2016

Iran-- Time To Start Thinking About Tourism?

I've been to Iran twice, both times before Khomeini's revolution. The first time was in 1969 and I was driving to Nepal and had limited interest in modern Iran. But I immediately took to the country, the food, the music and the people. I loved the place. I remember writing a letter home that the Iranians were the most pro-American people I had ever come across. I was impressed by the good roads, a relief after the nightmare of eastern Turkey where there were just rutted tracks. I drove to into a large old town, Dogubayazit, in the shadow of Mt Ararat, and crossed over into Iran at a small town called Bazargan and immediately headed towards Tabriz, one of Iran's biggest cities. It was pretty modern compared to the countryside we had been in in Turkey for the 2 or 3 weeks before we got there. There was a good highway to Zanjan and Tehran, where I decided to spend a couple weeks before heading up to the Caspian Sea and then across to Gorgan and Mashad, where I stayed with a family of Bahai people for a few weeks before heading off towards Afghanistan, where we crossed at Taybad into Islam Qala, on the way to Herat, a city of gardens and Afghanistan's 3rd largest city.

All my experiences in Iran were good and I walked away with a fondness for the country and the people. I was happy to go back a couple years later on my way back to Europe and I certainly thought I would be back again to explore other parts of the country I had missed. But in 1978 serious unrest started and by 1979 the Shah fled and Khomeini abolished the monarchy and declared an Islamic Republic. Americans have been unwelcome, at least officially, for 37 years. But now that's changing. With the international sanctions lifted, Iran wants to open up to tourism again. Iran's neighbors, Russia, will be the first big source of tourists as Russians look for an alternative to Egypt and Turkey.

I suspect Europeans will be enjoying Iran for many years before Americans start coming back in any significant numbers. But, that does't mean you can't go. Roland and I are thinking about it. In fact, now it's looking like it's just a matter of time before there will be direct flights between the U.S. and Iran. This video shows some of the attractions Iran has to offer: