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Of gardens and grandeur


With its rich museums, expansive gardens and history at almost every nook and corner, Teheran offers a lot for every kind of traveler, says Saurabh Kumar Shahi
SAURABH KUMAR SHAHI | Issue Dated: June 2, 2013, New Delhi
Tags : Iran | Teheran | Milad tower | Golestan Palace | Ferdosi Street | Kolakchal Mountain |

It is surprising, and rather sad, that how the perception built in the media actually helps or hampers the chance of a city or a country to emerge on the international tourism map. The country that has suffered the most from this propaganda war is undoubtedly Iran. A country with a rich tradition of culture, heritage and literature, Iran has hardly figured on the radars of international tourists with the exception of Shia pilgrims who flock to Qom and Masshad.

However, lately, western tourists have started to see through the propaganda web of their respective governments and have started visiting Iran. It is expected that this trickle will only turn into a tide in days to come. And the destination that is expected to host the maximum tourists is capital Teheran.

Teheran (also written as Tehran sometimes) is a bustling city of 14 million Iranians and is situated at the foothills of the mammoth range, aptly named, Al Borz Mountains. In fact, the city was built in a grid from north to south and hence there is a significant altitude variation in different parts of the city. But that also means that on a same day and at the same time, different parts of the capital register a temperature difference of as high as 6 degrees.

Teheran has a dry, semi-arid climate with moderate temperature. February to June and September to early November are the best times to visit the city. There is an evident dryness in the air and the absence of trees intensifies it, therefore winters is not the best time to plan a visit.

Start with the basics. The Iranian Embassy in Delhi issues the visa and take a couple of days. One does not need a guided tour booking to get a visa but an advance booking in a hotel is desirable. Mahan Airways, a private Iranian airline, flies four times a week from Delhi whereas Iran Air flies from Mumbai. One has the option to take either the Dubai or Abu Dhabi route. The flight time is close to three-and-a-half hours. Imam Khomeini International Airport caters to all international flights and is situated 30 kilometers outside the city linked by an expressway. One can decide to hire a taxi or take a bus.

Inside the city, there is an envious network of public transport systems that leaves you with lots of choices. The city roads are clogged with traffic during office hours, therefore it is preferable to take public transport. The city has a swanky and efficient metro system that crisscrosses the city. The murals and bass relief at the metro stations are a sight in itself. When you are traveling by the metro, keep plenty of time in your hand to fully enjoy these murals that depict incidents from Islamic history as well as the history of Iran from the pre-Islamic days. The sheer scale of these murals and the use of colours will leave you stunned.

You can choose BRT buses for fast movement. The prices of the tickets are cheap and if you take seven days or one month cards, the cost in Indian rupee turns out to be negligible. The announcement in Metro system is in English and Persian. But if you feel lost, just approach someone in his teens or early youth. They are expected to be well versed in English and considering how warm Iranian people are, they will go out of their way to help you.

Iran is a city of palaces, museums and parks. The sheer numbers of all of them will leave you overwhelmed. For example the city has over 800 well maintained breathtaking parks. It is therefore advisable to make a proper itinerary before setting out. Irrespective of what kind of sight seeing you prefer, allow at least 3 to 4 days in the capital before venturing out.

Of the city's main attractions, Azadi square and Azadi Tower comes right on the top. Constructed to mark 2,500 years of the Persian empire, the structure is a sublime mix of Sassanian and Islamic elements of architecture, thereby actually representing the zeal of Iran. The structure is surrounded by a park where families are seen spending time. This is also the site of several political marches and rallies.

Milad tower is another must-visit destination. This TV tower is the fourth tallest tower and 12th tallest freestanding structure in the world, and one can see it from practically everywhere in in the city. The tower boasts off a restaurant and an observation deck nestled near the top and offers a sweeping view of the city and beyond.

Among palaces and museums, there is nothing to Match Golestan Palace complex. The complex houses as many as 19 palaces, gardens, museums and grand halls. Once residence of Qajar dynasty, the palace has a breathtaking museum that has several exhibits of historical Iran on show. It also displays exhibits representing lives from all the provinces of Iran and is very interesting. It gets crowded with children in the weekends. Reserve an entire evening for this.

Another place unique to Iran is the very famous Treasury of the National Jewels near the iconic Ferdosi Street. The museum boasts of a collection of some of the most expensive jewels in the world including the world's largest uncut ruby, the world's largest pink diamond, and a golden globe made from 34 kilograms of gold as well as over 50,000 precious stones of all make and sizes among others.

The National Museum of Iran, on the other hand, will not just give you a peep into the history of Iran but also of the nations where the extent of the Persian empire reached in its hey day. The museum has two huge buildings displaying pre-Islamic and post-Islamic Iranian collections. A trip to this museum cannot but make you stop and ponder how history shaped this region.

It is difficult to make a choice among hundreds and hundreds of beautiful parks in Iran, but if one were compelled to do it, then the Jamshidieh Park, which is in the Niavaran district at the base of the Kolakchal Mountain, can be voted as the most picturesque of them all. Allow yourself to submerge into the world of green shrubs, trees and fountains of varied shapes and sizes. Niavaran park, which is nearby, is also worth visiting.

Those interested in the modern history can visit the Bahest-e-Zehra cemetery outside the city that houses the graves and mausoleums of soldiers and generals alike who died in the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. This cemetery is a city in itself with hundreds of thousands of graves. Always filled with families of those buried, it also has small museum on the war itself.

For recreation, Teheran has much to offer as well. The Tochal adventure sport complex on the Al-Borz mountains has splendid facilities for skiing and other mountain sports. One can also take a breathtaking view of Mount Damavand itself. There is a chair lift and gondola that takes tourists from the base of the mountain to the top. Brave-hearts can chose to climb on foot.

Teheran is known for its gastronomical delights and restaurants of all prices and sizes dot the city and city squares. Do try Kubedeih and Chelo-Kebabs among others. Teheran also brings several regional cuisines from all over the region. Do try the ones coming from the province of Azerbaijan. Teheran also gets its stock of Caspian Sea fishes which are probably the best ones I have ever had anywhere in the world.

There is a lot to shop too here. Take a stroll in several Bazaars that are spread all over the city. One such Bazaar is simply called “Bazaar” and is situated in the southern part of the city. Saffron, nuts, dry-fruits, carpets there is a lot to select from. The prices are low. Another such place is called Tajrish Market. Don't miss either of them.

The currency of Iran is called Rial but because of its very high denominations, a lower denomination called Toman is used in everyday trade. Teheran is a cheap destination to visit and there is hardly any tourist scam. Because of strict Islamic law, you can not get liquor in the hotels or bars. Drugs and prostitution are punishable by death. It is advisable to use discretion.

One can also take short taxi drives to the northern Caspian Sea town of Ramsar or for the religious minded, the Southern city of Qom. However, for those who want to sit and relax, Teheran itself is sublime.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017