A follow up from the lovely piece on Iran from Fabian, incase you do plan to go there
Things you should know before you head to the country as a tourist.
1) It helps if you can speak or understand Farsi, or are travelling with somebody who does. Compared to most countries, the prevalence of English is a lot less amongst the average person, and this includes broken, half-gesture-quarter-funnyface-quarter-mutualfrustration English. You may think this is not that different from a lot of non-English-speaking countries, especially the rural areas, but even in such places you are likely to scrape by using basic words. In Iran, it was sometimes difficult to explain ‘sandwich’.
Also, except for roads and the tourist spots, the signage is all Farsi.
Our suggestion: Do keep a handy list of essential items and services you may require, or keep a translation app at the ready. It also helps if you know Urdu or Hindi, because once you account for it being a different language, it’s amazing just how many words you can understand (and through it, sentences).
2) Iran was also the first country we had been to which almost completely ignores the Georgian calendar. Except for official and international stuff, they just use the Persian calendar. It was astounding how often people had to stop and think for a moment to remember it was ‘September’ or ‘2016’.
It was doubly surreal for us because that is the same calendar the Parsis follow in India (for religious purposes), and which nobody knows about except the Parsis. Here, everybody did.
3) Things aren’t cheap as you might expect. Thanks to the sanctions, Iran’s inflation has been running fairly high, and while there are some bargains to be had, foodstuffs in particular are at par with more expensive countries.
Also, we were regularly and insistently informed that it’s cheaper to buy Persian carpets outside the country, so sadly our Aladdin fantasies didn’t come to fruition.
4) The cabbies don’t use meters. Be prepared to bargain. It was like being in Dilli or Bangalore, except the drivers don’t scratch so much.
5) If you’re going to be eating out, and you’re a vegetarian, be prepared for finding one option in main courses (if you’re lucky). If you’re a vegan, givvup only. Although it’s possible to live just on the fruits (oh yes!).
6) US dollars beshht (although pounds and euros come close). All major currencies are changeable officially, of course, but if you’re stuck without local money and need to exchange some/make an urgent payment, it helps to have some dollars handy.
7) The inter-city buses are quite good. There are flights, but not so many, and the trains run on some bizarre schedule of their own. The buses, however, are the lifeline for those without personal transport – they are relatively cheap, are airconditioned, have reclining seats, and you’re served a full snack-kit at least once. Unfortunately, they do insist on playing at least one film during the journey, and there’s no real way to mute the sound.
8) Women do need to be dressed in a certain way. If you’re travelling from India, you can get away with wearing kurta-pyjamas/ salwar-kameez – although it will mark you out as a tourist immediately.
Seema and Fabian Bhatia-Panthaki are the new parents of twin canine girls, whose demands mean long-distance travel is now a luxury. This Iran trip may have been their last joint foreign outing for some time to come. To keep their scampering scamps in the manner they have become accustomed to, Seema works in the field of International Development, while Fabian functions as an editor.