For our Iran tour my parents chose to go with Stanford Travel who they had traveled with before. Stanford leads heaps of tours, usually accompanied by a Stanford professor, who gives lectures during the tour. In our case Ed taught us a bit about Persian history and about how Persian culture has influenced European culture. During one lecture Ed argued that the European courtly love tradition came from Persia via Muslim Andalucia. He cited an 11th century Sufi poet, one Ibn al-Arabi, who was born in Sevilla. Influenced by the Persian mystic Al-Hallaj, Al-Arabi wrote erotic love poems under the guise of an intense yearning for god. Troubadours, in turn, took these poems to Provence, and so it goes.
Stanford scheduled this year’s Iran tour during the Iranian New Year, Nowruz, Iran’s biggest holiday. As is obvious every year in Turkey, Iranians love to travel during that time. There are more Iranians in Antalya during Nowruz, and the hotels in Erzurum were full of Iranians when I was there during Nowruz last year. I was curious what special events Stanford had scheduled for us during Nowruz. Oddly, nothing. It even seemed as if they didn’t realize that we were coming to Iran during the country’s most crowded time for traveling. Certain sites on our itinerary were closed because of the holiday and others, especially Shiraz and the nearby ancient sites of Persepolis, Pasargad, and Naqsh-e Rustam, were absurdly crowded.
We made the best of the crowds and enjoyed the interactions with curious and knowledgeable Iranians who were generally excited to hear that we were from the US. I met Iranians from all corners of the country — Tehran, Tabriz, Bandar Abbas, the Caspian Sea, west near the border with Iraq, north near the border with Turkmenistan, and other places that I had never heard of. One young man gushed to me about the nature around Kermanshah, making me want to go there during my next visit. I’d also love to visit NW Iran where you can see Armenian relics in the mountains and Azeri is widely spoken. It is, of course, a large country, but like in Turkey, by picking a small area, it seems there could be good opportunities for bicycle touring.
Nowruz is a secular holiday, pagan we might even say. It’s the spring equinox that marks the beginning of the year in the Islamic Republic. After the crowds, the most noticeable tradition is the Nowruz Haft Sin tables, which at a minimum are supposed to offer seven things that start with the letter s (in Persian/Farsi). Some of these may be garlic, apples, coins, grass, fish, a mirror, dates, flowers. In 11 days I took photos of 24 different Haft Sin tables.