Where is the first human settlement in Iran?

Roman Ghirshman who was a Russian-born French archeologist who specialized in ancient Persia, said that Shushtar is the first human settlement in Iran and dates back to 10,000 years ago. There are myths in Persian oral history which say Hushang (the second Shāh to rule the world according to Ferdowsi’s Shāhnāmeh) built the city and named it Shushtar (literally means better than Susa) and some other say that it was the first city built after Noah’s storm.

Many cities have turned into cities as a response to village progress but Shushtar has always been a city.

For a comfortable stay in Shushtar, book Tabib Shushtari ecolodge, which is an old house dating back to Qajar’s.

Impressions of an Iran-trip

By: Ann-Christin Hütter

Many years ago a Persian colleague of my husband Christoph catches his interest in her home country Iran. As we both took some time off this year for traveling around, we decided in January 2018, it’s the chance to visit Iran for three weeks.

The reactions of Austrian people about our plans were quite interesting: Some of them couldn’t understand our curiosity about this “dangerous“ country, others were even more excited than us and would love to come with us. So finally we booked a flight for three from Vienna to Tehran, because Franziska, a cousin of Christoph, joined us for two weeks – a great decision!

So we arrived in Tehran on the 3rd of April 2018 – and concerning me: Actually without any concrete expectations, but a kind of indefinite feeling like: “How will everything be?“ and for sure with a lot of curiosity.

As all three of us prefer traveling around without too many plans, we just booked a hostel in Tehran for the first nights in advance, had a rough idea about our travel route in our minds and knew, when we had to be in Isfahan for our flights back. AND we had Christoph’s friend in Germany who activated all her contacts in nearly every place in Iran we visited for supporting us and feeling comfortable – hospitality like we never felt it before.

Our travel route (by bus or sometimes taxi):

Tehran – Masuleh – Bandar Anzali – Hamadan – Isfahan – Varzaneh – Yazd – (Isfahan airport for Franziska) – Shiraz – Yasuj – Isfahan – Isfahan airport (Christoph and Ann-Christin).

Some impressions I’d like to share with you: 

Arriving at the airport and not knowing how to handle the hijab in an easy way ;-).

Discovering cities with many faces  – surprised by so many trees and the enormous amount of traffic (and how many cars can fit in one lane).

Meeting people on the streets, in shops who are curious in a very kind way, talking to us, exchanging information with us about our countries and just giving us a good feeling to be in Iran. People showing us the way to restaurants (walking through half of the city), ordering  food for us (because we were not able to read Farsi),  inviting us to their homes, doing sightseeing-tours for us (whole days), driving us around in their cars, not allowing us to pay for our sweets we’ve ordered … that’s how we came in touch with the extraordinary friendliness of Iranian people.

Enjoying hiking through different landscapes and being completely fascinated by the desert.

Getting an impression of the cultural heritage and some religious places of Iran.

And always finding nice places for having some tea or coffee.

 Our resume after 3 weeks how to handle the hijab:

Just be cool and look at the Iranian women. The feeling, that you lose it all the time, will get less.

And if you lose it, put it on again, nothing will happen.

Using kinds of pins to fix it, gives you a safe feeling in the beginning – but then it’s worth to think about the aesthetic appeal.

After some days it was normal to wear the hijab and it was not disturbed too much – exempt by heat! Then I really couldn’t stand it!

What I read in the beginning of our journey in the north of Tehran, became true for me:

So I hope, I will get the possibility to come back.

Ann-Christin

Why Iranians Are So Kind?

About Basile :I’m twenty-six years old, from France and Switzerland. After I finished my studies in Robotics in Zürich, and after having worked a few months in a tech start-up, I decided to listen to my inner voice. So instead of taking the plane, I decided to bike from Paris, my hometown, to Hong Kong.

Arriving in Iran

After biking 6000km, I still can’t believe that I made it here. When I started this trip in Paris, the name of Iran was synonymous with outlandish and unreachable. But when I crossed the border, the realization became real. I’m geographically and culturally really far away from home now.

The first impressions confirmed the latter statement : I encountered a singing crowd gathering around a preacher right off the first hundred meters after crossing the border in Astara. Simulatenously, I was welcomed by half a dozen men who were eager to help the stranded foreigner. The contrast with the bordering Azerbaijan (also a muslim country) was stark : Blinking signs everywhere with arabic-style persian inscriptions. Many women were covered by black hijabs. Yet those women seemed less timid and more curious than their Azerbaijani counterparts. People actually spoke english – what a relief !

I got my SIM card. I’m ready to find a place outside the city where I can pitch my tent. But there was no need – I was standing on the sidewalk examining the map when, after less than a minute, a iranian guy came to me and asked me if I need a place to sleep tonight with perfect english. Here I am, an hour later, eating dinner with all the family.

There is much to be said about this ancient, strictly islamic and very welcoming culture. Looking forward to Persia !

A morning climb

The rising sun was just beginning to heat the air as I biked into the valley of Hanjan, some hundred kilometers south of Kashan. I was determined to climb the mountains and reach the small village of Abyaneh by noon. I drew in heavy breaths to lift my home up the windy slopes of the ochre brown mountains. In the midst of the steep climb a grey SUV passed by and honked at me. After seven months of traveling, I know that this sign is almost always an excited greeting to the biker, rather than a warning sign or need for space. A few seconds later, the car turned around and made its way back to me. “What to they want from me?”, I think.

The windows of the car scrolled down and three Iranians appeared out of the window and greeted me with bright smiles. “Welcome to Iran!”, they shouted. I stopped the bike and promptly greeted them back in the little Persian that I know. They were bemused and flattered by my use of their language. The driver asked me “where do you come from? You did all this by bike? Are you alone?”. I am getting used to those questions, but I’m not yet tired of seeing the people’s reactions after I answer. Meanwhile, the two women in the back of the car had prepared a bag of five muffins, two handfuls of sweets an a hot cup of tea. I’m not sure who was happier, me receiving the gift, or them giving it to me. Certainly nothing could have been more welcome in that dry, cold morning mountain climb. When we parted, they drove off with cheers and honks of encouragements.

Ubiquitous Generosity

This experience is not unlike what i’ve experienced in the last few weeks in Iran. People had previously pulled over on the highway to ask me if I have a place to sleep, and if I would like to come for dinner at their home. Many people I’ve just met on the street invited me to stay with their family. An other friend that I met in Iran, Javad, took two entire days off his work to show me around his hometown of Isfahan. Every day, at least a dozen strangers would ask me if there’s anything I need. I know they will do everything they can to provide it to me, and most often walking me to the place i was looking for.

But this treatment is not just given to bikers on absurdly long journeys. Every single traveler I’ve met here has experienced the Iranian generosity. We all have at least ten phone numbers to “call if we need anything”. No matter what one’s preconception about Persian or Islamic people is (and we all have them, good or bad, before we travel there), it will vanish in the face of the real and unrestrained appreciation they show to us. I was sometimes surprised when I heard some hosts tell me that they “love me”. Many of us reserve this affirmation for family and partners only. Is it possible to love a stranger? Come to Iran and you’ll find out.

The “first world”

So why do we hardly find such a warm welcome in the “first world”? Any foreigner who has been in Paris has certainly felt the invisible wall separating him from the french-speaking locals. Can you imagine being invited to a stay overnight in New York City by someone you just randomly walk into on the street? Even in smaller rural towns in Europe, while people are some of the kindest, it was much harder to find a shelter in a family home than in the middle east. More generally, why are travelers met with indifference in some countries, while they are invited with open arms in others? Brushing off this phenomena to cultural differences would be missing the opportunity for an important insight.

The Rare Visitor

One explanation might come from the fact that tourists are virtually overflowing in western European cities, while they are much more of a curiosity in Iran. Indeed, the country has suffered from relative geopolitical isolation since its revolution in 1979. In 2013, there were 6 foreign visitors in Iran for every 100 inhabitants — compared to 126 for every 100 french in the same year. While the rarity of tourists certainly plays a role in the way they are received, it does not explain why Iranians are friendly in between themselves — nor why remote, non-touristic villages in one country or the other have very different attitudes towards travelers. To understand that, we have to dig deeper into what shaped the Persian culture.

A History of Travelers

For the past two millennia, Persia has been at the confluence of trading routes from all corners of the world. Merchants from Europe, India and the far East would circulate along the Silk Road through most of what constitutes modern day Iran. This has created a rich network of trade posts, routes and resting stations for the passing caravans. The merchants brought riches and told stories from far away, and they were welcome in every village. Large distances between the cities in the dry desert have accentuated that need for hospitality.  Local traditions have upheld this standard til today, where passing travelers are met with forthcoming enthusiasm.

The Role of Islam

Compassion and generosity has also been a cornerstone of the christian and Islamic teachings. Both the Quran and the Bible praise help towards the poor and the traveler in need. Recent generations in the middle east are arguably more devout than their western counterparts, since Islamic societies have not undergone the profound secular transformation that has affected the west since the end of the 18th century. There is a widely held belief in Iran that the traveler is a friend of God, even among younger generations. Those who treat him accordingly will thus be rewarded in the future – a form of “good karma” à l’iranienne.

Reconciliation

Finally, there is also a less joyful explanation to the Iranian hospitality. Since the revolution of 1979, the country has endured the image of an autocratic, backwards and even dangerous society in the eyes of the west. This is no small part due to the anti-western stance that the Islamic government has taken after the excesses of the previous western-backed Shah dynasty. Yet many of the Iranians do not support the actions of the government and feel embarrassed to be associated with its more radical politics. The hospitality they show towards the westerner is a way to reconcile the breach that their government has opened with other countries. This response is not unlike the kindness the Colombians show towards the foreigner, in an effort to rectify the drug-stained image that Pablo Escobar has created for the nation back in the eighties.

The Persian Community

Those are some of the reasons that can explain the attitude of the Persian people to their visitors. Yet we have forgotten one important factor, without which there would be no such good will: The sense of community. One doesn’t need to be a local to notice how warmly Persian strangers communicate between each other. When people meet in the market or in a bus, one gets almost the sense that every one knows each other. In the middle east, society is based on a strong nuclear family and sense of community beyond it. Weddings with over a thousand people are not unheard of. Funerals in rural areas are often attended by the entire village. The critical component for hospitality is thus the feeling of being part of something bigger. It is to put the need of the others before your own. It is the very opposite of individualism, which tells us we don’t have time to spare to foreigners because we think it doesn’t serve our interests.

Many Iranians aspire to the culture in the west – free, liberal and with good working prospects. But they themselves have much to teach the west. Interactions in Iran feel easy and more human. That’s what traveling can help us do – learning from one another. Rest assured, if you decide to travel to this middle eastern land, you will be well received.