My second novel is proving to be an even bigger challenge than the first, especially as I decided to set the story in Iran which is not the number one destination for tourists. Of course there is a lot of information and photographs on the internet and many books about travelling in the country, but that is no substitute for being there and experiencing a place which nobody I knew had ever visited before. It is a unique country which made a great impression. I was pleased that Joanna Lumley on her Silk Road Adventure for ITV shared my enthusiasm.
It is ironic that the words of the thirteenth century Iranian poet Saadi are inscribed on the United Nations building, where modern day Iran is treated as a pariah state by many in the West . If you visit Iran and see how the people revere these classical Persian poets who bring a message of peace and love , you might understand that the country is not as bad as it is often betrayed. The poetry on the UN building is as follows:
Human beings are members of a whole,
In creation of one essence and soul.
If one member is afflicted with pain,
Other members uneasy will remain.
If you’ve no sympathy for human pain,
The name of human you cannot retain!
APPLYING FOR A VISA TO VISIT IRAN IS A LONG DRAWN OUT PROCESS
The first challenge to overcome before a visit to Iran is to get a Visa. This is a two stage process. First you need to find a sponsor who will forward your passport details to Tehran. I arranged my trip through Exodus who assisted with the sponsorship. After several weeks wait you will receive a tourist number which enables the process of applying for a visa to begin. The second stage is to complete a detailed form and apply in person at the Iranian embassy in London and, because of sanctions, pay for the Visa in cash (around £170 in the UK) . You can pay extra for a same day service (another £85) to avoid a second visit to the embassy to pick up your passport. To be comfortable, you need to allow at least 12 weeks from start to finish.
THE PEOPLE ARE VERY FRIENDLY
This is the first thing you notice when arriving in Iran that many of your preconceived perceptions of what sort of place it is are wrong. The people all want to say hello and ask you where you are from and seem very flattered that an Englishman was visiting their country, especially as we are labelled by the regime as “the little Satan” behind America’s “the Great Satan”. Women particularly show there individuality and fashion sense, wearing their brightly coloured veils with style. I saw many women dining in packed restaurants without being accompanied by a man, something which would never happen in Saudi Arabia. There are modern shopping arcades and restaurants with some tasty cuisine. The lamb stew with pomegranates is to be recommended.
IRANIAN PEOPLE ARE PERSIAN NOT ARAB AS MANY PEOPLE THINK. THEY ARE PROUD OF THEIR HERITAGE THAT PRE-DATES ISLAM
Nowruz is the Iranian New Year celebration. It is not an Islamic festival having its roots in Zoroastrian tradition. There are coloured lights everywhere and people enjoying there enormous coloured ice cream cones which are over twelve inches high.
Here are some school children enjoying a lesson in the sunshine while visiting one of Tehran’s many palaces. The museums also demonstrate that Iran cares deeply about its history . The pictures were taken in the glass museum,
but there are also some wonderful exhibits of Persian culture in the National Museum. These I believe date back to the time of Darius and Cyrus the Great before Persepolis was destroyed by Alexander in revenge for the destruction of Athens by the Persians.
ART IS ALLOWED TO BE MODERN WITHOUT BEING BANNED
I visited an art exhibition which showed that there was tolerance of modern art which is even controversial. This was a big surprise to me. I think the young are pressing for change and the only question is whether dialogue can be created by promoting a stick approach to diplomacy favoured by President Trump.
THE IMPORTANCE OF PARADISE GARDENS AND ISLAMIC ART TO IRAN’S CULTURAL IDENTITY CANNOT BE OVEREMPHASISED.
When writing The Barnabas Legacy I wanted to stage a few scenes in the City of Yazd. This is probably where Zoroastrianism was at its most strongest before the country became Islamic . The old town is build with mud bricks which are allowed to dry hard in the sun . It is also where The Towers of Silence are situated. This is a burial ground with a difference. Zoroastrians believed that when somebody died they must return to nature by being laid out for the vultures to eat them. It is of course no longer carried out but the towers remain as an eerie monument to the dignity of death.
The mud village of Yazd which sits in the midst of the modern city is evidence that the Iranian people want to preserve their ancient culture. There are men skilled in preserving these buildings which are working constantly to repair the buildings and indeed as you walk around you see how well they are looked after.
The Paradise gardens are built with sophistication, geometrically designed to allow an aesthetic appreciation of the space while paying homage to running water. In the summer the heat rises to impossible levels and the garden provides respite from the heat. Water is precious and is therefore central to the garden as a earthly depiction of paradise. The wind towers (above right) are everywhere providing natural and very effective air conditioning inside the buildings. In Isfahan the importance of green space is clear . The city may have a problem with traffic but it always easy to escape into the bliss of these gardens.
But it is the beauty of its buildings which will leave you breathless with admiration for the ingenuity of the builders .
I haven’t said anything about Persepolis which despite the efforts of Alexander the Great is still a magnificent memorial to the power and enormous reach of the Persian empire. In Syria, there is an equally important ancient site called Palmyra which was severely damaged by Islamic State. Iranians would never allow the same destruction to be inflicted on Persepolis.
I hope I have given readers a different perspective of how Iran is normally portrayed.