Iran Now: The Islamic Outlier (28/12-7/1)
As our branded-new programme to Iran, the 11-day programme took our participants to travelling across the whole country. Begining in Tehran and passing through Shiraz, Isfahan, Persepolis, Abyaneh, Qom and Kashan, we offered our participant a comprehensive understanding of Iran in various aspects, including political, historical, sociological, cultural, architectural and, etc.
By hosting numerous exchanges with local scholars and NGOs, we could understand different issues from the perspectives of Iranians, ranging from the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Gender Equality, Regional Politics in the Middle East, Terrorist Crisis and, of course, the essentials of Islamic beliefs.
Followings are the highlights of the last programme in December 2017:
Golestan Palace is one of the oldest historic buildings in the heart of Tehran. It consists of a number of magnificent royal buildings with well-preserved gardens. We wandered around the gardens and often stopped at the fascinating walls for taking stunning photos. It is always true that beauty is not only on the surface, it was incredible inside the mirror hall, one of the iconic and popular buildings at the complex. Most of us were amazed by its splendid carpets, massive wall paintings, and mirrored ceilings. With the detailed explanation from the local expert, we knew more about the history of Qajar era, when the Persian crafts and architectures integrated with Western styles.
National Museum of Iran
One of the ways to learn about the essentials of a country, like its history and culture, is to visit the local museum. The National Museum of Iran houses a series of archaeological and cultural treasures, which presented the stories of Iran dating back to the ancient Persia. We not only found a wealth collection of the displays on Persepolis, where is a significant place in Iranian history, and also acquired more information on its past and changes.
After taking an overnight train, we finally arrived Shiraz, the most popular city in southern Iran. Our first stop was to trace back to the Zand Dynasty, an era of peace and prosperity under the ruling of Shah Karim Khan, at Vakil Mosque. Before we entered the mosque, we were all impressed by its spacious courtyard with a long pool at the centre as well as the symmetric and identical pillars inside the mosque. Contrary to most of the mosques in Iran, it was not a must to take off our shoes at the Vakil Mosque, as the floor was not covered with the traditional praying carpet, but the rugged and sandy-hued stones. This created a strong contrast to the sophisticated carving on the walls and the colourful-tiled ceilings on top, reflecting the ordinary yet vibrant culture during the Zand Dynasty.
Tomb of Hafez
At night, we went to the Tomb of Hafez, a place in memory of the well-known Persian poet Hafez. According to our local expert, Hafez was living in a difficult time, when intellectuals were restricted from expressing themselves and criticising the rulers, and he was able to convey his ideas like love and humanity in the language of poetry, gaining respect from most of the locals without being punished. We saw some locals offered flowers, prayed in front of his tombstone and read aloud his poems enthusiastically, therefore, we also drew ‘I love Iran’ in the form of light painting photo to show our respect to Hafez.
The Atashgah Fire Temple, located on a small hill of Isfahan City, is a living proof of the existence of Zoroastrianism in ancient Persian. We woke up early in the morning and took an hour hike up to the hill to enjoy the bird-views of Isfahan and know more about the practices of this influential religion.
Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque
Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque is situated in Iman Square, one of the largest squares in the world. It is also called the Women’s Mosque because it was enclosed as a private worshipping place for women to attend prayers in the past. After passing through a long tunnel to the centre of the mosque, we saw the sun shined through the florally framed window near the dome and reflected gorgeous patterns on the floor.
Family Dinner with Local Armenians
We were invited by a local family in the Armenian district of Isfahan to have dinner. Armenians, one of the ethnic minority groups in Iran, do not share the same religion, language and culture as the majority Persians, they still living with the mainstream in harmony. As their Orthodox Christmas was approaching, there was a nicely decorated Christmas tree surrounded by fairy lights and wrapped gifts at the corner of their home. They not only prepared a traditional Armenian meal for us, and also a platter of homemade chocolate topped spinach cupcakes. We asked the host about the minorities rights and their community development in Iran. He said their religious and cultural rights have been protected that they could freely organise regular activities like folks singing practices and drama performance. We realised that respect is the core value in the community which allows diversified culture to stand in harmony.
While most of the deserts in Iran are salt and rocky, Maranjab Desert is famous for its high and golden sand dunes which differentiate it from the other deserts. At night, we took an hour drive from our caravanserai to the desert, dwelling in the middle of nowhere, for capturing the breathtaking starry night. As the temperature plummeted, we stood near the campfire, sipped some tea and had a casual chat under the sky full of sparkling stars.
With more than 1500 years of history, this village is often referred as the Red Clay Village, as the houses in the village are all built with red mud bricks and situated all over the hill. We wandered around the village and saw a number of old women dressed in those traditional Persian costumes, they were sitting at the door of their houses, selling dried apple and some homemade souvenirs.
Imam Khomeini House
Qom, as one of the sacred cities in Iran, is also a place where Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, studied and initiated the Iranian Revolution. We went to his well-kept old house and had a fruitful discussion with the local guide and knew more about his contributions and reputation from the perspectives of Iranian.
Holy Shrine of Fatima Masumeh
Fatima Masumeh was a close relative of the Twelver Imams and has been revered as a saint, therefore, her shrine has also been considered as one of the most significant shrines in Iran. We toured around the mosques and her tomb, as the day we visited was the local weekend, they were crowded with people from different age group and from all around the globe. The Shrine is gigantic and provided a decent place for Muslims to pray.
University of Tehran
On the second last day of our tour, we went to the University of Tehran and had an exchange session with the local students. The professor first introduced the history and development of the university, followed by a lecture on the prospects and challenges of Iran in future, and sparked a heated debate among us, the students and professors. As the day we arrived Isfahan was the first day the students protested against the government for its failure to improve the economic problems, we also discussed about the role of local and international media in this protest. We left the room with more questions to answer about the Islamic Worldview regarding the hijab of women.
Volunteer Services for Afghanistan Refugees
On the last day, we were delighted to visit a local non-governmental organisation with a focus on protecting young refugees and migrants who are from neighbouring war-torn countries like Afghanistan. We toured around their office and talked to the director. Through the interactive dialogue, we understood more about the missions of the organisation, the background of Afghan movement to Iran and the types of services provided for Afghan children at the centre. We also got a chance to meet with the children, joined their woodcarving class and answered their curiosity about our culture, language and food. Lastly, we presented a volleyball, with a sentence in three languages on it – Chinese, English and Persian, to leave our mark on this lovely place in Iran.
The itinerary is meticulously designed to introduce us to Tibetan politics, religion and culture. It enables us to very critically reflect upon the current situation of Tibet.
It wasn't merely a trip but a mini course introducing the cultural, social and political issues about Tibet. From the pre-trip reading materials to the mini-lectures delivered on coach, I saw and felt the hard work and passion of EV in preparing this tour.
I guess the most important thing is to have good travel buddies who are all interested in exploring Tibet, and Eastern Vision serves as a platform for all of us to meet. Most of us signed up without knowing anyone else on the trip but it was easy to make new friends as we are all university students/ fresh grads.
The places that we travelled were well-selected. Not only are they stunningly beautiful, they also have rich cultural deposits, long-standing history and strong ethnic character.
They really did a nice job showing us the problems and situations Tibetan society is currently facing, and the conflicts between Tibetans, Han people and the PRC government you probably can't see if you go there with mainstream travel agency or on your own.
On top of the uniqueness and excellent planning and arrangements offered by Eastern Vision, the DRPK tour provided us the opportunity to experience the country and interact with the locals and even exchange students studying in North Korea.
I had a great time exploring DPRK with eastern vision. After the trip, I realized some media coverage about DPRK was hampered by the lack of information. As a result, some reports are based on unproven claims. This trip brings me a new perspective on DPRK.
Incredible experience with Eastern Vision which allow us to go to the DPRK, not just for the sake of going but to learn and grow from it. Everything was well-planned and we even had the opportunities to see some of our own requests fulfilled. Excellent from beginning to end!
A well organized and thought-provoking trip with many good moments that we could interact with the local DPRK people.
Fantastic organisation which provides travelers with an opportunity to do so much more than just sight seeing. Tours are planned to provide insights into the lives of local people, and the staff are quick to provide advice and guidance. I would definitely advise travelling with Eastern Vision.