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Iran - Beyond Prejudices & Perceptions!

With staggering architecture, exotic landscapes, drooling delicacies and rich culture, Iran offers an endless adventure. It's greatest attraction could just be its people – endlessly welcoming!

It was around 6:30 in the morning, as I looked through the window, the glittering lights formed various shapes as the plane hovered over what looked like a beautiful city from the sky. A pleasant female voice welcomed the passengers on board to Tehran, the Iranian capital. As our plane landed at Imam Khomeini International Airport, I was anxious. All that I have heard about Iran were controversies. Its confrontation with the West, the sanctions, that its the land of Ayatollahs and of course the food without spices. Being a fan of Majid Majidi, I admit the only respite was Iranian movies in my mind.

As the plane landed and I stepped out at the Airport, a gush of fresh air filled my lungs. The first surprise was to see Iranian women almost at every counter. I quickly bought a sim card from the Airport. The first transaction taught me that it was 'Toman' I have to deal with and not Rial. Although the Rial is the official currency of Iran, in everyday life Iranians employ the monetary unit 'toman', which is equivalent to 10 rials.

For the person who travels to Iran for the first time, a lot of prejudices would be shunned on the way from the airport to the Tehran city. You will find Tehran well organised, systematically built and a neat and clean city. Peep out of the window and you will find Tehran surrounded by Alborz mountain range as you move from steep slopes and tunnels on the way.

The next morning, I left for Tabiat Bridge, which is the largest pedestrian bridge in Iran designed by a young Iranian Architect Leila Araghian and team. The bridge is a major tourist attraction. The clean parks and the fresh air would steal your heart straightaway as you see the mountain ridges from the bridge. The next stop was Islamic Revolution and Holy Defence museum which again collects the glimpses and replicas of Iran-Iraq war. However, Iran maintains it was an imposed war on Iran.

While returning I rarely found a traffic policeman on Tehran roads. Everything was systematically organised. People did follow traffic rules religiously. For a visitor like me who comes from Delhi, I was happily surprised not to find a single motorist pressing horns. Tehran streets are absolutely 'Honking free'. Neither did I find any traffic disruption due to any VIP movement. Tehran streets are encroachment free and don't laugh when I say I did not find any stray dogs on the streets too, though friendly persian cats could be seen almost at every park or streets.

On the way, you will find symbols of the Iranian revolution in the form of 'Murals' which portrays that Iranians have clung to their history and culture despite moving ahead with time. For people who have a perception that women in Iran are deprived of basic rights, Tehran is an eye-opener.

Though the Iranian houses have big spacious balconies but you would neither find anyone standing in the balcony nor any towels or clothes in the balcony. Its considered against ethics.

As I moved to Iran Nanotechnology Innovation Council in Tehran, I was surprised to know that Iran introduces nanotechnology right from schools as a part of the curriculum. Iran presently holds the fourth position in the world when it comes to Nanotechnology – behind China, US and India.

I observed that roti in Iran is free from the government. There are various roti making centres in Iran and all you have to pay is for the labour cost which is nominal. Also, to my surprise, Committee Imdad Khomeini assures nobody sleeps without food in Iran. The needy give calls to the committee, and volunteers go to the respective addresses with food packets post 9 pm assuring that even the neighbours don't get a whiff of the alms given and the dignity of the needy family is preserved.

Not many would know that Iran publishes the only Braille daily newspaper in the world for the blinds – Iran Sepid. "It started in 1996. It covers articles on political, social and economic issues with a special eye on issues related to blind people in our country. The staff comprises of both sighted and visually impaired people.," said Soheil Moeini, Manager, Iran Sepid, who himself is visually impaired.

When you travel from Tehran to Mashhad by a train, the views are surreal. The sun peeps betwwen the vast pastures with the rocky mountains in the backdrop. Soon an announcement caught my attention. It was time for maghrib ( evening prayer) and the train made a halt at the very next station. All women and men deboarded the train and moved to separate beautiful prayer halls at the station. After the namaz, the passengers reboarded the train and the journey continued.

I heard that Iranian food was not soothing to Indian taste buds as it had no spices. I found it a blatant lie and propaganda. Iran's cuisines could be termed as one of the best in the world. Special dishes like koobideh, Aabgosht or Dizi, chelow kebab , ghormeh sabzi and fesenjan will leave an unforgettable aroma. Apart from cuisines, Iran is also known for world-class saffron ( kesar) and Pistachio besides other dry fruits including dates.

Mashhad is considered to be the Holy city with Imam Reza's shrine – the eighth Imam according to Shia Muslims. A visit will tell all you about the magic of Persian architecture. Its miraculously built. Thousand of pilgrims across the globe visit the holy shrine and approximately 20 thousand pilgrims daily eat for free in a huge dining hall called Imam Reza's dastarkhwaan.

Upon returning back, my perceptions about Iran had changed. Iran is modernized despite preserving its traditions – a vibrant society and a lively country. A Persian infusion!

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