Howdy all. Today’s ‘big city’ I am writing about is Tehran, the capital of Iran. When I write about my time in Iran, I don’t really write much about Tehran. The amazing cities of Yazd, Shiraz and Esfahan usually are the cities I write about, and they all have a lot of history and sites to visit in and around them. And to be fair to Tehran, they are much more attractive cities too.
However, Tehran is the capital and the busiest city in Iran. It’s location is quite picturesque indeed – it’s surrounded by mountains. Population-wise,t he interweb is telling me that the 2014 population was around 8.3 to 8.5 million. I visited in 2004, and it certainly has that ‘big-city’ feeling’. There is no doubt that it has a completely different feel to other Iranian cities.
It is more modern I guess, but in other ways I guess it felt less elegant too. And perhaps that’s primarily because of the pollution – no city I visited in Iran had the same haze (although all cities in places like Iran tend to suffer from a dusty haze owing to the deserts and sand that take up so much of the area.
But there are still parks, still cafes where tea and pipes abound. It’s got a very definite underground scene which I can’t confess to have experienced whilst there, but I’d heard about it and I felt it was definitely there. Remember, Iran is for all the friendliness of its people – the most welcoming you will meet anywhere I say – still controlled by a theocracy which dictates what people wear amongst so many other rules, and it can be extremely strict and harsh on anyone who breaks its laws. I remember all the warmth, the kind people who offered food and places to stay, the smiles, but I also remember the guy in Esfahan who came up to me and this German guy I was exploring the city with, and he pleaded with us to tell the world that ‘Iran is a prison!’
In Tehran, I know there are places that people, primarily younger people, let their hair down. I met a young woman working at a museum, she was very talkative and happy to chat. She told me she had dance lessons which were forbidden (to be clear I think the style of dancing was forbidden, not dance lessons all together. Although I could be wrong there).
As a foreigner I thought that this was the place it was harder to find other foreigners. Which is a pity because this was probably the one place in Iran I could have done with some company – in the other cities I always met friendly locals and spent time with them, but in Tehran, as a typical ‘big city’, that just didn’t seem to happen. People seemed to be a little less friendly, I remember the reception in particular was staffed by people who seemed to have no interest in interacting with the customers.
Not far from my dark and dank hotel, which wasn’t too expensive but a few more bucks than I had been paying elsewhere, was a dark pool hall. Honestly – it’s the only pool hall I ever saw in Iran. I went with some guy from the hotel and had a game I think. And I think if you are looking for a drink you would be able to find it in Tehran.
But the city, in general, is busy and a bit… brown. It is more modern clearly than other cities in Iran and that means that it’s visually less interesting and appealing. The best shots I found were when I caught a glimpse of the nearby mountains. I remember going into a bank to change money. Everywhere else in the country I had changed it at little booths or on the street, but in Tehran I needed to change it in a bank (possibly at a market would have been fine too). The bank was huge, it was quite monolithic, and I felt that there was an almost Soviet air to the whole city.
So, if you go to Iran, well, you may not want to spend a lot of time in its biggest cities. But then, I know others have been able to get a lot out of Tehran. Have you visited? Please do comment below – and May the Journey Never End!