Alternative Routes

There are places we’re reluctant to visit. Countries that, to us, exist under irrational rules with unfamiliar cultures and cuisines as well as uncomfortable climates and lifestyles. But perhaps these countries are only as far as we believe and as foreign as the barriers we put up between us and them.

These were the thoughts that kept orbiting a corner of my mind during an eight-day trip to Iran. Without delving into the political regime, traveling to this country, which doesn’t quite match the touristic ideal for a lot of us, was the perfect opportunity to see how it’s part of the renowned Persian culture. It gave us the chance to measure up our antiquated biases with reality. We saw, tasted, and lived a culture that was both familiar and foreign.

In the faded yellow streets of an antique desert city, we wandered along the cool and sheltered shade, hiding from the sun’s burning force. We roamed through bewitching Zoroastrian temples, magnificent fortresses, tombs covered in mirrors. We toured big cities that looked like every other big city, we met people who greeted us with their kind eyes, conversed with us, and wanted to be part of our photos. Perhaps we didn’t find some thing we had hoped for, but other things we did discover were just unbelievable. To summarize, there has never been a country where I’ve enjoyed being a tourist this much. Because for the first time in a while I was in awe. I saw a country for the first time of which I was unsure, in terms of prior knowledge. The colors, tastes, features, and actions I was used to were not present. For me, Iran was a place where I couldn’t escape the feeling of every moment being brand new. My attention didn’t have the chance to stray. My mind didn’t wander away to other places. There was only the time and place that stretched out before my eyes.

Don’t those lives where we always feel comfortable and safe, where everything is always familiar and organized seem to be the final destination of human evolution? A lot of us work hard in order to achieve this kind of ideal life and benefit from all its blessings. The things we fear, run away from, or that make us uneasy, on the other hand, are like treasures that are always kept closed. Perhaps past some of those doors, which we’re too afraid to open, lies the pearl and diamond bedecked crown of the Shah….



Translated by Feride Yalav-Heckeroth

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