Baluchistan, Sistan, Zahedan: a trip to Iran

15 Iran, Sistan-Baluchestan Province

Gil had spotted a stone quarry from above, and was now flying over it, hoping to land and take off his gear in the shelter. Pulling the paddles,[51] he deflated the paraglider dome and landed on his two feet. Quickly he assembled the parachute. Taking the release mechanism out of his duffel bag, he removed his harness, dropped his helmet, oxygen mask, and parachute suit. Ninety seconds later he was ready to move on. Wrapping his jump gear in his parachute dome and slinging it over his shoulder, Gil headed swiftly across the quarry to the embankment, parallel to which lay the drainage pipe. He hid the parachute in the pipe and, assisting himself with the butt of his SVD, shoved it deeper where no one could dig it up. Because of climatic changes there had been no rains in this area for several years, so many residents had to move north, to the border with Turkmenistan.

Gil pulled his Russian military night vision goggles over his head and looked around. A mile and a half to the north, the town he’d flown over a minute ago was glowing. The barren, flat land was clearly visible, and he had the uncomfortable feeling of standing on Mars. The Afghan border and relatively safe territory began forty kilometers to the south, and the road there went through abandoned desert territory. He noticed low, layered clouds overhead that might eventually cover a satellite or a drone, but that didn’t bother him much: he was alone in the beast’s lair as it was.

Gil took off his goggles and hung them from a ring on his combat gear. His own vision and ability to navigate in the dark had deteriorated because of his frequent use of night vision goggles. He turned on the radio. Somewhere out there, beyond the clouds, a drone was transmitting a signal from Gil to a satellite, and from there to the command center.

Pressing the radio transmitter button, he spoke softly:

– Typhoon Main. Typhoon Main. This is Typhoon Minor. Communication check. Over.

Almost immediately there was a response.

– Roger that, Small. This is Chief. Lima Charlie copy.

Lima Charlie meant that Gil could be heard clearly.

– Roger that, Chief. I’m on the ground and starting to move toward the target, which is two kilometers south of my position. My target is a terrorist. What’s the prognosis for this time?

– Roger that, Small. You might want to lay low and not show your face. Over.

– Roger that, Chief,” Gil glanced at his watch. It was about 0200 hours. – Next time I’ll be in touch at four in the morning. Over.

– Roger that, Small. Over.

– This is Typhoon Main. Over and out.

Gil turned off the radio and began to climb the embankment of the quarry. Suddenly, headlights flashed from the south side of the quarry entrance and illuminated where Gil was. Hiding, Gil crawled down into the pit. Thinking he’d been spotted, Gil took his rifle off his shoulder and took aim at the car as it approached a hundred yards.

He was about to pull the trigger when suddenly the car braked sharply and stopped fifty meters away. The car was neither military nor police, so Gil decided not to shoot just yet. The doors of the Honda Civic opened, and a hip-hop rang out. Gil put his night-vision goggles back on and, seeing the six teenagers, three guys and three girls, took them off. The teens cackled loudly to the music; climbing up the embankment, they smoked. The two girls nestled on the hood between the glowing headlights, huddled against each other from the cold, they giggled like normal schoolgirls.

The teenagers themselves weren’t a threat-Gil could have stabbed them all with a Ka-Bar combat knife before they realized what had happened to them. But it was impossible to climb the embankment without risking being seen, so he stayed put for now. On the other hand, any delay, even a small one, could have disrupted his schedule. It was two kilometers to the target, and there still had to be shelter prepared for firing. But while there was still time to spare, it was the middle of the night, and no one knew if there would be any delays in the timetable for the elimination point. A combat mission required flexibility and dynamism, since the situation could change at any moment. Besides, Gil preferred not to lose a minute in enemy territory.

After a few minutes it became clear that the teenagers were smoking marijuana. And, ignoring the fact that they were speaking in Farsi, they were indistinguishable from ordinary teenagers: the same grouping in the dark, cackling and joking with each other, and the same girls shrieking for no reason. But today these innocent half-adult souls had come straight to the den of war, the kind where no prisoners are taken.

Gil decided to give them a little more time, and then try to get up from the pit to the embankment unnoticed. If they were unlucky enough to spot him, Gil would have to turn around and finish them all off…quickly and without firing a shot.

Gil had been pondering his future actions for about fifteen minutes when he suddenly saw one of the boys move in his direction. The teenager was talking over his shoulder and unzipping his fly as he went. Gil pulled his Ka-Bar knife from the sheath strapped to his leg and felt a wave of adrenaline rush over him at the mere thought that he should finish them all off. There was a maiden scream in his head, as if he had already caught up with them and slit their throats. He wished he could imagine another scenario, but he couldn’t. He was on a mission, and there should be no witnesses.

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Gil froze, lay down flat in the pit. His face was all smeared with earth, and he was in his Multicam camouflage. He wasn’t breathing, and he wasn’t even blinking. He was preparing to attack sharply, like an attacking anaconda, and to plunge the blade of his knife from below his jaw so that it would reach his brain. The teenager would die instantly, and Gil would gently lower him to the ground, leaving the fresh corpse to wait for the rest of his friends, bored about their missing friend. The American SWAT man in the ambush would be the last thing they would see.

The teenager stopped at the edge of the pit and began urinating directly on the military panama and on the American’s shoulders. The boy was still saying something loudly, with his head turned toward his friends, completely unaware of the cold-blooded killer, who lay in the dark, in the pit, some ten centimeters from his foot. The guy finished his business and zipped up his pants.

Gil saw him leave, but the smell of urine lingered in Gil’s nostrils for a long time. It wasn’t new to him. He had to wear uniforms stained with human waste, blood, and internal organs. To kill a man with your bare hands is an indescribable feeling, a deeply personal process, an intimate act that cannot be compared even to making love to the woman you love. When your rival is writhing, crushed by your weight, and you feel his body twisting in a desperate attempt to save itself, when you feel his breath on your face, then you stab him. And he spews out all the fluid he has inside: blood, feces, urine-all coming out. It was war on the most primitive level, and Gil was glad the teenager never learned of the danger lurking nearby. And that ignorance had kept not only him but his friends alive as well.

The children amused themselves for another forty minutes, then piled into the car and drove away quickly, raising a cloud of dust. Gil, meanwhile, climbed the embankment and moved through the desert. He walked along a dried-up lake, once the broad basin of Lake Hamun. It had once been a plentiful area, rich in fish, but now all he could see were ramshackle houses and shabby boats, alien, strange in this wild, barren environment.

He walked a few hundred yards farther, and noticed that a scrawny dog had followed him the whole time, probably hoping to get food. He hissed at the wretched creature and threw a stone. The dog trotted away. He took advantage of the pause to pull on his night vision goggles, surveyed the area, then double-checked his GPS, checking his direction of travel. Gil saw the road that Al-Nazari and his guards would take tomorrow morning and moved fifty meters away. After measuring three thousand paces along the road, he stopped again and looked over the area through his glasses again.

The commando was looking for an old bridge over a dried-up creek that flowed from east to west and divided the road into two halves. Two hundred meters to the south, even more ancient ruins were visible, an ideal place for an ambush. If you go three or four kilometers down the road to the south, you can see military buildings behind the fence, an abandoned base of the Iranian border guards. According to the latest intelligence, these are the buildings where al-Nazari was making his “dirty bomb. Satellite photos showed three or four sentries guarding the place around the clock, wearing Iranian uniforms and driving cars with Iranian government plates.

Gil was not worried about the sentries. On his way to the evacuation point, Gil would bypass the building and take it south, heading for the Afghan border, where under cover of darkness he would have to walk another thirty kilometers across the desert before he heard the roar of the Night Stalkers helicopter coming for him.

Finally, Gil found the bridge a hundred yards away and changed positions. For a few minutes he was confused by the sound of a helicopter approaching from the southwest, but it soon flew away, and Gil continued on his way. Most likely the helicopter was looking for drug smugglers in northern Zahedan. Zahedan, the capital of Sistan and Baluchistan, was only thirty-two kilometers from the Afghan border. It was the center of the world drug trade, from where Afghan heroin came to Tehran, from Tehran to Turkey, and from there it spread around the world. But it was not only drugs that were smuggled, but almost everything, from weapons to illegal migrants. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, corruption in the Iranian police had grown so bad that the Mexican cops seemed like children by comparison.

Gil walked on schedule, occasionally putting on his night-vision goggles to look around. The area was dotted with ancient stone slabs from the pre-Islamic period, some of which were the remains of a temple or parts of monuments dedicated to Zarathustra[52]. After ascertaining that the ruins were abandoned, he estimated whether it would be visible from the road. Indeed, the stone slabs in the distance were ideal cover for a sniper.

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So he moved to the opposite side of the road, where he began digging a hole with a Russian sapper.

This text is an introductory fragment.

Continued on LitRes

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Travelling to Iran: travel guide

Travelling to Iran on your own is perfect for you if the standard tourist routes are already bored and you want something special and really colorful, with no military action and no real threat to life.

Our people have a lot of stereotypes in their heads about this country, mainly generated by the media. When you say that you are going to Iran, people twist their fingers and remember ISIS (an organization banned in Russia), terrorists, nuclear weapons, war…

In fact, it’s not quite like that. Yes, there are places in Iran (some areas on the borders with Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan), where you should not go, but in general it is a very safe country. On the contrary, the hospitality of the locals is the brightest impression of the trip for me personally.

Traveling to Iran on your own

There will be a lot of practical information about traveling to Iran in this great guidebook. You can read even more at the links.

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General Information.

The name Iran comes from the word “Aryan,” the words are really the same root words. The Aryans were the name of the peoples of ancient Iran and India. And already Hitler perverted the meaning of this word.

The Persian Empire included almost all of what is now called the Middle East. But it was destroyed by the armies of Alexander the Great, and even later there was the Arab conquest, when the population was converted to Islam.

The ancient religion of the Persian Empire was Zoroastrianism. Now Iran lives by Sharia, that is, by the norms of Islam, and this happened in 1979, when the last Shah was overthrown in the Islamic revolution.

Iran, to put it mildly, has strained relations with the USA and Israel, which they call “the so-called state of Israel, the occupied territories of Palestine”. But Iran is friends with Russia, almost every Iranian knows Putin and every third person asks “Putin good?

Most Iranians are Shiite Muslims, although Sunni Islam is preached by national minorities: Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen. In addition, Christianity, Judaism and Zoroastrianism are recognized in the constitution and are official religions, and there are representatives of them in the parliament.

Iran is inhabited by many peoples: the north-west is predominantly populated by Azerbaijanis, the Kurdistan province accordingly by Kurds, there are also Arabs, Armenians, Georgians, Baluchis, Turkmen and simply nomads, grazing cattle in the valleys, and many others, even Jews!

Bakhtiyari Iran

The Bakhtiyar people in the Zagros Mountains

A shepherd in the village of Kandovan. Probably Azerbaijani.

The language in Iran is called Farsi, although it uses the Arabic alphabet, it is two completely different languages.

1. Visa to Iran

The first thing you should always think about before traveling is a visa. Iranian visa can be done very easily – at the airport in Tehran or at the consulate in Moscow.

To apply for a visa on arrival You only need a passport, a filled out questionnaire (you can take it there), pre-prepared insurance (you can buy it on the spot) and 70 euros or $ 80 cash.

The cost in the Consulate in Moscow is two times lower, but also the processing time of 3 working days.

Read more about the visa application process at the airport and some nuances here: visa for Iran.

2. When to go?

Iran is stretched from north to south, so different parts of the country at the same time may have different weather. It all depends on the region where you are going.

In winter from December to March is best to go to the Gulf Coast, Kish, Keshm and Hormoz. The southeastern part of the country (Kerman, Loot Desert, Zahedan) is best visited from November to April.

Spring from March to June is the best time to go along the classic route of Tehran-Isfahan-Yazd-Shiraz and the region of Iranian Azerbaijan (although it can be a bit rainy in spring). I was in late April/early May and the weather was fine everywhere. September-October is also a good time – the fruit is ripe and not so hot.

It’s worth going to Iran in summer only if you need to go to the mountains – the extinct volcano Demavend, the Zagros Mountains and others. The rest of the country is very hot in summer, especially in the Persian Gulf, it’s about +40 degrees there.

3. Attractions in Iran

The classic route to central Iran is Tehran-Isfahan-Yazd-Shiraz that will introduce you to the culture of ancient Persia and modern Iranian life. This is the route I took (with a branch to Tabriz and with a stop in Kashan between the capital and Isfahan). Optimal time for it: 10-14 days, although you can go shorter or longer.

The capital of the Persian Empire, Persepolis, which was built in the 6th century BC and only 200 years later destroyed by Alexander of Macedon, should not be missed.

Persepolis

Learn how the last Iranian Shahs lived in one of the palaces in Tehran. There, go to the Jewels Museum to see the untold riches, the Museum of Torture to return to sinful land. There, in the capital, take a walk near the “den of espionage” (American embassy) or check out one of the parks.

US Embassy Tehran

U.S. Embassy in Tehran

Check out the rich homes of carpet merchants and other merchants in Kashan. There is also the very Taj Mahal-like Agha Bozorg mosque.

Kashan Iran

Agha Bozorg Complex in Kashan

A good place to mingle with people and learn a lot is the bazaar. I highly recommend the largest indoor bazaar of the world in Tabriz, as well as the atmospheric markets in Isfahan and Kashan.

Tabriz Bazaar

Tabriz Bazaar

The ancients used to say, “Isfahan is half the world.” Try checking it out, I personally agree!

Shah Mosque in Esfahan

The Shah’s Mosque in Isfahan

You can get a closer look at the cult of Zoroastrianism in the city of Yazd, this is where the Towers of Silence, the cult place Chak Chak and other Zoroastrian shrines are located, including the sacred fire, which has not been put out for over a thousand years.

Badghiri Iran

The Badgir Towers in Yazd

The city as if from a poem by Omar Khayyam – wine, poets, beautiful maidens – Shiraz is already in the southern part of the country. Khayyam himself did not live here, but other Persian poets, Hafiz and Saadi, revered by Iranians, did. You can honor them too by going to the mausoleum.

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Nasir Al Mulk

The famous Nasir Al Mulk Mosque in Shiraz

Also while you’re in Iran visit one of the deserts, go for a camel ride, stay overnight in a guesthouse, and try planking down a sand dune. I’ll tell you how it was for me soon.

Desert Iran

Sunset in the desert.

If you don’t like the desert, then climb the extinct volcano Demavend or go to the nomads in the Zagros mountains.

If you want to swim in the sea, you must go to the Persian Gulf islands, especially Kish, which have been made a free economic zone. To see traditional fishing villages and sea turtles laying eggs visit Qeshm Island .

Read also details:

4. How to reach Iran?

To fly to Iran from Moscow is almost twice cheaper than to my home city of Omsk! That’s the way it is.

And all thanks to the Azerbaijani airline AZAL, which flies from Moscow, Kazan and Min. Voda to Tehran with a connection in Baku. I paid 6000 rubles there and back, the price includes only hand luggage 8 kg (not really checked) + hot meals on board. It’s better to buy a few months before your flight, as long as there are seats available on many dates.

There are also direct Aeroflot flights from Moscow to Tehran from 13000 rubles there and back.

Where to buy tickets to Iran? Find your dates conveniently on aviasales.ru or using this calendar:

By land, you can get through Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey or Turkmenistan. From Yerevan and some cities in Turkey there are buses to Tabriz and further to Tehran, from Baku you can go to the border town of Astara by train or bus, and after the border take the local Iranian transport.

Riding on board from the sand dunes

In addition there are some connections between Iran and Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, but not regularly and I don’t know the details.

There is also a way to get to Kish Island or Bandar Abbas from UAE and Bushehr from neighboring Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait by ferry across the Persian Gulf.

5. Transportation in the Country

You can travel around Iran by air, train, bus, minibus, and cab. Even despite the long distances, you will not spend much on transportation, because it is quite cheap.

I took airfare from Shiraz to Tehran for $30, which is only slightly more expensive than a bus on the same stretch.

A night in a six-seat train compartment from Tereghan to Tabriz only cost $10.

Buses VIP Iran

Buses are the most popular mode of transportation in Iran and come in two classes: VIP and normal. Even VIPs cost just over a ruble per kilometer, and mahmooly or normal even less.

You can enter by your car, but you need to buy a special document at the border – a carnet. But the traffic in the country is chaotic, and some drivers are real kamikaze, so think twice.

6. Hotels and lodging in Iran

It is encouraging for budget travelers that in Iran you can pitch a tent in almost any city park for free. Many have special concrete bases for your tent, and there are toilets and showers. Iranians themselves are very fond of camping and recreation in nature.

In addition, you can always write to Couchsurfing or locals themselves will invite you to visit right on the street, it’s normal here :-)

The easiest paid accommodation options are the so-called “mosaferkhanehs” and “mehmanpazirs”. The administrators here don’t speak English, the conditions are very simple, and signs are only in Farsi.

The cozier, traditional guesthouses and hotels offer a place in a common room (often on the floor on a mattress) for $8-12, the price also includes breakfast. These are the places I’ve stayed, you can talk to other travelers, there’s free Wi-Fi, and English-speaking staff.

Hotel Iran

Traditional Guest House.

Single rooms cost from $14-$15 and double rooms from $20, but more often $25-$30 at the cheapest places. A good list of inexpensive hostels and hotels in tourist towns is at hostelsiniran.com .

There are, of course, also good expensive hotels, but without any chain hotels – because of sanctions they do not go to the Iranian market. Search for such and book online conveniently on the hotel aggregator with this form:

7. Money, budget

Iran’s money is called “riyal,” but more often the price is called in tomans. One toman is 10 rials. During my trip, one dollar was worth 37500 rials and one euro was worth 41000 rials.

You can change currency in banks, currency exchange offices or at street currency dealers. The most profitable exchange rate is on the street, but in banks it’s just a predatory one. The best option is exchange offices, it’s safe and exchange rates are not bad there.

International Visa and MasterCard do not work in Iran, so take more cash in dollars or euros.

8. Communications, Internet

Iran has inexpensive cell phone and internet connections. There are several operators, but the main ones are Irancell and MCI. The best way to buy a SIM card is at the airport in Tehran. There I took a package with minutes, SMS and 3 Gb traffic for $10.

The Wi-Fi in the hotels is almost always available, the speed is average, to contact home/see mail/social networking is enough. Many sites are blocked, so use the app VPN Psiphon.

9. Food

Iranian food is pretty simple, but there are some interesting dishes. The basis of Iranian cuisine is rice and meat. Chelo kebab (kebab with rice) and chelo morgh (rice with chicken) are very common in restaurants. They are served with onions, herbs, roasted tomatoes, yogurt and pita bread.

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There are also several variations of kebab: from lamb, from beef, from chicken. For obvious reasons, you will not find pork in Iran.

Another popular dish is dizi and khoresht, a stew of vegetables and meat served with rice. For vegetarians, falafel and vegetable salads are good, but they are not easy to find.

Food in Iran

Be sure to try and buy some Iranian sweets, dates and nuts to take home. Also Iranian ice cream and a sweet called falude. In the streets you can often find shops with juice made from watermelon, melon, mango, apple, pear, and carrot.

Alcohol is forbidden to Muslims in Iran, but you can get it. In fact, non-Muslims are allowed by law to produce it, such as the Christian community. Try the local non-alcoholic beer, it’s cool, like kvass.

Read also: Iranian cuisine: what is worth trying?

10. Safety

Iran is one of the safest countries in the Middle East, and certainly not more dangerous than Russia. Thanks to strict laws and the great influence of religion, crimes, especially against foreigners, are quite rare.

What is really dangerous is chaotic traffic and failure to follow traffic rules. Riding a motorcycle on the sidewalk is common, especially in Tehran. On the highway, many people also race and dash, despite cameras and harsh fines.

Some southeastern areas (e.g. in Sistan-Baluchestan province) are really dangerous because of drug trafficking from neighboring Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Do not take pictures of military installations, the authorities are quite suspicious in this matter, and there can be serious problems if you are suspected of being a spy.

11. customs and traditions

Despite the fact that Iran lives by Islamic laws, it does not cause any inconvenience in the journey, everything is much easier than it seems. The most important thing to remember: women must wear a scarf on her head, and to be covered to the hands and feet up to the ankles. If you are wearing jeans or pants, you should wear something else covering the hips on top.

Men can wear everything except shirts and shorts, and no one walks around with a bare torso, of course. In the most holy places women must enter in a veil (it is often given at the entrance), and men in a shirt with long sleeves. Shoes must be removed at the entrance.

In Mashhad or Qom it is forbidden for non-Muslims to enter holy places, keep that in mind. In any case, the locals will tell you if you do something wrong and will be sympathetic.

It is not recommended to touch the opposite sex. Even when I met a man I shook his hand as usual, and the women stood aside. But if a girl shakes your hand first when meeting or saying goodbye, you can safely shake it, although it’s not quite acceptable for religious people.

Iranians are very hospitable – asking on the street where you are from and inviting you for a cup of tea is the norm here. Often they can invite you to spend the night at their house. They do ask about Russia, what you think about Iran, about them, about politics, with a keen interest. Sometimes even by the end of the day you get tired of talking, because you’ve talked to so many people.

There is a funny expression of excessive politeness called tarof. For example, two people cannot decide which of them will go through the open door first. They take turns giving way to each other for a few minutes, thereby showing respect. Or you are offered a drink and you have to refuse first. Then the offerer asks again, you again-no. And the person will offer again and that’s when you say yes :-) It’s not a strict rule, but sometimes you get it.

As far as I understand, Iranian society is very divided in matters of domestic politics. I heard from many people that their country is not free and they dream of going to the USA or Europe, they were educated young people who speak English. Iran is a lot like Russia in this respect.

In major cities, young people have underground parties where they listen to forbidden Western music, sing, dance, drink and smoke.

Dancing in the Desert

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