(Persia Digest) - Forget about Persepolis and Isfahan's blue mosques! These places are must-see in Iran, however, the country is far from being limited to these famous monuments. Few people know how diverse and surprising the country is. Some developing tourism companies in Iran, such as TasteIran, try to change this by introducing visitors to unexpected experiences in Iran, Mehr News reports.
1. Embrace the Zoroastrian traditions of the Persian New Year
Everybody knows that Iran is a Muslim country, as reminded by its breathtaking mosques. Yet, it is also the birthplace of one of the world's oldest monotheist religion: Zoroastrianism. Persian culture reflects these old beliefs and customs. The brightest example is "Nowruz", the Persian New Year, with its bonfires and "Haft Sin Table". You can join celebrating Nowruz everywhere in Iran on April 21.
2. Sleep in a remote troglodyte village
Throughout history, Iranians have demonstrated an ability to adjust to any kind of environment, from deserts to mountains. Several millennia ago, men have carved their houses directly into the rock, creating some of the world's most beautiful troglodyte villages. In Kandovan, as well as the UNESCO listed village of Meymand, life still goes on in the earthen streets of these incredible habitats, unchanged for centuries.
3. Do not make a choice between desert and snow: have both
Iran is known for its pristine deserts, which cover 30% of the country. Fewer people guess that it's also one of the best ski destinations in the world! Just think about it: there are more than a hundred peaks over 4000 meters, which means that one-third of the country is covered with snow in winter. In the south, you can experience both the thrill of mountain climbing under the snow and hiking in sand dunes, within barely 24 hours!
4. Daydream of a red sand coast in Hormuz Island
Have a break from the civilization on the Persian Gulf island of Hormuz. Here is a place like no other, the true definition of "natural wonder". Imagine wild inhabited coasts, with shaped-cliffs diving into a deep blue sea, and large scarlet sand coast! Everywhere on the island, the soil displays marvelous shiny colors, from red to blue-grey. Locals have used it to create paintings and artworks, but not only: because the soil is edible, local people cook special fish sauces with it.
5. Travel with the nomads of Iran, a mix of ethnic diversity
If Persians is the largest ethnic group in Iran, the country also has a dozen of other ethnicities, many of them being nomads. The most famous tribes are the Bakhtiari and Qashqai. Along with their animals and all their belongings, nomads migrate every season to look for a more favorable climate. They carry with them their culture and traditions, from clothes to language, food, music, etc. A diversity that can still be observed, and is a treasure to preserve for the whole Iranian culture. Check this if you want to live with an Iranian nomad while you are in Iran.
6. Have a taste of voodoo on the southern coast of Iran
Iran has long been, and still remains, at the crossroad of many cultural influences. In the south, the wind recalls the tale of African descents, carrying in their blood ancestral customs from another continent. Afro-Iranians are a rather unknown minority, which perpetuates amazing rituals such as "Zar", an exorcism ceremony from East Africa. Music, dances, rhythms, etc. There is a taste of Africa waiting to be discovered.
7. Immerse yourself into the spirituality of Islam and Catholicism
In northern Iran are two different spiritual hubs: In the east is the city of Bastam, a birthplace of Sufism in the world, the mystic branch of Islam. Pilgrims come here to get inspired by the atmosphere left by Persian Sufis in monasteries, school, and mosques. Close to Armenia is another pilgrimage center: Isolated in their natural scenery are three invaluable orthodox churches, which transport believers and atheists into the same contemplation.
8. Taste the aromas and benefits of the authentic Persian cuisine
If you think Persian dishes have anything to do with the typical Middle Eastern food, you cannot be more wrong. Iran has its own and very specific cuisine. What better way to get acquainted with Iranian food than to cook some in a workshop at the heart of the capital? You will experience a burst of flavors, while learning about the principles of Islamic medicine and herbal remedies, whose ingredients embellish the stalls of the bazaars.
9. Navigate through the lush forest of the Caspian Sea
It's the mother of all forests, a "masterpiece of nature creative genius" according to UNESCO: the Hyrcanian forest, which spreads all around the Caspian Sea in the north of Iran, is a wonderland of lush lands, home to many endemic species of plants and birds. Humid, often foggy, sometimes chilly, these regions offer a paradise for hiking lovers and nature explorers.
10. Hang out with the youth of Iran in art galleries, trendy cafes, and sport resorts
Iran is a youth country, with 60% of its population under the age of 35. If you expect young Iranians them to follow an ancestral austere way of life, you're gonna be disappointed! As they are so opened to the world, it's easy to get in touch with them in the latest popular cafe, by attending to a contemporary art exhibition, or by pumping up your adrenaline at the skate park!
In sum, there is not one way to experience Iran, but endless opportunities to be surprised and amazed. Thanks to the growth of sustainable tourism, daring travelers from all over the world now have the opportunity to experience these gems. Few groups have started to dig up these local gems, as it's the case for the team of TasteIran. Convinced that the future of tourism in Iran goes through a mutual benefit between travelers and local populations, their goal is to show to the world that Iran has much more to offer than the beauties of Shiraz and Isfahan
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