Global Lux­ury

Breath­tak­ing ar­chi­tec­ture, ex­otic desert land­scapes and cen­turies-old cul­ture wher­ever you look — Iran stands on the cusp be­tween its glo­ri­ous past and the 21st cen­tury.

Robb Report (Malaysia) - - Contents - Jan­uary – 2 017 By SHARON LIM Photo SHARON LIM

A com­pi­la­tion of sto­ries which en­ables you to live through the senses and imag­i­na­tion of the world’s premier ex­po­nents of the high life.

“I BE­LIEVE THAT STYLE IS THE ONLY REAL LUX­URY THAT IS RE­ALLY DE­SIR­ABLE.”

Gior­gio Ar­mani

T he Iran of pop­u­lar imag­i­na­tion — a coun­try torn apart by civil strife and the fall­out from an eight-year in­va­sion by its neigh­bour, Iraq in 1980 — does lit­tle to re­as­sure would-be vis­i­tors to this tract of land for­merly known as Per­sia.

“Ira­nian peo­ple be­lieve guests are a gift from God,” says my guide, Tiam Nik­seresht, who has de­grees in psy­chol­ogy and ar­chae­ol­ogy. Yes, all women are re­quired to don a head­scarf and dress mod­estly in this deeply Is­lamic coun­try, but both women and men are put through the same ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem. This is a legacy of Per­sian cul­ture, which has in­flu­enced civil­i­sa­tions from Italy to Rus­sia and more.

Nik­seresht tells me that it’s okay to take pho­tos of the lo­cals, as long as I ask first.

What I didn’t ex­pect was meet­ing Ira­ni­ans who wanted to take pho­tos of me — of­ten to­gether with their fam­i­lies! In this still­clois­tered coun­try, tourists from Asia are rare. But thanks to the pop­u­lar­ity of K-drama, I seemed as ex­otic as the Ira­ni­ans seemed to me.

“Ex­otic” came up again and again dur­ing our quick jour­ney through Tehran, Es­fa­han — the old cap­i­tal of Per­sia — and Kashan.

The city’s mu­rals and pub­lic art com­mem­o­rate its re­cent past.

TEHRAN

T he first thing you no­tice when you ar­rive in Tehran is the traf­fic. The sprawl­ing cap­i­tal on the lower slopes of the Al­borz Moun­tains is teem­ing with cars al­most any time of the day. With 14 mil­lion peo­ple, it’s not sur­pris­ing. You know you’re out of Tehran when you pass the Imam Khome­ini shrine — the ed­i­fice to Iran’s first supreme leader who came to power fol­low­ing the Is­lamic Revo­lu­tion in 1979. The shrine isn’t fin­ished yet, but even from the high­way you can see the huge dome and four golden minarets sur­rounded by scaf­fold­ing.

But Tehran is also Iran’s most lib­eral city, though thank­fully you won’t find the slew of global brands fa­mil­iar in ma­jor cities here. In­stead, the city’s mu­rals and pub­lic art com­mem­o­rate its re­cent past, de­pict­ing rev­o­lu­tion­ary lead­ers and, more poignantly, heroes of Iran’s eight-year war with Iraq. Al­most ev­ery street is named af­ter some­one lost in that war. The Amer­i­can Em­bassy, where 66 Amer­i­cans were held hostage by Is­lamist mil­i­tants and stu­dents in 1979, is re­ferred to as “the nest of spies” and “the Argo build­ing”, af­ter the 2012 movie based on the event.

The 400-year- old Golestan Palace, a UNESCO World Her­itage site in the heart of old Tehran, of­fers a step back in time. The five-hectare sum­mer com­plex of Nassered­din Shah, the 19th­cen­tury Qa­jar king, is fa­mous for its grace­ful ar­chi­tec­ture, cer­e­mo­nial mar­ble throne that was used for spe­cial oc­ca­sions 200 years ago and for its ar­chive of Ira­nian pho­tog­ra­phy. King Nassered­din in­tro­duced pho­tog­ra­phy to Iran and prac­tised by tak­ing pho­to­graphs of his harem.

For a glimpse into the truly deca­dent his­tory of Iran, pop by the Na­tional Jew­elry Mu­seum in the Cen­tral Bank of Iran. Sur­ren­der all your be­long­ings, in­clud­ing your smart­phone, and go on a guided tour of the vault’s price­less archives in num­bered glass show­cases. High­lights are the Crown Jew­els of Iran, rafts of un­cut gem­stones, an or­nate be­jew­elled throne and

royal head­pieces.

ES­FA­HAN

A bout six hours’ drive from Tehran along the Per­sian Gulf High­way is Es­fe­han. Also known as Is­fa­han, most of the city was built dur­ing the reign of Shah Ab­bas in the 17th cen­tury. Shah Ab­bas re­ceived guests in the scenic Che­hel­so­tun Palace, whose name in Parsi means “40 col­umns”, for the 20 wooden col­umns sup­port­ing the en­trance to the main hall, which would dou­ble in num­ber when re­flected in the wa­ters of the foun­tain in front of it.

In con­trast, Ni­avaran Palace in north­ern Tehran was com­pleted in 1968 and was the pri­mary res­i­dence of the last shah, Mo­ham­mad Reza Pahlavi and the im­pe­rial fam­ily un­til the Ira­nian Revo­lu­tion in 1978. The main palace, de­signed in 1958 by Ira­nian ar­chi­tect Mohsen For­oughi, is a time warp of how the shah, his wife Queen Farah Pah­vali and their four chil­dren lived.

Es­fa­han is more than 2,500 years old, and his­tor­i­cal build­ings and spa­ces abound in the city. Naqsh-e Ja­han Square, com­monly known as Imam Square, was con­structed be­tween 1598 and 1629 and is the cen­tral point in town. One of the largest pub­lic spa­ces in the world, this UNESCO World Her­itage Site en­com­passes sev­eral build­ings: the famed Grand Bazaar, Alighapou Palace and the dis­tinc­tive blue mo­saic-en­crusted Imam Mosque.

Ira­ni­ans live and work in the sur­round­ing neigh­bour­hood. Lo­cals come here to buy spices and jewellery in the old Gheis­ariyeh bazaar, while the sur­round­ing pas­sage­ways teem with ar­ti­sans mak­ing hand­i­crafts. Ven­ture a lit­tle fur­ther to a street of shops show­cas­ing Es­fa­han’s best ar­ti­sanal crafts, in­clud­ing minia­tures painted by 68-year-old Hos­sein Falahi, who deftly works free­hand with a brush made of cat’s hair, us­ing paint made from fish­bone ashes.

Tra­di­tional desert ar­chi­tec­ture dat­ing back 5,000 years still stands here.

KASHAN

E n route back to Tehran, I stop by the desert town of Kashan, the gate­way to Iran’s cen­tral desert re­gion. Tra­di­tional desert ar­chi­tec­ture dat­ing back 5,000 years still stands here but it’s the 19th-cen­tury Boru­jerdi House, built for the wife of the wealthy mer­chant Haji Me­hdi Boru­jerdi, that’s worth a closer look. It’s built into the ground with court­yards and rooms ac­ces­si­ble by stone stair­cases, while vents in the roof cir­cu­late the air and keep the build­ings cool.

One of the most beau­ti­ful places in Kashan is Fin Gar­den. Built dur­ing the reign of Ab­bas I of Per­sia be­tween 1588 and 1629, this cool green spot in the desert, with canals and foun­tains run­ning through the grounds, has a bloody past. Ex­iled states­man Amir Kabir, who opened the first mod­ern school in Iran, was mur­dered in the bath­house in 1851.

Mur­der, in­trigue and pol­i­tics are in­evitably the first im­pres­sions we have of Iran. But that would be do­ing it a dis­ser­vice. Its ar­chi­tec­ture, art, gardens and more are rea­sons to visit — again and again. Ž

TRAVEL ES­SEN­TIALS: IRAN

GET­TING THERE: Thai Air­ways flies to Tehran from Bangkok ev­ery Tues­day, Thurs­day, Satur­day and Sun­day. On board, ex­pe­ri­ence Royal Silk Class with fully re­clin­ing seats, food fea­tur­ing in­gre­di­ents sourced from north­ern Thai­land, and over 100 movies. VISAS: A valid visa is re­quired for all for­eign na­tion­als en­ter­ing Iran. Ap­ply on­line at iran- visa. com/iran- visa- ap­pli­ca­tion- form at least two months be­fore your de­par­ture date. MO­BILE: Sin­ga­pore data roam­ing charges are pro­hib­i­tive in Iran and Wi- Fi is limited. Your best bet is to get a lo­cal SIM card and con­nect to Wi- Fi in your ho­tel. FARSI 101 Hello - Salaam Good­bye - Hurhh da hafez Thank you - Merci How are you? - Haleh shoma chetor ast? What? Where? - Chi? Koja? Sorry – Be­bakhshid Where’s the toi­let? – Dasht shuee ko jast? DRESS CODE: All women must wear a head­scarf from the mo­ment they exit their plane and in pub­lic, as well as loose cloth­ing that cov­ers the body. In ma­jor cities like Tehran and Es­fa­han, it’s con­sid­ered tres jolie for women to drape their head­scarves so that the front of their hair is ex­posed. AL­CO­HOL: Al­co­hol is pro­hib­ited in Iran, a Mus­lim coun­try. Non-al­co­holic beer such as Is­tak is avail­able in a va­ri­ety of flavours in­clud­ing malt, le­mon and pome­gran­ate.

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From above: Ab­basi Ho­tel; Mas­jed-e Jame.

Built in the 16th cen­tury, Sul­tan Amir Ah­mad Bath­house is dec­o­rated with amaz­ing or­na­men­tal tiles. Fac­ing page: Fin Gar­den.

Jan­uary – 2 017 Photo TUUL AND BRUNO MORANDI

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