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Several reasons to visit Iran

Tehran, When you think about Iran, chances are the things that come to mind are negative

However, once you open your mind to experiences and go to the country, you'll realize it's not what it seems. I went to Iran with no expectations and managed to get the most out of my experience. I would return if given the chance.

If you're planning to visit the country, here are some of the things you can do, see and experience:

**Try local food

Any trip is incomplete without trying the local delicacies. Iran may have a lot of fast food (their own version of burgers, fries and fried chicken), but they also have delicious and unique Persian food. Iranian food has rice, but they also use a lot of bread in their dishes.

There are porridge and soup-like dishes, dips for the bread and a lot of meat. There are plenty of quaint cafes, small, family-owned restaurants, hole-in-the-walls, and high end hotels that offer good food. The price of the food is relatively cheap as well, around 100 to 300 Philippine peso a meal.

**Meet friendly locals

Iranians are eager to welcome tourists. I've met many locals who wanted to shake my hand and some even wanted to have their picture taken with me. Some don't even mind visitors taking selfies with them.

However, always ask for permission before taking a person's picture. I've met people at metro and bus stations who wanted to help me. In some cases, they approached me first, asking me where I was going and they also wanted to tell me the best way to get to the attractions I wanted to go to.

**Get lost in bazaars

The big cities in Iran (at least the places I went to), have a certain buzz about them and an old world charm that lingers. I felt this when I explored the bazaars in Tehran, Shiraz, Yazd and Isfahan. You'll see all sorts of items such as toys, clothes, spices, jewelry, food, bags, rugs and others. In some places, you'll also find some of the best craftsmen in the country that sell handmade products that cost hundreds of dollars. You'll hear bazaaris (merchants and shopkeepers) calling out to customers as you navigate the narrow alleys and streets of a bazaar. The latter is often connected to a nearby mosque or restaurants.

**Visiting the mosques

Iran is an Islamic Republic, and a substantial percentage of the population practices the religion. You'll see young and old coming and going to mosques throughout the day. You'll hear prayers and sections of the Qur'an recited on TV and the radio.

Everyone is welcome at the local mosque; I was allowed to enter, even if I wasn't Muslim. You'll see men, women and families gather at mosques to pray and worship.

The mosques in Iran become an attraction because of their design and beauty.

The intricate tile work, paintings, colors and design display Islamic and Persian artistry. When you enter some mosques, it will be like reading a history book. Some are centuries old and exhibit the influences of different epochs. Nasir al-Mulk, also known as the Pink Mosque, is a famous attraction because of the color stained glass windows.

It becomes more beautiful early morning because the sunlight will reflect the colors on the carpet. Other notable mosques include the Imam and Jameh Mosques in Esfahan, Vakil and Shah Cheragh Mosques in Shiraz, and the Jame Mosque in Yazd, just to name a few.

**Learn more about Persian art and history

Iran has a rich culture and history which will attract tourists. One of the reasons to visit the country is the ancient city of Persepolis. The latter dates back centuries (Achaemenid Empire) to the time of kings and queens.

This UNESCO-listed heritage site is in a ruinous state, but still has some sections preserved and maintained. You'll see some carvings that depict the life of the royalty and their subjects frozen in time on a wall, staircase or column.

Other than the ruins, you'll see works of ancient art in different parts of the city. A notable destination while in Isfahan is Chehel Sotoun. The latter has stunning frescos and paintings; the details and the colors will amaze you. The Naqsh-e Jahan Square in the same city is not just a relic of the past; locals still gather here for picnics, photo ops, dining out, shopping and going to the nearby mosques.

The UNESCO-listed square is especially lovely and atmospheric at night.

Yazd's old town is also a noteworthy addition to your itinerary.

**Visit a garden and the old mansions

Iran has restored and maintained Persian gardens that are tourist attractions for both local and foreigners. Notable gardens in the country include Eram (in Shiraz) and Dowlat Abad Garden (in Yazd).

The mansions are just like the mosques; they are displays of opulence and Persian craftsmanship.

The rooms are elegant, the exteriors have a detailed and colorful facade, and the ceilings with their intricate ceiling paintings and ornaments.

Iran is a beautiful country, from its landscapes to its people to its rich culture and history. Keep an open mind and allow it to surprise you.

The above has been excerpted from an article by Joshua Berida, which was published on Rappler.com on April 29, 2018.

Source: Islamic Republic News Agency - IRNA

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