Saturday, 14 October 2017

Iran - great country, beautiful people

My plans since 2011 to visit Iran finally worked in early October 2017. It was part of my desire to visit historic sites in the world that date back to about 500 BC. It was relatively easy in India with its numerous Indus Valley civilisation sites, and in Egypt, Turkey, Jordan (with its great Elamite site at Petra) and Greece.  It was only with some effort that I could locate and visit the Etruscan civilisation sites near Rome, that are quite out of the usual tourist circuit. That really left Iran, with its history and civilisation stretching back to about 2000 BC.
While it had all begun with the Elamites and the Medes expanding into Iran, the incursions by people from Central Asia,  speaking Indo-European languages,  began soon thereafter. Then came that great sage and preacher, Zarathustra, around 1730 BC or thereabouts, who told the world about the one God, Ahura Mazda, and recorded his thoughts in the "Zend Avesta", that is almost contemporaneous with the Rig Veda in India. By 560 BC, the Achaemedians had gained ascendancy and Cyrus the Great, followed by Darius the Great and Xerxes, extended their empire to the borders of Greece and India. They had left their their stamp in several places in Iran, the most notable being their capital, Persepolis, near Shiraz and the Behistun Inscription further north near Hamadan. With the sack of Persepolis by Alexander the Great around 330 BC, there came the Sassanians kings like Ardeshir and  Shapur around 240 CE who subdued the Roman emperor, Valerian,  in battle and ruled Iran with a firm hand.

(The above pictures are, respectively, of Nasir-ul-Mulk Mosque at Shiraz, a couple at the Siyasopol in Esfahan, and a bas-relief panel at Persepolis)

By the 6th century CE, Islam had emerged and swiftly extended its influence in the Middle East and north Africa and had entered Iran by 642 CE. This was the time of the Seljuk, Mongol and Saffavid kings (notably Shah Abbas the Great) who left their stamp and influence across Iran.
While Persepolis certainly attracts visitors with its antiquity (dating back to about 550 BC), and its excellent sculptures in bas-relief, the lofty columns and the iconic griffins, etc., the Saffavid architecture and art dating back to the 16th and 17th century CE are equally fascinating .Thus is especially true of the Imam Mosque and Sayid Lotfullah Mosque in Esfahan, Jameh Mosque at Yazd as also the Nasir-ul-Mulk Misque at Shiraz, although this is of a later date.  Also very enjoyable are the frescos at Chehel Sotun in Esfahan and at the Fin Garden in Kashan.
But what of the people at large? They are among the most courteous and   hospitable that I have so far encountered in my travels. They were curious to know about us, and at the word "Hind" or "Indians" their eyes would light  up and a broad smile would spread across their face, as if they had found a long-lost friend or relative. They would be only too happy to give a free cup of tea or a special discount on purchases (or even give something for free) or a free entry into a historic site. The fund of goodwill that they had for India has to be seen to be believed. It is my earnest wish that we should be able to reciprocate a little of this.

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