Wednesday, October 13, 2010

My memories of Iran – Tehran (Part – I)

I wrote about Isphahan awhile ago, but my journey began from Tehran where I along with my family and two other “students” landed at Meherabad International Airport of Tehran on one bright September morning, although it didn’t have to do anything with the September Morning sung by one of my favourite singers Neil Diamond. We were received by a senior representative from the Pakistani Embassy and lodged temporarily in one Hotel Atlas. Not very impressive, but was easy on our pockets as we had to pay the hotel rent till we found an apartment for our year long stay in Iran.

No sooner did we reach the hotel and dumped our stuff, we were out on the streets to watch the hustle and bustle of Tehran. As per one explanation, the word “The-Ran” means Bottom (The) of the Mountain Slope (Ran) and surely it is located at the foothills of towering Mt Alborz. Tehran is quite a big city, developed with wide roads, buses, cars and lot of people, both men and women. Cars weren’t impressive as majority was the indigenously made vintage shaped. A few imported cars could be seen on roads, but mostly the cars were homemade. In the initial few months, till we started to get our salary, we travelled on taxis, both official and non-officials. Well official taxis meant hired taxis as anywhere in the world. But unofficial taxis were just like “Sawari Tonga” of Lahore where you along with others could share the same taxi till your destiny at very nominal charges. Otherwise the official taxis were very expensive and if taken exclusively were called “Darbast (if I remember correctly after some twenty years now).

We stayed in the hotel for a week or so and then shifted to a two-bedroom apartment in an area called Amirabad, a few streets behind the Pakistani Embassy. Now I hear the embassy has shifted to another location. Our apartment was in the middle of a three storied building, with our landlords (or may I say the landlady as she was more dominant than the lord) in the ground floor and their daughter and her family on the top floor. Well our landlady was “quite’ a lady and kept us in a strict discipline for the entire year.

I, along with the other two students from Pakistan, would go to the military college in the college car early in the morning and came back by three in the afternoon. And then the next duty with the family would commence to end late a t night, wandering in markets and parks. Our best place to roam and shop was the Shahrah-e-Wali Asr (the erstwhile Pehalvi Avenue of Imperial Iran days – the photo at the bottom above) and Al-Quds super store, followed by the most expensive Maidan-e-Mohsani shopping malls. Closer to our house was one of the grand parks of Tehran, Park-e-Laleh (The Tulip Park). My children would enjoy rides and ice creams while we would eat “Chalo Kababs (a plate of boiled rice with two seekh kababs).” These were my elder son’s favourite. Murgh Sokhari (perhaps the Kentucky Chicken previously) was another treat to eat. This eatery used to be so full, that customers were issued with token to wait for their turn. Later we found a pizza shop in one f the posh localities of Tehran; I have forgotten the name over these years. We would go upstairs, so that our pizzas could be “transported” in a tiny lift from ground floor to the first floor – a delight for my children as they would stand in front of the lift to come up and bring to us our sizzling pizzas.

It was hard for us to find bread (double roti and roti/chapatti) in Tehran as bread (nan-e-farangi) was almost alien in Iran. It was with great difficulty that we found a shop which sold these and had to travel almost 35 kilometers round trip to get these. As for chapati like bread, we had to get used to the local bread available from bakeries only. We could not get flour (aata) from any source as it is not a custom to bake breads at home. There used to be two lines at the bakery: one for those wanting a couple of bread and the other for anything more. Since most in Tehran were working hands, they would prefer buying in bulk to last for a few days.

There are a number of site seeing places around Tehran. The best perhaps is the Mt Damavand and its ski resort Dizin (centre photo above). In the winters, the entire Tehran would converge on Dizin to enjoy skiing and sizzling hot food in a wooden restaurant atop the Mt Alborz. There were chair lifts and cable cars to transport tourists from car park to the skiing resort. Once atop the top, one would shiver with extreme cold – but nobody cared at all, rather had fun. My elder son was one of the people enjoying the most. He would lie down on slopes and slide on the snow during the entire time while we were up there.

There are a lot of landmarks and parks in Tehran that attract tourist attraction. It would require another post to cover details, which I will do shortly.


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