Iran was the first country where I had traveled solo and you can say that I started with a bang. The decision to travel to Iran was easy. A quick visa on arrival, beautiful photos of Shiraz and Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyat (one of the most beautiful poetry I have ever read), cemented my Iran dreams and before I knew it, I was headed towards erstwhile Persia. A hopeless romantic, I love all things beautiful, poetic, and flowery and it took just a few stunning images of Shiraz to dissipate the fearsome global image of Iran from my mind. That was many years ago when Iran offered visas on arrival to citizens of Hind (or India) and ever since I visited the beautiful country many times. I have many friends there, know some of its cities like the back of my hand yet have always returned from Iran with conflicting emotions which range from a twinge of sadness to excruciating frustration.

Arg-e-Karim Khan in Shiraz

One of the most fascinating places on earth

Like most grand old civilizations of the world, Iran affects its travelers in oscillating ways and it is one country, where a woman traveler faces strong initial cultural difficulties. I learned this immediately upon landing on my first visit when being the only (and) single woman traveler in the group, I was kept waiting for a visa until the end. The visa regulations have changed many times since then and since 2014, Indian passport holders can no longer avail of the visa on arrival facility in Iran. While changes in travel requirements are inevitable, the gnawing fear which always sat at the pit of my stomach during every landing into Iran remained unchanged over the course of my visits.

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The beautiful interiors of Friday Mosque in Esfahan

My love-hate relationship with this stunning country

Apart from Iran, I have never experienced a more circuitous visa procedure in any country other than Cuba. I guess, no matter how many times I visited Iran, that irrational instinctive fear remained unchanged. Iran, like Indonesia, has nurtured me as a solo traveler and an independent woman, and I owe my love for travel to this beautiful country. The first impression is the last impression and Iran as my starting off destination for solo travel has turned me into a passionate explorer for life. Needless to say, it is an exceptionally beautiful, pocket-friendly country with amazing natural and historical treasures, cultural riches and has one of the friendliest people in the world. Iran’s penchant for being in the news for wrong reasons had left it largely uncommercialized and unexplored for a long time, and in the past, many parts of interior Iran had given me the thrilling feeling of being in an Indiana Jones sort of adventure.

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Stained glass inside Qavam House in Shiraz

Is it one of the upcoming global destinations?

All that, however, is changing fast and Iran is poised for a big tourism boom. Last year, most of the world’s popular travel publications and authorities had hailed Iran as one of the hottest upcoming destinations and suddenly erstwhile Persia is on everybody’s travel wish list. While this definitely means more tourist-friendly infrastructure and facilities, a selfish part of me will miss enjoying the bliss of Iran’s intrepid destinations all by myself. The tumbling calm water of Badab-e-Sourt will no longer reflect only my face on its cascading terraced pools, the massive blue interiors of Friday Mosque in Naqsh-e-Jahan Square will diminish due to the touristy crowd and Shiraz’s gentle flowery pace will quicken with international time. I will miss plucking lotuses from a floating barge on Anzali Lagoon’s sea of flowers and Rasht’s silvery rain will no longer smell of silent solitude. The inquisitive olive and sunflower seeds sellers on Kermanshah highways will get used to traveler’s presence and the historic villages will reverberate with various global languages. Kashan Rose Festival will not be my solo traveler’s crowning achievement anymore and Yazd’s stunning desert houses will turn into international caravanserais.

The blue tiles at Esfahan’s Friday Mosque

Solo traveling in Iran – is it possible?

While all this makes me feel extremely nostalgic about my past Iran journeys, I cannot help but extend my best wishes for the future to my friends living all across the beautiful nation. Iran is set for a change and here’s wishing the beautiful old civilization its much-deserved glory. โ€œPeople donโ€™t take trips, trips take people.โ€ had quoted the wise John Steinbeck and this holds true to my Iranian explorations. Presenting, one of my most beautiful travel experiences to one of the world’s least visited destinations…the story of a magical transformation of a solo woman traveling in Iran.

The natural beauty of Iran

The beautiful misty Gilan province

An old shepherd from Kermanshah in Iran

An old shepherd from Kermanshah in Iran

The sunflower fields around Abyaneh near Esfahan

Iran is one of the loveliest

Places I have ever been.