A Passage to the Land of Dreams
Dr Malika B Mistry
Iran’s capital, Tehran, is not a very old city in comparison to the antiquity of average Iranian cities like Shiraz, Qom or Isfahan. Tehran’s wide, clean thoroughfares are enchanting. The city is dotted with a number of parks, museums and palaces.
Tehran began to grow as a big city at the end of 18th century. It had been constructed as a suburban village of Rey by a Qazari king. He had constructed 114 ramparts, equal to 114 surahs (chapters) of the Holy Qur’an. Destruction of Rey at the hands of Mongols led to Tehran becoming important and eventually the capital. Today Tehran has a population of 12 million.
I was fortunate enough to visit a few of Tehran’s 20 museums which have been reopened recently. One among them is National Jewels Museum located in the cellars of the Bank-e-Milli of Iran. It stores the exquisite jewellery, crowns, world-famous diamonds, pearls, rubies and emeralds once used by Iranian royalty.
Darya-e-Noor (river of light) diamond mined from the Golconda (Hyderabad) mines of India is also preserved here. Fateh Ali Shah Qazari’s peacock throne (not the one that Nadir Shah looted from Delhi) is also on display. These are part of the national treasury and heritage.
Gulestan Palace Museum consists of a cluster of Palaces in old Tehran where earlier kings resided. One of the halls, called Diamond Hall, is dazzling with intricate mirror work on the walls and ceilings. Another palace, Shamsul Imara, is another lavish building with glass and marble work. King Naseeruddin Qazari held public audience here.
Last of the Iranian kings, Mohammad Raza Shah Pehlavi and his family lived in the Nivaran and Saheb Qaraneieh Palace. After he was over thrown in the wake of the Islamic Revolution, this and Sad Abad Palace were converted into museums and thrown open to public. It holds a vast array of their personal belongings, paintings and gifts by state guests.
The Sad Abad Palace Museum complex sprawls over 104 hectares at the foot of Al-Borz mountains in north Tehran. This complex has 18 palaces built by Reza Shah, his father and several princes and princesses. The summer Palace, part of this complex is now called National Palace Museum. They depict a great deal of French influence.
Reza Shah’s father, King Muhammad Reza, built Green Palace in 1920s. This is much more lavish than Reza Shah’s. Such is the use of glass and carpets that his toilets appear to be the stuff of dreams. A simple building in this complex preserves a lot of photographs from Austria and drawings of buildings.
Time Museum, constructed only 25 years ago, has a bewildering range of clocks and watches on display. It was built by Hassan Khodadad. One of its room took two years to complete and evokes poetical expressions and has been named “Poetry Room”.
Visitors to Tehran are invited to visit Imam Khomeini’s two- room house which he occupied after shifting from Qom because of his failing health. He had refused to occupy any of the royal palaces and instead opted for the small, rented house. Visitors find his belongings simple and inexpensive. No wonder Khomeini is so widely respected while the Shah had to die in disgrace and his Western patron, chiefly the United States of America, is condemned for its support of the puppet.
Tehran has no ugly hoardings on the roads marring its beauty. Small billboards at selected places display advertisements. Rose is a common plant in Iran. At one of the road intersections I saw a board displaying the level of pollution.
Iranians eat rich food. Bread is subsidised by the state. Plenty of fresh fruits and dry fruits are available. They come cheap, For example, one can get the best of apples for Rs.20 a kilo in the retail market in Tehran. Iranian currency is cheap for Indians. (Exchange rate: one rupee is almost equal to 200 rials). The national mithai (sweet) of Iran is ‘Gaj’. Made of pistachio, sugar and extract of ‘Gaj’ plant, it is popular outside Iran too.
Iranians are a very good looking people and very hard-working too. Iranian women appear more beautiful with scanty make-up on their faces. Iranians are religious. You can see them turning the rosary beads (tasbeeh) in the shops, on the roads and in hotels. I visited the tomb of Imam Zadeh Saleh in Tajresh area of Tehran. This mausoleum was packed with men and women. I saw women, like in India, crying and clinging to the walls of the tomb, pouring out their hearts.
One can see Iranian women working every where -- museums, airports, shops, offices, banks, in five-star hotels too. Only they all strictly adhere to ‘Hijab’. In Tehran, even at mid-night a woman can travel alone in a taxi. It is said that since Khomeini’s time, Iran has turned totally safe for women. But ‘hejab’ notwithstanding, Iranian women are educated and forward looking. In fact, they are highly modern in their dress, eating habits and living.
Common Iranians hardly speak English. Persian reigns everywhere. With the help of a translator, we can communicate with them. Iranians love India and Indians. Many of them whom I met wanted to visit India. Those Iranians who took education in India, had fond memories of their stay here and want to visit India again.
Iran blends history with modernity. Ancient mausoleums are scattered all over the country. Isfahan, Tabriz, Yezd, Kerman, Qom are rich repositories of Iranian culture. Mashhad and Qom are centres of Shia pilgrimage. The tomb of Omar Khayam is situated in Nishaboor. Firdousi, the famous writer of Shahnamah, is buried in Toos. The latest among the monuments is the mausoleum of Imam Khomeini on the Tehran-Qom highway. It is a magnificent structure with a golden dome and with two blue domes nearby.
Iran with its beautiful landscapes, extremely hospitable people and majestic buildings will live for ever in my heart.