This December (2008), I had some free time so decided to check out the skiing scene in Iran. There are several ski fields near Tehran: Shemshak, Dizin, Darbanshar, Touchal. I also decided to try out www.couchsurfing.org as a surfer instead of a host. Great way to see the real Iran!
I took a tour --at 6am a bus picked me up at the house I was staying in North Tehran. It's a good thing I wasn't sleepy as the loud boppy music that was coming out of the speakers was young and vibrant, just like most of the people on the bus. I would say what a way to meet gorgeous Iranian men -- ride the ski bus, except, oh well, they were all under 20! The bus driver was clapping and energetic (singing) bus and sometimes it seemed as if the bus drove itself --alarmingly, we passed two accidents!
The ski fashion was interesting. In most of the world, everyone is wearing snowboarding fashion, but in Tehran, it didn't matter if you wore ski racing gear from the 70s or now -- it's all fashionable and costs money! Ski suits I haven't seen since my childhood were common.
Half way, of course I needed to go to the loo. Have you ever tried squatting in ski boots? I wasn't impressed.
Many people asked me what the condition of the equipment was like. Well, it wasn't like Georgia. The lifts look they were built in the 1970s - no wonder they shut down one day a week for maintenance! The conditions were fabulous (at first). A beautiful sunny day with lovely powder and no trees, just like NZ. However, they also don't feel it necessary to supplement their feelings of inadequacy by having a million snow makers. They say there's never not been snow, so no worries! There were a few too many pomas, though, and I have quite forgotten how to ride them! I guess I'm just being lazy and not challenging myself. When did I become so cautious?
Anyway, with cheap prices and beautiful skies, how can I complain. However, after lunch, the weather moved in, and even in the antique cabinas -- it snowed inside! Door were held shut, but barely. I was amused to see how the snow stuck to all the hair gel on the men!! I guess where it's an expensive sport, it's about fashion and not talent -- perhaps like the japanese were in Queenstown when I was learning to ski. For example, I was quite impressed with the fashion daring of the ski suit that was all white with checkers and white with alternating colored stripes! However, the conversations I had were interesting: One handsome young thing said: How long are you staying? Another: Don't ever go shopping by yourself. Another: I want your blonde hair and white skin (sad!), etc, etc!
One of the best experiences I had while I was there, however, was the night of the winter solstice. In Iran it's called 'Shab Yal dar' (longest night/milod birth). It was so interesting to discover that their calendar is solar and based on zodiac (12 Angels of Ancient Iran). I also discovered that when I insisted on pronouncing Iran as the sound in Arabic, I was actually wrong. Iran = Ayran = not Ir but ay.
Anyway, the wonderful opportunity to go and spend the longest night with elders and recite poetry was truly magical. I was shamed in the lack of poetry I have memorized. While they are reading from ancient Farsi scripts (sometimes even in a competitive game where the end must be beginning of next quote). It was so amazing to also discover the historical connections. Farsi = there is no 'p' in arabic so it was actually parsi = Persia = Persepolis. The Parsis in India were the Zoroastrians. Iran included Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, so all speak Parsi in some way, so I was delighted to hear some of the Azeri on the street: e.g. beli (yes), yeni (new). They also don't call it Armenia but 'Armentistan'.
Iran was wonderfully cosmopolitan with French, Swiss, American, Turkish and other connections becoming immediately apparent. They are incredibly educated, and have a strong heritage. In the family I visited, 4 in family of 15 spoke English: how many in my family could show the same variety by speaking another language or more than one? The 94 year old uncle quoted me poetry in English and I couldn't even remember one poem from high school!
I did a little bit of touring in Tehran as well, because the weather wasn't so hot for skiing after all -- I went up the ski field that overlooks Tehran and was half way up when the wind increased and they asked us all to go down again.
There were some interesting old photos in Golestan Palace downtown. I was fascinated to see the Armenian women with tall hats and mouth/nose covers -- not just a Muslim tradition? Especially amazing was the photo of the Zoroastrian tower of silence with decaying bodies inside. What an amazing practice! There were also lovely images of musicians with neat shoes, and elaborate clothing all trimmed neatly with hats and traditional women making butter in a skin.
I took the metro everywhere, usually going into the special women's carriage. I thought it was interesting to imagine that Tehran in it's essence, seemed to me to be a cross between Syria and Korea, or maybe I was just imagining it!? However, in neither of those places did I have to wear the frustrating cloaks and layers that Iran requires! Then again, why is world so fascinated with jeans, anyway?
Photos: The decorations at Golestan Palace. Me with the topled Shah's boots at his old palace. Views of Tehran from ski field.
NB: I finished writing this on January 5, 2010.