For Parsi Zoroastrians, Iran is not only a place of pilgrimage or historical insight, but also a place that provides a new perspective on life. It is not a place just for staid elderly couples, but, quite a ‘happening’ place.
As part of the SVG team, I’ve visited Iran over 22 times over a period of two decades. Through these years, a lot has improved, many of the stricter local rules have been relaxed. Increasingly, several young people join us, initially reluctantly, along with their parents. But, within the first 48 hours, their preconceived notions fade, and as one man in his early twenties said on the last evening of the tour, “My experience of Iran can be summed up in just one word – WOW”, even as his younger friends heartily cheered him on!
Every year we encounter three frequently asked questions:
- If an Iranian visa is stamped on my passport, will I face trouble getting a USA visa or entering the USA? This myth has gained added strength post Donald Trump becoming President of the USA.
- Will it be too hot in May?
- What about all the political turbulence in the Middle East?
Allow me to address these “myths”…
If an Iranian visa is stamped on my passport will I face trouble getting a USA visa or entering the USA?
Absolutely NOT! And this is something I can personally attest! I visit Iran once every year and since Iran only offers single entry visa, the pages of my passports are stamped with 22 Iranian visas! I also visit the USA once (sometimes twice) a year professionally. Not once has any immigration officer in the USA, Europe or anywhere in the world asked me why I have so many Iranian visas stamped. I’ve entered the USA in these last three years through Dulles, JFK, Newark and San Francisco, but, nowhere have I ever been questioned.
In 2012, I applied for a fresh US visa submitting all my passport books with several Iranian visas stamped therein. This visa canard needs to be dismissed! It’s a myth that’s not even worth pickling!
What about the situation now during the Trump regime?
As a Board Director of the International Centre for Non-profit Law, based in Washington DC, I have talked to several legal experts in the USA. They are unanimously of the view that there is no specific prohibition for visitors to the US who have Iranian visas stamped on their passport. There is nothing one can do about being questioned at the airport, but, if questioned, one should calmly respond.
Will it be too hot to visit Iran in May?
This one is hilarious! I’ve often been to the USA, UK and Europe during summer and have found it oppressive because the USA, UK and Europe are all equipped to battle severe cold winters, but, not the summer in a globally warming world. There are no fans in these ‘Oh so advanced’ countries and what they tell you to do there is open the window… which you can, for all of two inches! May is late spring in Iran and the weather is cool in the Northern parts including in Tehran and hot only during the day in Southern parts like Shiraz and Yazd.
What about all the political turbulence in the Middle East?
One could turn around and say, when in these last couple of decades has there not been turbulence in the Middle East? But, this is the problem with Parsis – we over-react and are always fearful. If there is trouble in Yemen or Syria, we fear that the repercussions will be felt all the way to Iran! We hear some statement on TV about Iran’s nuclear program and we have visions of getting stranded there or in some deep unknown trouble!
Those who have been privileged to visit Iran will vouch that Iran is probably the most peaceful and serene country to travel to. There are fine dining places, exotic traditional tea houses, beautiful and safe parks where entire families enjoy the wonderfully verdant outdoors. People are soft-spoken, friendly and polite – they especially love Indian tourists.
For me, my annual visits to Iran are a refreshing change – ‘a working-holiday’, as I like to call it, providing respite from Mumbai’s sweltering summer. Even after two decades, I never tire looking out from the bus at the gorgeous Albroze and Zygros mountains, the beautiful mount Damavand, the world’s biggest land locked sea – the Caspian, the ruins of Persepolis which still stand out majestically, and with every pylon and column exuding the excellence of the Achaemenian dynasty. The deserts of Yazd are magical – words cannot describe their mystique – you have to experience it. Nowhere do you experience chaos or noise. Iran perhaps stands out as the most tranquil country in the Middle East.
I urge Parsis to dismiss these myths and put aside their false and ill-conceived anxieties, and breathe in the air, the history and the mystique that is Iran.