Iran – A Religious Pilgrimage… And More!

It is said that a large part of our sense of self, our identity and our success, lies in our connectedness with our roots. This connect with our roots is powerful enough to not just impact the course of our lives but also that of generations to come. As a community that had to flee our original motherland – Iran, due to Islamic persecution, so as to be able to hold on to and practice our glorious Zoroastrian religion, we have come a long way. Though we have wonderfully managed to uphold our religious traditions and customs in a peaceful manner across the world, the awareness of being physically separated from our roots, remains entrenched within.

To fulfil this ethnic, religious and spiritual void felt by the community, religious pilgrimages are conducted by a number of community members, to help acquaint Iran, in all its erstwhile glory, with those who seek to physically experience the connect with our roots.

It is with this aim in mind, over twenty-five years ago, that ‘SVG (Social and Voluntary Group) Pune’ – which conducts annual pilgrimages to Iran – was established, by Noshir Dadrawala, Cooversha and Jimmy Jokhi (Trustee – Avan Baug, Navsari) over a dinner conversation in Udvada! Fulfilling their vision of enabling maximum number of Parsi and Irani Zoroastrians to visit Iran on an affordable budget, without compromising on basic services and facilities, SVG Pune has so far facilitated this journey for over 1,800 fellow pilgrims, with excellent management, in terms of ease and convenience of travel, stay, food and learning. Parsi Times catches up with renown Zoroastrian scholar and co-Founder of ‘SVG Pune’ – Noshir Dadrawala…

PT: How did it all begin?

Noshir D: I visited Iran for the first time in 1995 and I met a gentleman – Coovershah P. Mehta, who I consider a mentor, father-figure and a genuine friend. As we got acquainted, we shared our special spiritual experiences in Iran with each other and wished our fellow Zoroastrians too should experience the mystique of Iran, feel proud of their rich historical and cultural heritage and experience the spirituality that various holy mountains, the legendary shrines, the special fires and sacred trees in Iran exude to this day. We started out taking family members and friends to Iran, but as the demand grew, we formed an informal social and voluntary group (SVG). There’s been no looking back since!

The idea was conceptualized by Coovershah and I readily agreed to play a supportive role. Our support team also comprises Viraf Deboo, Keki Paghdiwala, Jimmy Jokhi, Bahram Pashutan Zadeh, Iran-based entrepreneur Nariman Bomanjee who handles logostics and Er. Pervez M Bajan who has provided us with his selfless services over the years.

PT: Tell us about your personal connect with Iran.

Noshir D: Being a history enthusiast from my school days, I had always read about the kings of ancient Iran. But, a walk around Persepolis, Naqsh-e-Rustom, Pasargade and Mouth Behistun left me in awe. Each monument had a story to tell, every stone etching was a treasury of ancient wisdom. I wanted to tell their story to all who visited Iran. The ancient mountain shrines exude an overpowering energy which can only be experienced, not explained – be it a Jashan in the open at the foothills of Mount Damavand or paying homage to the waters of Caspian Sea.

The connect is very personal – it was my father’s dream to visit Iran. Sometimes he’d wake up in the mornings and tell us he dreamed he was in Iran! Unfortunately, he was unable to visit Iran. On my first trip to Iran in 1995, I wore his favourite, old-fashioned Favre Leuba watch, which, to me symbolised that he was with me in spirit, seeing Iran through my eyes. Despite several visits to Iran, I remain as much in awe. I’ve travelled the world but Iran is just extraordinary – from snow clad mountains to lush green forests, desert provinces to unique lakes, caves and seas – Iran is a complete world in itself.

PT: How does SVG Pune stand out from most other tours?

Noshir D: As a not-for-profit group of volunteers, we are Driven by Mission, not Money. For our team members, these tours/pilgrimages are not a business – any surplus is donated to a charitable organization in India. We keep it affordable without compromising on quality or comfort. We pioneered a number of services now adopted by others. In fact, only SVG Pune offers three internal flights within Iran. Our main concern is to ensure that the experience of our fellow travelers is memorable, in terms of authentic religious and historical input, travel within Iran, quality of hotels and specialty restaurants.

PT: Could you share a brief about the itinerary?

Noshir D: In this 2-week tour, we start with Tehran, visiting the local Dar-e-Meher, Shrine of Bahram Yazata and on Roj Hormuzd of Mah Dae we will be performing a Jashan at the foothills of Mount Damavand. After a night at the Caspian Sea, we fly to Kermanshah to visit historic monuments from the Sasanian era at Taq-e-Boustan, Mount Behistun to read the famous inscription of Darius the Great, and Hamadan for the beautiful Ali Sadar caves.

Our next destination is Shiraz – to experience the glory of the Achaemenian Kings at Persepolis, the etchings at Naqsh-e-Rustom, the panel of Shahpur the Great, and paying homage at the final resting place of Cyrus the Great, who gave this world the first Bill of Human Rights. We then head to the beautiful city of Isfahan, and finally on to the desert province of Yazd, the most important spiritual leg of our journey, where we perform our second Jashan at Pir-e-Sabz. Over three days in Yazd we will be paying homage at various Zoroastrian religious shrines and ancient fires still glowing in the villages of Yazd.

PT: How many pilgrimages have you conducted so far? Does it feel different each time?

Noshir D: Coovershah and I have visited Iran about twenty-seven times. Each time, we return with new memorable experiences. There’s a special calm that one feels at the religious places and a rare sense of pride we experience at historic sites. I’ve witnessed a number of positive changes in my personal and professional life ever since my first trip.

PT: Tell us about the experiences that participants return with.

Noshir D: I’ve witnessed devotees shed tears of relief and gratitude at religious shrines. Many exclaim surprise and joy at our rich and inspiring history. Almost everyone agrees that Iran is not what western media makes it out to be – Iran is clean, you can drink water off the tap! People are warm and friendly; they love Indians and respect Zoroastrians. The cities are modern and hotels and restaurants are plush! The cuisine is every foodie’s paradise! A visit to Iran is a unique and unforgettable experience.

PT: What about Indo-Iranian ties?

Noshir D: Indo-Iranian relationship is good. The Government of Iran has done away with the requirement of visa for Indians visiting Iran for less than 15 days. Iranian immigration authorities no longer stamp your passports. Iran is a safe and beautiful country, it’s our spiritual motherland. Do try to visit it at least once in your life-time!

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