Dzar travels to share his photographs, experiences and stories with those who are not able to travel with him. By travelling through Iran, he found a stark contrast to how the country is portrayed in the media. Read more about his eye-opening experience in Iran.
Hi, I’m Dzar from Singapore! I’m 22 years old, currently on a gap year, waiting to start college in August this year. This may sound a little cliché, but for me traveling allows me to witness and immerse myself in a completely different culture and environment.
How does photography influence the way you travel and see the world around you?
I don’t necessarily travel to a certain place or location to take photos. I think that good photographs can be taken anywhere, by anyone. The uniqueness of the place, the culture, and the people are what attracts me to a particular place or location. The photos that I take are a way of showing to others, who haven’t had the chance of being there, what I’m experiencing at that particular moment, at that particular place.
What sparked your interest to travel to Iran? Which regions did you visit?
Well, Iran has always been an intriguing country to me. I knew that I had to see this country with my own eyes. Countless biased stories and portrayals of the country have been reported in mainstream media over the years. I was expecting entry into the country to be very strict, but after researching online, I saw that Iran was actually welcoming tourists with open arms. There were so many people documenting their travels to Iran, describing how beautiful and amazing the country is. I also found this Facebook page called ‘See You In Iran’, which sort of acts like a forum for tourists who have been or are planning to visit Iran. Ask anything on the page and someone will reply to your questions in minutes! From then on, I started researching more and planned my route Southwards.
How did you plan for your trip? How did you navigate between each city?
I only had 2 weeks in the country and it obviously was not enough to cover everything, so I had to plan carefully to maximize my time there. I landed in Tehran and travelled by land towards the Persian Gulf, stopping along the way in Esfahan, Shiraz, Kerman and lastly Qeshm Island, a small island off Bandar Abbas. To save on accommodation and time, we took overnight buses and trains and also Couchsurfed.
Did you have any expectations or preconceived notions about the culture you would be exposed to? How did they differ from the way the culture actually was?
The country couldn’t have been more different than what is being portrayed in mainstream media. Before travelling to Iran, I told myself to be as open-minded as possible and to embrace this unique experience. Of course, no country is perfect and there were a few unpleasant experiences but I guess that happens almost everywhere and I prefer to just look at the positives that the country offered. Of all the countries I’ve visited, Iran, by far, has the most hospitable, welcoming and friendliest people.
The biggest challenge was the language barrier as Iranians speak very little English but they made up for it with their warmth, hospitality and willingness to help, especially if you’re a tourist. I got lost countless of times and each time a local would come up to me to render help, even without me asking. (Although most of the time it would be us trying to understand each other!) Ask any tourist who’s been to Iran and I’m sure they would agree that the Iranians are probably the warmest and kindest people.
What were some of your experiences as a traveler within the region?
It’s kind of hard to describe Iran into words. There’s something really mesmerizing and intriguing about the country. From the beautiful architecture in Esfahan and the ruins of Persepolis in Shiraz to the amazing landscape on Qeshm Island, Iran is probably one of the few countries that offers everything on the travel spectrum and I was lucky enough to witness a tiny bit of it. I had the chance to stay at a local’s home when I was on Qeshm Island, experiencing their daily lives with their families and, sampling the local food and I think it’s something that I’ll never forget.
How would you say this trip differ from trips you’ve taken in the past? What surprised you most about your experience?
I think each trip is different from the other, the culture, the people. What surprised me the most would be the people. Given that they don’t see tourists often, the Iranians really surprised me with their genuine warmth and hospitality towards the tourists visiting their country. The misconception that Iran is a dangerous country is totally skewed. Most tourists would agree that they haven’t felt safer in foreign country. Of course there are certain customs you have to abide by, but I think that it’s only normal that you have to respect the place that you’re visiting.
What recommendations can you share for future travelers also interested in exploring the region?
The beautiful mosques in Esfahan is a must visit for me, plus Persepolis in Shiraz but if there’s one place that I wouldn’t miss, it’ll be Qeshm Island! Trekking in the caves and canyons was an amazing experience that would be hard to find anywhere else. Also, if you have any questions on visiting Iran, I highly recommend joining the See You In Iran group on Facebook. Everyone in the group is super helpful and will answer any queries that you have. The Couchsurfing community in Iran is also thriving. Staying with a local for a couple of days definitely beats staying in a hostel. Couchsurfing really allows you to truly experience the country.
Travel has a tendency to look very glamourous, though that is not always the case. What types of challenges have you had during your trip and how did you overcome them?
I never set out to travel glamorously, as I backpacked throughout all my travels. For me, this way of travelling is much more fulfilling. I also usually have a very limited time to explore a certain place, meaning I have to maximize my time there. One way of doing this is to take the overnight buses and trains. I wouldn’t say this way of travelling is unglamorous, but for personally it’s much, much more satisfying.
What’s next for you? Do you have any final words of advice?
I just got back from a short trip to Indonesia and I’m excited to be heading to Sri Lanka next! Well, I guess if there’s any advice that I should give to anyone travelling anywhere, not just Iran, is to be as open-minded as possible. Don’t let any pre-conceived notions prevent you from exploring and experiencing a certain place. Often, these places are the ones that will leave a lasting impression on you. Immerse yourself in their culture and interact with the locals as much as you can!
To see more of Dzar's photography and stories, be sure to follow him @dzarh on Instagram.
Images Courtesy of © Dzar Hanafi
DID THIS STORY INSPIRE YOU?
If you enjoyed this piece and would like more content like this, please consider a donation to Spirited Pursuit to support our community and keep our platform ad-free.