Iran is not on everybody’s bucket list of holiday destinations.
But, Forster woman Pari Lewis can highly recommend this often controversial Middle East country.
Pari has recently returned from a two week round trip of the country which began in the capital Tehran and had her skirting the edges of the country, sometimes just 50kms from the border with Syria.
Amazingly, during her time there were no ‘encounters’ with bombs, police or the army.
“In fact, it was very peaceful and quiet.”
A member of the Bahai faith, which had its beginnings in what was known as Persia in the mid 19th century, Pari’s trip was for two reasons.
“It was for spiritual reasons and cultural,” Pari said.
The tour took in about 15 of Iran’s UNESCO sites, a great lure for anyone with an interest in anthropology or archaeology.
Home to one of the oldest civilisations, Iran has 19 registered cultural sites including palaces, bazaars, places of worship, ancient water systems, and remnants of the great Persian Empire.
While Pari was required by Iranian law to wear a scarf, long sleeves and pants from the time she stepped off the plane, Persian women wore stylish one-piece swimmers with a swimming cap, at the beach and around the pool.
Through the trip Pari felt comfortable and never threateneds describing Persians as a friendly, generous and helpful race.
“And because Muslims don’t drink there was no drunkenesss or drugs.”
But, Pari did leave Iran disappointed she didn’t meet any members of the Bahai faith.
“I was surprised; I expected to meet and see a Bahai in the streets.”
During her stay Pari learned the vast majority of Bahai followers lived in secret, fearing for their safety and freedom.
Iran’s largest non-Muslim religious minority, many Bahai Persians have been subjected to long periods of solitary confinement, interrogation, mistreatment and denied access to legal representation just for following the faith.
The most famous are the seven Bahai leaders (two women and five men) who have been incarcerated since May 14, 2008.
Their alleged crimes related solely to their religious belief and practice.
“During those years some have lost family members or seen their children grow up.”
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and her predecessor, Bob Carr, along with the United Nations have, over the years called for their immediate release – but to no avail.
While both Persian men and women attend university and are relatively free to move about the country, Facebook and Twitter are banned.
Drawing on her faith and describing it as both a calming and settling, Pari said she was positive the world would continue and peace would eventually settle on earth – possibly not in her lifetime.