Madi Jahangir * – Winter is approaching in few days based on Iranian calendar. Iran is a relatively big country and due to its size the weather can extremely vary from northern Iran to south. Winter in North is quite cold and the temprature is well below zero every year with regular rain and snowfall depending to the generosity of Mother Nature.
However, South Iran enjoys a very pleasant and mild weather in winter, almost like a cool spring and it is quite possible to swim in the Persian Gulf for some hours in winter days.
All that said above, the way you are going to spend your winter in Iran is very much based on where you are planning to go.
1. Ski the North: Dom Joly once revealed Iran’s biggest secret: “The Skiing in Iran is great.” + Beside Lebanon, Iran is the only country in the Middle East that enjoys the natural ski resorts and Iranian athlethes have regularly participated in the Winter Olympics since 50s.
Here is a list of ski resorts in Iran. + Dizin and Shemshak are the most popular Ski resorts and two of the largest in the country, just hours drive from Tehran. At a high altitude range of 1200 to 3600 m, Dizin is one of the 40 highest Ski resorts in the world. For the same reason, the Ski season in Dizin lasts longer than European ones, from late November to May. Shemshak is for more advanced skiers. There are hotels, villas, private apartments and restaurants in Ski resorts in Iran which host thousands of visitors each year.
2. Swim the South: Ain’t you a fan of Skiing, then you may head to South. Southern provinces experience a very nice spring-like weather during winter and exploring them is quite fun. Khuzestan, Hormozgan, Bushehr and Sistan and Baluchistan provinces present a large number of historical sites, cultural diversity and lifestyles. Iran has also several beautiful islands in the Persian Gulf, among them Qeshm and Kish islands have made quite a reputation. Kish Island was ranked among the world’s 10 most beautiful islands by The New York Times in 2010 and fourth Tourism destination in southeast Asia. Foreign nationals wishing to enter Kish Free Zone from legal ports are not required to obtain visas prior to travel. +
Qeshm is the largest island in the Persian Gulf and a perfect destination for Ecotourism lovers with multiple natural sites to visit. Qeshm is also a free trade zone and everything bought there is free of duty.
3. Snowboard, Snow tube and Snow play: A winter without snow is like a summer without sun. Snow play is a very popular game in Iran, in a way that Snowmen are erected everywhere and people are seen chasing each others with snowballs. Snowboard and Snow tube are also quite popular for many who are not much into skiing. Specially when they can enjoy it together in groups.
4. Play the Ice Skate: Iran’s first ice skate rink opened just recently in Tehran after decades, as a fresh start to taste, once again, the magic of ice skating in the country. However, there are some lakes in Iran’s cold western and north-western areas which get totally frozen during winter. As an example, the beautiful Zarivar in Kurdistan province gets thick enough for the ice skate in winters. Moreover, you can enjoy learning a great deal of folklore about the origins of Zarivar through Iranian Kurdish locals.
5. Celebrate Yalda: Since ancient time, Iranians celebrate the arrival of winter by holding the Yalda Festival. Yalda is in fact the Northern Hemisphere’s longest night of the year and on the eve of the Winter Solstice. + This year’s Yalda night will be held on December 21. The celebrations varies from region to region, however most of them are about night party, eating water-melon, pomegranates, nuts and reading Hafiz poems.
6. Watch Movies in Fajr festivals : Fajr festivals are held every year, marking Iran revolution. For many Iranians, Fajr is far beyond a national festival. Beside being a festival to introduce some of the finest productions in the Iranian Cinema, It is a rendezvous place for Iranians to gather with family and friends and enjoy watching a good movie. +
7. Discover Iran in the museums: Iran has many museums to explore, in which a great deal of Iran’s history and culture is presented. Particularly in Tehran, the capital, there are hundreds of museums which can make a fascinating indoor activity during winter. Here is an [incomplete] list of them +
8. Taste Iran’s winter food: Specially in colder areas, the winter dishes have very high calorie counts to give energy and warmth in the cold winter days. Ash is an Iranian thick soup which is often served in the cold winter. It is mixture of different beans, meat and herbs, topped with fried onion, garlic and kishk. Haleem which is mixture of chicken and grain is also quite popular. Let’s not forget Dizi, specially when it is served in clay containers. +
9. Haggle in covered Carpet markets: The largest of its kind in the world, with thousands of years history, Tehran Bazaar is a good spot to explore if only to avoid outdoor cold temperature creeping in your body. Not only Tehran, but almost every other city in Iran has such covered historical bazaars. For example the one in Tabriz is also very famous and attracts many travelers. In these bazaars any goods can be found for sale and to bargain and as Iranian proverb suggests “from the milk of the chicken to the life of the man” (means literally everything) is sold out. For every type of goods, you have to go to a certain corner. There are markets for food, metal works, fabrics etc and of course precious and famous Iranian carpets.
10. Take Farsi course: Farsi or Persian is an important language of the Middle East. As the official language of Iran, it is also widely spoken in Afghanistan, Tajikistan and some other countries in central and south Asia. It might not be the most widely spoken language in the world (10th most widely spoken so far), however It is very easy language and is said to be very poetic, soft and feminine to converse, with similar reputation as that of French. +
There are many centers in Iran which offer courses in Farsi, Dehkhoda center under supervision of Tehran university for instance. + Cold winter days are best timing to get enrolled in one of these schools. Specially if you are going to bargain in bazaars, it will come in handy to throw some Farsi words. Other than that, you can learn it in the streets from the approaching locals and people you interact with.
Learning Farsi/Persian opens the doors for you to rich and diverse culture of a misunderstood nation and fascinates you with beautiful poetry of great Iranian poets ie. Hafiz, Molana (Rumi), Khayyam and so on.