Iran : update1

On 20 June 2009, as the footage showing the dying moments of Neda Agha Soltan sent shockwaves around the world, it became clear that there was about to be another bloody crackdown in Iran. Inevitably, writers and journalists were once again in the front line. Just the day before Soltan’s death at the hands of a Basij militiaman, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had blamed foreign media for social unrest, calling it “evil” and accusing it of misleading and agitating the Iranian people.  According to Iranian news reports, an official then claimed that the BBC had shot Soltan in order to cause further unrest against the government.


From The Good Tourist

Land of the Noble


Indo-Iranians divided the world into seven climes, of which they believed theirs, Khvaniratha, to be the largest, central, and most pleasant. The various rivers, mountains, and other natural features which appear in the myths are difficult to associate with actual places, since the ancient Iranians were mobile and probably shifted their identities in keeping with their changing locales. Migrants typically gave old names to new places…Ancient Iranians called their immediate territory  - Airyana Vaejah …Land of the Noble”[1]

Iran, the cradle of western civilisation and some say of religion, is becoming increasingly popular as a holiday destination. Whether you are interested in its early Islamic architecture, soaking up the profusion of cultural influences, or just browsing the bazaars, the country boasts an array of unexpected pleasures for a variety of tastes. As well as being a nation deservedly proud of its heritage, the hospitality of Iranians is legendary

Together with the obligatory carpet shopping and teashop stops, visitors to Iran can enjoy Silk Road Trekking, or the Great Omar Tour, which is structured around one of the great Persian poets Omar Khayam. You can even ski in the Alborz mountains – there are two main resorts less than a two hours’ drive outside Tehran – or relax in various spas and hot springs throughout the country.

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[1] Foltz, Richard C.: Spirituality in the Land of the Noble: How Iran Shaped the World’s Religions, UK 2004




From The Good Tourist

The Road to Damascus

The prophet Muhammad is said to have refused to enter Damascus. Approaching from the south… Muhammad saw the city with its gardens…and said, more or less, that any man may only enter paradise once. He chose the one hereafter.[1]

Home to some of the world’s earliest civilizations, where metallurgy and agriculture developed, and the first alphabet was used, Syria is an appealing holiday destination. It is a land of stunning natural beauty, with snow-capped mountains, green valleys, beaches along the Mediterranean and of course, the desert; it boasts numerous ancient ruins, medieval castles and fortresses, and Islamic mosques. Down the centuries, Egyptians, Babylonians, Persians, Hittites, Greeks, Romans, Arabs and Turks all passed through Syria and left their mark and formerly it encompassed Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine…

Syria played an important part in the early history of Christianity and Islam, and Roman temples, churches and mosques co-exist side by side. It vibrant capital, Damascus, sounds like a magical place to visit with its various souks, cobbled streets, fountains, ornate tiles, courtyards scented with oranges, and a history stretching back thousands of years. You can explore the main archeological sites of the old city on foot. Down ‘the street called straight’ is the house where Saul became Paul and so helped ensure the spread of Christianity. Close by in the centre of the city is the Ummayyad Mosque, one of the largest and oldest in the world, and created by thousands of craftsmen. The mosque holds a shrine which is said to contain the head of John the Baptist, honoured as a prophet by Muslims and Christians alike.

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[1] Fadel, Marie And Schami, Rafik: Damascus: taste of a city. English translation by Debra S. Marmor and Herbert A. Danner 2005

South Africa

From The Good Tourist

Rainbow Nation

Where the rainbow ends,

There’s going to be a place, brother

Where the world can sing all sorts of songs…

There’s no such thing as a Black tune,

There’s no such thing as a White tune,

There’s only music, brother,

And it’s the music we’re going to sing,

Where the rainbow ends.[1]

As the Olympic Games in Beijing has demonstrated, the hosting of an important cultural or sporting event inevitably affects tourism and can cause a welcome (and sometimes unwelcome) shift in the world’s focus. South Africa already enjoys a thriving tourist trade – its dramatic vistas, extraordinary wildlife, blue skies and sophisticated cities has made it a popular holiday destination.  In 2006 alone it received over 8 million tourists,[2] but this figure looks set to substantially rise in 2010 when the country’s hosts the FIFA Football World Cup.

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[1] Where The Rainbow Ends by Richard Rive, from The Return of the Amasi Bird (Black South African Poetry 1891-1981) Ravan Press, Johannesburg, edited by Tim Couzens and Essop Patel.

[2] UNWTO barometer February 2008


From The Good Tourist

On troikas

Ah, troika, bird-troika, who dreamed you up? … the horses swirl together like a whirlwind; the wheelspokes blur into a single smooth disc; the very road quakes beneath them.., and it’s off and away!… Very soon all that can be seen in the distance is the dust raised… And, you Rus, do you not hurtle forward too, like some spirited troika that none can catch? A trail of smoke marks your passage, the bridges rumble, everything falls back and is left behind…With a wondrous jingling the carriage bells ring out; torn into shreds, the air rumbles and turns to wind; everything on this earth flashes by as, with an oblique look, other peoples and empires step aside to let her fly past.[1]

My romantic image of Russia, the largest country in the world by landmass, is of  a snow-clad wilderness, endless miles of taiga[2], and riding in a horse-drawn sleigh. For centuries Russians travelled over frozen rivers and lakes in sleighs known as troikas, so called because they are drawn by three horses. The troika has long been considered a symbol of old Russia. At the time Gogol was writing, there was a fascination with the idea of freedom and exhilaration embodied by a troika ride and this mode of transport became the ultimate status symbol for the wealthy. For me, the horse-drawn sleigh with it bells and colourful harness conjures up all the romance of nineteenth-century Russia.

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[1] Gogol, Nikolai: Dead Souls translated by Christopher English: Oxford University Press 1998

[2] The vast coniferous forest that used to account for one third of the former USSR

Myanmar (Burma)

From The Good Tourist


Golden Land

The Burman’s ready kindliness towards the stranger is remarkable, when it is remembered that through failure to spend a token period as a novice in a Buddhist monastery, the foreigner had never quite qualified as a human being.[1]


The golden land that time forgot: When promoting Myanmar[2], holiday brochures and travel guides like to conjure up the image of a mysterious and magical realm with ancient temple cities and pagodas that blend seamlessly with the faded grandeur of colonial architecture. They emphasise the timeless quality of Myanmar, calling it ‘a dreamer’s paradise’, and point out that it is one of the few places that remains unspoilt by mass tourism. This South East Asian country is undeniably beautiful and enigmatic, and it is hard not to be fascinated by Myanmar’s long history, incredible legends, and diverse landscapes just waiting to be explored.

A seasoned traveller, Keith told me that his trip to Burma to celebrate his Ruby wedding anniversary was one of the best holidays of his life. He had entered “Rubies”  into Google expecting Sri Lanka to appear at the top but Myanmar came up. Like many people he had to think twice before he realised that Myanmar and Burma are one and the same. In 2003, Keith initially discarded it as a possible destination as he thought Myanmar was a closed country. But two weeks later a journey on the Irrawaddy was advertised in the Sunday Times by Noble Caledonia, and as one of the trips coincided with his Ruby Wedding Day he booked it.

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[1] Lewis, Norman. Golden Earth: Travels in Burma, 1952

[2] The current regime changed the English name to Myanmar in 1989. It was previously known as Myanmar in Burmese until 1885 when the country came under the control of the British Raj. The  democracy movement prefers to use ‘Burma’ in protest at the unelected military regime’s decision to change the official name of the country. Internationally, both names are recognised.


From The Good Tourist

The bend in the road


From that stupendous bend in the road, entire climates descend vertically, like strata. First, so near seeming, the snowy, rocky peaks; then the dark regimental pine forests; then the lower forests, looking greener and more disorderly, streaked with charcoal burners’ blue-smoking pyres here and there; then the upper, cooler maguey plantations or citrus groves and the first, outbreaking tropical colours of oleander, bougainvilleia, hibiscus, lilies, and the rest; finally the tropical coastal jungle interspersed with brilliant green plantations of sugar, bananas, coffee, cocoa…[1]

This is a country of massive extremes; vast and geographically varied, with fascinating monuments and ancient ruins dotted over its imposing landscape. As well as wide expanses of desert, Mexico has everything from volcanoes to dense, verdant jungle; dramatic mountains, amazing beaches, remote villages steeped in folklore and bustling colonial towns. For more intrepid travellers there are also the out of the way regions like Chiapas, Guerrero, and the snowy mountains of Chihuahua to explore. But, most importantly, Mexico is renowned for its warm, welcoming people.

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[1] Graham Hutton, Mexican Images (Faber, 1963)


From The Good Tourist

An Island Paradise

The country boasts enchanting blue lagoons and a warm, friendly people. I visited three different resorts and can attest to the luxurious lifestyle on offer. Travel is generally via private speed boat, dhoni, or in a single-engine plane, and your biggest dilemma will probably be nothing more taxing than whether to stay in a water bungalow built on stilts or a two-floor luxury beach villa with all the mod cons. Often a section of beach is allocated to your holiday home or you may be lucky enough to have a personal lap pool or outdoor Jacuzzi attached. The cocktails flow freely and all manner of foods, catering for every taste, are imported. You can have a Japanese breakfast in your gigantic four-poster bed and later enjoy a stunning sunset over margaritas and Mexican tortillas. Service is quietly courteous and friendly. In the Full Moon resort even routine needs are catered for in style, with an outdoor bathroom in a private walled garden full of tropical plants. Whilst on Bandos Island Resort and Spa you have the option of round-the-clock butler service.

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