An Unsanctioned Journey Into The Heart Of Iran


Photo: Calvin Sun

Calvin Sun travels the world on a tiny budget, but cobbles together the most amazing journeys.As a full-time medical student based in New York, he also runs the blog Monsoon Diaries, showing people that it’s possible to see the world in an incredible way even if you’re not rolling in cash.

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“Everyone makes excuses they can’t travel. I’ve been to 40 countries in the last 2 years, not skipping a day of school. And my bank account has remained the same.” He’s figured out a bunch of secrets to make this happen.

He explains, “There’s a trick to travelling. I gave it a shot. I have to show it to you.” A big part of Calvin’s travels is the people who journey with him —anyone can join him on his next trip. And he’s always making friends along the way: “More than an aquaintance, pen pal, or potential tour guide.” He’s formed a network across dozens of countries.

His latest trip took him to the seat of the former Persian Empire.

“I can’t believe I was just in Iran,” he tells us after he got back. The visa application process for Americans is lengthy and you’re never sure if you’ll be approved, he says. 

After seeing his photographs, we had to share the sights he captured.

It's always nice to browse through a city that doesn't demand your attention — let things happen to you and you'll be rewarded for your curiosity

That's what happens in Shiraz — it's a city of simple pleasures with photogenic sights that don't overwhelm — life takes its time here

This was a government courthouse that we were not supposed to take pictures of — Oops

The Persians believed that stained glass would confuse mosquitoes and prevent them from coming indoors — making this the prettiest mosquito repellent out there

This was a rare moment of a public display of affection

This is the kind of universal moment you might see anywhere across the globe

This is Shiraz's crowning jewel: the Vakil Mosque you won't believe the next couple of pictures

This is the entry decorated with tiles called haft rangi — it's like a mosaic

This night prayer hall is huge and has 48 massive pillars carved in spirals with leaves at the top

After the mosque we breezed through the Shiraz bazaar to look for lunch

After lunch we bought a bit of hookah tobacco called shisha — smoked — took a nap and waited for dinner

After dinner...well, we did some borderline illegal things and got caught by the police

It all started with sneaking around Shiraz after dark and seemed innocent enough, but they aren't kidding about foreigners wandering around unescorted at night — the police caught us and he had to head back to our lodgings

Our next adventure took us to Persepolis — this was the seat of the Persian Empire that fell to Alexander the Great — some remnants of a once glorious temple leave us feeling surreal

This reminded me of middle school history — King Darius the Great and his son Xerxes I are buried here in the Necropolis, or 'city of the dead'

All the history I learned when I was young and naive suddenly made sense – travelling does that to you

Eventually we headed to Isfahan by bus and the cinematic scenery kept me awake (nearly) the whole time — I wish I could adequately describe it but there's no way

Photos of dead soldiers from the Iran-Iraq war line the streets into infinity here

It's the breathing life force of the city, with students and families strolling along the river, riding on paddle boats, having a picnic, smoking the shisha, or just taking in the energy of the city

The atmosphere is totally different in this part of Tehran — we approach the mausoleum of Ayatollah Khomeini with caution 'cause you do not f--- around when visiting the grave of the present country's revered cult of personality — Read below* for our experience with the security guards

Hours later in the Martyr's Cemetery we see miles of graves — they all belong to children, young adults, rarely anyone over the age of 25 — all those who died in the Iraq-Iran war, a brutal conflict that involved massive use of chemical weapons

The memories of the massacre brings out mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, cousins and friends, paying their respects by offering sweets and then offering us the same when their visit is over

We visited the abandoned and defaced U.S. Embassy, which was taken over during the Iran Hostage Crisis of 1979-1981 — our guide tells us it's now the headquarters of the Revolutionary Guard (although Wikipedia says it's a museum…we're pretty clueless who's telling the truth anymore at this point)

Photography is banned and there are cameras everywhere watching us — all I can say is, there's are creepy paintings all over the place

A poster put up by the Revolutionary Guard...haters gonna hate

We had an extra day and wanted to explore even though you're supposed to be guarded by an MFA-approved tour agency at all times and following a strict itinerary

Almost everything closes on Fridays, but not if you open up shop 'old-school' style like these vendors on the floor

It was total chaos inside, but the best place for cheap shopping — I managed to get things that would normally go for for 40-50x the price in countries that, well, aren't' under intense sanctions

It felt perfect to end the night with a panoramic view of the city from Bome Tehran

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