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Planning for Holiday Tour? US Tour Company is Booking Luxury Trips to Iran

Iran has restored full diplomatic relations with the U.S

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FILE- Iranian women pass a tourist in Isfahan about 400 kms (240 miles) south of Tehran, Iran, May 10, 2006. A U.S. luxury tour company is offering Iran as a new destination. VOA
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It is home to beautiful mountains, breathtaking historical buildings and priceless artwork, but it’s also the subject of strongly worded U.S. State Department warnings.

For Americans, Iran may not be the first place that comes to mind when planning a vacation, even decades after the 1979 U.S. Embassy takeover following the country’s Islamic Revolution. “Death to America!” can still be heard at hard-line mosques and protests, and Iranians with Western ties can face arbitrary arrest.

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However, one luxury tour company in the U.S. is promoting a new trip to the country for those willing to take the risk, describing it as the first opportunity to see an Iran opening up to the West after last year’s nuclear deal.

‘Stepping into another world’

“We feel that Iran is one of the most exciting places that someone can travel to at this point in time, given the current climate in the country and what sort of changes have been taking place recently,” said Stefanie Schmudde, product manager of Americas and Middle East for the Downers Grove, Illinois-based tour company Abercrombie & Kent.

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On paper, there’s a lot to interest travelers. The United Nations culture agency lists 21 World Heritage sites in Iran. They include the ruins of Persepolis and Pasargadae, the mosques and palace at Meidan Emam of Isfahan, and other sites included on the Illinois company’s 12-day tour from $5,600.

Iran has long drawn Shiite pilgrims to its holy sites, but local skiers and snowboarders also boast of its slopes, and the capital, Tehran, enjoys a growing modern art scene. Iran says around 5 million tourists visit each year, most coming from Iraq and other neighboring countries.

FILE - Canadian tourist David Froud and his Iranian wife, Mahnaz, sightsee at the Jomeh mosque, which is now a historical monument, in the city of Isfahan, about 390 kilometers south of Tehran, Iran, April 8, 2011. VOA
FILE – Canadian tourist David Froud and his Iranian wife, Mahnaz, sightsee at the Jomeh mosque, which is now a historical monument, in the city of Isfahan, about 390 kilometers south of Tehran, Iran, April 8, 2011. VOA

Europeans have been coming to Iran, but Americans represent far less than 1 percent of all tourists. Many are doubtless staying away because they associate Iran with Middle East conflicts and anti-American rhetoric. But the Iranian government, which is deeply suspicious of U.S. intentions, has also made it difficult for Americans to secure tourism visas.

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Schmudde, who recently returned from a trip to Iran, compares the current opening to what is taking place in Cuba, which unlike Iran has restored full diplomatic relations with the U.S.

“There’s so few places that don’t have a strong American influence, and Iran is one of those places,” she said. “You do get the sense you’re stepping into another world, and that makes it completely fascinating to a traveler.”

State Department not a fan

The State Department has a very different perspective.

“Iranian authorities continue to unjustly detain and imprison U.S. citizens, particularly Iranian-Americans, including students, journalists, business travelers and academics, on charges including espionage and posing a threat to national security,” its August travel warning reads. “U.S. citizens traveling to Iran should very carefully weigh the risks of travel and consider postponing.”

While American diplomatic posts overseas tend to see security as a glass half-empty, or even shattered on the floor, their concern in this case is reasonable. Iran and the U.S. haven’t had formal diplomatic relations since 1979, and a new round of arrests by hard-line factions within Iran’s security services is targeting those with Western ties in the wake of the nuclear accord.

Schmudde acknowledged those concerns and said any journalists, people associated with the U.S. government and military personnel asking about the trip would be warned in advance. Alcohol is illegal, and women are required by law to cover their hair.

Gays and lesbians can face the death penalty in Iran. However, that didn’t stop Utah state Sen. Jim Dabakis and his husband from traveling to Iran this summer at the invitation of the country’s tourism industry. His visit set off a firestorm in Iran among hard-liners, who constantly warn of “Western infiltration.”

Visas hard to come by

In the time since, one hopeful U.S. tourist and a tour company in Iran have told The Associated Press that it has become even more difficult for Americans to get a visa. However, the Pakistani Embassy in Washington, which handles issuing visas for Iran, says nothing has changed.

Iranian officials did not respond to a request for comment.

Abercrombie & Kent has planned its first Iran trip in early May, leaving just ahead of the country’s presidential election. They say that interchange between American tourists and the Iranian people will help bridge the gap between the two nations.

“I would not hesitate to send anybody,” Schmudde said. “It’s a very exciting destination that’s really and truly on the cusp of change.” (VOA)

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FIFA World Cup 2018: Indian Cuisine becomes the most sought after in Moscow

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Indian cuisine in FIFA World cup
Indian dishes available in Moscow during FIFA World Cup 2018, representational image, wikimedia commons

June 17, 2018:

Restaurateurs Prodyut and Sumana Mukherjee have not only brought Indian cuisine to the ongoing FIFA World Cup 2018 here but also plan to dish out free dinner to countrymen if Argentina wins the trophy on July 15.

Based in Moscow for the last 27 years, Prodyut and Sumana run two Indian eateries, “Talk Of The Town” and “Fusion Plaza”.

You may like to read more on Indian cuisine: Indian ‘masala’, among other condiments spicing up global food palate.

Both restaurants serve popular Indian dishes like butter chicken, kebabs and a varied vegetarian spread.

During the ongoing FIFA World Cup 2018, there will be 25 per cent discount for those who will possess a Fan ID (required to watch World Cup games).

There will also be gifts and contests on offers during matches in both the restaurants to celebrate the event.

The Mukherjees, hailing from Kolkata, are die-hard fans of Argentina. Despite Albiceleste drawing 1-1 with Iceland in their group opener with Lionel Messi failing to sparkle, they believe Jorge Sampaoli’s team can go the distance.

“I am an Argentina fan. I have booked tickets for a quarterfinal match, a semifinal and of course the final. If Argentina goes on to lift

During the World Cup, there will be 25 per cent discount for those who will possess a Fan ID (required to watch World Cup games).

There will also be gifts and contests on offers during matches in both the restaurants to celebrate the event.

FIFA World Cup 2018 Russia
FIFA World Cup 2018, Wikimedia Commons.

“We have been waiting for this World Cup. Indians come in large numbers during the World Cup and we wanted these eateries to be a melting point,” he added.

According to Cutting Edge Events, FIFA’s official sales agency in India for the 2018 World Cup, India is amongst the top 10 countries in terms of number of match tickets bought.

Read more about Indian cuisine abroad: Hindoostane Coffee House: London’s First Indian Restaurant.

Prodyut came to Moscow to study engineering and later started working for a pharmaceutical company here before trying his hand in business. Besides running the two restaurants with the help of his wife, he was into the distribution of pharmaceutical products.

“After Russia won the first match of the World Cup, the footfall has gone up considerably. The Indians are also flooding in after the 6-9 p.m. game. That is the time both my restaurants remain full,” Prodyut said.

There are also plans to rope in registered fan clubs of Latin American countries, who will throng the restaurants during matches and then follow it up with after-game parties till the wee hours.

“I did get in touch with some of the fan clubs I had prior idea about. They agreed to come over and celebrate the games at our joints. Those will be gala nights when both eateries will remain open all night for them to enjoy,” Prodyut said.

Watching the World Cup is a dream come true for the couple, Sumana said.

“We want to make the Indians who have come here to witness the spectacle and feel at home too. We always extend a helping hand and since we are from West Bengal, we make special dishes for those who come from Bengal,” she added. (IANS)