October 9, 2018 – Mahmood Poonja – “Travelling in Iran” at the Arbutus Club

Founded in 1978, Bestway Tours & Safaris is one of the earliest established national tour operators in Canada serving North Americans and travelers from across the world. It was a venture started by three brothers who, whilst all being born and brought up in Africa, had formative years of higher education in different countries of Asia and Europe. The experience they each had made them realize that there was considerable ignorance of the different cultures, people and countries in the world. They felt it was their mission to rectify this which led to the birth of Bestway Tours & Safaris. They put together journeys delving into different aspects of a country: the great sites, historic monuments, natural beauty wildlife and, most importantly, the local people. They make you experience their customs first hand. From the eastern shores of Indochina across Southeast, South and Central Asia, to the Middle East, Europe and the Americas – not forgetting, of course, the home continent of Africa. All this in small group tours to experience the culture and the people.

IRAN is one of the oldest civilizations in the world and it faces unsurmountable challenges in marketing itself as a tourist destination. Our speaker, Mahmood Poonja, Chief Explorer with Bestway Tours & Safaris, will give an insight into how Iran tried to reinstate its tourism industry which collapsed after the Iranian revolution of 1978-79. He will also touch on how, in 1996, Vancouver based Bestway Tours & Safaris became the first tour operator allowed to operate tours for North Americans to Iran. Among other things a background on the historical and cultural heritage of the Persian civilisation as well as the importance of the historical Silk Road to Iran will be part of his talk. The presentation will also have an audio visual component showing some of the most important historical sites in Iran.

“Travelling in Iran”

Q & A

Question: You indicated that the first Persian Empire was very rich. Where did the wealth come from?

Answer: I don’t know. I think they probably had their own resources over there, you know, if you look at it, because there was there’s no record of any other country having attacked Iran prior to that. It is basically really their own and I would not be able to say much of that unfortunately.

Question: On your tours to Iran, when they were going on and perhaps in the future, what are the opportunities to meet ordinary people, if that all? I mean when I go to Mexico and the South Pacific and so on one of the delights is to be able to talk to ordinary citizens.

Answer: So, the question is whether we can meet local Iranians when we are the tour. Yes, in fact, the last tour that we had just promoted was an all-women’s tour and we actually had put in the program where the women could go into the house and meet various women from all types of status, those who are vendors at home, to people who were very well established. I’ll tell you of an incident that took place in one of our tours earlier to Iran. In a bazaar in Shiraz, the group was there and there was a person selling basically very ordinary things, and the lady asked if our group was from North America. She asked if we could all go to her house if she offered her soup. Her husband was a traffic cop, so nobody very well placed in the in the community, but I was impressed that she had the guts because I was not too sure whether there would be any backfiring on her, but she invited us, and we went over there to the very ordinary house and we did get the opportunity. So yes, there are good opportunities of meeting the local people when you are there including sometimes being able to meet somebody who’s interested in a special interest that you may have. We had one person who was interested in stamp collection, philately, and he is interest was to see a particular stamp which Iran had introduced in the morning and by afternoon, it discontinued for various reasons, I still don’t know why… So, it was in the museum and then he wanted to meet somebody who knew about this thing. So, we got that thing done. Sometimes it can be done. Sometimes it can’t be done. But by and large you are meeting the local people as you could see in the movie there were quite a few places where you can especially in the bazaars and you know such places.

Question: I was wondering, with the new Chinese Initiative for the new belt. Will that follow through Central Asia into Iran?

Answer: Very much so, definitely. With the Iranians of the road was always under construction with the Iranians for many years have been trying to do the belt. There was an agreement going back to the 60s, which is called the RCD (Regional Cooperation for Development), which was Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan, which was part of the CENTO (Central Treaty Organization). So, a part of the road had been constructed then it was discontinued for the various reasons as we have seen but yes, Iran is very much part of it because they are they want to get their goods to be sold out and also be able to receive without having to be dependent on the going to the coastal areas because a lot of the oil and these things, there some in the interior or so, they can be. And in Central Asia they have also been able to build a road. The Central Asian countries have been very much dependent initially on the Soviet Union, but then the Chinese took over and they are now getting a lot of aid from the Chinese. Even the Kashgar Bazaar in Xinjiang today you’ll find more made in China stuff than made in Xinjiang unfortunately, so the bazaar doesn’t look as original as what you saw in this photograph and in this video.

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