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Travelling During Ramadan

Community Highlights Africa & The Middle East Travelling During Ramadan

No food, no drinks, no smoking; none of this during daylight hours for a month. The holy month of Ramadan is – depending on who you’ll ask – a test of faith, an occasion to remember the poor or a cleansing of soul and body. Half of my visit to Iran took place during the Ramadan and it did add a level extra to the country – in both positive and negative ways.

Empty Teahouse

Empty Teahouse

For the traveller experiencing this month, it is an interesting view into Islamic culture, especially here in Iran where the month is taken very serious by the government too. But it is not necessarily all a positive experience in local culture. I found two aspects of the Ramadan particularly terrible as a guest. Firstly everybody stopped inviting me for tea, from the shopkeeper to the guy giving directions. And secondly, most restaurants shot close, not only for daylight hours, but for the entire month. Ramadan means missing out of many a cultural encounter, interesting conversations and culinary experiences.

But what about the hunger, did I really have to fast like everybody else? Not really, the Koran states that neither non-Muslims nor travellers are bound to fast. Neither are the sick, menstruating women, children or the old. The religion here shows its more pragmatic sense of 8th century thinking. Travellers where riding or walking and need the energy to survive, so is the case for the rest of the groups mentions.

Smoking the Qulyan in Hiding

Smoking the Qulyan in Hiding

This doesn’t mean that I as a Christian traveller am not affected by the Ramadan. It is very, very bad form for anybody from these groups (maybe except children) to eat and drink in front of anybody fasting. You might think I don’t need to care, but how would you feel having to look at a guest eating while you had to fast? And after all, I choose to visit Iran during Ramadan – if I didn’t want to follow the social rules I should have stayed away or visited at another time.

Indeed it was hard not to drink on a four hour afternoon trip to an ancient pyramid-temple under a burning sun and 40 degree Celsius in the shade (not that there was any in the desert anyway).

Visiting Pyramid Temple

Visiting Pyramid Temple

Luckily, not everybody down here follow the Ramadan, plenty of people ignore it – at least in parts. Some fellow travellers have called these local hypocritical, but are clearly forgetting that hypercritic is a buzz-word when talking about any kind of religion. And that even if you believe in the one true God and that Mohammed is his prophet you might find it a little silly to still be following rules and preaching’s 1300 years old.

So how did I actually survive travelling during the Ramadan? Here follows a few tips:

  • The summer sun rises at 6 a.m. I’m not getting up before that to eat breakfast! Instead buy something for breakfast the night before and eat it in your room. If your hotel restaurant doesn’t stay open for all its travelling guests, that is.

    Ramadan Open Fast Food Joint

    Ramadan Open Fast Food Joint

  • Learn how to identify open restaurants. Their windows are usually covered by newspaper and they look somewhat under construction.
  • Carry a small bottle of water hidden in your bag and sneak in to an alley, or somewhere else where people won’t see you taking a quick drink. Especially important when temperatures hit 35+.
  • Travel in more pragmatic parts of the country. Iran is divided in to plenty of areas with different ethnic majorities. The Kurdish west and Turkic northeast are good places to find least fanatic fasters while the east and to a lesser degree central Iran are more problematic.

That Important Tea

That Important Tea

  • Locate the nearest Armenian Quarter. The Armenians are Christians and restaurants stay open in their neighbourhoods. Churches and cathedrals are also surrounded by high walls making their garden good places for picnics!
  • Take night or evening buses. While the sun won’t set before 8 p.m. the fact that travellers does not need to fast keeps (very bad, but very cheap) restaurants at bus terminals and train stations open. Getting on a bus in the early evening will secure a late lunch. Combine this with a late breakfast and you can go the day without worry.

So while it might be more challenging and less fun to travel during Ramadan it is in no way impossible and you don’t need to think far ahead to make it work. Most frustrating are the lack of traditional meals, and invitations for tea and the conversations that follow!

This featured blog entry was written by askgudmundsen from the blog Asia Less Travelled.
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By askgudmundsen

Posted Fri, Aug 16, 2013 | Iran | Comments