The train station in Tabriz, Iran. The time is 5,20 pm on a Sunday and I´m waiting to get on the night train to Tehran. The train station is a large building with an atmosphere of the 60´s; sturdy pillars all the way up to the ceiling which is about 10-12 meters above me covered with tiles in beige and brown. There are glass windows at the entrance and towards the platform. Otherwise the light is coming in thru the small holes in the walls, commonly seen in buildings in Eastern Europe. Although its size, the train station gives one the feeling of being in a bunker. As a sit there I think back of the last few days in Tabriz.
I think about that the entire city is being rebuilt. An exaggeration, of course, but there are a lot of construction and restoration work going on. Tabriz is the capital of Islamic Tourism in 2018 and the city council (and I assume the Iranian government) wants it to look great. Delegations will come and marvel over the many sights in the city and how new everything is. That´s the plan. I doubt it will happen.
Let´s start with the fact that Iranians have a pretty bad track record when it comes to keeping deadlines when it comes to construction work. For instance, a few years ago a tunnel project in Tajikistan got so delayed that the Tajik government was forced to replace the Iranians by the Chinese (who not surprisingly seemed to have finished in record time). Another example is the Metro in Tabriz. It was suppose to be up and running in 2013 but even today just a small part of it is working. During my visit, the city park (Golestan) was dug up, as well as half the park around the imposing structure of the Poet´s Mausoleum. At the Mausoleum there are grand plans of a convention center, exhibition halls etcetera. Today they´re five meters below the surface and basically nothing seems to be going up. It actually looks like they were still digging.
The central bus station is a mess due to plans of building a whole new block. But not even the groundwork has been done. There is also construction work around the Friday mosque and around the Arg of Tabriz, a massive old brick wall from the 14th century. The huge mosque, just a few feet away from the Arg, has been renovated for some time. As of now, restoration work is suspended since five years because the work is affecting the foundation for the Arg. All these are sights that will attract lots of people in 2018 – and I can´t see much of it being done till then. Definitely not all of it.
But I also think about Kandovan and the Urmia Lake (Orumiyeh Lake) that I wanted to see in 2013 when I visited the country the last time. Kandovan was small but a nice experience, especially because people live here till this day. The houses cannot be sold, only inherited. During my last visit I went to Masuleh and Kandovan was the same pleasant experience. And, although I am not a shopper when traveling, the bazaar in Tabriz is a place to buy great quality merchandise to very humane prices. The atmosphere of the old bazaar (the largest covered bazaar in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site) doesn´t make it less of a memorable place.
I also think back to one evening before dinner, when I strolled in to the Golestan Park with the intention to practice a bit of night photography. There is a big obelix in the middle of the park making a good photo opportunity when it´s reflecting in the surrounding fountains. The rain had just stopped and the temperature was around ten degrees. As a strolled around the park with my camera in one hand and my tripod in the other, I saw mostly men sitting by themselves, or walking around in two looking very serious while discussing whatever what was on their mind. The park was lush in spite of all the concrete isles going in every direction, replacing the dusty air in the city with a fresher feeling.
I hope everything goes well for the city of Tabriz in their upcoming duty as the Islamic tourist capital. One can see the city in a few days or stay on and enjoy it a bit more. It´s a big small town that will look great in a few years. But not in 2018.
The city is more than welcome to prove me wrong.