On Flying over Iran

The arid but beautiful landscape of Western Iran as seen from 35,000 feet

One of the reasons why I love flying is that it gives me the chance to see places that have always felt so faraway. I’ve flown over glaciers in Greenland, been mesmerized by the rugged Red Sea coastline in Saudi Arabia, and seen the night lights of small towns and villages in Turkmenistan.

I probably don’t need to tell you that I’m obsessed with window seats. In fact, I’m willing to sit next to the plane lavatories and smell poo for the whole flight if it means I’ll be rewarded with an amazing view. Yeah, that’s how much I covet the window. (Side note: I started writing this post on my flight to Riga, but since I refused to pay in advance to select my seat, I was regrettably stuck next to the aisle. Ugh.)

One of my most memorable window seat experiences was this past September when, on my way back from Japan via Qatar, I flew over the barren but beautiful deserts of Western Iran.

Iran is a country I’ve always been fascinated by – the food, the history, the culture, the people. And from what I can tell, it seems to be a place that isn’t just insanely photogenic, but also downright unforgettable (don’t even get me started on how much I want to see the mosques of Isfahan or eat desserts made with rosewater ice cream or visit the ruins of Persepolis).

Plus, I’ve never really bought into the political rhetoric about Iran being a hostile place. Which is sort of funny, because given the fact that I sometimes struggle with travel anxiety, you’d think this wouldn’t be a place that tops my travel wish list. But it does. Oh boy, it does. In fact, I would visit Iran in a heartbeat if getting in and out as a U.S. citizen didn’t require so much darn paperwork.

Suffice it to say that being able to look down onto a place that I’ve always dreamt of visiting, but a place that has often felt so off limits, was an experience in and of itself.

Flying over Lake Urmia. Its blood red color is believed to be caused by algae blooms.

It didn’t hurt, of course, that there was hardly a cloud in the sky and I could see for miles on end. As soon we crossed the Arab Gulf (or the Persian Gulf, depending on who you ask) and entered Iranian airspace, I tilted my head to the right, pulled up my window shade all the way, and watched the show unfold below me.

And you know what? I was right.

As I sipped on my cup of tea while flying over cragged mountains, arid plains, and lakes died deep red by algae blooms, there was no hostility to be felt. Sure, I was looking down on the earth from the safety of my window seat. But all I saw below me was beauty – no hate, no political divisions, no stereotypes.

Which got me to thinking: Maybe if we all sat in the window seat more often, if we all realized that there are no borders at 35,000 feet, the world would be a bit of a better place.

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