Traveling anywhere with kids is always…interesting. We have our own predictions of what we have observed in the past, combined with visions of how everything should go according to all your preparations. But I don’t think anything can prepare you for what really happens! This post is dedicated to my observations and how our trip to Iran this April was with two preschoolers. And of course some tips that I found to be useful!
Whenever we take a spiritual trip [Ziyarat], we want to make the most of our trip in terms of visiting the historical and religious sites, praying and performing as many supplications as we can without burning out, and overall extracting as much as we can in the short time that we are there. This can be somewhat difficult to do when you have little ones, but it all depends on how you look at it. We tried to keep our own pace and Alhamdulillah, I never felt burnt out. The kids kept up better than I had anticipated, which of course highly depended on their health and wellbeing throughout the trip.
Tip: Pack every kind of medicine you could think they could use. Hopefully you won’t end up needing 90% of it, but guaranteed you will need what you forgot to pack. It happens to all of us!
Ziyarat in Qom
Bibi Masooma Shrine
The shrine of Bibi Masooma is the main Ziyarat of the city of Qom, and we stayed in a hotel called Sadeghiya very near to the shrine. The mosque is not too large or overwhelming, and it’s very easy to access with small children. One thing I love about taking our kids to these places at such an early age is that they get to experience an appreciation for prayer and visiting the shrines, up close. They ask me questions about what we are visiting, and it’s a good way to inform them with visuals rather than an abstract concept.
The surrounding area is all market with plenty of shopping. We walked along the streets past our hotel and came across an empty restaurant named Chika serving up American style fast foods. Had to try it of course! The food was on the pricier side, but quite good. Don’t worry, we had plenty of local Iranian cuisine while we were there!
Imam Ridha (A.S.) Shrine
Since it was 15th Shaban, the shrine of Imam Ridha (a.s.) was decorated with rainbow lights, and we even saw some fireworks. It was a wonderful time to be there. The hotel was called Hotel Atrak and the proximity was just next to the haram, a short 10 minute walk. I took the kids without the stroller, because honestly, wheeling a wide double stroller isn’t easy to do on the cobblestone pathways, not to mention pushing 60+ lbs.
This mosque is huge. Not exaggerating, but the courtyards are endless and it is very, very easy to get lost. The girls did just fine on foot, and at each door they have a bus station where you can grab a ride inside a small shuttle that will take you near the gate.
I must acknowledge that the system is organized and orderly. They have a shoe check in at each gate, there is a system established in touching the zari [shrine], there is a spacious basement meant for families with small children, and a common space for families who wish to sit together. We visited a wing of the haram known as foreign visitors office, where the staff spoke English, and the bathrooms were majority all toilets and very clean. The cafeteria of Imam Ridha (a.s.) is also known for its organized service, accessible via special tickets provided to your group leader upon request. The quantity of food is generous and we were so blessed to be able to eat from there.
We were so lucky to have a wonderful group of guides [Zainabia Tours], who kept everything so organized and running smoothly. Whenever we took a bus to our destinations, they kept us happy with snacks and chai along the way. They presented gifts to all the children of the group [pictured above]. They hosted a special dinner at a local Husainiya for us. And the list goes on. My advice, do some research and based on recommendations choose a guide group that will take good care of you.
The surrounding area of the shrine is all market place, including the Imam Reza Market, an indoor market that seems endless. There you will find everything local, special Iranian spices, herbs, nuts, snacks and of course jewelry, garments, chadors and scarves. The markets are just steps away and a great place to find gifts for everyone back home.
I love to observe whenever I’m in a new place and most of what I witnessed in Iran is something sort of like our own Indo-pak culture. They are a warm people, very inviting and loving to newcomers who come to visit their cities. Whenever I conversed with Iranian ladies, because they always approached and asked me where I am from after hearing my kids speak to each other in English…and whenever I’d tell them we are Indian, they were so happy and welcoming. They are proud of their culture, and rightly so, it has beautiful elements.
What I saw when we drove or walked by was families picnicking together in the numerous parks we passed. Tons of children eating ice cream, even though it was cold and rainy, it never stopped them from enjoying their summer. I saw a lot of women smiling at each other, not rude or stern- which quite often happens in the mosques, especially during prayer times when things get a bit hectic.
I saw people enjoying simple things. I saw very little Western influence like for example in the markets, there wasn’t an obnoxious amount of characters in the children’s toy shops or clothing stores. And I loved seeing a large number of students both girls and boys attending the mosque for prayers and supplications, giggling and chatting but never losing their connection to their mosque.
And boy did we enjoy the food! The endless buffets of Persian classics at the hotel was always so fun to eat at. The kids did extremely well on the trip. Keeping them well-informed about what they will experience was probably the best thing we had done beforehand and while we were on the trip. The hotel was their favorite part, and exploring a new place was exciting. If you are contemplating whether or not to take your little ones to a new country or Ziyarat, my advice is to just go for it! Plan as much as you can, and God-willing, everything will be just fine.