The Islamic Republic of Iran, a place I had promised myself that I would go back to after my unsuccessful attempt in 2011. This time we entered from the Iran -Azerbaijan borders and the city of Astara. With the bureaucracy at its best, especially form the Iranian side, it took us almost 4 hours to complete all the formalities and be allowed in the country. After 3 years Voukefalas was back.
With all the delay the time had gone by and it was already dark when we were given the green light. I didn’t want to risk it and overnight at some random place like I did during my previous visit. So we drove about 200 km inland all the way to Masuleh, the place that we had in mind in our original plan.
At least a millennium old, Masuleh is a gifted place. When we woke up the next day, we found ourselves in one of Iran’s most beautiful villages. Rising through misty forests, earth-colored mud houses climb the mountainside so steeply that the roof of one forms the pathway for the next. The village itself is completed with appealing tea-terraces and a tiny bazaar with the necessary grocery and some halva shops, as well as the most tasty, warm cookies we have ever come across. It was a great place to spend our first 3 days and acclimatize in the new reality, especially for Rochelle who had to wear a headscarf at all times, obligatory for all females entering Iran.
And now a quick look at the facts about the country. There are two speeds in the Iranian economy. One is the official currency exchange rate that the banks give out and another is the Free Market Rate (as they call it) that is much lower. In simple words, for us with the hard currency in our hands (Euro or Dollar) it was better to exchange at the exchange bureau rather than the bank as they would give us almost 1/3 more than the bank and that was completely legal. Unfortunately we found out after we had exchanged our first 400 dollars at the bank rate. F#@@##g B#@@#@ds. Anyway…
Done with the economics (not much of a disaster, just a bit of frustration) we moved on to our next stop Qazvin, famed for its carpets. The city was once the capital of Iran and has some considerable minor sights, but for most of us travelers it’s a launch point for the famous Castles of the Assassins, in the marvelous Alamut Valley. Few places in Iran offer a more tempting invitation to hike, explore and reflect than the Alamut Valley. Beneath Alborz peaks, the landscapes are inspirational and delightfully varied, with scenic suggestions that can remind you of Patagonia, Switzerland, central Australia and Syria, all spiced by a fascinating medieval history. Nestled almost invisibly on widely spread rocky pinnacles, someone can find the remnants of over 50 ruined fortresses. Shrouded in fabulous myths, they were the heavily fortified lairs of the medieval world’s most feared religious cult and are known as
the Castles of the Assassins. One of the region’s greatest attraction is the ruin of Alamut Castle, Hasan-i Sabbah’s -the leader of the cult- famous fortress. The site is a dramatic crag rising abruptly above the pleasant growing village of Gazor Khan. Most of the castles are now found in ruins but the surrounding area, with the phenomenal views from the ramparts, is not to be missed. We were forced to spend that night in Gazor Khan in the converted local school because the day was almost gone and we couldn’t take the risk and drive back to Qazvin. The next day we had a pleasant surprise as everything was covered in thick snow. Our trustful Voukefalas, though, managed to get us safe out of there, over the frozen roads and back to the lowlands where the conditions were much better.
At that point we had to decide whether we would visit or not the crowded capital Teheran. As our guidebook stated, as a city of almost 11 million people Teheran can be chaotic and heavily polluted. On the other hand, as the nation’s capital it’s definitely the centre of everything. A lot of important sites can be found there and it’s definitely worth the visit. Anyway, having the option of passing through it on the way back, we skipped it and pushed till Kashan. Something worth mentioning here is that after Teheran the landscape changes completely from mountainous turns to rocky desert. The flat areas take over the huge mountains and the climate turns very dry. This background continues all the way till the shores of the Persian Gulf. Back in Kashan now, we experienced for the first time a stay in a traditionally restored Caravanserai. A definitely memorable experience. Caravanserais are the motels of the Silk Road that in the past provided travelers and their animals a safe shelter and a place to rest after the long travel through the desert. With a sightseeing of more than a couple of beautifully restored traditional houses and hamams, as well as the city’s marvel, the old mosque, our Iranian adventure continued filling us with thrill and excitement. Rochelle was fascinated and still considers Kashan her favorite place in Iran. As for the rest of our stories here in Iran, they will be in our next post…