Tehran and Northern Iran

Zanjan and more of colourful mountains

It was obvious that at some point during my trip I will meet my friends, Zahra and Alireza, who inspired me to go to Iran. We were supposed to meet in Teheran, but I knew that somewhere halfway from Tabriz to Tehran, near Zanjan, there were supposed to be more colourful mountains. However, I couldn’t find the exact location neither in guidebooks nor in blogs. Luckily, satellite images gave me a rough idea about the location of the most stunning ones. When the bus reached the GPS position that I marked in the map, I asked the driver to stop. I could see the astonishment in the eyes of the passengers when I hopped off in the middle of nowhere. After a few kilometres I realized that my choice of spot was definitely correct. But, with the arrival of the „daily afternoon thunderstorm“ the joy was over and I had to crouch into a ravine. Even after the thunderstorm disappeared, the sky didn’t look much better with plenty of huge cumulus clouds and I headed back to the highway. After a few minutes, a Mercedes truck as old as the hills stopped and the friendly driver offered me a lift to Zanjan. The truck wasn’t the fastest vehicle on the highway, but offered a panoramic view on the thunderstorms that accompanied us to Zanjan. The feeling that I haven’t seen enough of the colourful mountains made me hitchhike back the next morning. With eyes saturated with pictures of red and yellow rocks, I headed to Behestan castle which is hewn into a bizarre sandstone rock. Hitchhiking through rural Iran is a fantastic experience even though communication is often very limited, particularly with the elderly who don’t speak any English and don’t use translation apps on smartphones. Nevertheless, a grandfather who offered me a lift with his antiquated Mercedes, insisted on driving me as close as possible to the castle. Back in Zanjan, I planned to take a bus to the town of Soltaniyeh with one of the biggest brick dome roofs of the world and continue from there to Tehran. But Iran and the generous people had a different plan for me 😉 The taxi driver I asked to take me to the bus station offered to take me the whole way to Soltaniyeh for a very good price. Ashkan, the taxi driver, joined me when I visited the dome and when he saw a flyer with more touristic sights of the region he took me to those as well. Finally, Ashkan asked me if I wanted to join him for lunch in Zanjan at his home. Ashkan, like many Iranians, seemed to be very proud of hosting a guest. Though Zanjan was in the opposite direction of Tehran I couldn’t say no to Ashkan, I would have had a bad conscience after he had spent half a day with me. After a delicious traditional lunch, he brought me to the bus heading to Tehran. When he refused to take any money for the taxi ride I left money in the pocket of the passenger door. However, while I was loading my backpack in the bus, he found the money and came back to pay for my bus ticket with it. I had no other choice than to thank Ashkan with a big hug before the bus departed.

Amidst colouful mountains

I am sure I could return dozens of times to this place and discover new, astonishing rock formations

The king of the road 😉

Behestan castle overlooking the nearby river. A perfect strategic location for a castle.

Enquelab square which is a hub of Zanjan


Seyed Ebrahim shrine


As almost every city in Iran, Zanjan has a nice traditional bazaar

The magnificent dome-roofed mosque of Soltaniyeh

Unfortunately, scaffolding obstructed the view of the inside of the mosque


Lunch with Ashkan and his son. His mother, wife and sister ate later separately

Tehran

Western Tehran seen from the Azadi Tower. An approaching thunderstorm whirled up the sand creating a wall of dust

The Grand Bazaar in Tehran. Hundreds if not thousands of men of all ages transport goods on carts through the crowded, narrow paths

Wanna try an avant-gard hair colour?

The Qajar dynasty who built the Golestan Palace loved mirrors and chandeliers…

…and I liked them too 😉

The Tehran University of Art and the almost 4000m high Mt Tochal in the background

Teherani hipsters at work


Dinner at Zahra’s family holiday home

The megapolis of Tehran with its 17 million inhabitants was as busy and loud as I expected it to be. What I didn’t expect was the level of infrastructure that stands comparison with any European capital, just bigger 🙂 A complex and modern network of highways is the backbone of Tehran but also the reason for the massive air pollution in the city. In winter, the sun is frequently completely hidden by smog. To relief the highways, the metro began to operate in 1999 with a quickly growing network. Still, the public transport is far from replacing cars as a preferred means of daily commuting. Fortunately, Zahra’s and Alireza’s beautiful flat was situated in the elevated northern part of Tehran where the air is much better than in the city center. When I wanted to hike to the top of Mt Tochal (3964m) which is a part of the Alborz mountain range that limits the expansion of Tehran to the north. But when I stepped out of the door early morning I was welcomed by rain and thunderstorm. Obviously, this was not a great day for hiking and I quickly turned around. Instead, we escaped overcrowded Tehran and spent one day with Zahra’s father in their holiday home. We came back to Tehran to attend the wedding party of a good friend of Alireza. Of course, I had no suit with me, but I was assured that no one will be offended by my traveller style 😉 It was a modern wedding party and could have taken place in any European country.

Kashan

As luck would have it, next day Alireza wanted to pay a visit to his mother and grandmother in Kashan, a city in the desert 250km south of Tehran. On the way to Kashan we made a little detour to the salt lake Hoz-e Soltan. A salt mining company blocked the access road that was open before and we tried to drive around the barrier. However, under the hard salty crust was deep and soft mud that trapped our car. We tried to dig the wheels out and improve the traction with pieces of wood and rock but we had no chance. I cursed the engineers who built a 4WD car without a lock for the differentials where you get stuck as soon as one wheel looses traction. The salt mining company turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The driver of a truck loaded with salt wanted to help us out of our unfortunate situation. After breaking off the hitch in an unsuccessful attempt, he managed to pull our car back on the road with an improvised rope made of the net used to cover the truck bed. In Kashan, I paid a visit to the old town. Due to its proximity to the desert, Kashan architecture is similar to that in the desert city of Yazd. It was Friday and I had the small streets running along traditional adobe houses almost to myself. The dozens of souvenir and handicraft shops waited for the return of tourists after Ramadan.

No way of getting out of this trap without the help of something big

Our savior

You better come prepared if you don’t want to end like this grasshopper

On the see lake

The bright side of the moon? 😉

Rain clouds are an unsual view at the end of May in the Iranian central desert Kavir-e Markazi, but they made a beautiful frame for Zahra and Alireza 🙂

In the old town of Kashan

Inside Tabatabaei family house turned into a museum because of its elaborate traditional architecture

Inside Sultan Amir Ahmad Mosque

The roof of the Sultan Amir Ahmad Bathhouse offered a good view over the old town of Kashan

… and the approaching thunderstorm

The splendid inside of the Sultan Amir Ahmad Bathhouse

Alam Kuh (4850 m)

From Tehran I took a bus to the north side of the Alborz mountain range. After I had to turn back on the slopes of Seshakh and was unable to finish my tour on Oshtorankuh I hoped for better luck on Alam kuh, Iran’s second highest peak. However, the weather was everything but promising. After it rained heavily through the evening and night I left the town of Kalardasht (1400m) in drizzle and fog. Halfway to the Hesar Chal plain, where I wanted to pitch my tent, the sun finally dissolved the fog and I could see the snow capped mountains. The sunshine spurred me on until I reached the first snow on 3200 meters. Huge cumulus clouds began to build up over the mountains.

An old shepherd home

Finally, the clouds were dissolved by the sun uncovering an impressive mountain range

The plain named Hesar Chal where I was looking for a safe place to pitch my tent

At least a nice sunset after the terrible thunderstorm

Bad weather in the morning. The peaks of Alam Kuh can be seen in the background on the right side

Despite poor weather conditions, I hiked a bit further towards Alam Kuh…

…to enjoy the spectacular view on the Alam Kuh range

When I was approaching Hesar Chal, a terrible thunderstorm forced me to the ground. It happened so quickly that I had barely enough time to fetch a poncho from my backpack and pull it over my t-shirt before I was forced to crouch for one hour on the ground waiting for the thunderstorm to end. When lightning hit the ground so close that I heard the thunder in the very same moment, I was shitting bricks. Why did lightning choose to hit the plain of Hesar Chal instead the peaks around??? Anyway, after a scary and terribly cold hour on the ground, I pitched my tent on Hesar Chal with an uneasy feeling, hoping that no more thunderstorms would come that night. While I was pitching my tent I noticed a whitish fox sneaking around, but I didn’t care much. The precooked dinner tasted great after the long and strenuous day. Strong wind and the elevation of 3800m made for a hard night with little sleep. Once, when I woke up I thought I saw the shadow of the fox on my tent. Another time, I felt something pushing my feet and instinctively I pushed back. Did the lonely fox want to cuddle with my feet or was I dreaming? When the alarm woke me up one hour before sunrise and I peeked out of the tent, the weather was as bad as in the evening. Strong wind blew snow and thick clouds over the peaks. Definitely no summit weather. After melting snow and making tea for breakfast I stepped out of the tent and saw half of the fly fluttering in the wind. That explained the noisy night. When I took a closer look I realised that the bloody fox must have bitten through half of the strings that fixed the fly to the ground. In the same moment a gust came and lifted the tent. I cursed the fox when I saw that all the sweetened tea spilled in my tent. I had no more water and the collapsed and wet tent was not an inviting protection for melting water in strong wind. It was already too late for a summit attempt and even though the weather looked a little better, it was anything but stable. Remembering the thunderstorm from the previous day and considering the quite difficult snowy conditions cancelling the trip was the only reasonable decision I could make. I was quite disappointed that I had to turn around again. But knowing when to turn around if a trip becomes too dangerous is a part of mountaineering. Nevertheless, I hiked one of the hills above Hesar Chal to enjoy the view on Alam Kuh before I set off on my way back.

Gilan

The next day I was in luck again. When I was walking on a remote road towards the center of Kalardasht, I was picked up by a very welcoming and chatty couple of Kurdish descent who drove to their holiday home at the Caspian sea. They shared my passion for travel and did once a road trip from Tehran to the north of Norway! After we had the best pasta in Iran at their home, we had a walk along the beach of the Caspian sea. My last three days in Iran were spent in the Gileboom homestay, located in a small village between the Caspian sea and the green slopes of the Alborz mountains. Gileboom is a lovely place where I instantly felt at home. Mahin, Shiva and Ro run their eco-lodge with great passion and are happy to share their extensive knowledge of the regions culture and eco system. They are passionate travellers and helped me planning my upcoming trip to Tajikistan. One day I joined their excursion for a group to the village of Javaher-Dasht, located on a plain above the slopes covered by the partially primeval Hyrcanian mixed forest. From the village, I hiked to the peak of Somamous (3700m) that offers views over much of the Alborz mountain range including Alam Kuh. When I returned, the village was besieged by hundreds of Iranians in a party mood who escaped their noisy and polluted cities to spoil this solitude with boom boxes and the roaring engines of their SUV’s and motorbikes.

When we arrived at their house near the Caspian sea, Ali and his wife invited me for lunch

After lunch we drove to their favourite spot at the Caspian sea although the stormy weather didn’t invite for swimming

The thunderstorm coming from the Alborz mountains created a strange cloud when it hit the sea

The village of Javaher-Dasht with Somamous in the background

Sheep and goats are milked before being taken for grazing on the green slopes

Meanwhile, the dogs are fed to be ready for a long day in the mountains

On the 3700m high peak of Somamous

I didn’t expect to hike through lush green forests in Iran


An open air museum 😉

The owner was obviously not afraid of theft of his antiquity when he left the key of the car inside

Two brothers and their sons gave me a lift from the forest to Gileboom with the obligatory quick stop at their home

Surely, I din’t associate rice fields with Iran

There are plenty of mostly non-poisonous snakes in the water channels of the rice fields

Sheep cheese sold in a very authentic packaging 😉

Damavand, with 5602m the highest peak of Iran, seen when leaving Teheran

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