Stories

 

Iran


From the 22nd of November to the 5th of December, 2015

It has been five months that I'm working in Geneva. Two months that Raphael started his road trip with his van. Four weeks have passed since my weekend in Istanbul and here I am, on the airplane for two weeks vacation in Iran. As soon as we landed, I took a deep breath and covered my hair. I arrived in Tehran at 4am and jumped on a bus for a 5 hours journey to Rasht where Raphael awaited me. After a formal greeting, we drove to the coast of the very calm Caspian Sea. Despite the cool weather (and water), I couldn't resist to go for a swim, even though fully dressed.

After a good night sleep, we hit the road for Masouleh, an historical village surrounded by mountains. Along the road, I was surprised to discover kilometers of rice fields and tea plantations. Masouleh was designed so that the alleys and terraces are actually the roofs of houses built on top of each other. Settled for the night on the opposite side of the valley, we had a fabulous view over the village and the snowy mountains lit by the nearly full moon.

Fifty kilometers away, the fortress of Rudkhan, former military complex is perched on a hilltop surrounded by green vegetation. The few courageous who climbed the steps to the top seemed to be couples looking for a place to escape judging looks.

    

It is hard to get around unnoticed in this country. Welcome to Iran! After making sure we are all right, we know our way and have everything we need, the Iranians were interested in the image western countries have of Iran and our own experience while in the country. Some dared the marriage question but understood the answer without having to reply. While we stopped for a lunch break, the owner of the restaurant invited us to take a sit. His son, who worked next door, closed his shop in order to become our interpret. After a few exchanges, they invited us to spend the night in their house. Unfortunately, being on vacation my timing was limited and we had to decline. Over the meal, about ten people had gathered around our table, everyone asking questions to the son, translating for us. Even his wife and brother made it to the restaurant especially to meet us.

We decided to leave the plains and rice paddies for the Alamut Valley. The landscapes were beautiful. A mix of rice terraces, red rock and greenery giving way to higher mountains and a snowy road. In the village of Separdeh, young boys came to us. Alamut? Yes it is just there, about 40 kilometers away. But right now to road is closed until the snow melts. And now ? Turn back and make your way around the mountain, a full driving day. After the 500 kilometers detour, here we were, on the other side of the mountain, so close and so far... The valley was covered in rice fields irrigated by the river. On the sides, red hills gave place to snowy peaks. The upper part of the postcard didn't seem to match the lower part. During two days we wandered from one valley to another, discovering Evan lake, canyons and the remains of the Alamut castle overlooking the valley. After a few word exchanged with Manouchehr, he invited us to visit him when in Tehran.

    

The following day we reached the capital city and its crazy traffic. As we went to the wrong address, we had to follow a taxi driver to Mahouchehr's place. After making sure we would feel home, he gave us the apartment key and left for his afternoon class. The following day we got up early to reach the cable car at the north end of the capital. A 40 minutes ride, one of the longest in the world (7400 meters of cable) brought us to 3740 meters above sea level on Mount Tochal. With fresh snow and pristine blue sky, it was an exceptional snowboarding day we spend in company of Manouchehr, Sohila and Abbas. It was the first time Raphael set foot on a ski slope, a first snowboarding day he will probably not forget. Skiing in Iran didn't exactly fit the picture I had of the country. A huge thanks to Manouchehr who welcomed us with open arms and did not hesitate to put his plans aside for us.

    

At about 300 kilometers south of the capital, lies the Namak lake, a salt flat located in the Dasht-e Kavir desert. Although too wet to drive on it, it brought me memories of Uyuni desert in Bolivia. Landscapes varied from rock formations and sand dunes to flat land. Along the track, camels, goats and sheep grazed peacefully.

In the historic city of Kashan, we visited the Tabatabaei historical house, built for a famous carpet merchant family around 1880. A beautiful place where the fountain pool reflected the decorated facades. In the center of town, the bazaar and its blue tiled domes contrasted with some abandoned courtyards.

      

We continued our journey to Abyaneh, an isolated historical village set on the foot of Mount Karkas. The people living in this 2500 years old cultural heritage were manly old women wearing their traditional costume and speaking Middle Persian. In a square, a few old women were feeding a fire with a huge marmite in it, while others were reading the Quran by rolling their rosary beads between their fingers. This was the 40th and last day of the Ashura mourning (commemoration of the Imam Hossein massacre), an important day of the year. A woman offered me a sweet and invited me to sit beside her. For three hours I remained meditative and spectator of this event while sharing smiles and glances. Each newcomer offered sweets, dates, fruits or tea before to take a sit on my side. Throughout the morning, they prayed while preparing the Asheh Reshteh, a delicious green soup with beans, lentils and pasta. A vegetarian delight... Before leaving, my neighbor took my hand, marked a pause and kissed my forehead. This was a very simple, sincere and emotional moment I spent with those women, masters of the place.

    

Isfahan, the ancient capital of the Persian Empire between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, has refined architectural monument to offer such as the imposing Imam mosque covered with blue tiles, the ancient Jameh mosque, the beautiful Loffalah mosque whose interior was beautifully illuminated by the dawn light and a few pedestrians bridges where locals are enjoying to meet with their friends. Southwest of the city, we discovered Jolfa, the Armenian district. At the time, they were highly coveted for their artistic skills. Freedom of worship was respected, but had to keep away from Muslim centers. The Vank cathedral was decorated with Islamic tiles alongside biblical frescoes.

    

We spend two nights in a parking lot along the Zayanderud river. At nightfall, the car park was filling up, each one coming over with some wood to make a fire on the tarmac, their getaway ritual for meet with friends. To my feeling, the mentality of Iranians is far more western than what we can imagine. Although some women from more conservative families were wearing the chador, the majority wore fashionable clothing, using their scarf as an accessory.

Unfortunately this is where my Iran trip ended. While traveling by van, we were able to sleep in exceptional places. On the beach, at the edge of rice fields, surrounded by mountains or desert. The kindness and generosity of Iranians will truly remain the highlight of this trip. On this parking in Isfahan, a family of women wearing the chador timidly approached us to offer us a huge bowl of a typical sweet. An elderly couple who spoke only very few words of English offered us some fruits and insisted to invite us to their homes. Others invited us to visit their music store in order to introduce us to the traditional instruments. An Iranian woman speaking perfect English handed me her business card, "in case of problems, do not hesitate to call me!". As I was running out of time, it was impossible to accept all invitations...

Click here to read the following story about my journey in Oman.

Click here to view Raphael's video of beautiful Iran.

See the album "Iran - December 2015"