A Travellerspoint blog

September 2010

Call to Lake of Stars

We have booked our tickets for Lake of Stars festival in Malawi

15th - 17th October. Flights go into Lilongwe. Niall and Nina are thinking of joining us and so should you.

Posted by rachndave 04:10 Archived in Malawi Comments (0)

The chuckling mosque of Baledeh

Rachel

Continuing our road journey back to Tehran via the winding North Iranian mountain roads brought us to the pretty little valley town of Baledeh (population 9000). Baledeh is the only village in the area apparently to have accommodation or shops. And it also has a proper river and a castle: bonus.

The accommodation turned out to be a blanket on a carpeted floor, with a cold shower (but very clean) but we had our rollmats and sleeping bags and at an eventual agreed 15 pounds a night we werent complaining too much. To the castle!

A hour's hard scramble to the top rewarded us with some of the prettiest and greenest sights i've seen so far. Lush green plantations spreading out from the nestled town and into the two valleys either side of the ridge on top of which we stood. I sat here for a good half hour imagining how it would be to manage my dream farm and live this simple life when my daydream was broken by the sound of singing from the mosque. Not too unusual this month; until the howling started. This month is one of mourning for one of the decendents of the prophet Muhammad and every day, several times a day, there is a half hour sung story broadcast over the local mosque's tannoy system - at first I thought this was over the top outpouring of grief until it becaume clear that the singer wasn't crying but laughing, and you could also make out the cheers and laughter of people in the background. The singer did his best to recover his composure and finish the song but for the next half hour he would regularly break down into giggles while his friends mocked and laughed along. Sitting on a rock at the top of this lonely beautiful ridge as the sun dipped behind the hills and laughing along has been a highlight of my trip so far :)

We picked our way down the rocky and wandered round the pastures, through herds of sheep and back into the town feeling like we could live in a place like this.

The next morning from our high window we watched a sombre march through the town with men in black beating themselves with little fly whips of "tinsel" while drummers slowly drummed and singers sang from speakers on the back of a truck. A slow motion Notting Hill Carnival if you like on what was not far after Bank Holiday Monday. This day was also the day on which the Koran was given to Muhammad - I think it's a shame that a people choose to put on a public marches in rememberence of the death of one of it's prophets rather than celebrate the birth of it's entire religion. Understand this and I think we might understand something of the psyche.

We wandered along the river through more lush irrigated mountain fringed farmland but eventually had to make a move on. We were desperate to hitch a ride on the back of a pick up truck after our failure to do so in Kordkuy and soon had a team of people bartering on our behalf with local trucks driving along the one road through the town. Unfortunately today was a holiday and most people were staying local and even the taxi's were asking a bit too much. In the end one of our haggling helpers agreed to drive us part of the way where we might be able to pick up a truck on the main road. By this time, and after many very similar conversations, my Farsi was rudimentary enough to hold a pretty decent although noun based conversation all the way there and this was one of the most pleasurable journeys we've had.

Unfortunately we didn't have a chance to find a truck after we were dropped off because we had stood weighing up our options for not 2 minutes when an english speaking mother and family stopped who were headed to our final destination and insisted we joined them. They had been spending the holiday picnicking by the sea with their two young boys and we made a few more picnic stops en route as is the tradition here :)

Late at night we made it to Tehran to meet up with Masoud and plan our three day hiking trip to the Alamut Valley in the Alborz mountains at the very northern edge of Iran where it is rainiest, coolest and supposed to be almost like the UK in spring. I can tell you I was looking forward to leaving the car behind for a while. All this bread eating and sitting around in cars is not giving me the beach body I was hoping to achieve before Lake of Stars

Posted by rachndave 03:16 Archived in Iran Tagged religion mountain driving Comments (0)

Towering sucesses

The guidebook describes a road of seemingly unending hairpins skirting the edge of steep edged valleys and forests. Nearby were the intriguing sounding sights of West Radken tower and the tower of Gonbad which might have been built by Nasa as prototype brick rocket ships. So we caught the overnight train to Gorgan and planned to travel back overland on the winding roads.

Gonbad tower really was a marvel (despite it's slightly inconguous placement by the main road through town). I was the only person there (Dave was taking it easy back in the hotel after having a brush with a gammy Tim/Paul-leg since being bitten by the flies at Lake Gaha) and had 20 minutes playing with the echos inside the tower before heading back on the hot crowded minibus but feeling very proud of myself for navigating my way there armed only with the phrasebook. I had wanted to visit the nearby pagan graveyard whose graves are marked by 2 foot hight penises carved from rock but it was a further 3 hour detour. I urge you to look for pictures on the internet - if you get caught using dodgy search terms you can blame me.

We headed to a small town to enquire about 4 wheel drives along the steep winding mountain roads to the tower at West Radken. Unfortunately des to Ramadan anyone travelling less than 3 hours should be back home by midday (I should verify this - it sound like a strange rule) and so we couldnt find anyone willing to take us on the back of their trucks. We were adopted by the local pharmasist and english teachers - Sobar and Razar - who found their friend - Ali the baker - to drive us there and back.

Neither the teachers or the baker had been to this tower so the teachers cancelled their classes and came with us. The tower sits in the middle of a beautiful valley with farmland in the base. We stayed here for a small picnic and then turned back along the road winding through the forests and past tiny "summer" migratory villages which are too snowy to spend winter and trying not to think about the drops to either side (fortunately Ali was the most obviously cautious driver i think we've had since we've been here)

Sobar's father was having a Ramazan fast breaking gathering at his with all the family and we were kindly invited to join them. But not before Sabar's wife also prepared us a full meal as well :) On the way to Sabor's fathers house we managed to squeeze in a trip to Ali's traditional bakery with a hand built enormous clay oven. *And* a quick visit to the Caspian seaside to watch the sunset. The water looked like mercury it was the perfect light.

We ate another full meal with 20 members of the family - i was privileged to be invited into the kitchen where the women could remove their hejab and chadors and lounged on the floor or played with the many children. We left with a feeling yet again that these bustling families are the heart of village life - and feeling extremely full!

Posted by rachndave 02:03 Archived in Iran Tagged driving family Comments (1)

Baggy Trousers

The west of Iran is the land of the Kurdish people who wear baggy trousers with a low crotch around the knees of which any hoxtonite would be proud. The Kurdish people in Iran have their own culture and language and even a unique landscape which we wanted to explore. We started out in pretty Paveh with its ferris wheel and hillside setting. The restaurants were all closed early for Ramadan apart from one who finally agreed to serve us something basic. We started out the only ones in the restaurant which suited us fine because after a long days travel we were extremely tired and were happy for a quick snack before an early night.... however... by the end of the meal we ended up surrounded by kitchen staff, posing for photos, our payment was refused and the manager insisted he drove us home via the local sites. Even by Iranian standards the Kurds are renowned for their friendliness. (except the hotel owners in Sanandaj for some reason most of whom seemed to want to know where we had been, where we intended to go and at what time. We decided not to stay with them - in fact the assistant of one hotel even advised we go elsewhere cos he hated his boss! :))

The next morning we had a comedy hour-long barter in the taxi office, with diagrams and rowdy passerby involvement as well as phone calls to friend of friends who also wanted to add their own suggestions. Noone seems to understand why tourist might want to go a scenic route!

Kurdistan is arrid and mountainous and as we passed near the Iraqi border the next day you can understand clearly why fighting in this region must be extremely difficult. We saw several burned patches of ground and during a taxi swap in a local town we spoke to a man who had lived in Sheffiend who told us that this was because the government were trying to flush out fighters in the area. I wanted to talk to him more about it but we had to dash off with our new driver to arrive in vibrant Sanandaj.

Sanandaj was heaving with people in the streets for the breaking of the Ramadan fast and people were pulling our bags and shouting out trying to talk to us or be the person to help us which was quite unnerving at the time. After we secured a hotel the streets were quieter but we were immediately met by a young man wanting to join us and practice his english. He left us at the restaurant only to track us down at our table later after he'd been home to eat! We spent a lovely evening with him though at the local tea/shisha place and he even left us a CD of our new favourite Iranian musician, Shayarian, at our hotel while we were out the next day.

In hindsight we should have left more time to visit the stunning Palangan that day: we had a 5 hour round trip to visit a village which climbed two steep sides of a green valley with a blue green river running through it and orchards beyond. We only had half an hour in the village before we had to head back to catch the bus to Tehran. We had to prise ourselves away, cursing our bad planning and hoping that the scenery north of Tehran would be worth leaving this idylic picnic setting.

PS. Dave would like to confess that he "doesnt really do the points thing" so I think I'm going to have to give up on this idea sadly. Besides I am finding that there are not as many opportunities for points as you'd think. Sorry Tim :(

Posted by rachndave 01:58 Archived in Iran Tagged mountains driving Comments (2)

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