Alamut, the valley of the assassins, famous spot for hiking in Iran : snowy summits, mindblowing green valleys, majestic canyons, small villages on the flanks of the mountains, a 1000 years old castle, and legends of assassins…
Alamut valley, a hidden paradise in the heart of the mountains
This valley is set approximately a 100km away from Tehran and it takes quite a long time to get there. A bus will drive you from Tehran to Qazvin (قزوین) in 3 hours, and then you’ll spend another 3 or 4 hours on dizzying roads and passes to go deep into the Alborz (البرز) mountains to finally reach the famous Alamut Valley (الموت – alamōt).
Yep, hiking in such a paradise does not come cheap and easy !
The Albroz are those mountains south of the Caspian sea running from Azerbaijan to Turkmenistan and Afghanisatan, where stand some of the highest summits of Iran, like Mount Damavand (5671m). These are the mountains we’ve seen from the center of Tehran when we visited the capital. Yeah, that’s where we plan to hike and camp tonight !
Voilà ! Now that you’re specialists of iranian geography, let’s get back to our long, very long road.
The castle of the assassins of Gâzor Khân
We’ve been driving in wonderful valleys for a few hours now, stopping from time to time to drink a hot tea, when suddently the light pierces through the dark thick threatening clouds and fall on an enormous rocky promontory, casting a divine glow on it. Our driver points its finger at it and tells us : « Gâzor Khân ! Alamut Castle ! »
Built at 2100m high on the top of that big rock, the castle of the assassins is reputed impregnable ! We now understand the choice of the Nizaris who installed their HQ here more than a thousand years ago. That secret and mystic sect teached to some of its disciples the arts of spying and assassination. The Nazaris reigned as masters over the region with 23 fortress ! Their power was so important that they even spread to Syria where they bought the famous fortress of Masyaf. They left a huge heritage on our culture, inspiring several movies, books and the world wide famous video game Assassin’s Creed.
But let’s go back to our trip. A geography lesson AND a history lesson is a bit too much for one single page of our travel dairy !
Our taxi droped us at the entrance of Gâzor Khân just at the foot of the castle of the assassins. On an old piece of paper, the driver wrote a phone number and a name. We’re to call this guy tomorrow morning and he will come to pick us up. As soon as the car backs off a small man comes quickly towards us. He runs a hotel nearby and wants us to stay overnight. Sorry mate, but we’re off camping ! Our friend Maryam told us she comes here often with her hiking club to hike in the mountains. The man insists and tells us that there is no trail and no place to camp, only the castle and a little canyon. But it’s our turn to insist : we will find a way and a place to stay overnight ! Desperate, the man plays his last card :
– Mountains are dangerous, and it’s very cold by night !
– Don’t worry sir, we’re used to hike in mountains and so we’re well equipped.
– OK, but what will you do against the wolves ? They could eat you during the night ! You know there are lots of them around here !
– … Huum yeah, ok. No stress we’ll manage them, maybe we’ll pet them ! Goodbye sir !
And that’s how our plan was made : take some height by climbing up the castle of the assassins and observe the surroundings from up there to find a path. About the castle itself we won’t see much. The ruins, severely damaged by an earthquake in 2004, are under restoration and therefore hidden behind scaffolings. We’ll have to come back when the work will be done. But from up there we spot a little path that bends down in a valley and climbs up on the other side to a wide flat beautiful green terrace. Perfect place to set up camp tonight !
Hiking in the valley of the assassins
So we’re off hiking, the castle of the assassins in our back, walking at the foot of the tall snowy summits of the Albroz. The path leads us to the opposite flank of the valley of the assassins, offering us a beautiful view on the huge rock with the ruins on its top. Suddenly, the clouds let a golden light spread all over the landscape. What a beauty ! We quickly end up at the bottom of the valley where a man let his donkey feast on fresh green grass. We greet him with a simple nod and a kind look. No words exchanged, it would have broken the magic of that hidden piece of heaven. Our sleeping spot is up on the other flank of the valley. We now have to find a way up before the sun gets low…
That’s when we meet with an unplanned obstacle : a stream ! Strong current, freezing cold water, too large to jump, too deep to throw big rocks and cross on it, too dangerous with our heavy backpacks. It’s no time to hurt ourselves ! Adrien will finally cross the river a bit further down without backpack nor shoes and come back to us with a trunk that we’ll use as a bridge. We’ve managed a plan : Emilie gets the backpacks one by one to Quentin who will cross the trunk (praying not to slip and fall), Adrien receives the backpacks on the other side while Mariette takes pictures !
Let’s go !
Our camp is finally set up when the sun hides behind the mountains. We’ve prepared a little camp fire with dry wood to extend our beautiful day a bit longer. What’s better than friends gathered around a fire cracking under the stars ? That’s the moment Adrien choose to share his thoughts, he seems worried about something :
– What about the wolves guys ? How are we gonna do ? D’ya think this iranian guy was serious ? I’m not totally at ease right now !
– Nah ! Don’t worry buddy, we’re all good.
When we all get in our sleeping bags, Quentin mimics the sound of the wolf, and get back from Adrien a beautiful, joyful « Oh ! Shut up, asshole !« . General laugher…
Alamut canyons and Evan Lake
9 o’clock AM. We’re back at foot of the castle of the assassins at the entrance of Gâzor Khân. Our taxi is not here ! 1h03 later our man arrive. He’s sorry : we misunderstood each other and he was waiting for us at a different place. He speaks a very good english, and boasts to be THE best guide, THE guy you need to hire to visit Alamut valley. He shows us a diary where all his foreign customers write a little something to thank him. He will guide us to a serie of huge canyons in a different valley. Yesterday he dropped three germans there who left for a several days trek in that part of the Albroz. Sure, it does look amazing, and we’d like to follow their path, but like many things in Iran, we’ll have to come back.
Before we go back to Qazvin, our guide insists to take us to Evan Lake. He grew up here, and promised us an amazing kabab ! Evan Lake is a large deep blue lake mirroring the 4000m high peaks around. Iranians built a small leisure base on its banks, and from the village start more hiking trails leading to the eternal snow ! Well, we take note of it, we’ll also have to come back to hike up there too ! But for know we don’t have much time left, we must meet our friend in Rasht tonight !
Sure we’ll come back, there is so many treasures awaiting to be seen in Alamut…
- The bus to Qazvin leaves Tehran at the western terminal near Azadi tower. There is one bus every 30mn. The trip costs 80 000 Rials (in 2017) and takes 2 to 3 hours depending on the traffic, sometimes more. It will drop you just at the entrance of Qazvin near a huge roundabout with a tall monument on it. Just next to that drop point you’ll find a taxi station where yellow cabs await people to go in Alamut.
- It’s also possible to get a train ride to go Qazvin but we didn’t take it. You’ll find more information on that web site.
- From Qazvin the most common way to go to Alamut valley is by taxi, but that option has a cost : around 50€. Add a little bit more to go to the canyons and Evan Lake.
The nice guide speaking english is called M.Mirzaiy. His phone number in 2017 was : 09191871997. We’re sure you can arrange something with him in advance.
- Apparently there is a local bus going to Gâzor Khân, but locals are not really happy to give information about it. We don’t know much about it, if you wanna take it you’ll have to dig for it yourself. Sorry guys.