Since we started our Iranian tour, we have always chosen to visit cities. We have seen some of the most unique wonders of Tehran, then Shiraz and it now feels like we ought to take a break from cities and discover more about Iranian natural beauty. It comes at a right time too, for not far from Shiraz lays a beautiful little mountain town called Ghalat which reputation is as enigmatic as its surrounding landscape is wondrous.
Ghalat, a fascinating village
Sitting thirty kilometres away northwest of Shiraz, Ghalat (قلات) is a very ancient little town at the very foot of the mountains. Despite the fact that it is quite close from the city, it takes quite a long time to reach. Indeed, the buses have to deal with the very busy traffic of Shiraz before leaving the city-centre… Even if it is standing quite away from the city buzz, Ghalat has nothing of a boring country town. As we arrive in the village at around sunset, we are immediately seduced by its old ochre walls and the lovely ruins where fully restored bars and guesthouses mingle in a perfect harmony. Ghalat had acquired a little unofficial fame over the years because of its nearby production of marijuana that gave it the nickname of “Little Amsterdam”. The atmosphere is very festive and many Iranian comes here to enjoy a relaxing day visiting the old narrow streets, picnicking with their families by the river and partying at night. It is quite common to hear electro music pounding out of the buildings, proving once again how surprising a country Iran can be.
We wander in the streets with growing fascination, as the sunset turns the whole city bright red. As we go up, we get a beautiful view on the city rooftops from where the locals must enjoy quite a fantastic view all year round. The mineral landscape is already quite dry in this early April period. Trees still manage to grow on this hard rocky land, gathering around seasonal waterfalls coming from the mountain top. The mountain itself looks quite appealing with its many folds and wrinkles. We will keep the exploration for tomorrow. As the day is growing dark, we hurry to our guesthouse, seeking a good hearty Iranian dinner!
Hiking in Ghalat mountains, or climbing?
We get up early in the morning determined to enjoy a good walking day in Ghalat’s mountains. A young Belgian tourist asks us to join our little group and all five of us start heading uphill cheerfully. We are leaded to the start of a “good walking trail” by a young local who asserted he knew all the best walks around. We follow the river upstream crossing the village and through the forest until we reach the foot of a small waterfall bouncing down from what seems a very vertical wall of red rock.
– From there, you’ll have to climb up a bit but you’ll see, that’s quite easy, the young Persian guy tells us. We go up there with my friends nearly every day. You’ll find a very nice waterfall up there! Enjoy your time!
We look at the standing red cliff doubtfully… That way doesn’t seem so easy, right? As we face the wall considering our possibilities, we notice three Iranian guys bouncing down the rock with the agility of ibex, convincing us this “trail” was nothing more than an easy stroll. A few minutes later, they reach down the mountain and jump alongside us, smiling broadly with happiness.
– Your turn guys!
Taken aback and possibly a little bit hurt in our French pride, we all at once decide we are perfectly capable of climbing up, and swiftly with that, you’ll see, and after all we are mighty hikers, so what do we fear for hell’s sake? Well, let’s be clear about one thing. As soon as we start to make our way up the cliff, we realise that this is not hiking at all… but real mountain climbing! Convinced that the climb will be a short one (and also quite stubborn in our stupidity if it must be said) we keep on going courageously until we realize there will be no climbing down… The route is too arduous and, as we understand quite clearly now, the end of it is not that close either. We have no choice but to keep going, perfectly aware that the distance between our feet and the treetops is becoming dangerously wide and is still as vertical.
We’ve got no climbing rope or equipment of any sort. Our backpacks keep us unbalanced all the time, my mandatory veil keeps on getting back in my eyes, our arms and legs get covered with various scratches. We keep on climbing above the emptiness, scared as hell. Falling from this height would mean certain death.
After an infinite time, we manage to reach the top of the cliff, sweating and trembling from mental and physical exhaustion. We seriously hope that we will find an easier, safer route to get down the mountain. Climbing this wall alone in a foreign country without knowing the mountain, without any equipment whatsoever, was probably the craziest and stupidest thing we’ve ever done in our entire life (and we are not known to be reasonable people in the first place…). This was really unwise and we are not proud of it so please don’t do the same mistake unless you’ve got a certain habit of mountain climbing and you take a local guy to come with you!
Still inwardly boiling with adrenaline, we are overjoyed that we finally managed to reach this platform and gloat at the breath-taking panorama we can now enjoy at leisure without risking our lives. A waterfall is jumping from the tortured red dry mountain top, watering a few trees green from the spring. Wild flowers pop from the rocky ground from time to time, bright patches of colour in this dry scenery. We stop at the welcomed oasis and wash the filth of the climb in its freezing water. It is nearly eleven o’clock already. The climb took us hours! Above us, the mountain keeps going up. What should we do now?
The way to the top of the mountain, not so far now, looks a lot less steep than what we just went through but the ground looks more treacherous, brittle and unstable. No trace of a track can be seen, so again we would have to make our way up haphazardly without knowing where we should set foot. “Too risky, we think. Let’s try to find another way down instead”. Our young Belgian friend is not happy with this and as we try everything to convince him to stop this folly, he takes the decision to head up the mountain, alone. What happens next was highly predictable. We hardly start to make our way back that we hear a huge crack followed by someone’s shout echoing distressfully on the mountain. “F*** he’s dead!” White with fear, we pounce around, backing up as fast as we can. No, he’s still alive, thanks God, but he seems hurt. Quentin jumps up fast to give him a hand, running up the unsteady slope. Let’s hope he won’t hurt himself too… Quentin was either lucky or careful or both and manages to carry down the unfortunate Belgian, his face a mask of pain, fear and shame. His foot was crushed by a huge loose rock as he ascended and it is now looking nothing like a foot anymore, more like a really big and swollen very purple ripe plum. As one should expect in such situation, we have of course no network to call for help… Still, we must feel lucky nothing worse happened. The young Belgian would have to be half-carried down the mountain, for the only thing he can do is hopping around while clenching his teeth. We are dearly in need of an easy flat track to get down this mountain unless we abandon him there, as our friend Adrien kindly put forward.
Providence can take many forms in this world and right now it decided to take shape in a thin dark man popping up from nowhere, carrying an old backpack. One look at the injured foot makes him understand the situation. As he also understands that we are not that good with farsi, he gestures us to follow him. Supporting the Belgian guy, we stumble after him without hesitation. He guides us to a very nearby track we couldn’t have guessed from where we were. A quiet, long and easy track. Calmly descending down the mountain, hanging over the cliff and providing unmatchable views over the valley. The landscape truly is spectacular. Exactly what we were looking for from the start! How lucky were we to meet this man? we ponder as the merciless Iranian heat of the day starts roasting us slowly.
After some time, our savior orders a break in the shady part of a curved red wall bordered by a stream of clear water. “Choy?”, he asks. Tea time. He religiously lays out a red blanket on the ground and lights a small fire, on which is soon roasting a very old black kettle. While we wait for the water to boil, the man takes out of his backpack 6 small glasses, as if he was expecting to find us here, and a very large book weighting at least 5 kilograms. The Coran, of course. He starts singing softly, with a light beautiful voice. We suddenly understand that he has climbed the mountain to pray alone and that’s how he happened to meet our way. We share some smoked tea in silence, entranced by his mesmerizing songs.
This break was quite a necessity for the young belgian guy who might have been very unwise and foolish but who definitely isn’t the whining type. The walk down took us hours and not once did we hear him complain even if it was hard not to notice the paleness of his face or the sweat clinging on his brow. It is quite late in the afternoon when we finally get back to the village.
As we set foot in Ghalat again, we thank our good Samaritan with all our heart. Could we have guessed we would have had such an adventure in Iran? What an intense kind of country! What will happen next? As for the unwise Belgian guy, his holidays have come to an end. He will be transferred back to Belgium the next morning with a triple foot fracture.
Thinking about going to Ghalat? Don’t hesitate a minute! This is a place full of contrasts and natural beauty that you won’t forget for a long time. It is definitely worth a stay! Only remember to be careful when hiking and be wary of local “good walking trails”… Don’t forget to ask for the easiest routes!
People of Iran