Located in the north west of Iran, Rasht is the capital of Gilan province. On the coast of the Caspian sea, the city is an important commercial crossroads with Caucasus and Russia. Rasht is also used as a central base for tourists who wish to discover this region made of mountains, forests, tea tree fields and beautiful littoral…
We arrive in Rasht ( رشت ) from Qazvin after our hike in Alamut valley and its castle of the assassins. A few hours before, a taxi dropped us just behind a toll on the highway. Our driver had in mind to find us a bus, a truck, a car, whatever in fact as long as it has 4 wheels and an engine. He wanted to make sure that we’ll arrive in Rasht. So we were there, loaded like donkeys in the middle of the highway, trying to stop vehicules and to negociate our seats. The army was there too, just behind the toll, stopping all the buses. We were a bit anxious about it. What this military operation was about ? Were we allowed to do what we were doing ? No worries ! Our driver told us the army was looking for afghans refugies running away to the west. If they get caught, they are sure to be taken back to Afghanistan…
Finally, a young guy accepted to take us straight to Rasht, but maybe a bit forced by our taxi driver.
Two hours later, we meet with our friend Maryam who will be with us for the next days. Tomorrow we’ll visit Masuleh, an old village built on the flanks a beautiful valley…
Masuleh, a charming old mountain village
It took us an hour an half to reach Masuleh ( ماسوله ) by car. The landscape has drastically changed from everything we have seen so far in Iran. We’re now passing through tea tree fields, some houses has curved roofs like in Asia, the ground is wet and forests are dense. Quickly the road goes up and bends along a river bed lying down at the bottom of a gorge.
The taxi dropped us just at the entrance of Masuleh and ask if he must wait for us. We tell him that we’ll take the bus back. Maryam then urges us to walk up in the village and boasts about all the culinary and cultural specialities of the region. Old yellowish mud walled houses built in terraces are linked by small alleys in which are installed a lot of shops of all kind. At some places, black tarpaulins are stretched from roof to roof above the streets, protecting the visitors from the burning bites of the sun. We’re friday, weekly day off for iranians. The streets are crowded ! What an ambiance ! The scene looks like a gigantic bazaar made in a historical village ! Fabrics and little knitted dolls brighten the walls in a thousand colors while the stalls of spices, flowers and honey mixed with the many restaurants fill the atmosphere.
We’re in love with that place !
After a meal on one of the terraces with a view over the valley, we walk up to the top of the village. From up there we spot a kind of a large park with a waterfall and groups of iranian having picnics on the traditional large tablecloths. From here, it looks like a beautiful colorful patchwork. We decide to walk there. We’ll probably get a nice view over the village. On our way we met a lot of young people, all super curious and very friendly. Photo session here, photo session there… Just amazing ! We even meet a group particulary cool, speaking a good english with whom we sympathise quickly. On of them looks like John Lennon, another one has blue hair… So fashion ! They live in Rasht and set up a meeting with us tomorrow to guide us around the city. We ended up our afternoon like iranians : sat in the grass of the park while eating grilled pistachios with honey and almonds.
We discovered Rasht when we came back from Masuleh, during the end of the afternoon. And what a surprise ! The city does not look like all the others we’ve seen during our trip in Iran. Modern and animated, young couples walking together, long plaits going beyong hijabs in girls’ backs. Streets are all enlighted at night, with modern art sculptures and full of fashion shops and fastfood restaurants. We soon get encircled by a lot of curious people asking us tons of questions. Apparently tourists are not common here. The gathering crowd get bigger and things start to get out of control for us. A young woman, tall with beautiful pale eyes seems to understand. In a perfect english she tells us that she’ll manage us out of here. She fake to know us and take us away quickly. Another young woman follow us. Quentin thinks she’s very cute : beautiful eyes, nice brown hair, and a luscious mouth highlighted with red lipstick… But she flutters around Adrien ! Emilie, unhappy with so many direct and unsubtles approaches, shows her a picture of their daughter while saying very clearly : “My daughter with Adrien ! Do not touch my man, bitch !” . Deception for the young girl, laugher for us when she was away…. We ended the evening in a restaurant with the woman who took us out of the crowd, eating the “best beef kebab of all Iran” !
The next morning we meet again with the guys from yesterday. They guide us throught the bazaar, which has the reputation to be one of the most interesting of Iran. Gigantic, it takes place in the streets, in fact in a whole district of Rasht, and looks more like a market, but with local food specialities like mutton heads ! People like it for breakfast we’ve been told. Yummy… The bazaar is organised like the others we’ve seen : here is the food part, here the fabric and clothes, here the tools, … Colorful and full of smells we spent a few hours walking around the bazaar and Rasht while trying some of the local cakes.
Masal et Olasbelangah
Our friends Adrien and Emilie must go back to Tehran this morning. They’ll fly back to France a few days before us, abandonning us ! As for us, we’ve heard about a little village in the mountains somewhere a 100kms from here. Problem : we must find a way to go there.
No worries, in Iran taxis are the solution to everything ! We’re rapidly dropped in Masal, a big town full of people and trafic, that we basically imagined like a small village. Deception. A little confused, we found ourselves in the middle of a muddle with a taxi driver that will end up like this : the taxi driver drove away when a “secret police” agent showed up and took us away with two guys armed with assault rifles. Oops. We finally get out of the situation without any troubles, and another taxi driver took care of us. He didn’t really understood where we wanted to go, but he can drive there, and with a smile if you please ! A quick phone call to an english speaking friend of him and here we go : to the charming pastoral village of Olasbelangah ( اولسبلانگاه ). The road climbs up to the mountains, winding through a beautiful forest where water is running down from the summits. Suddently we get out of the woods and arrive on the pastures. Painted wood houses colors the decor, and are spaced enough to let the sheep stocks pass inside the villages. The view on the mountains is priceless, but life must be hard in these conditions at this altitude.
There is not much to do up here but walking around, enjoying the silence and the views, and meet some shepherds. Beautiful encounters. That’s what we love : pure travels, simple and basic.
Out driver will take us back to Rasht this evening, but first we’re invited to drink a choï at his place to meet his new born daughter. What a beautiful moment of humanity, shared with curious kids and their innoncent laughts.
We still have a few days to spend in Iran since we’ve extended our visa. Several choices are possible : to continue alone to the west towards Irak, Syria and Azerbaidjan, answer the invitation we received from that young girl we met in Shiraz and visit her in Hamedan, or answer another invitation we received from a young guy we met in Isfahan to meet him in Kerman in the south of Iran, not far from Afghanistan. Hard choice ! We took the decision to go back to Tehran, and take the train the next day to reach Kerman. We’ve heared so many good things about that province, that we want to see it with our own eyes !