My Nepal: Solo Trekking in Langtang

Update imageNamaste! 
It has been a long time since the last time you heard from me, I'm sorry. I have been very busy with my job in school - that's now full time and permanent - and also with a new political project I really believe in. Holidays are coming and on Sunday I'll fly to Nepal again.
My friends know how many things happened since the last time I have been there. This time I'm going to explore the Langtang region, with the support of a guide but no porters. It's a short trekking in one of the less touristic areas of the country, severely hit by the 2015 earthquake, beautiful and wild. I need time to reflect and walking in the mountains is the best thing I can do. Meanwhile I'm fundraising for Child Rescue Nepal: you can find all info HERE and I ask you to DONATE to support their amazing work against children slavery and trafficking.
I'm going to spend few days in Kathmandu and I have so many friends to meet! I'll try to understand what happened in the last political elections where the Leftist Alliance got a stunning victory. I'm very happy about it.
I missed my Nepal too much, I can't believe I have been away so long: 8 months!  I don't know if I'll be able to update this blog from there, probably no. I'll be back on the 8th of January with new stories to tell and new pictures to share. I really love this country, I think I found my place in the world.

Langtang trekking schedule
12/25: Kathmandu, where I'll stay by my guide and Virgin Trails owner Rajesh Sharma. 
26: Kathmandu: so many friends to meet! 
27: Kathmandu -Syabrubesi (1610m) (7-8 hours) by Bus 
28: Yabrubesi-Lama Hotel (2470m) 
"We hit the Langtang-Gosainkunda trail, and our destination of the day is the Lama Hotel dwelling beyond the Langtang Khola. It would take about 6 hours as we hike our way through Doman (1685m), and then across the Landslide Lodge (1810m), past the Bamboo and then across the suspension bridge over Langtang Khola, which opens up to Rimche (2400m) and then finally to Lama Hotel. And, by the way, we will be passing thick forests of oak, rhododendron flowers and bamboos on our route, where you may catch sight of the famous red panda, black bear, langurs (a kind of a monkey) and such exotic Himalayan wildlife."
29: Lama Hotel-Langtang Valley  (3430m) 
"Climb up for just a couple of hours, and you will reach Ghora Tabela (2970m). At this point, your National Park entry card will be checked, and you will resume your hike walking through a path adorned with Tibetan prayer flags and prayer wheels. In no time, you will hit the soil of Langtang valley (3430m), headquarter of the Langtang National Park. If there are any plant-lovers among you, then let me inform you that Langtang valley is the treasure trove of unique alpine plants. Rest here for the night."
30: Langtang Valley-Kyangjin Gompa (3740m) 
"Make way across yak pastures and climb through a glacial moraine, with Mani walls and chortens (Buddhist shrines) upon the way. You will soon reach a wooden bridge, beyond which is the famous Kyangjin Gompa (3740m). It’s an awesome place, with an ancient monastery, a scenic landscape around it and a delicious cheese factory. So, ready your camera and say cheese!"
31: Hiking upto Chorkari Ri (5050m), Return back Kyangjin Gompa
"This is sort of an exploration-cum-acclimatization day. We can hike to the nearby hills, especially to the Chorkari Ri/Tsergo Ri (at an altitude of 5050m), from the top of which we can witness the amazing panorama of the great Langtang peaks, especially that of the Langtang Lirung (behold the dramatic sight of ice chunks flowing off its peak), Gyanghempo, Langshisha Ri, Yansha Tenji and Nayakang. Lay around for a while to capture the exotic sunset, and then you can move back to your lodge at Kyangjin Gompa."
1/1: Kyangjin Gompa-Lama Hotel 
"Retrace your step back to Lama Hotel, traversing once again across the Langtang village and Ghora Tabela (lunch here). It will be an easy trek downhill and, in about 6 or 7 hours, you will be back at your lodge in Lama Hotel."
2: Lama Hotel-Syabrubesi 
"This will be the last trek of the trip. From Lama Hotel, we will now backpedal through the familiar forests and arrive at Bamboo. A quick lunch here and we will be climbing downhill until we stumble upon two trails, one leading to Thulo Syabru (from hereon, the Gosainkunda trail commences) while the other goes back to Syabrubesi. We hit the latter trail, retracing our steps to Syabrubesi."
3: Drive Back To Kathmandu
4: and 5 Kathmandu: busy days meeting friends.
6: Flight home :(


Nepal: An interview with the artist Milan Rai

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Maskman in Kathmandu

Milan Rai is a young Nepalese artist and in my opinion he represents very well the new generation that's changing the face of the country, not only in a direct political way but by their concept of citizenship and their life style.
I asked him an interview and I'm honoured that he accepted. It hasn't been easy for me to write down balanced questions as I was interested both in his art and in his relationship with Nepalese culture and society.
I'm happy to say that the process of asking and answering was productive for both of us, stimulating a reflection about ourselves and forcing us to understand more clearly what we wanted to put on words.

I hope you'll find it interesting too! Enjoy!

Ilaria:  How would you define yourself? Who is Milan Rai?
Milan: I consider myself as a free spirited soul who is continually exploring, imagining as well as seeking and living life in the present moment. I find contentment here as my encounter with art transforms me, while the practice of self love liberates me.
Ultimately, my practice is rooted in the notion of integrity. It is also navigated by the heart wisdom that has enabled me to evolve both artistically and spiritually. 
Ilaria: I find especially stimulating the link between your artistic work and your social engagement, because your art is public and addressing problems like pollution, peace and tolerance, but it isn't an 'ideological' or even 'political' art. In my opinion that's evident in your White Butterflies project. Do you agree?
MilanAlthough my works contains deep and personal message at their core, they are open to audiences’ personal interpretation.
When you are working in a private studio, no one is going to inhibit you for altering any part of your work. In contrast, the reality of performing in public realms is different as many variables are beyond your control. 
No automatic alt text available.I can recall countless occasions when I proposed my ideas of integrating art into everyday life and receiving adverse response from the authorities in return. They attempted to stop me by restricting my access to the location I desired to perform at.  Aside from that, many people have questioned my faith. 
In my response to the conundrums, I began intervene public spaces by installing paper-cut white butterflies on trees, walls, buildings.  I had even occupied ad-busting billboards without requesting anyone’s permission in prior. 
As the white butterflies became visible around the city, it inadvertently grew to become associated with various activisms in a positive manner. 
The installations seemed to stir curiosity and wonder in the passersbys. Soon after, conversations began and circulated. As a result, the number of people who discover the work soared and I started to receive requests from individuals and communities who wish to spread white butterflies in their environment across the world. 
Following to that, they began to establish networks and expand this movement in ways which have brought themselves the essence of love, hope and peace in their own contexts. 
Over the past 5 years of White Butterfly’s project, innumerable connections have been kindled around the world. In conjunction with that, I feel the tenor ever growing responsibilities and opportunities to promote harmony between people by co-creating, sharing and expanding our perception. 
The White Butterfly project and my other artistic endeavors sparked some political moments when engaged with social contents. I recognize social issues like air pollution, injustice and tolerance and respond to them based on my personal insights by utilizing both the power of art and purpose. 
In some ways, I deliberately expose unethical practice and try to re-think solutions. When the world is brimming with rage, it is equally critical for us to respond to the quandary with the caliber of kindness, beauty and humor. 
No automatic alt text available.In the very least, I believe that art wield the potential to manifest the concept and hence it should also execute it with passion. 
My art is not ideological because it does not seek to preach. Instead, it opens up a portal to which viewers are able to enter and conduct both effective communications and cathartic confrontations
While it encourages conversations to take place, it also helps forming social engagement and opens up the possibility for participants to respond and interact.  
I want all of my social engagements / activism to be understood as external layers of my work since I believe that the deeper work occurs in the internal level of my practice, which is for me to remain honest with my expression.
In my perception, art is first and fore mostly an individual's personal projection of one’s deep and profound experiences that can elicit resonance in others. 
From my experience, introducing art in public realms does not solely generate social engagement. It is the éclat of openness, honesty and letting go of ownership that has actually morphed white butterflies into a socially engaged art process.  
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Maskman isnspires cartoonists

Ilaria: Another characteristic of your work - in my perception of it - is its open, relational dimension. Can you tell us something about this? 
Milan: I never attempted to control the proliferation or dictate the meaning of this white butterfly. Ultimately, an open invitation to participate in the White Butterfly installations has created an opening for individuals to relate it to their own personal stories. Such form of involvement induce both transformational and emotional phenomenon.  
I made my art accessible both on online and offline platforms. Nevertheless,  the social media has been an incredibly powerful mechanism that facilitates the promulgation of the project. With the city of Kathmandu as its epicenter, the project eventually burgeoned throughout the world with the application of social media networks. 
To keep the growing community well informed and excited about the evolution of the project, I upload collected artifacts daily, primarily through the platform of Facebook. The documentations do not only chronicle the project in a journal-like presentation, but also promotes direct interchange between an artist and the audience. 
To quote a woman who participated in a community which created White Butterfly Action in the city of Brussels, “The beauty of this project is that an artist is turning everyone into an artist with his stroke of goodness and beauty.” 
Ultimately, even those who do not consider themselves as artists may unknowingly become active participants by becoming an integral part of the art process.
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Photo : Sharif Fahimi White Butterflies in Aghanistan
Ilaria: Nepal has got a huge cultural and artistic tradition. What's your relationship with it? Your artistic language looks very 'global', still your background emerges, for example in the value of 'kindness' or 'nature'.
MilanUndeniably, the Nepalese art which particularly revolve about traditional paintings (that are based on religious scriptures ) and exquisite architecture of historical sites reflects the vibrancy of Nepalese art and richness of its culture. 
However, my practice contradicts with its defined system as I perceive my art as a way to live within the wrap of time of which I am currently living in. It is an instrument for me to respond accordingly to the ever evolving time and its contextual surrounding. 
Hence, my relationship with the traditional art is merely constituted by the sentiment of a common man who sense and appreciate its unique features, delicate craftsmanship as well as the historical nuances engraved in it. 
On the other hand, a global phenomena that may also be regarded as cross cultural exchange took place when the White Butterfly project crossed geographical borders and thus embrace the quality of universality that constitutes both the notion of interconnectedness and co-existence.  
Such temperament transcends the concept of race, religion and a multitude of other boundaries. Meanwhile People recognize it as a meaningful medium to express their feelings as intangible issues may momentarily become tangible and relatable to the audience. 
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In London
The testimonies you hear from people who have been touched by the white butterflies are truly remarkable. I recall an email from an elderly lady who wrote:  
“I am very moved by your White Butterflies and want to have some for myself.  I have depression, so I do not go out as I used to.  But I would like to make these in memory of my family and friends who have left. Perhaps, if I ever get better, I will be able to go outside. I was an artist. I earned my bachelor's degree in it but I haven't done anything in many years, I think working with butterflies will help my spirit.  I live in Arizona, United States.” 
After I posted the white butterflies to her address, she concluded that it gave her a harness  of hope as well as a reason to go out and spread them. 
This small act of kindness engendered by genuine human connections proved to be an unexpected means of support and comfort to people. 
Whereas, a mother in Scotland wrote her departed daughter’s name on one of the butterflies and placed it on a tree. She calls it a memorial tree.  This act eventually turned into an annual memorial ritual of remembering where the villagers comes together to include the names of their departed loved ones. 
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In London
I see the value of kindness in touching people’s hearts in both big and small ways, making them co-creators in their own style. 
This is a collective effort where we share our stories and experiences which resonate with people's hearts and reaffirm our oneness.   
Still about Nepalese art... it flourished and travelled to China during the time of Araniko. But many other artisans who contributed for centuries have been forgotten because the importance was not given to documentation and distribution nor the nation could preserve them. While travelling to New York, I found a big part of finest Nepalese art collection at Rubin Museum. Late Lain Singh Bangdel, a modern artist from Nepal, did a great research on the lost and stolen arts of Nepal and was able to track down and bring some ancient art back home from around the world
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In London
Ilaria: Your style is quite original, but not naive, so which are your reference points in the history of art and in the contemporary panorama?
Milan: I did not enroll into any art degree program, nor did I pursue any formal education in the vocation.  Hence, I began drawing and painting with limited knowledge on art and its history. 
Initially I began by copying the paintings from the renaissance period.  As a result, I got influenced by the style of the great masters that improved my painting skill to some extent. In spite of that, I still lacked originality and thus I shifted from the discipline of realism to abstract expressionism, hugely influenced by Pollock.
Image may contain: 2 peopleI did not stick to that particular style either. While moving freely between a myriad of styles, expressions and methods, I eventually found a perfect ground for exploration that conjunct the point of intersections between my vision and accomplished work of other artists, which in turn helped encourage my artistic inquiry. 
Reflecting upon these links and associations unfurls new vistas and range of perspectives on current issues that are prevalent both in the world and contemporary art scene. 
Lowe,Project Row Houses is a good example of inclusivity and community involvement in social-practice art that I find relevant to my other ambitious art projects.
I also look at the approaches of Ai Weiwei, Olafur Elliason,Cai Guo-Qiang  and other  emerging artists  who are expanding  the contemporary art’s panorama and its socio cultural horizon. 
A French sociologist, Marcel Mauss is also a key reference to my artistic exploration and social art practice since I started gifting my art (White Butterflies) unconditionally to people, thus allowing them to decide the outcome.
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White Butterflies in Southbank center London 
Ilaria: Concept comes in the foreground in this kind of artistic project, but what's about materials? In the mask and broom performance you took daily objects putting them in a new context so that they assume a symbolic meaning. In the White Butterflies project which material did you use? Which have been the steps in its realization?
Milan: The decision in the choice of materials is extremely fundamental.  In a performance art to address the serious air pollution issue in Kathmandu city, I chose a gas mask and a broom.  I even made a custom bag to carry the broom.  I carried them lovingly and protectively like a musician carries the priceless instrument in their equipments’ case.
There are various kinds of gas masks available in the market but I wanted to embody the vintage character of a Russian army gas mask which was not available in Nepal. So, I had to order it online from USA. Cloth masks that are commonly worn by the general public are ineffective against such harrowing level of air pollution. Therefore I wore a gas mask which is commonly used to protect oneself from poisonous elements. 
I was also particularly fascinated by the ancient symbolism and shape of a broom, especially because the city cleaners in Kathmandu city use similar brooms to clean the town. 
When I walked inside the metropolitan city offices and health ministers’ premises while wearing a gas mask, it took another meaning and questioned the political pollution that is seriously harming the health of the nation. 
After doing a series of this performance in different locations, the images started circulating on social media including the front page of national daily newspapers. Cartoonist started a series that engaged people in a dialectical fashion. Graffiti of a mask man started popping out in public spaces. 
I am interested in art that does not only criticize but also encourages us to engage in thoughtful involvements of an issue by actually acting toward change. 
Before finalizing a distinct shape of a white paper butterfly, I tried making them on various materials, like aluminum sheets, plastics and photographic  paper in different shapes and sizes. 
It was after innumerable trials and errors that I finally chose to materialize them in paper to retain the short lived nature of a butterfly since the paper itself decomposes at the end of its life. Hence, deciding to make paper-cut butterflies had originated from the awareness about its impact on the environment.
Ilaria: Still about the White Butterflies, how did you get the idea? Bring us inside your creative process! 
After exhibiting my work in galleries, I discovered that artworks are largely procured by wealthy buyers or alternatively, handed to intellectuals who maintain their exclusivity to a group of elites and individuals of privileged background. 
I immediately thought that art should be universally accessible to everyone. Therefore, I stepped away from the gallery system and tried various ways to cater my art to all.
I spent a long stretch of time trying to conceive complex ideas to amaze the prospective audience with my art. To my dismay, the attempts were not successful as I hoped. After countless failures and rejection, I was beginning to feel discouraged. 
Then on one fine day, while I was contemplating on a different idea, a tiny white butterfly came and perched in my studio.
In that very moment, an epiphany revelation occurred to me and transformed my art practice. I swept aside all the complex ideas and suspended my intellectual mind just to simply sit and observe the tiny butterfly. 
Suddenly, I felt like a marvelled child.  At an instant, everything looked so fresh and wonderful. It was as though I was seeing anew through a wide-open pair of childlike eyes with both inexplicable curiosity and joy. 
Instead of looking outward toward accomplishing achievements and journeying ahead to the masses, I began to focus inward. Therewith, I started to notice inner transformation happening. 
After the turning point, I effortlessly surrendered to the struggle for me to shift away from complexity and proceed toward simplicity. 
After months of observation and introspection, I decided to use the motif of a paper cut butterfly. I began going around the city to spread White Butterflies. Initially, some people reacted negatively to its presence and tore the butterflies away. When I did not see the butterflies in the same place where I had left them, I would say to myself, “People did not destroy the butterflies. They have just flow away to another place.” 
I felt no urge to persuade the conviction of the audience, nor did I wish to please anyone or change anything with my art. I simply strived to honestly express my sentiments. And in return felt so much joy! 
Thus a nano-scale personal project that started from the small city of Kathmandu began to travel with much élan over great distances across borders and continents, touching the hearts of many. 
People embraced its simplicity and began adding their own message of hope, love and joy. I feel grateful and humbled at the response from thousands of people who have spoken and written to me about what these white butterflies meant to them. I share those creative moments with people from all walks of life who have stepped forward to co-create with me and spread the message of the butterflies in multiple installations in many cities around the world. 
Today, white butterflies have evolved into a global art project. My aim of taking art to the mass did not change at all, but the process of walking towards that goal has changed effortlessly without altering my goal. And in that process, how I have changed into becoming more receptive and accommodative, without the need to control people’s behavior or response. I embarked on this creative journey by translating my personal experience into a subject motif coupled with profound beauty and optimism with very limited resources, fueled with passion.
Ilaria: Finally: Nepal is undergoing an important political phase with local elections and the implementation of the federal constitution. What do you think about the general situation of your country?
In my opinion, Nepal is going through a long and difficult transition. On top of that, the political instability has gripped the nation for a long time. Additionally, the devastating earthquake in 2015 and death floods have left the citizens in the pit of poverty and great difficulties. Nevertheless, a strong sense of resilience, hope and compassion have also emerged amongst the people. 
The old parties have acquired their success by deploying active youths in the streets to enforce strikes and create political upheavals. Although the youth movements in Nepal have accounted over 65 years of history, they are still denied the chance to participate in decision-making affairs. They were also constantly exploited by the old political hierarchical system in the political processes . 
Despite the quandary,  I  remain optimistic about the emergence of the new alternative force in the country  (Bibeksheel Sajha) that is gradually transforming the conventional and commonly accepted method of politics. 
Furthermore,  they are introducing a brand new mode of political participation to the youth.  They also do not seek to acquaint with old political connections or otherwise engage in party activism to elevate their position in the party. In contrast,they dedicate themselves to invent a new era in the Nepali Politics,  completely armed with the capacity and the willingness to empower communities as well as addressing the needs of the nation. 
In that spirit, they are carrying out socio-economic movements, and have been politically active from the ballot box to online activism in relevant issues of our everyday lives. By doing so, they have inadvertently challenged the conventional political hierarchies and are making their mark in the mainstream Nepali Politics. 
The growing participation of their members and meaningful engagement from all public sectors makes this political force inclusive and suggests that youths are departing from the old political system to achieve a sustainable development and democracy. I am optimistic about the transition phase after the implementation of   federal constitution.

You can find more about Milan Rai on his Facebook page HERE and on his Instagram account HERE.


Mountain - Hiking Itineraries: Monte Pisanino

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Climbing the dorsal
Monte Pisanino is the highest peak (1,946 m) in the Alpi Apuane, in Tuscany, central Italy. There are two routes to get to summit: the 'via normale' and the 'Bagola bianca' route, very demanding. Of course we decided to try the last one, because as Bob A. Schelfhout Aubertijn told me: "Adventure without risk is Disneyland." (quoting Douglas Coupland, "Generation X"). 
HERE you can find an accurate description of the route. In short... it climbs vertically from Rifugio Valserenaia to the summit, following a dangerous rocky dorsal emerging from that fucking slippery grass we call 'paleo'. 
The weather was perfect, sunny but not too hot. We started climbing on the steep almost invisble path, often checking the description to be sure it was right: it's supposed to be an excurisonistic route EE, not a mountaineering route, and we were (un)equiped accordingly... but... ehm... it was hard! 
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Pizzo d'Uccello
The wonderful view was keeping high our morale: Pizzo d'Uccello was just in front, partially covered by low clouds, while the summit of Pisanino was hidden by the vertical slope. We attacked the rocks and it was amusing, we were going on pretty well.
Suddenly I had to stop: my legs are short and I couldn't find a place where to put my foot. I was stuck in that passage, not happy but calm, considering how to get out of it, when I realised that my left boot was untied! 
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The dorsal
Ok. I kept cool my blood. Still it wasn't a nice situation. Not at all. I had no choice but to put all my weight on my hands and to move quickly beyond the unsure foot place, just a slight corrugation on the wide smooth rock. 
Tiziano was swearing like hell: "WE GO DOWN! IMMEDIATELY". "What are you saying? I'm fine!" I was, tieing my boot. Honestly I thought that after those rocks the route was going to be easier. I was wrong. 
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Pisanino summit
We had to follow a narrow ledge ('cengia') leading to a small pass. Another vertical slope and we arrived atop the famous 'bagola bianca', the foresummit of Pisanino. 
We stared to the last meters of the route almost in shock: a sharp crest, some wild goats, a verical climb covered in paleo grass and no path in sight
We decided to renounce to the summit. Probably it wasn't harder than the part we had already done, but the discrepancy between the route classification and its reality had shaken my selfconfidence...
No summit means we had to go down from the same hard way, so the descent was as demanding as the climb and probably more dangerous. In some points we had to slip off on the paleo grass trying to control by our feet because the slope was too steep to safely walk. It was fun and scary at the same time.
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Descending on the paleo
From the summit we had phoned to Rifugio Donegani asking for advice and to inform we where up there. "I'll share a drink with you later" the guy had said "Or I'll come looking for you at dusk!". Fortunately we reached the mountain foot much earlier.

Time: 5 hours
Km: 7,3 Km
Elevation:  1050 m
Where: Alpi Apuane (Garfagnana, Lucca, Toscana, Italy). Closer village: Minucciano (water, food shop).
Start and finish: Rifugio Valserenaia (1100 m). The rifuge was closed, not far there is Rifugio Donegani.
Summit: Monte Pisanino (1947 m)
Signals: no one. 


A month in Iran: reportage 16: Two days trekking in Central Alborz

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, standing, mountain, outdoor and nature"First of all we'll go to Lavasan". Ali Reza is a young man, slim and tall, with a rarely intense look in his eyes. "I'm going to be your guide in the next two days". Rockclimbing instructor, he's back from achieving a big result as he just climbed the most difficult wall in Iran as he tells us driving across Tehran, he's frankly exhausted... but eager to go hiking with us. 
Adventure in Iran headquarter is small and busy, at the first floor of a big building in the town of Lavasan, only 11 km northeast of the Capital city but a completely different world. "People come living here for the good quality of the air, less traffic and contact with nature"Ali Reza explains. "Rich people". No need to add. 
Image may contain: tree, plant, mountain, outdoor, nature and waterA big map is open on the table and we are obviously offered some chai. There are Mehrdad Mike Eskenasi, Naser Hemati's partner in the bussiness, and some others, including a young woman talking  Italian. Her name is Mehrak and she's going to become my friend.
I gave a deposit and now finish to  pay, then we define the schedule. We are going to spend two night in a village at about 1.000 m in the Central Alborz, the first day we will walk up the river to a small town on an easy road, the second day we will get to the summit of a 3.000 m peak from where we will see Mount Damavand (5,609.2 m), the highest peak in Iran.
Image may contain: mountain, sky, outdoor and natureIt's hard to explain how strangers turn friends so quickly in the mountains. Maybe it's because we share everything: we eat together, we sleep together in just one room or in a tent, we face together difficulties and enjoy together satisfations. We have fun and feel free. Yes, I think it's the last one... We talk a lot in these two days, especially about politics and the situation in our respective countries. Ali Reza is surprised to find out that Europe is not a paradise, and Mehrak can confirm because she has studied in Italy for a few years. 
Image may contain: people standing, mountain, sky, plant, tree, outdoor and natureThe main difference between Iran and Italy is that people in Iran is not only about complaining but also about fighting to change things. In Italy the most of the people is very unsatisfied but only few are politically engaged. That's especially true about youths. Iranian society is way more dynamic, probably because the average age is way lower. Italian society is old
Image may contain: mountain, sky, outdoor and natureIn our first trekking day we go up the river on a easy route gently climbing to another bigger village. It's very hot and trees only grow in the riverbed while the mountain slopes are rocky, bald and very steep. "In winter the snow is so high here that the path is up there", "Do you use sky or rackets?", "No, nothing. They are not in our culture. Just boots. You can imagine how longer it takes in winter to cover this same route! and it's dangerous because avalanches are frequent." 
Image may contain: outdoor and natureThe weather is perfect, not a cloud in the sky. A beautiful waterfall offers the chance for a first little climb, then Ali Reza gives us a lesson of rockclimbing and... motivation! It's about getting to know perfectly your rock, your hand holds and foot places, so that finally you can climb so fast that gravity is almost irrilevant. But maybe that's the 10th time you try!
Image may contain: mountain, sky, outdoor and natureThe second day we go atop. We wake up very early, at 4 am, and we start climbing before 5 am to avoid the heat as much as possible. The route is impressive: almost vertical on the bald slope of this mountain rising from the village to 3.000 m, so 2.000 m of elevation in a relatively short distance. Brutal!
Image may contain: one or more people, people standing, mountain, sky, outdoor and natureI feel very well, I breath and keep a regular pace, not even slow. We see the sun rising from behind the top and its light invading the landscape, dazzling, cruel. But we have already reached the crest and now the climb is less steep and we steadily step on short prairie grass. There is a last little challenge to get to the summit and from there we can enjoy a wonderful view: the Alborz range, Mount Damavand covered in snow, Tehran... so close! and the many different incredible shapes and colours of these bald mountains clearly showing their geological conformations. Nobody in sight. A huge silence.
Image may contain: sky, mountain, outdoor and natureOk, it's just a 3.000 peak. Still a peak, and a steep one. I'm proud to rise my Nepalese prayerflags, even if it's better not to leave them here. 
Image may contain: one or more people, people standing, sky, mountain, outdoor and natureBut the summit is just half of the way as Anatoli Boukreev used to say. In this case is absolutely true because the descent is almost as hard as the way up, in a  demanding neverending scree. And now the heat is unbearable. While surfing on the moving rock Mehrak and I start singing very loud El pueblo unido... it's one my best memories from this month in Iran! 
"Congrats" Ali Reza says back to the village "Very strong team, and very fast." 
Image may contain: one or more people, people standing, mountain, sky, nature and outdoorBasicly we don't sleep that night: at 3 am we are already in Tehran Imam Khomeini International Airport waiting for our friends to fly back to Italy

Have also a look to Part 1Part 2,  Part 3Part 4 Part 5Part 6 , Part 7 , Part 8 Part 9Part 10Part 11Part 12Part 13Part 14 and Part 15.
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A month in Iran: reportage 15: Persepolis, Pasargadae and Naqsh-e Rustam

Image may contain: flower, plant, sky, outdoor and natureI rememeber well the day I saw the Euphrates river. I was taking part in a political event in support of the Kurdish Communist Party against the Turskish military regime. It was 1997. We had been traveling by bus night and day from Instabul toward Diyarbakyr, trying to join a Newroz demonstration finished in a bloodshed. 
Image may contain: sky, cloud and outdoorWe were crossing the country and I was glued to the window. Sometimes we stopped to talk from the roof ot the buses to huge crowds of militant asking for a free, multicultural and socialist Turkey. We were social activists, parties and unions' militants from many countries of the world, and there were also some deputees from different national Parliaments. We were acting as willing shield for our Kurdish comrades because the Turkish police would attack and put us in jail maybe but they were riskying their lives. Indeed we got stopped by a tank on the way from Gazantiep, arrested and brought back to Instabul. 
Image may contain: sky and outdoorBut that dawn was all rosy, I opened my eyes and saw the river, rammed earth houses on its sides, soft green trees... Pater Euphrates! the river of my childhood school books! I was ecstatic.
Image may contain: sky and outdoorThe tomb of Cirus in Pasargadae is just the same. I'm standing here in front of it, reverently. It was in my school Art book, taking all the page. Solitary. On a desert background. In a deep silence talking of millennials, neverending instant of nothing. 
No automatic alt text available.But the sun is high. Our day started in Persepolis, majestic rest of the Persian Empire. We went there in the early morning but the heat was already dazing. Not a tree, not a shadow, hieratic ruins in a desolated dusty mountain. Some of them look so familiar... 
Image may contain: sky and outdoorA visit to Persepolis requires good trekking boots, a good hat or scarf, a bottle to be filled with icy water by the several water distributors. Suncream also if your skin is white (I have not got this problem) especially if you dare to climb to Artaxerxes II tomb. 
Image may contain: sky and outdoorPersepoli was the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire (ca. 550–330 BC), not a city not a necropolis. Here Zoroastrian rites were held and public cerimonies involving the Grand King and the Governors of his many provinces. It's scarcely a human place.
Image may contain: 1 person, standing, sky, hat, outdoor and closeupThe most of the Persian kings are buried in Naqsh-e Rustam. Unlike Cirus tombs, standing on the ground like a huge sarcophagus, this four large tombs are cut high into the cliff face and decorated with bas relieves. It's the sunset when we arrive, cooler and deserted. The low light underlines the impressive figures. There is a little wind and it's so easy to think about the unavoidable death waiting for every humans. And I remember a poem by Percy Bysshe Schelley talking about the inscription on the rest of an ancient tomb, lost in the desert, almost cancealed: "Oh you foreigner who pass by, stop and admire the greatness of the king that won't never fade in centuries and millennials"... something like this... 
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Image may contain: outdoorHave also a look to Part 1Part 2,  Part 3Part 4 Part 5Part 6 , Part 7 , Part 8 Part 9Part 10Part 11Part 12Part 13 and Part 14.
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A month in Iran: reportage 14: The Scent of Shiraz

Image may contain: airplane and skyMehrabad airport is in the city area, not far from our home but the flight to Shiraz is very early in the morning. Although Tehran is not sleeping, its heartbeat is slower while our Snapp dashes in the dark and relatively desert highway. Iranian rock loud on the radio. 
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Arg of Karim Khan. 
Snapp will be our best friend in Shiraz, because the city is hard to visit in foot due to heat and to the fact its monuments are scattered in a wide area. Buses are also available but rare. Regular taxis are definitely available...! well: taxi drivers are very proactive in Shiraz! but Snapp is cheaper and it works quite well.
Honestly I didn't enjoy my first day in Shiraz. It was too hot. We arrived at 12 am and according to my traveler experience I would have spent the afternoon sleeping in the hotel room, but my Iranian friends decided we go straight to Arg of Karim Khan
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Arg of Karim Khan: garden
The fortified palace dominates the main - modern - square. Inside its high walls connected by four round brick towers there is a lovely garden, rich in flowers and fruits, a fresh water funtain in the midle. An image of the sweetness of the Islamic paradise contrasting with the harshness of the outside. The Zand dynasty had here its heart: this was the house of Karim Khan and also his military headquarter. Few remains of the beautiful decorations and probably the best conserved part is the bath. 
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Arg of Karim Khan: bath
Iran in summer is done for lazy travelers. Let's enjoy a nap in the shadow of the naranja trees!
Pars Museum, by the other side of the square, is small but nice, moreover there is airconditioning. It's located in the old Nazar Garden, that was "one of the largest gardens of Shiraz during the Safavid rule (1501–1722). During Zand dynasty (1750–1794) Karim Khan built an octagon structure which was called Kolah Farangi. It was used to receive and entertain foreign guests and ambassadors and hold official ceremonies." In 1936 the pavilion became a museum hosting handwritten Qurans and paintings of famous Persian artists. 
Vakil Mosque is not far, but closed at the moment. Instead it's possible to visit the annexed Vakil Bath, absolutely stunning. Public bath are usually part of mosques' complex because ritual bathing is required before each prayer. 
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Tomb of Saadi
The day has been hot so I'm grateful for the sunset. We are traveling on a crappy public bus toward the tomb of Saadi, just outside the city, and fortunately there is a only women part. The place is right, the building not so much. At the end of his life (1291) Saadi was buried here but the mausoleum dates from 1950. I find especially distubing the fact the you can't actually touch the grave, completely shielded by a glass case. The crowd is busy taking selfies and Saadi's spirit seems quite far.
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Tomb of Hafez
A completely different atmosphere surrounds the tomb of Hafez. Situated in the Musalla Gardens, where the poet was buried in 1390, the present buildings dates from 1935. It's night when we arrive, but the crowd is huge and passionate, packed around the marble grave, eager to touch it, someone silently crying, others praying or reciting verses. Powerful poet and master of the irfan! I'm moved. 
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Qur'an Gate
I'm also hungry and very tired. We get to Qur'an Gate in the crazy fever of the Friday night: cars, motorbikes, taxis... many many people are enjoying a walk or a piknik. "The Gate was first built during the reign of 'Adud ad-Dawla. By the time of the Zand dynasty, it had sustained a lot of damage, so it was restored and a small room on top was added, in which were kept hand-written Qur’āns by Sultan Ibrahim Bin Shahrukh Gurekani. The two Qur’āns are known as Hifdah-Man. Travelers passing underneath the gates were believed to receive the blessing of the Holy Book as they began their trip or journey from Shiraz." Nowadays fortunately traffic runs beside the gate. And what a traffic! We need a snapp and it isn't easy to find....
Image may contain: one or more people, people standing and indoorNasir al-Mulk Mosque must be visited in the morning to apreciate its amazing coloured windows. And it's really amazing. Unfortunately it's full of tourists and they are not very respectful of the holiness of the place... By the other side of the street there is Qavam House also known as Narenjestan e Ghavam: it was the house of a rich merchand, finely decorated and surrounded by a beautiful garden. 
Image may contain: sky, outdoor and waterIt's midday and a very hot one, so we are happy when the new director of Narenjestan invites us in his airconditioned office to explain us his projects, drinking chai and eating icy faloodeh! Reluctantly we leave... just to go sleeping in Shah Cheragh, the beautiful shrine of two sons of Mūsā al-Kādhim and brothers of ‘Alī ar-Ridhā. Taking a nap in a shrine in the hottest hours of the day is an accepted popular behaviour, especially for aged people. A shrine is a cosy, confortable place where people feel at home. Yes, we pray, we go touching the tomb of the beloved Imams, but there is much more here and I enjoy it all.
Later we cross the animated Vakil Bazaar and we go visiting the Vakil Mosque, famous for its 48 monolithic pillars carved in spirals and for its minbar cut from a solid piece of green marble with a flight of 14 steps. There is almost nobody, probably because it's Saturday (a bit like Monday in Europe) and we have the place just for us. 
Image may contain: indoorThe last day in Shiraz is dedicated to Persepolis and Pasagorde - see the next article - but it will end in the splendid Eram Garden where we wait for the sunset in a joyful, relaxed atmosphere. Shiraz is famous in the world for its lovers and its roses, here both can be found. Exhausted I realise that this place has got a special beauty, made of mundane pleasures and instense sensual spirituality, like the scent of a rose.


Image may contain: table, pool, sky, tree and outdoorHave also a look to Part 1Part 2,  Part 3Part 4 Part 5Part 6 , Part 7 , Part 8 Part 9Part 10Part 11Part 12 and Part 13.
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