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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