The mountains of the Elbrus range separate Tehran from the Caspian Sea and form a natural barrier of vegetation zones. While the south is a dry, barren desert wasteland, the north is lush green with tea and rice fields. We are excited to discover another new region of Iran before returning to Switzerland for a stopover. So we pack our backpacks with the essentials and board the bus to Qazvin. We are kindly allowed to leave the bikes with our friends and hosts in Tehran. Once again a pleasant bus ride along to the Elbrus Mountains. Qazvin is actually just a stopover, but it delights us with a beautifully converted caravanserai, which now invites us to linger with cafes and small shops.
Our actual destination is the Alamut Valley. This is rather poorly served by public transport, but luckily we meet a Dutchman at the bus station who has the same destination, so we can share a taxi. This is more of a tour than a taxi ride, as the driver stops at several places for photo stops and tells us a lot about the region. Interesting stories, even if some seem rather absurd to us. At Alamut Castle we say goodbye to our comrades, as we are staying for two days. The only open accommodation in the village is solid, but not exactly convincing in terms of price/performance. Unfortunately, we left the tent in Tehran and so we have no alternative.
Some visitors come to the region because of the castle, but we knew in advance that this ruin alone is not worth the visit. Apart from a few walls and a lot of scaffolding, there is hardly anything to see. With a lot of imagination, you can get an idea of how an imposing castle used to sit enthroned on the free-standing rock and how sometimes gruesome scenes took place, because the region used to be home to the Assassins. In contrast to the castle, the landscape is breathtaking and the main reason for our visit. The next day we take a hike over one of the hill ranges and enjoy the seclusion. Best temperatures and blooming flowers and bushes make the day perfect. On the way back to Qazvin we try hitchhiking again. This turns out to be relatively easy, compared to the traffic. While Sara quickly runs out of patience and soon doubts her plan, Beni's perseverance pays off and we make the several-hour journey back without any major problems. Our last ride offers the best entertainment. Before we are even allowed to get into the car of the woman with her son, we have to open our backpacks to check that we are not carrying any weapons. Accompanied by the sounds of Britney Spears (we feel taken back to our teenage years), we drive through the mountains and greet the driver's followers several times, for whom she takes lots of videos during the journey. Best entertainment with a rather moderate driving style...
The next stop is an Ecolodge near Rast, whereby Ecolodge has little to do with the environment or the like, but is primarily a hotel in the countryside. We are warmly welcomed by the owner's family with lemonade and cake and very well looked after during our stay. The master of the house is also our taxi driver to the ruins of Qaleh Rudkhan. We have definitely arrived in this green coastal region. After being chauffeured through landscapes with many rice fields, we hike up the densely forested mountain to the ruins. A sweaty affair in this hot and humid climate. Once we reach the top, we feel like in "Asterix, the mansion of the gods". The ruins are slowly being reclaimed by nature, so you feel like an explorer among bushes, trees and castle ruins. Leaving the main entrance, you are already away from the streams of tourists, which are almost exclusively Iranians. They have another holiday (there seem to be quite a few of them), which is why many people from Tehran are drawn to this region.
If we are going to visit tourist attractions, then let's do so properly. So our driver takes us to Masuleh, apparently one of the most beautiful villages in the country (always these superlatives...). Our expectations are always modest with such statements, but the village may surprise us in a positive way. In fact, the small houses built on the hillside have charm and the alleys invite us to stroll.
After this excursion we travel on towards Ramsar where we stay at the Ecolodge Gileboom, which deserves the title "Ecolodge". They are trying to be more and more sustainable and the lodge is surrounded by a lush garden. The perfect place to relax, because the journey there was unfortunately not very relaxing. We travel by shared taxi, where the price is defined at the beginning. Unfortunately, there is an argument with the driver during the payment and we are cheated, as we can't defend ourselves due to our language skills. Very annoying, not so much because of the amount of money but rather because of the driver's behaviour. It would be better to give the money to honest people, but oh well. It remains the only incident in this country, where we otherwise feel completely safe and can always count on the help of the locals.
We take one last trip to a hill nearby and immerse ourselves in the Iranian holiday culture. Everything is photographed, every attraction is tried out and the obligatory picnic cannot be missed. Not our kind of holiday but quite entertaining. And not to forget, a historic moment in our lives. It's the first time we've been to the Caspian Sea.
The next day we board yet another bus, organised for us by the friendly owners of the hotel, to make sure everything goes smoothly this time. Through the overbuilt coastal strip (definitely not a beach region worth seeing) with the green hills in the background, dotted with rice paddies as we know it from Southeast Asia back to the barren sand-coloured desert region, we slowly drive towards Tehran and above all towards the end of our first year of travel. We are back in the everyday traffic chaos of the big city, where we stay for two more days. We make final preparations for the journey home, pack our bikes and luggage into boxes and enjoy the time with our host family, who once again treat us to wonderful food. One last time we are driven through the streets of the capital towards the airport. Iran you have inspired and sometimes challenged us and shown us many new sides far away from the media headlines. An unbelievably multifaceted country, that can already be said, even though we have only travelled through a relatively small area. And as we were told beforehand, there is nothing like the hospitality of the people here.
So it remains for us to say one thing on behalf of many Iranians, because this request has been put to us again and again. We should tell people at home about Iran and especially about the people, how beautiful it is and how friendly the people are, and that the news that can be read in the media does not represent the entire population. We are happy to fulfil this request and we will continue to report on all these wonderful experiences in the future.