They say that Iran is a surprising destination. After having travelled through South and Central Iran over the past 3 weeks, we were convinced by our new Iranian friends to tweak our travels plans and venture up to the North to see a traditional village, Masouleh.
We were happy to leave behind the noisy streets, polluted air and chaotic traffic of our overnight stay in Tehran to travel about 5 hours into a city called Rasht. After weeks of peering out of buses and taxis to watch endless landscapes of the sandy desert of much of Iran, it was a welcome surprise to step off the coach in Rasht. The clean air and cool climate was very refreshing. It was late afternoon and we found a taxi to take us the extra 60km into the small village of Masouleh.
This drive itself was very picturesque, it didn’t actually feel like we were still in Iran. Everything was so green and lush with emerald green coloured tea plantations on each side of the road. I read that this area of the country is where 90% of Iran’s tea is grown.
I felt a sense of familiarity as we drove further, and it dawned on me that this landscape reminded me very much of Sri Lanka. The climate and scenery were similar, and there were perfect tea plantations dotted around. It was late afternoon, and the sun was setting beyond the horizon. We crept higher up the mountain as a light fog began to set in.
On the sides of the road were groups of locals sitting upon picnic rugs laden with bread and fruit. They were smoking water pipes and drinking tea from a kettle steaming away on small burners. Iranians love their tea and I’ve grown to appreciate fresh black tea from my travels through this friendly country too.
Rainbow coloured fairy lights were strung up in roadside restaurants we passed along the way. I noticed many small bakeries from the glow of their tandoor ovens and bakers spinning and flipping flatbreads into tall piles with locals collecting stacks flung over their arms like bath towels.
I felt like we had already crossed the border into nearby countries, Azerbaijan or Georgia. I haven’t been to either country yet, but it’s how I’d imagined they might look. Maybe it was because the landscape had instantly become so lush and green. I noticed the women were wearing really colourful scarves on their heads rather than the more common black or darker colours I’d gotten used to seeing in most of Iran.
As our taxi curved around the last bend, a steep village appeared with twinkling lights that shone from the base right up to the top of the mountain of which it is built. It was Friday, an Iranian weekend, so it was really busy here with people and cars trying to find parking spots. Our taxi traversed halfway up the stepped mountain and we stopped just at the beginning of the bazaar. We’d organised to stay in a simple room owned by a local family that ran a tea house in the centre of the bazaar.
After a quick phone call from our taxi driver, our host Abbasi came trotting down the hill to meet us with a big smile. We followed him with our backpacks through the bustling bazaar which in itself climbs three levels up the stepped mountain.
The sweet aromas of apple flavoured water pipes fill the air along with roasted garlic and eggplant from the local cuisine of this area that is known as Gilan province.
I’d assume being located so close to the Caspian Sea where apparently 95% of the world’s caviar is produced, this cuisine would reflect it. It does just the opposite. The caviar produced here is virtually all for export. Most dishes here are focused more on the local abundance of vegetables, fruit and nuts.
Typical Gilan dishes are packed with turmeric and garlic. The most common dish is called mirza ghasemi which is a winning combination of mashed eggplant, squash, garlic and egg.
We dropped our bags into our room and layered up with some more clothes as the temperature had dropped considerably since we were now in the mountains almost 1000m above sea level. We enjoyed mirza ghasemi for dinner accompanied by the usual suspects, rice and bread. Simply delicious.
Masouleh has a population of around 1500 people and is, at least, a thousand years old. It is known as one of Iran’s most beautiful villages and upon our first impression, we definitely agree.
The unique thing I noticed about this adorable village is that the earth-coloured houses are built on such a steep mountainside that the roof of one forms the pathway for the next.
After dinner, we wandered through the bazaar to find tiny local teahouses with huge pots of the local soup called ‘Ash’ bubbling away in front of their shops. Huge ladles of the tasty Iranian staple were being served to the many seated hungry locals.
The following day we woke to a perfect sunny day and set out to explore. We climbed the stepped village from top to tail, curious to find out how the local people go about their day.
We passed little old men with skull caps pushing rusty wheelbarrows full of different supplies uphill along the carefully designed steps. We weaved our way near the top of the village to look down upon women hanging out their laundry on roofs of their neighbours underneath.
All the rooftops are incredibly flat and sturdy except for each having one or several little chimneys poking out.
I could imagine what Masouleh would look like in the Winter. The same twinkling lights would illuminate the village of an evening. Every home would have a fireplace crackling away that would send trains of smoke from the miniature chimneys climbing to the stars above. Blankets of snow would fall lightly upon the whole village like one of those glass shakers I used to own as a child.
If you choose to come and visit Iran, you will find the Iranian people to be incredibly hospitable, and they will invite you into their homes to feed you and treat you as a guest. It is recommended that you should just ‘say yes’ when this happens. So many times we followed this valuable advice which is why we got to see this beautiful little village.
Masouleh is a place that totally took me by surprise. It was the perfect end to my travels in Iran.