Saturday, August 7, 2010

Alamut Valley and the Castles of the Assassins (June 18)

Hiking in the Alamut Valley was one of the things that I most wanted to do in Iran. On our trip we are doing so much driving and I was really looking forward to getting away from the car and using my legs a bit. Also, since the Iranian government only approves Americans to stay in hotels in cities in Iran, this means we will be seeing mostly cultural things and being in nature for a day will be a nice change.

The Alamut Valley is in the Alborz Mountains in the north of Iran. This Alborz contain Iran’s highest peak, Mt. Damavand (5671m), and they extend right to the Caspian Sea. Aside from being very beautiful, the Alamut Valley also contains the Castles of the Assassins, a legendary group of 12th century castles that sheltered the followers of Hasan-e Sabbah, the spiritual leader of the Ismaili sect of Islam.

We start our day early for the three hour drive from our hotel in Qazvin to Garamund in the Alamut Valley. The road is a race car driver’s dream. I think the entire route doesn’t have a straight section on it. It is filled mountain hairpins, fast sweepers, steep sections up and down and a few road hazards like uneven pavement sections or potholes. There are only a few other cars on the road and there are effectively no speed limits – the police stay away from here and the road really doesn’t allow you to go much over 95 km/h anyway. And all around is incredibly beautiful scenery. But if you mis-judge a turn you are dead because there are no guardrails to protect you from going right off the edge. Driver’s skill, the car’s handling and brakes are really, really tested here but what fun this is!

At Garmarud the road becomes a 4WD track. It’s also a lot of fun to drive but a totally different experience! We climb up to 10,000 feet, mostly in first gear and in 4WD. Near Salambar Pass we park the car and start our hike past Pichebon Caravanserai (used by traders through the ages), over the pass, and down towards the Caspian Sea. There are glaciated 4000m+ peaks to our south, the earth has all kinds of interesting minerals and stones, the temperature is perfect with a few clouds, a nice breeze and dry air and we have a wonderful time. There are little yellow flowers and small pink bushes around us. We stop for a picnic lunch, then return to the car for the drive back. Today is the first day that the flu I got in Turkey is completely gone. I think I needed the fresh air and to get my blood flowing again.

We return to Garmarud at the bottom of the 4WD track, drive into a different valley to see Alamut Castle, which is a ruin on top of a peak (I can see how this place was impenetrable), then drive the race car driver’s road back to Qazvin. Now there are more cars but everyone is flying. People here really know how to drive! I have no idea how they can get these little old cars with no power up these roads as fast as they do. People are picnicking by the road, playing music, and enjoying the wonderful weather and scenery. One woman is sitting in the rear side window of a car as the car flies up and down the mountain roads. Darius plays us some of his favorite tunes on his phone. Everyone is enjoying life.

When we arrive back in Qazvin I’m exhausted but Darius who never runs out of energy (we nickname him Energizer Bunny) talks us into going out to a tea house. The place he takes us to is so cool! High ceiling, carpets all over, cool decorations. We sit Indian style on one of the platforms with pillows behind us and order some chicken kebab and tea. At 10:00 the place starts to really fill up. Iranians know how to have a good time.

I’m so happy that we could hike the Alamut Valley. We are truly blessed to be able to experience all this and to have Darius as our guide.


  1. Great post! I've just posted about hiking in Iran as well which you may be interested in :)