Through the Alborz Mountains

Tehran (Iran), 18.05.2013

The day started in our super luxurious roadside hotel in Zanjan to the tune of Iranian traffic on the main road in front our room. 4 devices showed 3 different times, so we had no clue how late it was, but wanted to get out of town asap. After the meagre breakfast we left for the motorway, and then 21 km later for the panoramic countryside road up into the mountains. The descent into the valley that later on converts into a lake was even more beautiful (videos to be uploaded once we have the adequate connection), with the opposite mountain range appearing in front of us once we crossed the pass and descended to Rudbar. From there a quick ride on the newly constructed motorway led us into Qazvin, where we got lost at lunchtime. We stopped at a big traffic square and ate some fatty kebabs at a small and pretty dirty restaurant. Before leaving we tried to ask for directions, a friendly young man that spoke only Farsi first drew the directions on a piece of paper, explaining them in detail in Farsi (that we don’t understand) and then told us to get into our car and follow him. So we did, and in no time we were on the road up into the next mountain range, towards Alamut and the valley of the Castles of the Assassins.

Those that have read some posts here will probably think that we’re nuts and are always writing odes to mountains, lakes, cows walking on the streets and local food. Well, that’s the most beautiful part around here… 😉 Also in this case, the colours of the mountains and hills, the deep red in particular, are amazing, and the rock formations are too. We drove through steep canyons and along mountain rivers until we finally reached the street that leaves the main road up to Kalayeh, where the ruins of the biggest of the castles tower on a rock on top of the village. While we hike up the slopes to these castles (we’ve seen several so far, in various countries) we always wonder who found these crazy locations and had the insane idea of creating a massive fortification up here. It must have been a horrible job to build these places. And to conquer and destroy them, too. On the way up to the gate we met Adnan and his wife, a couple with a background of countries of nationality and residence as chaotic as ours. We took pictures together and he told us about Pakistan and some locations we must see on the Karakhoram Highway. (It was a pleasure to meet you guys and thanks for the tips and infos!)

We left the castle pretty late at 18:30. Since we prefer to not drive back on roads that we have already seen, once we reached the main road through the valley we turned east and not back to Qazvin (that would have been too easy!). Several villages later we stopped to check if we were on track and if the road through the mountains would lead to Tehran ultimately. Three men came to assist us, and at first when we asked for Tehran they told us to drive back. Seeing us dissatisfied with their answer, the oldest of them came to our car and confirmed the sequence of villages through the mountains that would lead us to the main road to Tehran. The only issue was that we had no map of Iran (couldn’t find one back in Madrid), but only 2 maps in our LP guide, one of the greater area and one of the specific valley. Between these two maps there was one town he mentioned that we couldn’t find. We thought it would be somewhere in between, connecting the dots on the two maps, and left the village thinking of our evening in Tehran…

DSC_0065 DSC_0069After 10 mins the great tar road converted into a bad tar road that started the ascent into the mountain. After another 10-15 mins the tar started to gradually change into mud, with potholes and plenty of rocks of all sizes. Time for the “mud ruts” off road program of the Range Rover! The next hour we spent driving up to over 3000m to cross a pass covered by over 2m of snow, where only the mud track was free for cars and trucks to pass. We saw the 30-40cm deep tracks of the vehicles that had driven here before us. At 4 degrees Celsius we took a break on top of the mountain, to salute the last sunshine of the day before the descent into the valley began. We only had 95km of diesel autonomy since we had forgotten to fuel up in Qazvin, and we knew it would get dark in 1h. So we tried to get off the mountain as fast as we could, over more mud track and then dirt road. At several points we had to decide which of the 2 roads to take, and kept driving further down the mountain without encountering any villages as the night fell. Driving in the dark is not a problem in itself, the road is controllable. But we lost the orientation points since we cannot see anything around us. The road was pretty bad, but the car handled it with ease. At 50 km diesel autonomy we reached the first villages and at 30km stopped to ask for directions at a T-junction. The guys we asked were pretty drunk or stoned, but we only realised it once they almost jumped into our car on Helena’s side with our LP guide in their hands. On the other side of the road we found an older man that explained us the directions to Tehran – in Farsi. After listening without understanding for a while it started to become clear where we were. At some point in the mountains instead of turning east for the main road to Tehran we must have continued north. And Tonekabon was one of the places mentioned by the guys we had asked for directions after leaving the castle. We were at few km from the Caspian Sea and had taken a huge detour! Not good at 21:00. Fortunately a few km later we found a gas station and got a full tank of 52l of Diesel for 100.000 Rials, that according to our exchange rate is USD 3,05 incl. a healthy tip for the guy serving us.

DSC_0086Very relieved to not repeat the Cannes experience (where we tested if the car would really keep driving until 0km autonomy, and yes it does) we focussed on the one problem left: how to get to Tehran. We had to drive about 1h along the coast, through a sequence of towns that felt like one single big seaside resort town, converted into a on-street disco, since all shops and also many cars have all kinds of flashlights and visual effects installed. Driving was crazy and spontaneous as usual. At Chalus we finally reached the road that leaves the seaside. We had seen a highway several times parallel to our road, but could not find the access to it. In Chalus there was one finally – barred by concrete blocks! So we had to keep driving on the small mountain road. It felt like a video game: after the “panoramic mountain” level we had completed the “mud track” and “rocky descent” levels successfully and somehow survived the “seaside craze” level without game over or loss of lives. Now came the “mountain race” level, and although it was fun in the beginning I must admit I had doubts if this night would end well, either because Helena would vomit all over the car after endless km of curves or because we would fly off some cliff into a valley. But to our surprise it became quite easy to adapt to Iranian speed driving. Half an hour after the seaside road the crazy car tuning racers started to disappear and we followed several very professional drivers. There are 2 groups of vehicles in these mountains: the fast ones and the obstacles you overtake. The fast drivers have an astonishing sense of the road, take the curves very well. In particular we drove behind one guy, in a seamless white iranian car, black rear window and a white X on the upper left side of it, that made a zero mistake race. He didn’t miss one opportunity to overtake, kept the lane perfectly, respected the basic rules (no overtaking in tunnels and towns, no suicidal maneuvers) and constantly kept speed above 70 km/h in continuous curve roads. We lost him after 45 mins, he was too fast. But the Range Rover had surprisingly revealed its sportive character: fast acceleration, good grip of the road, and super comfortable handling. Very close to the Mini!

Shortly past 01:00 the final level of the day’s driving game started: city traffic. We were exhausted and had only the map in the LP guide, not too accurate. We also thought we would enter the city from the north, but in fact came from the west. At some point we happened to be on Azari square, with the huge tower monument on it. We were too tired to take pictures, and finally arrived at the hotel at 02:00. In these moments a night in a good western hotel is a fantastic relief. During the day we had already checked our next weeks, where we will probably not find a bigger city with such a hotel until we reach Islamabad. Tons of nights camping (great!!) and in shabby hotels (not so great…) will make us crave for 1 night in clean white sheets and a warm shower.

Trip data (Day/Total)

– Km driven: 745/13.172

– Hrs on the road: approx 16,5h/-

– Diesel l/100km: 9,3/9,3 (52l of diesel for 100.000 Rials / 3,05 USD)

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One response to “Through the Alborz Mountains

  1. Pingback: Road Construction, Move Back Several Spaces | electroboris

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