Alamut Valley is certainly a special destination in Iran.
Far away from the hellish chaos of the Iranian cities, this large piece of land (around 300 Km long) stretches from Qazvin to the Caspian Sea, in the North-Western side of Iran. Due to the remarkable altitude (it reaches over 3000 m), it can only be visited from May to October. The rest of the time, snow candidly covers the higher roads. Try maybe to avoid July and August as well for the boiling temperatures.
Although it is generally seen before moving to Teheran (better from Tabriz), we decided to leave it for after, once we would get fed up with all the religious monuments of the cities. Indeed it turned out to be the right decision !
Alamut Valley is exactly the opposite of what you expect from Iran, that is Mosques, dryness and noise
Ploughed by the Alamut River, the valley is a unique experience within a green, mild environment, where small, quiet hamlets stand at several kilometers one from the other.
To get there from Teheran, you have to catch a regular bus from Azadi bus terminal (just ask around to people). The bus is very cheap (70.000 Rials) but takes approx. 3 hours to bring you to destination.
Try to be vigilant and ask the driver to drop you at Qaribqosh Sq., from where all Savaris leave for the valley. Otherwise, the bus ends its race to the main bus terminal, from where you have then to take a costly taxi to go back to Qaribqosh Square.
In Qaribqosh Sq. (which is only a big roundabout) you will notice the ever-present taxis parked at one, visible side of the road. They will immediately come after you, don’t worry : )
There is indeed no public transport whatsoever for the valley.
Just shared taxis (also called Savaris in local language). Requested 250.000 Rials each for Gazor Khan, we managed to bargain down to 200.000. Very good fee !
The cheerful taxi driver (barely speaking a few words of English) squeezed us in the back, where we suffered a bit the lack of space. It regularly takes around 2 h 30 m to arrive to Gazor Khan, a godforsaken hamlet in the middle of the mountains.
Although mostly paved, roads are really thorny !
In the way, we stopped for the obliged “tea ritual”, to collect some passengers and fulfil some driver’s errands.
The funniest part came when the driver directly dropped us at a guesthouse (we had seen in Lonely Planet though) without asking for any confirmation. It turned out that the Golestan Inn was kind of “familiar business”. Stopped by communication problems and lack of alternative options, we decided to “accept” the impartial suggestion : ) At least the house was very closed to the Alamut Castle, the main attraction of the area.
The Farsi speaking sulky owner then showed us our “Suite”, a basic private room with dirty blankets, broken TV and no internet. We actually had to share it with a dead cockroach hidden below the carpet : ) Price negotiations were very hard there: in the end the accommodation costed us 800.000 Rials, quite much. The essential breakfast (eggs, bread and a slice of cheese) is at least included.
You have indeed to be prepared for basic services, as the neurotic owner only offers two kinds of dishes for lunch or dinner (chicken kebab or “Iranian food”, not specified) and cannot provide any advice, given the language barrier.
Besides, there is no much to do in the area, apart from the Alamut Castle, which you can visit in a couple of hours (the castle is currently under maintenance but offers splendid views from the top).
We enjoyed nevertheless the calm, countryside life of the nearby village, originally animated by the old, curious inhabitants, very disposed to talk and take pictures with us !
The following day, after a laboured discussion with owner about the price (he seemed to be obsessed with the idea of getting conned somehow), we shared a taxi with two Frenchmen staying at the same guesthouse. The subsequent stop was Garmarud, a tiny hamlet around 25 Km further into the valley. The misunderstanding with the taxi driver about the payment bordered on the comic outcome : )
Better if you try to confirm twice or three times the price before getting on any taxi !
Garmarud is the real beginning of the adventure: from there the road climbs to Pichebon, another remote village at over 2500 m height above the sea level. Neglectfully, we did not have much info about road types, villages size and distances between them. We did not have a clear idea about accommodation options either : )
Equipped with sun cream and a light backpack, we carefreely started to walk on the paved, steep road towards the unknown (apart from some generic Lonely Planet info). The scorching, blistering sun started to make us tired right after few meters.
Contrary to what reported in Lonely Planet guide, there seemed not to be marked “trekking” paths. Just paved, “naked” road, hardly walkable. Thereby, we resolved to try the easier alternative: hitchhiking !
Despite the fact that we were in remote lands, we managed to stop a car very soon !
After clarifying we could not pay for the lift, we got nonetheless the benevolent approval from the smiling driver, who could speak some words in English. He was an educated teacher on holidays. What luck !
The helpful man unexpectedly treated us like proper guests: he drove us up to Pichebon; stopped the car; spread out a small rag to sit on; prepared the tea with a portable “camp stove” and offered us even some snacks.
Resigned to start a new hitchhiking to reach the upper Salambar Pass (3200 m high), we got again positively surprised by his unlimited courtesy, when he proposed to “escort” us up the Pass, where a historical caravanserai was also placed.
Arrived to the top, we explored the abandoned building, in the past used by Silk Road traders, shepherds and travellers to rest and take refreshment. Once more, we got amazed by the boundless friendliness and hospitality of Iranians: a group of hikers saw and invited us for lunch, a delicious grilled kebab ! In the end, we were not paying for anything. That sounded absolutely incredible to our Western eyes and ears !
Really prepared to finally start to walk a little bit downhill as real backpackers, we again got helplessly overcome by events. Our previous rescuer had just stopped a goods truck heading for the Caspian Sea. He had accepted to take us in. That was unbelievable. We had not even finished to ingest our last bite of savoury kebab, and we had already found a new lift !
A lift in a truck is quite an experience: the overlooking, dominating position gives you a different perspective on the road and nearby things. Actually, we could not imagine this and other heavy vehicles were able to drive on those desolate, untarmacked roads, which connected secluded hamlets of few hundreds inhabitants.
Although the interaction with the friendly driver was difficult, we doubtlessly relished all the trip across that isolated part of the valley. It was a real plunge into the past, almost at the Silk Road times ! The abrupt, unpaved roads; the simple people waiting for a lift; the women refilling their bottles at the drinking fountains; the forsaken villages where only homestay is possible without any English spoken: all that arouse our vivid, passionate enthusiasm for authentic moments of regained life in this fast, sophisticated world.
The trip back to civilization lasts a few hours, until you reach Qaleh Gardan, past Beles Kuh protected area. You will see plenty of roadworks in the way. Future is coming even there. Right before Qaleh Gardan, you will be amazed by the green picnic areas where a lot of locals spend time with their families during the hot hours of the day.
In Qaleh Gardan our lift ended. The cheerful lorry driver just handed us to a taxi office where we forcedly (without realizing) had to catch a cab until Tonekabon, the first big town on the shores of the Caspian Sea. From there, you can take a regular bus to Teheran or other main cities in Iran.
What we expected to be a three, four days trekking path with long walkings and improvised accommodation in solitary hamlets turned into an equally fascinating two days taxi-hitchhing journey across truly bewitching areas, where we enjoyed more the company of the real local people than our challenging effort to pursue the final destination by ourselves. In all truth, we can say that this was quite the only viable solution.
Long distances, scorching sun (it was mid June), paved roads and unknown trails made hitchhiking the best way to enjoy this secret corner of Iran
Perhaps, a nicer option would be spending one more night in these retired villages, sleeping and eating at a local house, to better grasp all the intimate traditions kept out from the curious tourists’ eyes. Perhaps another time !
What do you think would be the best option maybe? Please let us know if you have had a similar experience in your previous travels. We are very interested to hear from you !