We left Sanandaj with Saadi. We met him at the Tehran bus station and he immediately invited us to his house, we stayed in touch for some days and after a couple of messages we took a minibus that would cross the mountain at 50 km per hour for just 30.000 rs per person, In two hours and a good climb of landscapes we are in our first Iranian village: Avihang. To understand how tiny it is you need to know google maps does not show a road to reach it.
Avihang is a dead point on the way, once you get there you can only go out using the same road, it’s adobe houses and it’s streets make it clear that the world here hasn’t lost anything (and in fact here some are lost). For the first time, we see the colourful clothes of Kurdish women and we start to fall in love with those Kurdish pants that are so simple and comfortable in our eyes.
Avihang rises in the mountain in a particular struggle with its houses as terraces connected between them like a large-scale puzzle, soon, in the rest of the points of our route, we will discover that it is a hallmark of all villages in the area.
We spent the day and the afternoon with Saadi and his family, we walked discovering the mountain, jumping from roof to roof and drinking tea (of course, there will be always tea). His mother over 70 years old still walks uphill every day by the tiny path that leads to their food garden. Her wrinkled hands are a sign of life and in her adorable Kurdish makes us sign and thank Allah for our visit.
We left Avihang after 24 intense hours and went back to the main road on the way to Negel, where there is supposedly the oldest Quran in history… we made a technical stop by curiosity about the legends that we had been told in Sanandaj about a book written with gold ink on skin. Being fair if you are not into religion is nothing special. We were in Negel for about two hours we raised the finger waiting for our next destination and a policeman of few words took us 60 km west to the crossing of Marivan with the road to Dezli, our position on the road surprised several curious people and before even lifting the hand 5 cars had parked with the intention of taking us, for real, 5. Just 5 km from the Iraqi border the fears we ever got to come show even more absurd.
Fereydoon was “the lucky one” to take us after a discussion with the rest of suitors (yes, here people fight to give you a lift, the thing is funny) and reminded us that it was Friday as explained the high amount of cars Standing on both sides of the road. On Fridays, the Iranians go out to the field to enjoy the outdoors and it is tradition to make barbecues and picnics throughout the national geography, the best day to hitchhike for sure, the traffic was intense, like in a big avenue in the middle of the city, just totally the opposite.
Just a few minutes in the conversation, he invited us to eat with his family, who was waiting for him with their open picnic blankets. As usual, we decided to say yes and Oh wow! If it was a good idea. Without expecting it we had the belly full of doulma (a delicious Kurdish dish) and more tea. His niece Pari, adorned in a colourful lilac outfit, studies English philology and with a perfect English translated the curious questions from us to the whole family and otherwise.
Before we say goodbye we made a joint photo seasoned by grandma, which seconds before pressing the click remembered she didn’t have her teeth on and unleashed a laugh that lasted at least 5 minutes.
We went back to the road and again a car stopped in less than 3 minutes waiting, our next destination: Uramant Takht. The day began to fall and with the time passing increased our concern for finding a roof or a place to sleep. The road to Uraman Takht is truly amazing, a few minutes ago we were 25 degrees enjoying a sunny picnic and now we found ourselves crossing the mountain accompanied by inches and inches of snow on the side. The winding road comes to scare, but it doesn’t weigh more than the curiosity of knowing what’s on the other side.
If Avihang fought with the mountain of Uraman was a world war, levels and levels of houses clambered on it as if nothing happened, the flat ground was scarce. At 6 pm we left the last car, our head didn’t stop thinking about two things: how cold it was and how colder it will probably get and where the fuck we would sleep.
We left the village on foot to get away a few curious looks. Almost with all hope lost we headed to a viewpoint on the outskirts from which we could see a little piece of green land that seemed not to be inclined, at its feet a valley, a waterfall and a river, on top a snowy mountain rising imposingly. Wow!, what a view. We looked for some wood to feed the night and in the light of the bonfire, we ate. We woke up with the same face of wonder with which we went to sleep, we both agreed, is the best place in which we have camped so far on our trips.
The next plan was to head to Palangan, what we didn’t know is that we had finished at another dead end, to connect both points we would have to go back to the road. Early morning we put our backpacks on the shoulder and walked Uraman uphill, it took us about 30 minutes to cover the main street up in full sun. In one of our small stops a white car backed ” need help?”. we took out our paper in farsi and with a smile, we got in the car.
Hamid and Simku were o their way to Merivan so we decided to undo our steps and instead of following our plans to come back for our prints. At the rhythm of Kurdish music and Enrique Iglesias (yes, all very bizarre) we travelled the 60 km that separate Uraman Takt from Merivan and we crossed the mountain again.
Hamid and Simku are 22 years old and both were dressed in the typical Kurdish outfit, when they got out of the car they started laughing when they saw me wearing the same pants like their own (they almost didn’t want to sell them to me in the local market because I’m a woman but they are the most comfortable thing in the world). After the indispensable round of selfies we said goodbye.
Jesper left me with the backpacks and went to buy some cold water to alleviate the heat, On the meantime, a trucker passed and communicated with me from his window. Our signal communication was funny, first he pointed forward, then I made him understand we were two of us, he nodded and stopped the engine a few meters away… and that’s how we met Majid.
We had no idea where to go, everything had moved faster and easier than we had expected and we did not have time to think. At the kiosk where Jesper bought the water, they told him about the largest cave in the country (and the largest in the world with water) located about 80 km north of Hamedan (between Sanandaj and Tehran) so we decided, why not, that would be a nice next destination.
Majid was our partner for several hours, half way we decided to stop and eat kebab as it should be, in the sun, with pounds of rice and bread. Majid was headed to Tehran and thanks to him we arrived at Hamedan in less than a jiffy, he stopped the engine at the crossing with the route to Alisard. 10 selfies, 4 hugs and 3 hand handshakes later he followed his path.
Everything was moving really fast, it was already 4 PM and we didn’t know if keep on moving. Just in case we started to search since the road to the cave might not be that transited, and while we did it Rojan stop his ramshackle Peikan and made us jump inside without asking
Rojan did just about 10-15 km with us but, there was still some small road to cover so he went down the car to make sure another car was going to take us. He tried to stop nearly every car that passed us, it was funny until we managed to convince him that we would be alright.
In less than 5 minutes we were already in another car that would take us for a few miles to Gol Tappeh to leave us at the roundabout with the last crossing we had to cover. As we were getting out of the car the driver pointed with his index finger to a car while repeating ” Alisard!”. we went down the card and walked fast to get closer and without even realizing we were already on our way.
We arrived at Alisard at 7 PM and we had to camp outside the village near the football field, it was not the best night of our lives but did the job and would allow us to visit the cave first thing in the morning. We had a budget problem, the entrance for tourists cost the whopping 700.000 Rs per person and we didn’t know if we were going to pay them. The locals told us that for them the entrance cost half so the next day, after a precarious breakfast, we headed to the entrance with only 700.000 Rs and asked for two tickets as if nothing happened here. It worked. Also, the night before we were able to reconnect to 3G and we realized that we had been cited by the Indian Embassy the next day for an interview (too late to make it on time) with that information, after visiting the cave we decided to start our way back to Tehran as soon as possible.
We left the cave after a couple of hours and casually one of the operators we were talking to while inside found us on the way and opened the door of his car in a place where we had no idea how to get back (and actually had us worried). He returned to us to Gol Tappeh from where we took a minibus for just 25.000 rs each that would leave us in the Hamedan cross, just 2 km from the exit to the road with Tehran.
For the first time we had to hitchhike in a city of respectable size (in Iran) and we didn’t know if it was going to work as well as it did on the rural areas. We got ourselves a piece of cardboard and for the first time in the country, we made a sign with the direction written on it. We walked to the outskirts (as far as we could) and we lifted it without much success… anywhere in the world that panorama would not change, but against all forecast, just 9 minutes later, a couple parked their car and welcomed us inside. We made with them the last 300 km that separate Hamedan with Tehran and again the ease to move left us stunned.