The onward drive to Kashan had turned out to be even more hellish because for some annoying reason, Ashkan had not believed in calling the hotels beforehand for location. He had loved cruising along at a leisurely pace, trying to hunt down addresses at places, he had never been before and thus our exhausting day had stretched on endlessly. Finally, a grumpy growl from me, had made him call the very beautiful Ehsan traditional guest house and sadly, I had been too tired to enjoy it’s heritage glory.

Kashan is one of the most interesting cities of Iran and is most often overlooked by the trickle of international tourists pouring into the country. Famous for old serpentine covered alleys, beautiful houses and rose festival, it had been quite a pity that I had missed out on the sunset beauty of the lovely desert town. However, my first sight of Kashan that night had been unforgettable and the city had lain like a sea of sparkling diamonds across the dark Qom-Kerman highway. I had watched it again the next morning, when we had resumed our cross Northern Iran drive and the city’s interesting old building, exquisite rose gardens and unique cavernous mud brick streets had added beautiful varied textures to the bland desertscape. I had fallen in love with Kashan at 1st sight and had found it’s old lanes to be straight out of a story book. Charmingly thin and serpentine, the terracotta covered alleys had snaked in and out from the main road and had popped up lovely surprises, by suddenly opening into small pockets of squares before writhing deeper into the city.

TRAVEL TIP – Apart from indulging in the sights and sounds of Kashan, do keep a look out for the unique festival of Rose and Rose Water, held every mid May. Kashan and surrounding Ghamsar areas produce the world’s finest rose water and the roses used in them are none other than the very best locally grown Damask or Mohammadi Rose. The festival is a traditional yearly ceremony of Kashan and an absolute photographer’s delight. Do indulge in a bottle of Ghamsar rose water in Kashan and enjoy sorting the Damask rose petals with the locals during the festival. It is a treat for fragrance and rose connoisseurs and not to be missed by nature lovers. Ehsan Guest House is one of the finest traditional b&b’s of Iran and their chicken with berries are to die for. Succulent, tender chicken cooked in barberry sauce, the drool worthy dish is served with pomegranate rice and smattering of whole berries. It just melts in your mouth and is guaranteed to be an unforgettable meal.

Although my Kashan stay had been too short, it’s Ehsan Guest House had been the best hospitality I had experienced in Iran. An old Iranian traditional house, it had beautiful pomegranate trees, fountain filled courtyard, carpeted seats by indoor streams and had been an oasis of hushed peaceful silence. After the long day, sitting by the indoor pool, under feathery pomegranate blossoms had been extremely relaxing and I had found it difficult to leave Kashan the next morning. Ashkan’s dubious navigational skills, our language barrier and tediously long road trip had suddenly overwhelmed me and I had seriously considered giving up the journey. Once again, language barrier had proved to be detrimental in our “change of plans” communication and sooner, than later, we had hit the Iranian highway on full throttle.

Our next destination, Kermanshah had been on the extreme western part of the country and tilted more towards Iraq, it had been another sensitive area. Known for breathtaking beauty, controversy and internal separatist bloody rifts, Kermanshah had been quite far and we had yet another day of a long drive ahead of us. The drive however had been spectacularly beautiful and it had been the deepest, I had ever gone into the Iranian hinterland. Incidentally, Kermanshah is one place, where even a lot of Iranians don’t tread and that stretch of our drive had been uniquely solitary. Most of the times, we had been the only vehicle on the lonesome shimmering highway and the endless tracts of  grapes, sour orange, pomegranate, walnut and sunflower fields had spread far for our eyes only. It had been the food bowl region of Iran and being fruit ripening time, the air had been thick with their sweet fragrance. The sun too had been pleasantly warm and honey like fruity sweetness had attracted bees in hordes. Surprised farm hands had paused their work to stare at us in open mouthed amazement and I had found their genuine happy surprise, to be very touching. Nothing beats the travel joy of experiencing a country’s rustic charm and road trips are custom made for that happiness.

My love for road trips go a long way and the beauty of the Iranian highways had sealed that addiction forever. I had simply loved the Iran highways and all my visits to the country had involved road trips. Lively and always teeming with people, they had resembled a long cross country marketplace, where vendors had peddled colourful local products at every pit stop. Nature too had been kind to them and the highway had passed through huge acres of smiling sunflowers, green curling vineyards, dark elegant cypresses and quaint picturesque villages. Obscurity had been the highlight of that trip and very rarely had I felt so happily lost in the middle of nowhere. Strange, often bizarre (to my foreign eyes) sights had tumbled out of nowhere and they had given away Iran’s cultural quirks like never before. With the whole country experiencing fruit bursting season, it had been no wonder that the sweet natural jewels had spilled into the highway and from boxes of fresh hand picked produce, hollowed shell organic musical instruments to massive deep orange pumpkins, that part of the drive had been severely photogenic.

The most amazing sight had been that of the huge orange pumpkins, left for drying in the sun and they had scattered all over the grey stony mountains in lazy order. From the distance, their pinpricks of neon orange colour had blazed like hundreds of massive soccer balls and they had brightened up the rocky scene like hundreds of suns. Olive groves too had come along the way and obscure one main road towns had sold neat rows of colourful tubs of marinated fruits. Needless to say, it had perhaps been the most beautiful part of the drive and even though, we had been on the road the whole day, I had been in no rush to reach the destination. Kermanshah had arrived sometimes during early evening and I had felt it’s disturbed presence, even before reading about it that night. A lush, beautiful Kurdish region, the province’s heavy military presence had screamed of violence and disturbing posters of punishments being meted out to the rebels had curdled my blood cold. There had been guns and uniforms at every 2nd step and constant verification of my passport had suddenly dragged the last bit of our drive.

I had found the sight of so many guns in that beautiful region to be too mentally exhausting and by the time, the city of Kermanshah had arrived, the sun had been dipped low into the horizon. Dusk had started falling fast and exhaustion had made me give the historical Bisitun complex a miss. My hotel had been the lovely Parsian hotel and it had been the 2nd best hotel I had ever experienced in Iran. The view from my window had been surreally bland for a “disturbed, conflict” zone and from my 9th floor room, Kermanshah had glowed tranquilly in the dim setting sun.The sunset had been the only thing dramatic and abrupt about the region, and it had lit up the troubled city in deep shades of orange before suddenly melting into subtle tones.

With my feet up on the ottoman and a cup of tea in my hands, Kermanshah had looked marvelous from my window, but the sight of guns had kept running through my mind. Yet once again I had thrown caution in the wind and had turned up at an obscure “disturbed” destination with plans of going into the formidable Ormanat mountains the next day. I had wondered if Kermanshah had been worth all the trouble and for the 1st time, I had felt too far from home to be comfortable. It had indeed been pretty remote, with the Iranian metro cities being hundreds of kilometers away and tucked away at one extreme isolated western corner of Iran, Kermanshah had felt like in the middle of nowhere. My curiosity had turned things more worrisome that night as internet search on Kermanshah had churned out graphic, violent and badly disturbing images. The region had been strongly labeled as “unsafe” and there had been no subtlety in the message.

That night, I had tried hunting for more information on Kermanshah yet long internet hours had proved to be very futile or violence biased. The gruesome images had strongly belied the peaceful silence which had cocooned the city outside my window and a strange feeling of the region being neglected or overlooked by the Iranian government had seemed very palpable. It had been a very unsettling thought and I had spent most of the restless night wondering why. Suddenly, the air outside had seemed wrought tightly with forced tensed silence and my next day’s plans had given me serious doubts. I had driven to Kermanshah with the hope to explore the stunning Oramanat mountains, all the way to the Iraqi border and suddenly the idea had felt very stupid. It had been on very rare occasions, that my solo woman traveler’s status had ever bothered me and despite that confidence, Oramanat and Kermanshah had haunted me that night.

RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE

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Kashan’s comfort

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Had been hard

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To let go

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And Kermanshah

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Had seemed too far

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However with rural

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Iran unfolding

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It’s diverse sublime

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Beauty at every hour

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The long hours

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On the road

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Had been one mixed bag

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Of sweet discoveries

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Happy smiles and

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And calm sunset cities

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When suddenly Kermanshah

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Had arrived with all it’s twists