I had a very intensive last night at Kermanshah. It had not just been due to exhaustion. By the time, we reached our hotel, night fell on Kermanshah and the beautiful city was submerged in gloomy darkness. Sometime during the day, the rain created muddy puddles on its dimly lit roads and the guarding armed forces looked ominous against shuttered shop fronts. It was one of those nights when staying in seemed like the best option, but our hunger pangs forced us to go out.

A farmer selling vegetables on the Kermanshah highway

Invitation in Kermanshah

Our next destination of Rasht in Gilan province was six hours drive from Kermanshah and we had an early start the next day. An early dinner was on our minds when Bahareh and her family graciously invited us for an evening out. Persian hospitality is a rare treat that is not to be missed and combined with my affection for Bahareh’s family, the offer was difficult to refuse. So after a quick freshening up, Ashkan and I drove over to Taqobostan for dinner. Ashkan, as usual, lost his way and it was his own exhaustion, perhaps, which urged him to ask for directions. Thus, we reached the venue without much hassle and were immediately engulfed in clouds of celebrations.

Bahareh and her mother, my kind Kermanshah hostesses

Have you ever dined at an archaeological park?

A beautiful wooded archaeological park, Taqbostan had some interesting historical reliefs and it was a very popular place for diners. Rows of traditional restaurants, food sellers, gypsies, gurgling sheesha pipes, and smoking barbecued meat welcomed us to this lively park and we were immediately charmed by its lively ambiance. It was very relaxing to sit on carpeted wooden platforms under pomegranate trees, chat with the friendly Taherian clan and watch the happy carnival around us. The park was a cornucopia of brightly lit strings of bulbs, sounds of open laughter, and delicious smells of smoking meat. Tinders flew out with gusts of cool breeze and upon looking up through the haze of delicious smoke, I spotted a few twinklings stars.

Dizi, a local Iranian dish

Kebabs and lamb stews, Kermanshah food

I was not the only person, who reveled in the happiness of the ambient vibes, and all around me, vacationing families dined on carpets in the park. Their neon-colored tents popped out like wildflowers and gypsy fortune tellers in fantastic costumes flitted amongst them like butterflies. The meal too was a veritable feast and the whole platter of traditional Kermanshahi specialty of khoresh-e-khalal, dandek kebab, and sheesha was served to us. Good food and lovely company make a great combination and it certainly had made our evening very enchanting. Time flew fast and we ate, chatted, and relaxed way past midnight. Finally, it was the quietening down of the loud merry-making of wedding processions that gave us a time check and we unwillingly bade our hosts goodbye. With the evening winding down, the breeze turned colder and the sound of rustling leaves filled up the park. Iran, being a very conservative country, loud music and dancing are usually frowned upon and weddings are the only occasion when Iranians in Iran can let their hair down and officially party the night away.

A glimpse of the Behistun complex in Kermanshah

Behistun, the pre-Islamic archaeological site

Despite our late evening, we left for Rasht early the next day and nearly drove towards it non-stop. Only the magnificent Behistun historical park created a brief pit stop in our itinerary and it was too grand a place to be missed. Commissioned by Darius the Great, Behistun had some incredible rock reliefs and they provided glimpses of Persia’s pre-Islamic glory. The complex was huge, well maintained, and quite a popular destination for history lovers in itself. However,  a fast-rising hot sun and long road miles made us shorten our visit and we left Behistun for Iran’s gorgeous hinterland.

How beautiful is this landǃ

A beautiful drive to the Gilan province

It was a lovely sunny day and the rural beauty of Iran again took my breath away. With a cool breeze in our hair and sunshine on our shoulders, we revved hundreds of Iranian miles that day, and soon Kermanshah’s vast golden cornfields and oak-covered mountains got left behind. The highway was smooth all the way towards the north and the air became cooler as we neared Rasht.  Known as the province of silver rain, Rasht always features on my Iran trips and I love the Gilan province’s diversity. A stunning olive-growing region of Iran, Gilan is lush, misty green, and filled with wildflowers. Shops selling pickled olives lining the highways are quintessential Gilan sights and farmers sold fresh produce from huge tubs. Windmills dot Gilan’s rolling hills and its skies are often scattered with puffy clouds.

Rasht, a city of silver rain

Situated around 40 kilometers away from the coast of the Caspian Sea, Rasht is a lovely city, famous for its natural beauty and cool weather. A very popular destination for Iranian vacationers, Rasht has a tendency of getting horribly overcrowded during national holidays and at the time of my last visit in 2013, the city had some really bad hotels. However, all were good for us until violet wildflower-filled hills of Gilan appeared and Ashkan, keeping our road tradition alive, again lost his way. This resulted in our usual saga of aimlessly going in circles, thus losing our reservation at the city hotel and we ended up staying at a horrible seaside resort at nearby Marivan.

A fruit seller in Marivan

And Marivan, a drab seaside resort

Marivan in my eyes is the complete opposite of Gilan’s prettiness and it had a dirty stretch of dull grey beach where vacationing families bathed in the mornings. A few blooming hibiscus shrubs brightened the otherwise drab place and gulls nested in littered patches of weeds. Even the lovely blue Caspian Sea looked dull there and my daily Marivan morning ritual included watching Iranian ladies swim fully clothed (with headscarves) in the sea. Free of any propitiatory restrictions, their children and men splashed around them, and the heavily made-up bathing beauties once influenced me enough to try doing the same myself. The experience felt terribly suffocating and after that day, I stayed more cooped up in my room than by the beach. The hotel room, devoid of any comfort and usual facilities felt like a prison and it was the first of my following chain of consecutive bad experiences. My Iranian honeymoon seemed officially over and thus began my hotel nightmare with the beautiful Gilan province.

Kermanshah Travel Tips

In Kermanshah, do try the khoresh-e-khalal and dandek kebab. Khoresh-e-khalal is a tangy, hearty lamb stew made with slivers of almond, chickpeas, and barberry. Usually served in Taqbostan restaurants, dandek kebabs are nice tender barbecued ribs rack smoked to perfection with the usual accompaniment of marinated olives, smoked tomatoes, herbs, and the flatbread called Sangak. It is the national bread of Iran and literally means little pebbles. Traditionally baked on a bed of hot river stones, it was extensively used by the Persian army where each soldier would carry some pebbles to collectively create a sangak oven and bake bread for the entire camp. It is eaten with every meal, sometimes on the go to ward off hunger pangs, and never made at home, unlike its Indian counterparts. Every city, town, village, and hamlet has at least one Sangak shop which sells only this bread.

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