I had a very intensive last night at Kermanshah and it had not just been due to exhaustion. By the time, we had reached our hotel, night had fallen on Kermanshah and the beautiful city had sunk into gloomy darkness. Sometime during the day, rain had created muddy puddles on it’s dimly lit roads and the guarding armed forces had looked ominious against shuttered shop fronts. It had been one of those nights, when staying in would have been the best option, but our hunger pangs had made us think otherwise.

Our next destination of Rasht in Gilan province had been 6 hours drive from Kermanshah and we had to again start early the next day. An early dinner had been on our minds, when Bahareh and her family had graciously invited for an evening out. Persian hospitality is a rare treat which is not to be missed and combined with my affection for Bahareh’s family, the offer had been difficult to pass on. So after a quick freshening up, Ashkan and I had changed to drive over to Taqobostan for dinner. Ashkan, as usual had lost his way and it had been his own exhaustion, perhaps, which had thankfully urged him to ask for directions. Thus, we had reached the venue without much hassle, and had immediately got engulfed in clouds of celebrations.

A beautiful wooded archaeological park, Taqbostan had housed some interesting historical reliefs along with being a very popular place for diners. Rows of traditional restaurants, food sellers, gypsies, gurgling sheesha pipes and smoking barbecued meat had welcomed us to this lively park and we had immediately given in to it’s lively ambience. It had been 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 had been a cornucopia of joy and it’s every inch had been bursting with carnival like sights of waving bright strings of bulbs, sounds of open laughter and delicious smells of smoking meat. Tinders had flown with gusts of cool breeze and upon looking up through the haze of delicious smoke, I had spotted a few clean twinklings of stars.

I had not been the only person, who had reveled in the happiness of the ambient vibes and all around me, vacationing families had dined on carpets in the park. Their neon colored tents had popped out like wild flowers and gypsy fortune tellers in fantastic costumes had flitted amongst them like butterflies. The meal too had been a veritable feast and the whole platter of traditional Kermanshahi specialty of khoresh-e-khalal, dandek kebab and sheesha had been served to us. Good food and lovely company make a great combination and they had made our evening very enchanting. Time too had flown fast and we had eaten, chatted and relaxed way past midnight. Finally, it had been the quietening down of the loud merry making noises of wedding processions which had given us a time check and we had unwillingly bade our hosts goodbye. With the evening winding down, the breeze had turned colder and rustling leaves had again made up for the loudest noise in 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.

TRAVEL TIP – 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, chick peas 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 flat bread 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 Persian army where each soldier would carry some pebbles to collectively create a sangak oven and bake bread for 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.

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

It had been a lovely sun soaked day and the rural pristine emptiness had again taken my breath away. With cool breeze in our hair and sunshine on our shoulders, we had revved hundreds of Iranian miles that day and soon Kermanshah’s smiles, vast golden cornfields and oak covered mountains had been left behind. The highway had been ribbon smooth all the way towards north and the air had gotten more and more cooler as we had neared Rasht.  Known as the province of silver rain, Rasht had always featured on my Iran trips and I had loved the Gilan province’s diversity.  A stunning olive growing region of Iran, Gilan had been lush, misty green and filled with wildflowers. Shops selling pickled olives lining the highways had been a quintessential Gilan sight and farmers had sold them from huge tubs against backdrop of windmills filling up puffy clouded skies.

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

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

RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE

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Leaving friends is never easy

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And Kermanshah had

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Not been easy

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But Gilan and

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And it’s endless charms had beckoned

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Although a bit long, it had been

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Another beautiful drive

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Through the hinterland of Iran

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Rustic, charming and

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Culturally rich

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I had looked forward to Gilan

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And it’ famous loveliness