With UNESCO Heritage Site title, pretty flower boxes and winding mud lanes, online search of Masouleh had presented a very picturesque picture. I had tried visiting there on my previous Iran visits, but Masouleh had always eluded me. Late evening arrivals or heavy rain had marred those trips and so on my last Gilan visit, I had dedicated a whole day to the lovely historical village. Founded in the 10th century AD, Masouleh had been located near the southern coast of the Caspian Sea and had comprised of 2000 inhabitants, 1 bazaar and 18 mosques. It’s elevated perch in the misty Alborz Mountains had given it a lovely, nippy weather and the Masouheh-Rood-Khan river had flowed through its heart. Beautiful waterfalls had surrounded the village and lush forests had enveloped it from all sides. Masouleh had been very popular with local Iranian tourists and although, foreigners had rarely stumbled into it, the little village had been a bit over commercialized.

Its popularity had come for a reason and Masouleh’s fantastic architecture had been breathtakingly unique. Perhaps the most famous historical village in entire Iran, Masouleh buildings, which had been built into the mountains, had been interconnected. The dusty yolk yellow houses had formed tiers and the courtyards, as well as roofs had served as streets and pedestrian areas for the entire village. The yellow colour had come from a special clay coating that each Masouleh house had been painted with and the locals had claimed it to be for better visibility during fogs. The old, preserved adobe buildings had been 2 storeys high and narrow maze of winding lanes had connected them. The houses had been photogenic enough on their own right and the Iranians, keeping their penchant for finery in mind, had further decorated them with wispy lace curtains, profusely blooming flower boxes, carved wooden lattices and twinkling strings of fairy lights.

Initially founded in 1006 AD, the old village had shifted from its original spot many times over the years and the ancestors of Masouleh had frequently moved up and down the Alborz Mountains to escape attacks from neighbouring communities. Today, it stands at a beautiful 60 kilometers away from Rasht and the drive from there, through the cool, refreshing mountains of Fuman is very photogenic. The Fuman district is very picturesque and the local cuisine of Masouleh is famous all over Iran. Out of these, Kolucheh cookies are most popular and no visitor ever leaves Fuman without sampling at least one of the crunchy circular delights. Thus, on a clear bright morning, armed with a bag of freshly baked cookies and ambitious Ashkan at the wheel, I too had set out to explore Masouleh. The drive had been lovely as expected and for once, we had managed to navigate the hilly roads without getting lost.

It had been a very beautiful countryside with glassy creeks, green banks, dancing daffodils and quaint farmhouses. Procession of ducks had waddled noisily along the creeks and grass had grown thick with fragrant herbs. There had been an abundance of flowers growing wildly all around us and masses of wild roses had created fragrant boundaries along the road. Dark pine clumps had stood at a distance and forests had continued all the way to Masouleh. I had heard the village, even before we had reached there and the rain swollen Masouheh-Rood-Khan river had gushed noisily. However, it had not been the river noise which had traveled to us down the mountain roads; but rather, cranky traffic horns and murmur of human voices. They had been from the crowd of Iranian domestic tourists who had been visiting Masouleh and summer break had drawn them in hordes.

Big, chaotic traffic mess had awaited us at Masouleh and we had struggled for more than an hour to get a parking spot. Masouleh had been filled to the gills at the time of my last visit and it had been a real parking nightmare. Due to its fragile architectural layout, motor vehicles had not been allowed inside the village and people had randomly left there vehicles in a frenetic hurry. Constant rain too had played its fair share of adding to the mess and it had been a dirty, squelchy walk up the cascading slopes. Masouleh, however had been breathtakingly unique and the lovely old village had not failed to deliver the promised magic. The heart of the village had been most crowded and complete with cubby hole souvenir shops, restaurants with hanging wooden porches and a colourful bazaar, it had been a photographer’s delight. Delicious smells of Masouleh’s famous bread had insinuated through the air and fog had mingled with sweet sheesha smoke. It had been a very popular place to take souvenir photos in traditional garbs and the narrow alleys had throbbed with colourful skirts and lacy shawls.

Vendors had sold preserved sweets and fruits all along the bazaar and tea houses had served endless platters of smoking oily kebabs. Hand woven and knitted textiles of Masouleh had also been very popular throughout Iran and village women had poured out from their adobe homes to display their handicrafts for sale. In the midst of all the colourful panorama, there had been the famous Masouleh fog which had rolled in and out like dense clouds of cotton and temporarily obscured everything in sight. Strangely, rather than diminishing the village’s charm, the fog had heightened the atmospheric effect and the misty red silhouette of dancing poppies against the yellow adobe buildings had created some kind of surreal magic. Ashkan and I had walked all over the village, taking in the sights and sounds of its bazaar heart before finally melting away from the crowd. We had climbed higher, crossing over people’s roofs and terraces and sat down at a quiet clearing to watch the spectacle below. It had been in the “off tourist” zone, where the villagers had been in no rush to sell or solicit anything and they had time to welcome me, the only foreigner with languid ‘Oh So Iranian’ curiosity.

Thus, we had rested on a patch of sun and fog on someone’s roof and enjoyed Masouleh away from the frenetic touristy crowd. Handwoven woolen dolls had smiled from rows and old flour dusted grizzly men had churned out fresh bread from earthen ovens. Youngsters had sat grouped playing chess and small children had traveled up and down the hilly slopes, on their fathers’ shoulders. It had been very relaxing, with only the sounds rising up from the bazaars like faint roar and soon dusk had rolled in with the fog. With deepening twilight, the beautiful village had become more magical and lights had lit up the mountain like circlets of diamonds. Soon an inky darkness had drowned Masouleh into fathomless depths and only the green lights of the village mosques had stood out like beacons. The bazaar, however had become livelier with the maturing evening and the visitors had reveled in bright lights and accompanying music.

It had been just perfect, a beautiful finale, befitting the lovely historical village and we too had walked down to join the merriment soon. The bazaar had resembled a mini medieval carnival and all the restaurants had been busy serving dinner to the visitors. Delicious smoke of grilled meat, sharp orange charcoal flints and roasting eggplants had filled the lanes of Masouleh and gossip and laughter had increased in crescendo. Nothing makes a heart gladder than infectious joy of happy vacationing families and Ashkan and I had lingered longer than required, to cherish the moment. Both of us had been on the road, away from our families and for one brief moment, we had managed to communicate our homesickness, without uttering a single word. Post dinner, we had left Masouleh fast, before the mountain roads had gotten clogged with returning traffic and soon, the cool breeze of Fuman had been disappeared in the darkness. Anzali too had passed quickly in blaze of ship lights on dark wavy sea and soon our drab hotel had arrived in a flurry of mediocrity.

Our recent breakthrough in communication had put us both in good spirits and Ashkan had chatted with me in Persian, like an excited schoolboy. But, exhausted to the bone, I had bade him a quick goodbye and proceeded to my room, yet that Caspian Sea night had suddenly turned restless. All around me, vacation rentals and hotels had reverberated with happy noises of families spending time together and I had heard their murmur from the dark depths of my balcony. It had been one of those moments, when I had missed my family a lot and wondered if my restless nomadic soul, would ever grow roots at one place. Confusion, homesickness and loneliness are not the best mix, and soon the Caspian Sea had overflowed with my salty tears. Rare and hard to control, sometimes the glamorous and brave career of solo traveling does that too.

TRAVEL TIP – Masouleh is about 90 minutes from Rasht or 45 minutes from Fuman by savari or shared taxi. Both Rasht and Fuman are easily reachable from Tehran by bus and the drive from Rasht to Tehran via Qazvin takes about six hours. There are also buses to Tabriz and Hamadan, which take about nine hours. Hiking in the Alborz  mountains and neighbouring areas are one of the things to do in Masouleh and the region is very beautiful with waterfalls, streams, meadows and virgin forests. There is a hotel around Masouleh and the village has some very good restaurants. Alternatively it is possible to stay in a village home stay and experience rural Iran life. Masouleh is famous for food and Mirza ghasemi (egg and aubergine stew) is a must try. Shopping too is a lot of fun there and it is a great place to relax. Simply rest at one of the terrace restaurants, breathe in the fresh mountain air and watch the mists roll across the wild flowers.You can also get  a souvenir photo taken, dressed in traditional costume.

RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE

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On a lovely Gilan morning

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I had set off

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To explore the beautiful

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Village of Masouleh

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It had been

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A gorgeous experience

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Culturally rich

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Naturally pristine

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And excitingly touristy

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Food had been

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Awesome and the rustic

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Village life had

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Very photogenic

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On top of that

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There had been

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Stunning handicrafts

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Interesting faces

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And relaxed local charm

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However it had been

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Very touristy too

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Behind the walls of rural beauty

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Yet Masouleh had not

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To deliver the magic