Gilan province in the north of Iran is spectacularly beautiful. It is cool, hilly, and very verdant. Proximity to the Caspian Sea makes it a favorite destination for domestic tourists and every national holiday sees it getting filled to the gills. Accommodations are hard to find then and this makes tourists spill over to the nearby towns of the main city of Rasht. While not quite pretty or comfortable, those places are located along the Caspian Sea and the beaches are not very clean. My Gilan hotel too was right on the beach and every morning I awoke to the loud happy shrieks of Iranian beach bums. Doting fathers of various ages, sizes, and temperaments frolicked in shorts with their children while the mothers watched them from the shore. Resplendent in full make-up and regular clothes, many women fuss over her family’s breakfasts’ during that time, and only a handful of sporty ones braved the waves in their make-up and full-body swimsuit, which were worn underneath regular clothes.
Table of Contents
Coastal Gilan quirk
My lazy morning beach ritual consisted of ogling at them from a distance and those were some of my loneliest travel moments. While being on the road and chronicling new experiences is always adventurous, there are times when even the most carefree of nomads crave a nest. The sight of the happy families always made me feel very nostalgic and to divert myself from caving into homesickness, I used to gawk at the holidaymakers’ uniqueness. While the made-up bathing beauties never ceased to amaze me, it was their post-swim touch-ups that made me their fan. Iranian women in general love makeup and the naturally beautiful ladies often tend to go overboard with it. While the Persian passion for flawless beauty is expected and above reproach, Iran’s obsession for it is fantastic to watch. Corrective plastic surgeries were raging through Iran at that time in 2013 and my favourite people-watching activity included counting the number of plastered noses in a crowded place. The numbers were always phenomenal and Iran is a country of beautiful people.
Meeting my local Gilan guide and friend
Because of crowded roads and choked hills, my last Gilan visit was not so successful. Thankfully, my previous visits made up for this lack and I decided to visit my local friends, the Asgaris. One of the reasons why I loved Rasht was Mahdis Asgari and she was the first person to introduce me to this lovely place. A trainee tourist guide and an exceptionally welcoming person, Mahdis was recommended to me by Tiam and I have always struggled to maintain non-partiality between the two. I met her during one of my previous trips, on a very early Rasht morning when her father drove a very frantic Mahdis to the bus stop. I arrived from Shiraz by overnight bus and she was very late in picking me up from the terminal. My first sight of her was of a sweet-faced tensed young girl, who was running around the deserted bus stop like a headless chicken. Her equally worried father trailed behind her and their profuse heartfelt apologies melted my annoyance away.
Living with a local Iranian family
The Asgaris’ relief upon finding me was extremely touching and to make up for the fiasco, they invited me to stay at their place. Thus I ended up being their house guest for more than a week and it was my lucky second chance of experiencing the amazing Iranian hospitality. The Asgaris were exceptional hosts and they included me into their lives in the most natural way. Mornings at Asgaris’home started with helping Mahdis and her mom prepare breakfast, after which she drove us to the market to assist her in shopping. Our days passed with the three of us exploring the surrounding areas and the evenings called for meeting with their friends and relatives. They were very popular in their social circle and I was proudly shown off. My Hind (India) connection was flaunted freely and I was serenaded by the most popular Bollywood songs by their friends. Those are some of my most memorable Iran moments and I was lucky enough to have experienced a wedding during that stay. Unfortunately, the Asgaris were on vacation on my last visit and without them, Gilan seemed a bit uninteresting to me. I missed them very much and spent much of my time remembering their warm hospitality. They had taken me to many places and I had explored quite a bit of Gilan with them. The lotus-filled Anzali lagoon trip and the misty hike to the Ghal-e-Rudkhan castle happened because of them and both of these were very memorable trips.
Coast to hills, Gilan
Gilan is a beautifully diverse province and those two daytrips from Rasht had revealed its natural scenic differences very distinctly. While Anzali was a brackish bird-filled lagoon on the Caspian Sea, the Ghal-e-Rudkhan Castle was surrounded by green hills, waterfalls, and forests. The drive to both the places was pretty interesting too and the distance between the two was short. In fact, we visited the Anzali Lagoon and the castle in one day and the change of scenery from the coastline to the mountains was very photogenic. It was an early Sunday morning when we left Rasht to explore the Gilan hinterland and the province of silver rain was suffocating under sweltering humid clouds.
The drive to Anzali Lagoon featured coastal mugginess and damp green flats bordered both sides of the road. An important Iranian seaport, Bandar-e-Anzali on the Caspian Sea was choc a block full of huge seafaring vessels and the water was a curious mix of blue and green. The lagoon, which is famous for its dense lotus forests, is a bird watcher’s paradise, and the polluted brackish water was filled with sightseeing boats. It was August when we visited Anzali and the entire lagoon was a sea of pink. Lotuses bloomed profusely creating excitement among birds and photographers and boats lined up in endless chaos. Beautiful migratory birds and local vendors made full use of the lagoon and floating coffee shops bobbed next to brilliant feathered creatures. We too went on a sightseeing boat trip but it was a matter of minutes before we returned back to the shore. Heat, chaos, and crowd made the experience pretty difficult to enjoy and we preferred to relax at a local restaurant with huge platters of traditional Anzali dishes.
Hike to Ghal-e-Rudkhan
We left Anzali Lagoon after lunch and slowly drove our way up to Ghal-e-Rudkhan Castle. The drive was refreshing and the beautiful countryside was one huge garden. Flower heavy wild rose bushes bordered the road like a fragrant wall and daffodil clusters danced in the sun. The flat farmlands were dissected by small streams and ducks noisily waddled along the fresh green grass. Soon hillocks started appearing in the distance and by the time pine forests showed, the air was misty cool. Mountains took over the landscape quickly and we slowly drove along heavily forested winding roads. Ghal-e-Rudkhan castle was easy to reach and located high in the green mountains, it looked like Middle Earth. Built as a military outpost during the Seljuk dynasty, the complex included a medieval brick and stone castle which straddled two peaks. A long winding trail through dense forests led to its massive entrance and a few thousand steps encompassed its towers. The castle provided us with a good hike and post our massive Gilan lunch, it was rather required.
We live only to discover beauty
The hike was a beautiful one too, with green, mist-washed mountains and beautifully isolated forests. Streams gurgled down mossy glens and here and there, small outdoor restaurants made it look very atmospheric. Tea vendors peddled hot beverages and cookies from little shacks and samovars steamed like genies. It was very very pretty and we slowed our pace to take in the beauty. It was a bit late, by the time we reached the castle, and immediately dark clouds descended upon us. It was absolutely breathtaking at the top and we breathed lungs full of cool air, as eagles drifted in and out of the mists. The rain started soon and it was a drizzle befitting the province of silver rain. Fine, gauze-like, and blowing in the wind like silver curtains, the rain submerged the desolate castle in a painting like mysterious beauty. The sudden downpour cut short our Ghal-e-Rudkhan exploration but being tired from the hike, neither I nor Mahdis minded it much. We huddled, instead, in the mossy shadows of the old castle and stuck our tongues out like children, to catch the rain. Sweet, cold, and needle-like sharp, the raindrops tasted like pure nectar. The experience reminded me of Kahlil Gibran’s beautiful quote, ” We live only to discover beauty. All else is a form of waiting. ” And to me, that’s the essence of travel, the spirituality of exploration and the reason why tasting nectar sweet raindrops in the misty hills of Gilan felt so divine.
Gilan Travel Tips
- It is nearly impossible to book hotels in Iran through regular online sites like TripAdvisor, Booking.com, etc. However, you can book them through 1stQuest.com or through established Iranian travel agencies. Another option is to contact a local guide before arriving who works out everything for you. The hotel standards in the north of Iran are quite low so come mentally prepared. However provinces like Gilan and Sari are spectacularly beautiful and for nature lovers, they should not be missed.
- Gilan cuisine is famous for seafood, caviar, and delectable cuisine. Mirza Ghasemi, one of its signature dishes is a smoked aubergine and egg stew and is unbelievably delicious. Try it as a side dish along with other accompaniments like whole pickled garlic, olives in pomegranate paste, and smoked fish. There is also Fesenjan, the rich tangy duck stew and Kebab Torsh or sour kebab (another Gilani specialty) The walnut paste and pomegranate juice sauce, uniquely Gilani are used to marinade the kebabs thus rendering it a tangy flavor. There is also a delicious fish stew and smoked sturgeon.
- It is better to do Ghal-e-Rudkhan Castle in the first half of the day as it is a good thousands of steps hike and some parts of the stony path are broken and slippery due to the constant rainfall the area receives. There is no electricity in the entire trail and in the evening hours it tends to get quite dim. Ponies are also available for those not willing to do the long walk.
Follow the rest of the Iran series
- SOLO TRAVELING TO IRAN
- MY FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF SHIRAZ
- MY BEAUTIFUL SHIRAZ DAYS
- THE PINK MOSQUE OF SHIRAZ
- MOST BEAUTIFUL SHIRAZ ATTRACTIONS
- SHIRAZ TRAVEL GUIDE
- GHOST AND GARDENS OF QALAT
- START OF MY IRAN ROAD TRIP
- THE HALF OF THE WORLD AT ESFAHAN
- NAQSH-E-JAHAN SQUARE OF ESFAHAN
- ESFAHAN ATTRACTIONS AND A BRIEF CITY GUIDE
- ABYANEH, THE RED VILLAGE OF IRAN
- A DRIVE THROUGH WEST IRAN
- THE FORMIDABLE ORAMANAT MOUNTAINS
- ICE-CREAM, GANDHI, AND AMITABH BACHCHAN IN KURDISTAN
- AN IRANI NIGHT IN KERMANSHAH
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE