Oramant mountains had shaken us to the core. After crossing a few tunnels in various stages of construction, we had finally stopped by a trickling mountain stream to refresh our parched throats and discuss our next plan of action. The car air conditioning had ceased to work somewhere in Abyaneh and no amount of cajoling by Ashkan had been able to revive it. However, owing to more pressing issues at hand, the most important being finding our way out of Oramant maze, we had not even bothered to give our bodily discomfort a thought.

Hajij had continued to be an impossible achievement and we had sat down by the broken road, holding our heads in our hands. No sign of life had been visible in that rugged brown empty territory and even for locals like the Taherians, it had started turning out to be a nightmare. Phone connections had gone off somewhere near Paveh and we had been stuck in the Oramanat mountains without connectivity, map, directions or a game plan. The main road which had lead to the village had been closed off for construction and while hunting for it, we had lost our way and at that moment had been somewhere between Iran or Iraq.

Renowned and much visited by domestic tourists for its historical beauty and as a pilgrimage site, Hajij village had been supposedly built in terraces on the mountain slopes and the roof of each house had formed the yard of the residence above. The pretty village had created a circlet in the mountains and had housed a renowned spring, which had made claims to be the best aqua mineral in the world. Stunningly beautiful, holy and time forgotten, Hajij had seemed ethereal and at that moment, for us it had seemed like a dangerous mirage to chase. All these thoughts and visions had run through my head, as we had sat by the broken road when help had come to us in form of a migrating family from Hajij.  Exhausted, dispirited and coated in layers of dust, we had made such a sorry picture, that the family had actually stopped their car just to inquire us of our well being.

Ashkan and the Taherians had immediately launched our sorry saga and the family had stood shell shocked, upon hearing that we had been on our way to Hajij, the village they had just abandoned. The village had been their home for generations until that day and much to our suprise, it had turned out that there had been a series of villages named Hajij. The new discovery had added to our misery as we had no idea of which Hajij we had been headed for and according to the migrating family, all of them had been razed to the ground to make way for the brand new dam. Nearly all the historical villages had been reduced to rubble and they had stood abandoned, as the resident families had migrated to nearby towns. The remaining ones had moved to new constructions, located higher up in the mountains and with their heartbreaking narration my fantastic dream of Hajij had come crashing down.

With the new revelation, our day had turned more difficult and the Oramanat blue skies had glared down on us with harsh, unkind brilliance. Our fantasy had turned out to be a ghost town in shambles and we still had no directions, food or connectivity. Hajij, strangely had come closer and since, it had been just one more tunnel away, we had dragged ourselves towards it. It had been late noon, by the time, we had inched our way towards Hajij and ravishing hunger had made it’s presence felt loudly. The nearest town had been at least 3 hours away and we had hoped to find some food, directions and bit of rest at the village. Hajij had emerged like a smile and our hopes had again soared at it’s first sight. It had lain snugly in the crook of stony mountains and we had spotted clothes drying on roof tops, the moment we had crossed the dim scary tunnel.

It had been one of the most beautiful sights we had ever collectively seen and although the village had consisted of mostly newly constructed houses, it had looked pretty much lived in. Hajij had also looked extremely pretty and surrounded by lush green forests, it had been a welcoming oasis of life.  Construction and consecutive migration had left their ugly scars on it’s pretty face and a great amount of rubble had piled at it’s base. However, the cheerful sight of fluttering clothes line and and laughing children playing hopscotch had animated the entire scene and we had rushed towards it with a huge sense of relief. Incidentally, Hajij residents had spotted us even before we had sighted them and they had rushed up to our car the moment we had reached there. Curious elders had crowded us with endless questions and their shy children had stared at us with open mouthed amazement. Unfamiliar with foreign tourists, they had swooned over my nationality (owing to Bollywood)  and had welcomed us to their homes, with excerpts of old Indian movie songs.

Once again, I had been amazed by the reach of Bollywood and on that day, among the bunch of hardy mountain folks of Kurdish people of Oramanat, India’s iconic industry had left me humbled. It had been a very powerful experience and soon the journey had turned out to be even more eye opening. Hajij residents had been one of the gentlest and friendliest people, I had ever met during my travels and they had opened up their homes, hearts, history and culture to my curious foreign eyes. They had provided us with refreshments, rest and had taken us for walks around their village and I had listened to their incredible life stories while tucking into the famous Hajij flat bread. Life in the Oramanat mountains had been hard and along with the climate, political controversies had also rocked their lives from time to time. The construction of the dam had been yet another adjustment, that they had to make and despite being, bereft of their heritage and heirlooms, those Hajij folks had clung on to their land possessively.

They had technically been in the middle of nowhere and in that obscure wilderness, schools had been hard to get. University and higher education for them had seemed like impossible dreams and even the nearest hospital had been a few hours away. Despite having so little, they had been wellsprings of kindness and warmth and I had returned from Hajij with valubale lessons to last a lifetime. Their happy adulation had come as a beautiful shock to me and it had felt amazing to be thanked for just being their guest. Those friendly mountain people had been rich only by virtues of their heart and their happiness to see a foreign tourist had come straight from their cores. They had gossiped over tea like old friends and during our walks around the village, had revealed their clans and it’s marital network to us. Deeply rooted to their customs, land and families, their lives had remained mostly unchanged through ages and they had seemed as old as the mountains on which they had lived.

All they had were pomegranates, figs, grapes and sour oranges groves surrounding their village like gardens of Eden and the comfort of an amazing village community which had been as formidable as the Oramanat itself. We had lingered there as long as daylight had permitted and finally after taking (and getting photos taken) of all families in the village, had slowly made our way back to Kermanshah. Armed with precise directions, the drive back had been quicker and easier and we even had time for a few quintessential breaks before reaching the city. At Bahareh’s insistence, we had stopped at a famous ice cream parlour to sample the local product and it had been another strange pit stop. The quaint local ice cream shop had stood in the middle of nowhere and the old walls had been adorned with photos of wrestlers, Bollywood movie stars and a large poster of peaceful, smiling Gandhi. Vintage Bollywood movie posters too had blatantly stared back at me and it had been as bizarre a combination as possible.

The much renowned ice cream, which had come complete with heavy cream and dry fruits had been weird at best and it had definitely been one of the strangest food I had ever tasted. The entire experience had felt even more unreal and chewing on gooey, sticky rice pudding in a shop adorned with Bollywood, Gandhi and wrestling posters in the middle of Kurdistan had seemed straight out of a movie. It had actually been so funny and strange, that at one time, I had pinched myself to check if it had been for real. Nonetheless, having felt blessed for such an amazing experience, I had bravely tackled the desert, when a most spectacular sunset had swept down the highway. I had rushed outside to see the entire Oramanat get painted in deepest shades of pink and orange as a deep golden sun had benevolently scattered brilliant rays over the planet. The breeze too had softened down like gentle kisses and wild fragrance of greenery had scented it mildly.

The deep valleys below had brimmed over with the golden light and the sky had been of a plethora of gorgeous shades. Soft, fiery with just the mildest tinge of blue, I had bathed in that sunset’s brilliance and for once throwing caution in the wind, had caught the fading golden rays in my oppressed hair. It had felt most exhilarating and the scintillating sunset had seemed to be the last parting gift, that warm hearted Kurdistan had given me. Thus my strange Oramanat day had ended on a very unreal note and it had been a most befitting finale of the whole roller coaster experience. Difficult, adventurous, eye opening and humbling, Kurdistan had been one of the most valuable experiences of my life and I had gratefully counted my blessings as the soft ochre rays had lit up the mysterious land in a final glow before dusk. Such is the power of travel and it had been rightly said that, “Travel is the only thing you buy, which makes you richer.”

RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE

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Our Kurdistan day

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Which had started

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On a very sweet note

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With new friends

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And smiles

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Had soon grown challenging

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And before long

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We had been hopelessly lost.

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Our dream of Hajij

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Had seemed impossible

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And the mountain roads had left us craving

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For some familiarity

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Hajij had appeared

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Unexpectedly like a

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Divine intervention

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Bringing with it homey

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Welcoming sights

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Surrounded by forests Hajij had been very pretty

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Time had stopped at the old historical village

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And even the new

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Had lived lives of the forgotten

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But it had been

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An incredible dream come true

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And Kurdistan remains embedded in my heart

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Like a blessing

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That it actually had been