The next morning I had met Ms Bahareh Taherian, my Kermanshah guide right after breakfast. She had been strictly enforced upon me by Tiam, who had severely disapproved of my Oramanat travel plan. Bahareh had arrived on time, filling the morning lobby with a cheerful sunshinny smile and her quiet mother had tagged behind her. While, I had eagerly looked forward to an Oramanat exploration, it had been Ashkan who had nearly gone mad from happiness. After days on the road, being cooped up with a grouchy me and language barrier, just the thought of being able to talk freely in his own language, had made Ashkan giddy with joy. His eagerness had come to me as a mild shock and I had felt a bit jealous too. The road trip had seriously started testing our endurance and being too caught up in my own woes, I had never realized that my co traveler had also suffered in equal measures.

Thus my 1st Kermanshah day had started on a benevolent note and Farsi had flowed like water inside our little car. Happiness had made Ashkan drive at snail’s pace and he had seemed to want to stretch the journey as long as possible. With Abyaneh harassment still fresh on my mind, it had not taken much time for me to turn churlish at the delay and I had just wanted to rush headlong to Oramanat with reckless abandon. To keep my rising temper in check, I had stared out of the window listlessly and taken in the sights and sounds of Kermanshah. It had been a lovely, warm day with honey coloured sunshine, open blue sky and Kermanshah’s clean rural beauty had made me gasp out loud in amazement. Agricultural land had rolled on both sides of the road and farmers had sold fresh produce from vine draped wooden shacks. The produce of the land too, had been as varied as the Kurdish history and from huge yellow sunflowers, grape clinging vines to ripe vegetable beds, the region had been one huge food bowl. Meadows and cork trees had created cool, dark shadows and shepherds had herded their scraggly animals along glassy smooth roads. A whole new era had existed outside and the pristine scenery had made me feel very lonesome. Jealous of Ashkan’s sudden change in favours, I too had longed for some company and my pent up travel emotion had started rearing it’s ugly head.

Being caught in a language barrier can be an awfully lonesome feeling and on that gorgeous, sunny day, it had made me feel like a lost soul. Thankfully, sweet, shy Bahareh had come to my rescue and after her initial hesitation, we had chatted like old friends. An eager to please, fresh faced university student, Bahareh had been exceptionally fluent in English and had loved Kermanshah from the bottom of her heart. Soon English too had started filling the car and she had slowly unraveled her beautiful homeland to my awestruck eyes. Located in the western part of Iran, Kermanshah province had been exceptionally gorgeous and it had more than it’s share of volatile, rich history. Long identified as one of the cradles of prehistoric human settlements in Iran, Kermanshah had been generously scattered with tell tale historical remnants ranging from Neolithic to Bronze period and these sites had been found all over the region. From the marvelous reliefs at Taq-e-Bostan to the excellent UNESCO World Heritage Site of Bisotoun Complex, Kermanshah had been the favourite playground of the royals and the powerful Sassanian kings had loved the region enough to call it home.

Perhaps because of it’s proud history or it’s volatile border area temperament, Kermanshah had been actively involved in political skirmishes and blood had always stained the land. The region had played an important role in Iran’s Constitutional Revolution and it had been badly affected in the Iran-Iraq war. However, at that moment, the sublime area of the proud Kurds had seemed to be lying low and except for heavy military presence, hardly anything had given away it’s troublesome past.

TRAVEL TIP – Although I personally did not have a single safety issue in Kermanshah province, it is advisable for a foreign tourist, visiting there to hire a local driver and a guide. The stunning mountains are also quite difficult to navigate and without the expertise of a local, it is easy to get lost. Kurdish culture is extremely enchanting and colourful and to experience it’s breathtaking beauty to the fullest, you will have to explore beyond Paveh town.

A Middle Eastern ethnic group, the Kurds have been as interesting and varied and most historians had referred their group name as “tent dwellers” or “nomads”. The origin of Kurds had remained unclear and the large ethnic group had been spread over huge landmass, most of which had crossed borders. While Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran had the largest number of Kurdish settlements, many branches of Kurds have been found as far as India, West Asia, including Cyprus, Georgia, Azerbaijan etc. Although, the Kurds are closest to the Iranians in terms of culture and language, their origin had probably been the nurturing Tigris basin in Iraq. This had still reflected in the attire of the Kermanshah Kurds and apart from the stunning landscape, the indigenous local costumes had been another spectacular highlight of the region. Baggy overalls complete with waistbands and headgear had rested on crinkled heavy featured smiling masculine faces and they had simply loved posing for the cameras. The shy Kurdish ladies, however had been more reserved and in their loose gowns, colourful glittering waistcoats and bright scarves, they had flitted across the dusty mountain villages like bunch of butterflies.

I had found the Kermanshah Kurdish community to be extremely friendly and their open curiosity had strongly belied the violent separatist image associated with them. Headstrong and deeply rooted to their culture, the Iranian Kurds had seemed to live in their cocoon of timeless nomadic habits and Bahareh had excitedly pointed out traces of their ancestral traits in midst of their modern lives. Summer vacation had been in full swing during my last Iran visit and picnicking Kurdish families had dotted Kermanshah fields, parks and gardens. Seated on unfurled carpets and busy with cooking, gurgling water pipes and whole clan of families, they had resembled small groups of photogenic nomads. I had gawked at them with unabashed astonishment and to my foreign eyes, it had been a scene straight out of an exotic movie. The drive, too had been equally breathtaking and although, my endless photo stops had put us way behind schedule, for the first time, I had enjoyed the journey more than the anticipation of the destination. We had been headed for Hajij, an obscure small village, tucked somewhere in the folds of nowhere and reaching there with so much delays had seemed like a remote possibility.

Famous as a pilgrimage spot, Hajij had been situated around 2 hours away from Kermanshah city and the formidable Oramanat mountains had made it a difficult place to access. It had been late noon, by the time we had driven past the dusty, mountain town of Paveh, when endless military and police check posts had started popping up like bad surprises. The glum faces, which had looked shocked every time they had scrutinized my passport, had been a sharp contrast to the open, cheerful Kurdish smiles and then too many blue pickup trucks had further slowed down our drive. For some reason, most of the trucks I had seen on Iran highways had been of a childish, bright blue shade and they had usually brightened the dull grey roads like pieces of clear blue sky. Lunch had happened somewhere near the Qoori Qaleh cave and immediately the familiar sight of masses of picnicking families had enveloped us.

Qoori Qaleh had been supposedly the largest cave with water in Asia and it had contained rare species of bats, numerous multi coloured, oblique pillars and waterfalls in it’s depths. A total spelunkers dream, Qoori Qaleh’s grassy green surroundings and lush forests had attracted day trippers from Kermanshah and Paveh and the air had been thick with aroma of barbecuing meat. Our lunch had been at a traditional Kermanshah restaurant and tucked away among pine trees and wild grass, it had been most naturally pretty. I had found Kermanshah and the day’s proceedings to be very exciting and unable to resist, had taken my lunch outdoor. Fresh mountain air had blown down into the valley and despite the noon heat, I had shivered in my thin shirt. Kermanshah had gotten very hot during the day time, except in winter when everything had lain under a blanket of snow. Unaccustomed to fully covered clothing and headscarf in summer, Kermanshah heat had nearly driven me mad and the cool breeze had made me feel like being reckless.

The unbridled happiness of the picnicking families however, had been too contagious to resist and glued to their shrill laughter and smiles, I had soon forgotten about my own discomfort. It had been too pretty to be grumpy and post a quick lunch of Chelo Kebab and Doog (buttermilk churned in goatskin bags and flavoured with wild grass), we had resumed our drive. The scenery had gotten more breathtaking as we had moved deeper into the hinterland and the lush greenery had soon given way to spectacular stony mountains. The road too had gotten considerably narrower and it had wound up and down the steep slopes. Covered with oak and cork trees, the slopes had borne a formidable bristly look and the international border with Iraq had not been not too far. Beneath a huge blue sky, it had looked absolutely stark and empty and only ancient rivers tumbling between narrow ravines had brought some animation into the scene.

Soon, even the human habitats had started getting far and sparse as the stark mountains had gotten harsher with nearly non existent road. Frenetic construction work of hydel power project had scarred the mountains deeply and the youthful blue green streams had seemed forcefully restrained. The construction work had broken the road into shreds and endless tunnels had taken us in and out of mountainous hearts. Dust had risen like clouds as our bodies had jolted nearly brittle and not even a bird had been visible. The formidable Oramanat mountains had made their presence felt and it had been harsh, hot and inhospitably silent. We had weaved in and out of endless tunnels, most of which had been under construction and as water had dripped ominously on our car, we had prayed that they would not collapse on us. The thought of getting buried alive at the Iran-Iraq border, inside the bowels of inhospitable mountains had not been very pleasant and I had fear trickling down my spine, as the road had turned into a complete dirt track. Hajij had been nowhere in sight and after driving directionless for more than 2 hours, we had finally concluded that we were lost somewhere in the Oramanat mountains with the controversial Iraq border, looming close to us.

RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE

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Armed with sunflowers

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Blue skies

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And bright sunshinny day

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I had left the urban comfort

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Of Kermanshah to

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To go deep into the

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Inhospitable Oramanat Mountains

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It had been

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An incredible drive

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Into a land

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Where time had

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Stood still

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Kurdistan of Iran

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Had been eye opening

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And enchanting

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In equal parts

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And the ancient

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Controversial territory

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A feast for

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The senses

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It had been a journey

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More exciting than

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Than the destination of Hajij