Monday, August 13, 2012

Qazvin and Alamut

Qazvin was a last-minute decision stop for me. I only stayed 2 nights but it turned out to be quite nice. I had a cool host, a young guy that immediately took me to a tile-art exhibition where I met a couple other couchsurfers and a German guest of theirs, Monic. It was her 5th visit to Iran and she spoke Persian quite well, having started to study it in the last year. After this I was told that my host, despite having a slightly gimpy arm (from nerve damage due to a doctor error at birth) was a 2nd degree black belt in Judo. Very inspiring and optimistic guy. He wanted to show off his dojo where his instructor is the highest ranking Judo guy in Iran. While at the dojo saying hi, I got a lot of attention from some of his Judomates and ended up somehow getting an invite with 2 of them to go to Alamut castle the next day with Monic as well.
My whole purpose and goal in going to Qazvin was to use it as a base to visit Alamut so this was a huge help, especially after I saw the roads we had to travel on to get there. The Alamut valley and it's many castles are famous as the legendary assassin castles of the 12th century Ismaili-sect that legend says used as bases for their mercenary assassin and kidnapping activities. Legend also says that the assassins were convinced they'd be earning a trip to paradise by being shown gardens full of young girls while they were stoned on hashish. The words hashish and assassin are actually related in their roots from this time...
I think I actually first heard about these guys from the book “Count of Monte Cristo” which just goes to show that the legend goes way back and isn't something from hollywood. In any case, there is some truth to the stories. There was indeed a very strong breakaway sect of Islam called Ismaili, that ruled in the area with up to 50 fortresses. Many were considered impregnable for all intents and purposes and the valley itself very harsh terrain as well. Some, like Alamut castle were perched on the edges of cliffs or on rocky outcroppings only assailable from 1 side, and with water storage pools and food stores allowing them to withstand seiges for many years.
The scenery in the valley is spectacular and the road is extremely dangerous for anyone that is even slightly susceptible to car sickness. It's brutal, especially with Iranian-style driving and I was so thankful I wasn't visiting in a cramped bus. When we finally got there, after 1 ½ hrs of driving, I couldn't believe the location they chose for Alamut. It's just a bunch of ruins now covered in scaffolding, but the history and location make it worth the visit anyway. All the fortresses were eventually destroyed by the Mongols who conquered most through trickery or diplomacy, though a couple fought and 1 castle actually lasted 17 years before finally surrendering! The Mongols broke them all down so they wouldn't ever be retaken and reused because they were so tough. The Ismailis basically disappeared but today there are still some in northern Pakistan (we saw some in Hunza actually) and in Tajikistan apparently. Monic had been there a year before and said that nothing had changed on the restoration, and in many ways it seems that is a common theme in Iran, lots of half-finished projects that aren't being actively worked on anymore. I'd love to see the rest of the valley at a more leisurely pace but definitely not by bus. We stopped at the small Evan Lake on the way back as well for a quick picnic/nap.

The road to Alamut.

Into the Alamut valley.

At the base of Alamut.

The impregnable mountain that Alamut is built on top of.

View from the top.

Ruins of Alamut castle.

Evan lake.

The day was a turning point for me in my trip though because I realized, hiking up to the castle that I could no longer handle any kind of serious exertion on my knee. I damaged it somehow, somewhere just before my trip and it was getting progressively worse, to the point where I was walking like a cripple on slopes and actively trying to avoid stairs as much as possible. From this point on I scrapped every other castle and hike I'd hoped to see or do in northern Iran and in fact started to get progressively lazier out of necessity. :(
The next day I was able to see a bit of Qazvin proper with my host's father. I knew nothing about the city before coming and didn't expect much. Actually it seems like any other city of moderate size in Iran. It was briefly the capital of Iran, 500 years ago, before the capital was moved to Esfahan. So it did have a small royal palace, Chehel Sotun, the usual mosques, a pair of city gates, and what they claim is the oldest street in Iran. How they figure what that means I don't know but there is a sign saying it is so I guess I have to believe it... I was also taken briefly to a little amusement park on the outskirts of town. It's funny how people here will be so enthusiastic about the dinkiest of rides and little parks and even on a weekday it was busy until very late. Each city seems to have a couple of small ones scattered about instead of a single large one like we tend to have back home.

Qazvin's Tehran gate.

Chehel Sotun palace.

Entryway to Imamzadeh-ye Hossein shrine in Qazvin.

The amusement park.



Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home