Castle of the Assasins Tour Northern Iran Days 2 and 3
Day 228 19 September 2017
One of the features of the trip we had opted for was to explore the castles of the North West of Iran. “The Castles of the Assassins” was the road trip we had opted for, travelling north into the mountains towards the Caspian Sea. Before leaving Australia this sounded exotic, romantic, challenging, remote. We were to find all of that and it started day one, as we headed out of Tehran.
In every direction brown and arid landscapes – almost moonscape looking cut through by huge freeways. The Alborz Mountains separates the Caspian see from inland, beginning at the Armenian border.
As we climbed through the Alborz Mountains patches of green dotted river beds where villages had used a river location to develop agriculture through irrigation. Come spring these brown landscapes would become verdant green and covered in wild flowers. Hard to imagine now.
Our first castle was the fortress Alamut (Eagles nest) perched on a hilltop. The ruins still show the once impregnable fortress constructed during 9th century. During the 10th century it was taken over in a kind of bloodless coup by Hassan-i Sabbah, Facing persecution he founded the Hashshahins (Assasins) sect; a secret society that used assassination as a weapon. The term ‘Assassin’ derives from this time. The castle was conquered and destroyed during the Mongolian invasion in the 13th century.
The castles and forts built in this area used the steep high mountains as protection so for our modern day group it was a short hot hike up the hill to the fortress and its incredible valley views.
Sustained by a bag of sour berries sold by a women at the start of the hike. Not my favourites but refreshing – definitely sour. We received a warm and beautiful welcome from a man in the car park-“Thank you for coming to my country!” with multiple hand shakes all round. Further on at the top of the walk a man gave cheek-to-cheek greetings while his daughters watched in amusement.
In a further example of endless goodwill, generosity and thanks we would receive in the coming month going into a shop to purchase snacks as we travelled, the shopkeeper held his hand over his heart and with great emotion thanked us for visiting his country – it was always a moving experience.
Back to Alaumut – One had to admire the commitment required to build a three storey fort including stables and water storage on a peak miles from anywhere.
Tonight’s accommodation was a village homestay near Zarabad run by two sisters, along with their children and grand-children. With a lovely story of how they had entered the tourism business – the owner of the Iranian tour company that we were travelling with had been helped by them years ago. He had found that both their husbands had died in a car accident and that they were worried about how to support themselves. He helped them establish what is now a thriving business based around providing homestays.
The accommodation was simple, basic and comfortable with mattresses on carpeted floors in shared rooms. The food was outstanding, with all produce coming from their garden and a feast laid out for us both dinner and breakfast.
Day 229 20 September 2017
Castle of the Assasins Tour Northern Iran Days 3
We were all back in our small bus and left Zarabad at 8am after a delicious breakfast of local Lighvan cheese (sheep’s milk in earthenware pots) , homemade homegrown jams; cherry, quince, and pear with flat bread and Iranian tea.
A pleasant walk along a winding path to Lambesar castle, which dates from the 7th century. Again, the views at each turn were spectacular with our little bus becoming a small dot on the landscape.
Again there was an excavation and restoration going on. As work was underway to expose more of the foundations access was limited. However the men working on excavating the site and accompanying guards were happy to show us the site with Leila explaining the history and original 3 or 4 storey structure of the once large castle.
A theme was developing that the regions in northern Iran were full of fortifications that took advantage of the mountainous countryside. This location was perfect in that it was hard to get to but had a panoramic view of the surrounding country side, Lamasar (Lambesar, Lambsar) Castle had been one of the largest. This castle initially withstood the Mongolian invasion but a cholera outbreak weakened the defences and it was conquered in the 13th century.
Both the drive up to the castle and the walk in and out were spectacular with the surrounding mountains and valleys circling around us. More mountainous scenery and winding roads as we headed for Fuman.
Finally on to our stop for the night – the Aram Hotel simple, comfortable, room with a cheery Neon sign flickering outside the window throughout the night.