I visited Kurdistan because of the people. I have read the most incredible stories, and I wanted to experience even more of the amazing Iranian hospitality. My experience in Sanandaj and Palangan was beyond my wildest dreams. Kurdish people have beautiful souls. Unbelievably, in Tabriz and Kandovan I was just as impressed. The people of Iran are among the nicest in the world!
Read the previous parts of this post here:
Part 1: First stop and my impressions on the country
Part 2: The breathtaking nature
Part 3: The picture-perfect architecture
I took an overnight bus from Isfahan (about 10 hours, 760.000 rials) and I woke up to the sunrise over the mountains. The views were stunning even from my window sit. Of course the bus attendant offered me tea (because Iranian hospitality), and I stared at the scenery thinking I was the luckiest person in the world. This trip so far has been unbelievable, and I only have amazing things to look forward to. The warm tea overlooking the snowed peaks felt just perfect.
I decided on visiting Kurdistan because I’ve heard great things about Kurdish people. I knew already that Iranian hospitality is even more incredible than I thought it’d be, but nothing could have prepared me for what the next few days would look like.
At the bus station I called a Snapp to take me to my hosts’ apartment. I wrote the address down wrong, so we couldn’t find the place. I told the driver to leave me there, that I could figure it out myself. He instantly told me that he was Kurdish, and I was a guest in his city, so there was no way he’d leave me alone. He called my host and drove me to the right place. He refused to accept any extra money. From the get-go Kurdish people seemed to be as nice as I expected.
Sara was at the door waiting for me when I arrived. We drank some tea and went to explore Irani Kurdistan’s capital. The bazaar was quite a sight, different from those in other parts of the country. Traditional clothes are everywhere. Just by looking at people on the streets you can see it’s a different community, and a proud one. From colorful fabrics to pickled fruit, the bazaar is vibrant and packed with locals. I seriously thought I was the only foreigner around. She also took me to eat kalaneh (a Kurdish savory pancake filled with greens) and to the Asef Vaziri mansion, where the rooms are dedicated to showcase Kurdish life and art. When we got back to her place, we had a bit of a fashion show –I got to try on traditional Kurdish attires. And they were beautiful! Her husband, Mohammad, joined us for lunch. Before saying ‘hello’ he made sure I knew I was home. They way above and beyond, even for Iranian hospitality standards! I knew my stay in Sanandaj was going to be amazing.
After a homecooked meal we picked Saro up, Mohammad’s brother, and we went to Mount Abidar, where the nature is beautiful and the views of the city are lovely. After exploring the area for a while, we headed for a night of fun and games. Who knew that electric bumper cars and bowling could make a fabulous night?
I mentioned I wanted to visit Palangan, and before I could ask for directions they offered to drive me. An afternoon in a village rapidly turned into the most amazing family day. Mohammad came back early from work, and the road trip began. We stopped in Kamyaran to have lunch with his family. I think it didn’t take longer that 5 seconds for her mom and dad to welcome me to they’re home, and to let me know that I was their daughter now. Maman Khadijeh knew I am a vegetarian, so she prepared a feast for me. I was so overwhelmed with how kind they were –for lack of anything better to say with my non-existent Kurdish (and Farsi for that matters), I kept repeating “deso hoshbe” over and over. I hope they knew I really felt deeply thankful.
After loading the trunk of the car with what seemed to be food for a whole week, and being introduced to the rest of the family that was also joining us, off we went to Palangan. The road is breathtaking. Snowed peak showing off behind the greenest hills, hiding and reappearing at every curve. And the company was even better. Mamam kept saying “dokhtaram” and “eshgham”, which I learnt means “my daughter” and “my love”. My heart just melted for this woman. If I’ve only met her in Iran, the trip would have been worth it. But there was plenty more! Next to me was Rooyan, a shy 13 year old that didn’t say much at first, but ended up becoming my little sister. This beautiful young lady is smart, knowledgeable, and dreams of seeing the world. In my eyes she represents the goodness of Iran. We went for a hike when we got to Palangan, so I spent a few hours walking next to her, learning about her worldviews and dreams.
Palangan is so special. This inhabited postcard is a stepped village, where someone’s roof is someone else’s yard. Less than a thousand people live here, spread over both sides of a steep valley, with the Sirwan river flowing in the middle. The entire village looks like a staircase carved into the mountain. Such a stunning sight!
Next day I met Phillip and Vincent, the Dutch guys I traveled with until we parted ways in Shiraz. Seemed like I just couldn’t get rid of them! Although in all honesty, I was happy to see them. We roamed around Sanandaj, and went to their host’s place for lunch. We said our goodbyes, thinking that was the last time we’d meet during this trip (well, I saw them in Yerevan a month later!). I came back to my family, and we headed out for dinner and another night of fun and games.
I don’t know if every Kurdish family is similar to the one that adopted me during my stay in Irani Kurdistan, but if you manage to experience a fraction of the kindness and sweetness I lived, you’re in for a treat. I have never felt so welcomed (and that’s a lot to say because I been feeling more than welcome everywhere in Iran). I was one more member of the family from the get-go. I suddenly was a daughter and a sister in a country that’s not my own, and a piece of my heart will forever stay with them. I have a book that Saro gave me, and a little book that Rooyan made for me in a special place at home.
My visa was about to expire, and I still had the East Azerbaijan region to see, so another bus was waiting for me (8 hours, 500.000 rials). The road from Sanandaj to Tabriz is beautiful. It goes around green rolling hills that will make you think you’re in Tuscany, except that you have tall snowed-cover peaks in the background. Until they’re not in the background anymore. Patches of snow start to surround you while the mountains get closer and closer. Until you reach buzzling Tabriz.
The city is much bigger than I thought it’d be, which only makes sense because it’s home to the largest covered bazaar in the world, and one of the oldest ones to boot. This Unesco World Heritage Site is the heart and soul of the city, where I ended up spending the better part of a day. But that visit had to wait. It was late, and I had to meet my host.
After Kurdistan I thought nothing could surprise me. But I haven’t met Masoud yet. He was super kind from the start. Anothe incredible example of Iranian hospitality. He stayed talking to me for hours, gave me a ton of tips so I could explore the city next day, and went crash at his parents so I could have his apartment for myself. What a sweetheart!
It was raining cats and dogs the next morning, but I had limited time, so nothing was going to stop me from seeing the last Iranian city on the itinerary. I started the morning at the Blue mosque, I roamed around the Sa’at square, I glimpsed at their very much western European Municipality palace, and I saw the gate to the old citadel, that still stands tall, with a few stops for tea in between, which were an excuse to dry a bit. With all the sights Lonely Planet recommended checked, I headed to the city’s landmark, the Grand Bazaar. I got lost for hours between spices, clothes, fruits, fabric, and pretty much everything else you can imagine. I met Reza, a retired history teacher that was kind enough to show me a caravanserai I couldn’t find on my own. He showed me where to buy tea and saffron. And he invited me for tea. Little did I know that the place we went to was one of the most traditional tea houses in town, where women are not allowed. When we entered the place every guy there stood up to greet my new friend, and the owner of the place welcomed me with the few words of English he knew. We drank tea and smoke shisha. I wondered then if it was ok for me to be there, because there were no other girls, but it wasn’t until next day when told Masoud about it, that he filled me in with the details of the place.
Later on I met Hamed and Atefe, a lovely couple and their cute daughter. We went for a walk to Elgoli park and talked about politics and life in Iran. That same day I stayed taking about politics with my host too, for hours and hours. It’s amazing how people speak openly with a stranger. I respect their courage so much!
My last day in the country came much faster than I would have liked it. After helping me arrange a sit in an overnight bus to Baku, Masoud offered to go with me to Kandovan, a little town an hour south of Tabriz. We talked, laugh and sang the whole way, and it was clear to me that we’d stay friends. We had breakfast in the cutest place, overlooking the wonder than Kandovan is. This village carved in the heart of the mountains is impressive, by anyone’s standards. It’s an inhabited Cappadocia, where houses are not built on the mountain, but within the mountain. We went up and down the hills, going into the houses of the kind people that invited us to try their honey and fruits (experiencing Iranian hospitality until the very last minute!). And then a bit up the hill across the village to get a panorama. I got rid of the hijab for a few moments, and with my hair flowing with the wind I tried to take it all in. Masoud took one of my favorite photos of the trip –no hijab, taking a photo of something breathtaking, being happy.
On the way back we stopped at Elgoli park to have one of the city’s specialties: potatoes and egg, and then we went back to his place for a few drinks before I had to say goodbye. It was the perfect end to a perfect trip.
Leaving Iran was as easy as entering. I crossed the border at Bileh Savar. It took a while for every passenger’s passport to be checked and the bus to be searched, but there was no issue whatsoever. Completely different than what Azerbaijan had in store for me, but that’s story is for the next post.
Was it worth a spot in the list?
I feel like I could have written a book about my experiences in Iran, but all can be sum up with a simple word: go! This country went up to my top three favorites in the world, and I’m sure you’ll feel the same when you visit it.