Alborz Mountains and Caspian Coast — Round Trip in North Iran

This post is part of series documenting travel in Myanmar, Cuba and Iran: Introduction.

July 2017

Arrived Tehran early morning after flying through the night from Helsinki. Clear skies forecast a hot day, but early drive from airport was still mellow, almost cool. While searching the accommodation before my trip, found an article from 2006 about Hotel Naderi in downtown Tehran. It painted so interesting picture about the place that had to go and see it myself.

Hotel Naderi at Jomhuri Avenue, Tehran.

Many details looked different now but the place is clearly recognisable from the photos. Rooms are clean but old and basic. Naderi is a budget accommodation by Western standards, which doesn’t matter much personally. And am wondering instead about the generations who had passed through here in various times. Article poetically lists some of them:

Gone are most of the Armenians, the businessmen who lived and played well during the Shah’s reign, the American tourists and the alcohol hawkers next door, as well as the cosmopolitan air that made the place an emblem of a Tehran in which East and West seamlessly mingled.

After some sightseeing in capital, I started a circle (Tehran-Qasvin (& Alamut)-Rasht-Ramsar-Chalus-Tehran) to the coast by heading road towards Qazvin, an old capital in the north west of Iran.

Carpet bazaar of Qasvin.

Alamut Castle and Order of the Assassins

Main attractions for visitors in Qasvin is to do a trip to Alamut. To reach the castle one has to drive 100km on mountain roads that reach above 2300 meters on the highest places. Views are, as one can expect, stunning. I had to ask driver stop for photos all the time.

Nizaris, commonly known as Assassins were violent and religious sect in the early middle ages. They were able to grow and spread influence during the time when Crusaders were breaking the balance of power in the Middle East. Assassins murdered their political adversaries sometimes in broad daylight and public spaces, creating resounding intimidation for other possible enemies. It usually meant the end of person who did the deed as well. Wikipedia:

Lacking their own army, the Nizari relied on these warriors to carry out espionage and assassinations of key enemy figures, and over the course of 300 years successfully killed two caliphs, and many viziers, sultans, and Crusader leaders.

Assassin headquarters was the sturdy Castle of Alamut (Map), deep in the Alborz mountain region. Fortress was adapted to suit their needs, not only for defence from hostile forces, but also for indoctrination of new followers. Visiting the place today, its not difficult to grasp how hard the life on the mountain top must have been. Water reservoirs are one indication of how necessities of life have been on the priority, especially when one of many enemies had brought an army and siege the mountain. Assassins finally met their end at the hands of Mongols in 1256, when their castles surrounded, including the main one in Alamut.

Moving on, road north of Qasvin progresses mainly through valleys and views are still pretty scenic. Bus from Tehran to Rasht takes about 5-6 hours and around two from Qasvin.

Caspian Coast

Views north and south of Alborz differ a lot.

Coast is tropical, lush, green plateau where rolling hills gradually growing into mountains further inland. Nature is in strong contrast to majority of the country because mountains block winds spreading moist to south, thus creating a natural green house of a kind. Crickets are whirring in trees and winds create breeze that helps with the heat a bit. Towns and townlets are dotting the coast in every 10-20kms. One can ride a horse, a beach buggy, or just hang around at waterfront and swim your hearts content. Sandy beaches are hard to come by, its mainly small stones everywhere.

Pedestrian streets in Rasht downtown.

My first stop was Rasht, not by the coast so decided to move on next morning. After finding a share taxi, trip continued to my main destination, Ramsar. Ramsar is a beach and resort town of the north Iran. Its heyday was before the revolution, but is still nice place for a visit. Ramsar also hosted a residence of Shah’s summer escape from the busy capital. Building is nowadays turned to museum. Rooms have their original furniture and items, and showcase the opulence in which monarchs once lived.

Ramsar waterfront.

Finding a room in Ramsar seemed like a problem first, but there were plenty of accommodation by the seaside. Landmark of the town is the two kilometre casino boulevard, coming from old Hotel Ramsar to the casino by the beach. Its nice place for leisure walks and talks with locals. Alley is surrounded by tall palms and other trees and vegetation is well maintained.

Casino boulevard and walking street in Ramsar centre.

Summer residence of Persian Shah.

Before returning to Tehran, I stopped one more night to Chalus, last stop in my trip. Place lacks the historic sights, but welcomes those who come for the sun and sea. Cluster of businesses are occupying every strategic part on the beach, and its hard to find a place where someone isnt asking money for staying. Many Iranians pack whole family from toddler to granny into car, and go to camping instead of buying into some establishment.

Beach life in Chalus.

Road from Chalus to Tehran is famous for its great views. Traffic is quite intense. Having own car, perhaps rented right after arriving to airport in Tehran is good option, if one can live with the driving culture. In bigger roads, speed control is quite rigorous but overtaking, cutting corners, changing lanes provide hair raising experiences. Iranian bus network is well developed and easy way of reaching every corner of the country, but local sights are often not in walkable distance. Taxis don’t cost much, but it still takes part of freedom away, knowing there’s some dude waiting in hot car while you are sightseeing a garden or a museum.

Golestan Palace, residence of Shah is a museum nowadays.

Bazaar of Tehran.


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