After a day on Haraz Road during our Iran Caspian trip, what could be more treacherous (and exhilarating) but a late afternoon journey up into the clouds?
At 3260 meters, Filband is so high, it sits above the clouds. The 30 km journey from Haraz Road – on the second day of our escape from Tehran – to the touristic village felt more driving twice or three times that much. The road twists and turns relentlessly up the steep incline.
Iran Caspian Trip: the road to Filband
At first we went through a bunch of villages and met several of the locals.
Then suddenly we were inside the clouds, visibility so low that I mistook a dog crossing the road as a child. It was scary. Are we even on the right road, we wondered.
We called a number someone gave us for accommodations.
“You haven’t even hit the jungle yet,” the host told us, breaking into a hearty laughter. “Come up quickly before it gets dark because the driving won’t get easier.”
Up and up we went, around bend after bend, our 28-year-old tank’s 6 cylinders groaning mostly in first or second gears.
The traffic up here is so sparse, the wild dogs – a constant feature of Iran’s roads – relax in the middle of the road without fear.
Eating on our Iran Caspian trip in rural Mazandaran, Iran
Then ran into the lady who fed us ash (also spelled aush or āsh, a form of soup so thick that is like a complete meal) with sprinkles of fried garlic and salt, followed by tasty chai-ee atashi (tea made on wood fire).
The road was not even paved until ten years ago, the woman told us. Tourism was unheard of. The locals walked the 30 km distance to Haraz Road to catch a ride to the city. Tourism boomed about five years ago and with it came heavy money. It was invested into replacing the traditional homes with touristic accommodations and second home villas for the rich. Lots of traditional architecture was destroyed.
Our village homestay in Filband, Iran
Eventually, just before dark, we arrived at the home of Ali Babaii, 42, a former trader of linens who pooled his money into building three stories for overnight tourists. It is sans an elevator, which he discounts as an unnecessary luxury. He drags the gas capsules by hand up the stairs. In 20 years, when he sees the effect on his body, he’ll be kicking himself into the clouds outside the balcony.
He set up for us a korsi, a type of low table with an electric heater underneath it, and a giant lahaf (comforter) thrown over it. A korsi is a fantastic refuge from the cold. In the olden times, entire families slept around the korsi. It was heated by charcoal back then. Now it’s all electric.
We headed out in the dark to eat at a local home recommended by our host.
Celebrating our arrival in Filband
But first we had to commemorate our successful ascension to the top of Mazandaran on this Iran Caspian trip. In the dark and heavy fog, armed with Babaii’s walking stick, we ascended a grassy knoll, gasping on the cold clean air, and took a selfie.
We walked the dark muddy streets of Filband for quit awhile until we found our destination. It’s like the Old West here. Lots of construction in newly captured territory but no city services, like street lights.
Eating a traditional dinner on our Iran Caspian journey
We ate at the home Amoo Yusef Malekshahi, a former truck driver turned cook, and his wife Fatemeh. We asked for local food particular to shomal (Persian: north. It’s what all Iranians call teh Caspian Sea region).
He and his wife cooked for us a mahali (locally produced) chicken stuffed with local herbs and aloo (sweet plums) harvested in the mountains, and covered with a heavy layer of rob-e anar (pomegranate molasses).
The rice from this region with tahdig (bottom crust of rice) colored with saffron. Nothing new there except this: the tahdig contained sesame, something we had never seen elsewhere in Iran.
It was the best cooking we had tasted in a long time!
Conversation with our dinner hosts
We hit it off with a conversation that continued into the night. Amoo (uncle) Yusef complained that the entire town depends on him for everything from fixing their plumbing and automobiles. He is a jack of all trades and seems to enjoy being in demand.
The couple communicated in the dialect of Mazandaran, which is completely foreign to Persian speakers. It contains many Russian phrases because of the heavy influence of the meddling neighbor in the north that invaded this area multiple times in the 19th century.
He said maintaining relationships is everything to him.
“You see this book?” he said, showing us a notebook. “It is full of phone numbers. When I travel, I just look up a phone number” of a former customer that became a friend.
He drove us back to our pad, insisting that the town could not afford something happening to a guest in the dark of the night.
The good and the bad of our homestay in Filband
We slept under the toasty korsi.
Later into the night, we discovered that we had to step into the late November cold to access the toilet from the balcony, which surprised us!
I groaned about having to dress just to go to the toilet – until I happened to glance up at the pitch-black sky filled with brilliant stars.
The sight froze me in the freezing cold. Stood there in awe. Remembered that the same stars hover over Tehran too, but are invisible to its people because of the heavy pollution.
Felt thankful for the privilege of being able to escape from Tehran. Spent the next day of our Iran Caspian trip checking out breathtaking views of Filband.