There are several roads one can take from Tehran north to the Caspian Sea region during during road travel in Iran.
All are mountainous and packed with breathtaking scenery. The infamous Haraz Road (Ha-RAWZ) is the most dangerous and yet most alluring.
Haraz is beautiful, never boring and you could easily spend days taking side adventures exploring the countless villages tucked in the Alborz Mountains. (And also check out the breathtaking villas owned by the Iran’s nouveau riche).
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Iran road travel: Why Iran’s Haraz Road is so dangerous?
Haraz Road is narrow, crowded and has countless steep turns that require vigilant driving, which is in short supply in Iran. I mean, watch the road and watch for the bad driving of others as well. This is the case on all the roads in Iran. On Haraz, though, the stakes are higher.
Inclement weather makes the road doubly treacherous. Winter invariably dumps massive avalanches on the road – and sometimes on top of the hapless truckers and vacationers.
(Yes, I read the newspaper when I was a kid, particularly the pages devoted to major accidents and crime. I don’t know why. My father hated it. “Can’t you find something better to read?” he’d yell.)
But Haraz is also alluring because of its beauty. Also known as Road 77, it snakes along the beautiful (but polluted) Haraz River and through massive tunnels drilled into the gargantuan and jagged Alborz mountain range, linking the arid Tehran Province to the green Mazandaran Province along the Caspian Sea.
The scale of the mountains is mind-boggling. See if you can find the cars below:
Treacherous Eating along the Treacherous Haraz Road
Saeideh and I began today’s Haraz journey with breakfast at the first roadside restaurant we saw.
That was a mistake. You need to do a bit of research picking a place to eat during Iran road travel.
The view from the restaurant of the Haraz River below was breathtaking.
But the restaurant itself and everything in it was a health hazard, we quickly realized. Our mistake was to rush in listening to our stomach, instead of ask around first.
Everything was dirty and damaged. Even the staff looked damaged. They looked like they had just woken up from a night of heavy partying. (Drug abuse is widespread in Iran.) The omelettes we ordered tasted old.
But we had already ordered the omelet. Too late to escape, we told ourselves.
Eating on the road during Iran road travel
Bad food, bad restaurants and the morons running them are part of the Crapshoot one can’t avoid traveling in Iran. I have had food so fresh and delicious, it made me howl out of joy. And then this.
It’s particularly bad on Haraz Road. “Everyone of these restaurants,” a traveler told me later in the day, “this one, that one, every one, the food is bad and the toilets are all unbearably dirty.”
How to avoid bad restaurants in Iran
The way to find a decent place to eat in Iran is the same as getting almost anything else done in Iran: ask for other people’s opinions. I can’t think of anything I do in Iran before I ask for someone’s recommendation. Iranians heavily rely on the word of mouth.
So when I arrive in a new town, I brake and ask a passerby or two where is the best place to eat. Just don’t ask teenagers. You don’t want to end up eating Iranian fast food. It’s not good.
Online Reviews vs. the word of mouth in Iran
Stopping for food on Iran’s roads is a crapshoot because the use of online reviews is in its infancy here. Same with hotels and stores. Shoddy businesses are still fearless of developing a poor online reputation. Online reviews haven’t really taken off in Iran and I would not trust them anyway because they are gamed so easily.
But Iranians telling each other where to go for anything – that’s like a form of cultural commitment here. People depend on each other to get past the maze of the unscrupulous merchants. They go out of their way to direct each other to the businesses they trust, knowing they badly need each other for information.
This is also one advantage of traveling with a competent guide, who would know exactly where to go for good food and ambiance.
The villages of Rineh & Abe-Garm
Further up the road, we turned to cross over the river toward the town of Rineh (also spelled Reyneh) and adjacent town of Abe-Garm (Persian for hot water), where hotels and baths offer access to hot mineral water gushing out of the steeps of Mt. Damavand.
We changed our minds when we heard the baths are also universally dirty and overpriced.
From up there, we could see the endless spread of construction up the mountains. Lots and lots of heavy money from Tehran.
And the locals along the lonely roads:
The Caves of People who resisted Islam
Down the mountain, we checked out the “Caves of Unbelievers”, caves dug into the side of the mountain by Iranians hiding from the 7th-century invasion of Arabs and their religion, Islam, hence the label “unbelievers” bestowed upon them by the modern day marketers of Islam.