Stories in this Iran Travel Series:
I spent my weekend Iran vacation in and around a tiny country home in an area in northeast Iran that even Iranians themselves haven’t heard of.
The perfect Iran vacation, my wife and I believe, should include experiencing all the beauty and tranquillity you find outside the cities. Instead of touring historical sites, we crisscross the country in our 4WD to experience Iran’s spectacular nature, amazing foods and the traditional lifestyles of the rural Iran.
Here’s the 3-part story. But first, a little about Iran and our life here:
Iran is mountainous, not a desert (or camel) country
Many people associate Iran with sand, desert and camels. It’s a false image. The Lawrence of Arabia type of sandy desert is in very specific places. Iran has multiple climates, from the subarctic to the tropical. Most of the country is arid, but it is not flat.
Most Iranians live near highlands from which groundwater canals and rivers flow, to countless villages and weekend homes nested in the slopes and valleys.
And camels? I think I saw one in all the years growing up in the capital, Tehran.
You can do a Iran vacation extremely economically
The ability to quickly and economically escape to the countryside is one of the beauties of living in (or visiting) Iran.
Petrol costs only about 25 cents USD per gallon because it’s subsidized. And the road system is decent and extensive.
Iranian city life: a mix of good and bad
Wife Saeideh and I divide our time between living outside Iran and our apartment in Mashhad, the country’s second largest city in the northeast of the country, near Turkmenistan in the north and Afghanistan to the east.
Mashhad, Saeideh’s hometown, is a beautiful cosmopolitan city. It’s the spiritual capital of Iran and a top religious tourism destination for Shia Moslems.
But, like most Iranian cities, it is congested. It draws some 30 million tourists a year, at least 5 million of them from abroad. There’s air pollution and maddening traffic.
But what’s special about Mashhad is that, unlike the nation’s capital Tehran, escape to the freedom of the countryside is only a short drive away.
Visiting Iran’s villages and countryside
During my time in Iran, I’ve found out something interesting about tourists who visit Iran. They typically come here for the historical sites. Iran’s history is the main pitch of the tour companies. Foreigners think of Iran the same way they think of Egypt.
But tourists can easily tire of visiting old buildings, the same way you can overdose on medieval artwork on a European vacation.
“How many mosques do you need to see?” asks a friend who is a tour guide in Iran. He recalls tourists who begged him to spare them another visit to another historical site.
One purpose of our website is to tell you about all the others things Iran offers.
The perfect Iran vacation is outside the cities
For us, what’s outside Iran’s cities is the most interesting – hence the name of this website: Escape From Tehran.
Instead of a focus on historical sites, we spend most of our time outdoors, hiking and photographing the spectacular nature, feasting on farm fresh food and regional recipes, learning about Iran’s myriad of cultures and languages, and staying in traditional homes in the villages of Iran.
Amazingly varied landscape in northeast Iran
The landscape in northeast Iran is spectacularly varied – from arid terrain you might find in Arizona or Utah – which often is flanked by snow-capped peaks …
… to hilly tree-covered landscape you might find pretty much anywhere in Europe.
A traditional country homestay near Mashhad
Our destination on this trip was the area near the tiny village of Payeh (also known as Kalateh-ye Payeh) only an hour or so east of Mashhad, near the town of Golmakan.
We stayed at a weekend home owned by Saeideh’s uncle, Javad, a retired businessman.
From the outside, it looks like someone’s amateurish attempt at building for the Burning Man. (Javad’s selfless dalliance with architecture has a long history. More about that later.)
What is unforgettable about this place is the iwan (balcony) opening to a knockout view of the valley below.
Best time to visit northeast Iran
It’s one of those views that never ever gets old, especially during the spring, when the ground is velvety green and the cherry trees are so loaded with white blooms that you’d think it’s snowing.
The other good time to visit northeast Iran is in the peak of autumn colors – mid to late November – when trees are desperately hanging on to the last of their yellow and crimson leaves.
The hot weather – and the hordes of tourists – are long gone, replaced by clear sunny days and chilly evenings.
The traditional lifestyle in Iran
Sleeping (and doing everything else) on the floor covered with a Persian rug is part of the country lifestyle in Iran.
Inside the home – originally a one-room cabin built by Saeideh’s grandpa 50 years ago – we find what city folks gave up long ago but is still a way of life in the countryside: sleeping on Persian rugs on the floor, and usually near a natural gas heater.
Many Iranians believe sleeping on the ground floor is healthy because the body draws energy from the earth.
At night, they unroll bedding and comforters on the floor and in the morning they roll them back up and stack them in a corner.
The same room is often used as a living room, dining room, and where the kids do their homework, sometimes by the light of an oil lamp. Electricity didn’t get to this home until last year.
In Uncle Javad’s case, who is somewhat of a neat freak, the bedding is stored in a cabinet he had custom-built to size:
Weekend trips and country villas are common in Iran
Second homes in Iran are popular for close-knit families who often escape the city en masse. That’s why there are enough cups and dishes in this home to start a hotel.
And there’s the tobacco water pipe or qalyan (known as the hookah outside Iran), another popular item for gettogethers. Those are heaps of sugar cubes for tea in the bottom shelf.
Food on our Iran Vacation
For food, we grilled skewers of marinated chicken over wood charcoal.
Chicken kabobs marinated in saffron (Persians put saffron is in everything, even the tea!) and other spices and veggies grilled on skewers and served on rice is common everywhere in Iran, city and country.
But there’s far more to the Persian cuisine than kabobs. More articles coming about that.
Lack of cell reception on Iran Vacation => fewer distractions
I was dismayed when I couldn’t get any cell reception and huffed and puffed a bit.
But by that evening I was glad for it. Without the distraction of the Internet or phone calls and even TV and radio, we couldn’t help but slowly wind down and start noticing the beauty around us.
Oh, look at this. Oh, look at that. For a while, we were like kids on an outing without their parents. The spectacular scenery came alive. It was a reminder of how much goes unnoticed when we’re staring at our phones.
The starry nights of our Iran vacation
And in the evening, we noticed something else city dwellers don’t have: night skies free of the light pollution of the city.
With absolutely nothing else to do, we sat back and watched the stars rise after sunset.
Our day in the country typically began with a taste of the famous Iranian hospitality (to the rest of the story) >>>