The northwestern region of Iran is more mountainous and known for its quaint mountain villages, which in winter are covered in thick snow. Stretching up to Iraq to the west, and Turkey and Azerbaijan in the northwest, this region also offers access to the southern shores of the Caspian Sea. Tabriz is a nice city with quite a few attractions. Not far from Tabriz is the troglodytic village of Kandovan and halfway down to Tehran, not far from the Caspian Sea is the mountain village of Masuleh.
Done with south and central Iran? Head up north by bus to Tehran from where a 12 hour overnight train crosses the 630 km to Tabriz in the northwestern province of East Azerbaijan. Tabriz is one of the historical capitals of Iran and currently the capital of the East Azerbaijan province. While the predominant language spoken here is Azerbaijani Turkic, most people are fluent in Farsi, Iran’s official language which is also the sole language for education. At an altitude of 1,350 m, Tabriz can get quite cold with ample snow in winter and rain in summer.
With a long and rich history, Tabriz has many historical monuments dating back to the eras of the Ilkhanids, the Safavids, and the Qajars. Among the most prominent are the Ark-e-Alishah (Arg-e Tabriz) which is a remnant of a fortress built in the Ilkhanate period.
The Kabud Mosque (Blue Mosque), originally built in 1465 on the orders of Jahan Shah (who died in 1467), was severely damaged in the December 27, 1779 earthquake with a magnitude of 6.5 that killed about 10,000 people. Some reconstructed began in the early 1900s and again in 1973 but only a small part of the mosque has been restored by early 2013. At least the collapsed roof of the mausoleum and the main dome chamber have been restored. The large statue of Khaqani (born in 1121), a Persian poet who died in Tabriz in 1190, stands proudly outside this mosque.
The bustling 13th century Tabriz Bazaar is one of the oldest in the Middle East and the largest covered bazaar in the world. It consists of a series of interconnected, covered brick structures and buildings and is one of the most impressive bazaars in the Middle East. Come here to buy your Persian carpets, dried fruits, nuts and everything else you need.
Just 38 km southwest of Tabriz, halfway towards the shores of the salty Lake Urmia, near the town of troglodytic village similar to those found at Göreme in Turkey’s Cappadocia region. Located on the northern slopes of a valley at the foothills of Mount Sahand, the village gets a fair amount of snow in winter.
Most people here live in natural and carved caves embellished with wooden doors and glass windows, a living example of human adaptation to exceptionally unusual natural surroundings. The lower sections of the cone-shaped natural structures are used as stables for sheep and goats while those above them are used as the family living quarters.
The caves remain quite warm in winter and those that house the warm bodies of the goats and sheep get uncomfortably stuffy even on the coldest days. According to legend, the first people to settle in the Kandovan caves were soldiers involved in military operations about 700 or 800 years ago. Most people in the village still wear traditional clothes with women wearing printed chadors.
Back to Tabriz a 500 km road, partly southwards along the Caspian Sea, leads to another interesting mountain village in Iran. Located in Iran’s northern Gilan Province, Masuleh was founded in the 10th century AD and nowadays has a population of about 500 which declines in winter and increases dramatically in AD but due to consistent attacks from surrounding nasty neighbours the village moved about 6 km away to the current location. The village is built along the foot of the mountains with the Masouheh-Rood-Khan river flowing through the bottom of the valley.
Fog is ever present bight yellow which allows for better visibility in the fog.
While in Masuleh, join a few residents in one of the teahouses and enjoy some tea and qalyān. Persian qalyān, also known as hubble-bubble, hookah, shisha. In Iran historians claim that the qalyān was first smoked by a Persian physician at the court of the Mughal emperor Akbar I during the 16th century. Many Iranians love to smoke after lunch or dinner, especially in the traditional Persian restaurants.
From Masuleh an interesting 380 km road leads along the mountains back to Tehran. Remember to stock up on Iranian food, Persian carpets and leather goods before heading back to Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport. Before disappearing into the high clouds, blow a kiss to the Iranian people who treated you so well, and promise yourself that you will be back.
440 glossy pages of photographs and captions of Iran. A large area of Iran is covered all the way from the ancient mud city of Bam in the southeast to Tabriz in the far northwest.
Other areas include Esfahan, Shiraz, Yazd, the Kaluts, Kerman, Kashan, Tehran, and the mountain villages of Abyaneh, Masuleh and Kandovan.
Further Reading: Globerovers blog post about Iran