David “the real McCoy” Lever, off the beaten track in the Alborz Mountains, Caspian Sea equals Costa Brava without Brits and booze, Kashan – paradise at the edge of the desert
Tuesday, August 23, 2016
Just before leaving Tabriz for Ardabil near the Caspian Sea, another biker from Australia turned up at the hotel I was staying in. David Lever, a 64-year-old veterinarian and his wife Beverly (she was back home on a short visit when I met David) are on an epic trip to Italy that started in Australia last February. By now they crossed countless borders and are not exactly taking the easy way to Europe. Via Southeast Asia they went to Japan and then Vladivostok, crossed Siberia to Mongolia and then onwards through all the Stans (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan…you get the idea). Visa costs and “fixers” at various borders alone were well over 10.000USD, not the cheapest way to Europe either.
We spent a pleasant day riding from Tabriz to Ardabil. After some sightseeing and checking the local bazar, our ways parted the next day when David went northwest to Baku in Azerbaijan and I went southeast for the world's biggest lake.
On my way to the Caspian Sea I took a wrong turn and ended up on what must be one of the most epic dirt roads in Iran. The road got higher, smaller and worse, winding it’s way up to 2500m above sea level, led to pristine alpine-like pastures and valleys in the Alborz mountains and if teleported there, you wouldn’t be able to know if you are in Switzerland or Iran, Cows and all included.
Eventually the road got lower, wider and better again and led to the mountain village of Masuleh. As soon as I reached this popular destination for Iranian tourists I got an idea of what was waiting ahead. Traffic-wise think driving from Munich to Lago di Garda on a sunny Saturday in August. By the time I reached the Caspian Sea late afternoon, traffic was so dense that it took me two hours for the last ten kilometres to my hotel. Jet skies, Ultra light planes, speedboats and crappy souvenir shops – the whole setup. Just like the Costa Brava, Spain, in August without Brits (ok, yes and Germans) and certainly no booze!
Off I was the next day heading south from Chalus on what would normally be one of the most spectacular roads through narrow mountain gorges and tunnels up to 2700m and back down to Tehran -and spectacular it was in terms of traffic. Northbound traffic from Tehran to the Sea was one single column of stop and go traffic, 130 kilometres long. Bypassing notorious Tehran traffic as wide as possible I headed straight for Kashan at the edge of the Dasht–e-Kavir desert.
David “the real McCoy” Lever gave me the name of a fantastic place to stay. Parking my BMW on the roof of the hotel (the hotel is partly built below ground level), I ended up in palatial surroundings. The multi-room traditional suite I was occupying was so great that I couldn’t get myself to leave for another six days.
As always, I spent lots of time in the local bazar, drinking endless cups of tea and Turkish coffee in an old Hammam, that was so strong that the spoon stuck vertically in the cup -leaving me sleepless at night. In the bazar I met Sadegh, a bright young student from Kashan helping his father in the shop during the summer holidays. He studies in Tehran, working in a lab with a hypersonic wind tunnel built by the British 50 years ago. Again, a prime example of Persian hospitality at its best, the next day he took me to the famous Fin Gardens near Kashan, showing me around and telling me all about its long and sometimes gruesome history (think intrigue and murder).
Now, it’s off to breath-taking Isfahan where I stayed last time in 1997, making it one of my favourite cities in the world and a major reason to go on this trip.
And as always, check the bigger, better, uncut pictures in THE GALLERY!