high road to chalus

Ashura which falls on the tenth day of the Islamic month of Muharram commemorates the killing of Hussain, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad SAW in Karbala (in today’s Iraq) in the year 680. It is a day of deep religious significance for Shiite Muslims. In Iran it is a day of sadness and rememberance of the tragedy, suffering and martyrdom.

On my way to Chalus on the shores of the Caspian Sea driven in darkness across the Alborz Mountains from Tehran, I discovered two things I hadn’t known beforehand. Both events as they turned out were in equal degree unforgettable and adrenaline-inducing as I was prepared mentally for neither.

The first was that the mountain drive known as the Chalus Road or Road 59 is actually a true epic mountain crossing involving numerous tunnels and switchbacks taking us five hours (more if you include the stop for soup at the highest point ) to make the 200 km journey.

The second thing was I found out I would be arriving at a seaside holiday resort just in time for the climax of the public mourning of Muharram known as Ashura, the most important and solemn religious event in the Shi’a Calendar when everything shuts down, all manner of amusement and fun are forbidden and people dress themselves in funereal attire.

Pylons and rainclouds. The Caspian region gets a lot of rain throughout the year as compared to the rest of the country. Precipitation averages around 20 inches a year and double that amount in the western part.
The Alborz or Elburz Mountain Range stretches 900 km along northern Iran forming a climatic wall between the desert-like landscapes of the Iranian heartland and the humid temperate forests of the Caspian Coast


This stretch of the Caspian Sea Coast was during the reign of the Shah a popular summer resort for the wealthy and well-connected especially the city of Nowshahr which operated somewhat as the “summer capital” of Iran.


Evening fruit juice and ice-cream


The Caspian Sea is known in Persian as Darya-e Khazar a reference to an ancient Jewish people who between the 7th and 10th century had a large empire to the north. The Caspian  is also the world’s largest lake, equal in surface area to all of Malaysia with enough room remaining to also fit in Taiwan.


All words and photographs Copyright Kerk Boon Leng October 2016

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