Tourist & Resident Guide to Iran

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Mountain Walk at Darakeh

Summer turns Tehran into a white hot pit. And in much the same way as one places rocks around a fire, the mountains around the city seem to focus all the heat into the centre. Thankfully, they also provide sun-stricken city-dwellers with paths up to cooler climes. Deprived of altogether less wholesome entertainments, one of Tehran’s most popular weekend activities for all ages is “kuh raftan” – going to the mountains.

There are three main paths into the mountains in the north of the city where Tehranis flock at weekends.

TOCHAL
I used to go here a lot. It’s an easy walk from where I live and – smog allowing – you get amazing views of the city but that’s about all it’s got going for it as far as I’m concerned. In winter, skiers and snowboarders from Tehran’s wealthier communities drive up the broad path to the first station where they take the telecabin (cable car) to the high peaks. In summer though, the shadeless, dusty, flat track is hardly inviting during the daytime and who wants to go mountain climbing at night? Plenty of Iranians seem to, however, many stopping at the broad asphalt plateau at the first station to drink tea out of plastic cups and some at the surreally located paintball range which seems to have landed from another planet on the otherwise bare slope.

view of Tehran smog from Tochal
DARBAND
I’ve only been here once – and even then I didn’t go far up. From what I saw, this is easily the most commercially developed of the three. The narrow path that follows the cascading river is flanked on both sides with unbroken ranks of restaurants and coffee-houses, mostly quite large, with countless carpeted daises. Multicoloured fluorescent tubes and globes light up the white stucco crenellations of these establishments make the whole place look like a mountain-themed amusement park. Good place for a first date.

DARAKEH
By far the most appealing to nature lovers and the closest you’ll get to a genuine hike without leaving the city. The path starts in the narrow streets of an aged suburb shaded by tall plane trees and cut in two by a gushing stream that accompanies the walking path all the way up to near the peak. Unlike Tochal, the path never gets wide enough to allow more than four people to walk abreast and, for a city defined by indecorous driving, it’s refreshing to find that Tehranis are perfectly civil when faced with heavy pedestrian traffic.

The suburb of Darakeh
mountain path at Darakeh
Pretty soon after leaving the last of the suburban residences behind, you can see families and groups of friends picnicking in shady spots by the wayside. Groups of schoolgirls maqne’eh tight, huddled around a secret. Lads lying out, using each other as pillows and passing the gheliyun. Some stop at the teahouses which stud the path until about two hours in, where old plane and walnut trees give their shade generously and you can order tea, dates and adasi (lentil soup).

Darakeh
Darakeh Coffee Shop (but everyone drinks tea)
The path is rocky and challenging enough in places to make the unaccustomed huff and puff. But that doesn’t deter a handful of specialist traders from making up a scattered, eclectic bazaar on the earlier sections of the mountain path. For instance, the dervish who sells organic cotton garments and imported Indian throws from his cliff perch, and the bookseller with his modern Persian classics and translations of Western philosophers. They and the kamancheh player who busks for change in front of the bookshop add their spiritual spice to the sunglasses and hat sellers and snack vendors.

mountain herbs for sale
Having passed the stalls selling plump black cherries and pulpy mulberries we now see the orchards from which they came, the parasitic city now left far behind. Energetic teenagers try their height, jumping up at the branches which hang over the wire fence, their upper reaches still fully laden but the ground now covered with the stains of fallen fruit. We are now in productive lands. The crowds thin out slowly as you get higher but Iranians are quite prepared to carry full picnic sets including rugs, kettles, portable barbecues and gheliyuns in their tight-packed rucksacks quite a way up the mountain path. Once they’ve found the perfect spot by the riverbank, they may take the opportunity to pick the pungent wild herbs that grow there, cool their feet in the icy water or just savour the freshness of the air and the sound of the water, perhaps forgetting, just for a moment, exactly which city it is they’re from.

Darakeh Valley

Tehran Sightseeing Guide

No comments: