sábado, 23 de diciembre de 2017

Oat- The documentary

A fascinating documentary by the late renowned anthropologist Dr Nader Afshar Naderi on the tribes of the Zagros mountains. https://www.aparat.com/v/RdfbY/%D9%81%DB%8C%D9%84%D9%85_%D8%A8%D9%84%D9%88%D8%B7_%D8%A7%D8%AB%D8%B1_%D8%AF%DA%A9%D8%AA%D8%B1_%D9%86%D8%A7%D8%AF%D8%B1_%D8%A7%D9%81%D8%B4%D8%A7%D8%B1_%D9%86%D8%A7%D8%AF%D8%B1%DB%8C

viernes, 22 de diciembre de 2017

Bird watching in Iran

There are 548 species of bird recorded in Iran which belong to 26 Order and 68 Families. If you are interested in a bird watching tour of Iran please write to info@caspiantrek.com Here is a useful website for reference http://www.iranbirds.com

domingo, 10 de diciembre de 2017

Ismailites and their Castles in Iran and Syria

This is a scholarly book on this interesting subject http://www.ibtauris.com/Books/The-arts/Architecture/Residential-buildings-domestic-buildings/Castles--fortifications/The-Eagles-Nest-Ismaili-Castles-in-Iran-and-Syria?menuitem={9FBE298D-9FCE-4C9A-A4FA-3C2B6D2D7D48}

martes, 5 de diciembre de 2017

Cloud Sunami

Andy was a man from down under. He was travelling with his girlfriend round the world doing a bit of everything, paragliding, deep sea diving etc and then they came to me for hiking. I chose Lemira a summer settlement south of Khoonegeli above the forest line. It is an authentic settlement of some 50 odd houses which only sees people in the hot summer months when people from Tonekabon escape the humid heat of the Caspian littoral to spend a few weeks with their families and friends there. There is still no road access to the village. Here is what we encountered. It was a memorable night of rain and wind but boy the clouds were amazing. https://youtu.be/NeGnIxvH1MU

martes, 28 de noviembre de 2017

Do not use banks to exchange currency

A few travellers have used banks to change money. This is a mistake as the banks will buy your foreign currency at a lower state rate but will never sell you hard currency at that rate, in fact the banks never sell hard currencies to foreigners so you lose out if you go to a bank! There are legal bureau de change where you can buy and sell currency at the market rate. You can find them in most city centers as well as international airports. You do not need Iranian Rials to enter Iran, USD and Euros are readily exchangeable in Iran.

Iran, not a cheap destination

Iran is not a cheap country. Why? Because it has an inflammatory economy, the inflation is, depending on who you want to believe between 25-40%. Banks pay 17-26% interest on your deposit. Due to years of sanctions by the big powers Iranians have had to pay over European prices for imported commodities. The country is also heavily dependent on oil which means the country is relatively rich but the wealth is not fairly distributed. There is the real economy which is the free market economy and the state subsidized economy which only really caters for the most basic of commodities such as bread etc. The price of petrol in Iran although much lower than Europe is the highest in an oil producing country.

English speaking guides

Trekkers who are opting for an English speaking nature or mountain guide in Iran should be aware of the fact that the general level of English spoken by many of these guides is not up to the standard they might expect. Cultural guides usually have a better level of English than most nature or mountain guides. The reason many trekkers wish to have an English speaking guide is to interact with the locals more meaningfully and learn about local cultures, however, the English the guides speak may disappoint them. The reason is that English learnt by many of these guides when they undergo training is inadequate and unless they have a strong motivation to take extra lessons their knowledge of the language especially spoken language remains generally low. Besides, many of these guides never get the chance to travel outside Iran mainly because it is extremely difficult to get visas (bar for a few far eastern and middle eastern countries) and also because until recently the number of incoming tourists has been low.

martes, 4 de abril de 2017

When to bargain and when not !

The general European conception about dealing with the middle eastern is that they should bargain or haggle for a better price. In Europe you have price labels, taxi meters and no-one argues with them they take it or leave it. In Iran like many other third world countries sometimes labels lack, there are no taxi meters and you could end up paying much more that what is due. So here are some useful tips. If you want to buy a rug, carpet, jajim or kilim then try not to buy it in Isfahan. Try the big bazaar in Tehran first and buy from a whole seller. Here you should bargain a little perhaps for a 20% reduction. If going through the labyrinth of hundreds of narrow alleys in the bazaar is unattractive for you then try Shiraz, Qom or Yazd. You are much less likely to be ripped off. If you have seen something you like and it happened to be in a shop in a touristy area of Isfahan then bargain hard and long. A family staying with us came across a rug they really liked. It happened to be in a shop in Isfahan. The seller quoted 6000 usd. The family had a friend abroad who was a carpet dealer so they took a picture and send it to him for consultation, the verdict was : 2000 usd maximum price ! They bargained hard and got it for 2200 usd! I AM NOT JOKING. Getting a taxi for a long ride: bargain a little, make a counter offer of some 10-15% less and if the car is in good nick then get into it, road safety in Iran is abysmal. When never to bargain (or at least almost never): when I quote a price :))) I work hard where no-one has ever done anything like it before and believe you me it takes a lot to organize things and make sure they run smoothly. This is not Austria where you can pick up the phone and get a guide who speaks Khalkha dialect! Many locals have had to be convinced that people do actually prefer to walk rather than sit in a crappy car and see the trash along the road. The latter is not called hill-walking or trekking! Thank you! Especially to Anje and Dino for prompting me to write this post. Happy trekking!!

Isfahan-Qazvin for the Valley of Alamut

There is a bus from Qazvin to Isfahan at 1300 hours and one from Isfahan to Qazvin at 22.00 hrs. Qazvin is the nearest city to the valley. Enjoy your trek!

viernes, 17 de marzo de 2017

More than a room with breakfast !

There are many hostels, motels, hotels, local homes open to tourists around the world and around Iran. They have their prices and it is reflected in what you get, travellers fora are the best place to look for the categorization of their services. As the Persian proverb goes; "you get as much soup you have paid for". And there is Khoonegeli! I am sure there are places similar or better than Khoonegeli perhaps not in northern Iran but I have heard there are in India, but when enquiring about your stay please bear these simple but important facts in mind;- The work is seasonal, from late November until late March there are very few visitors, perhaps just enough to feed the animals and pay for the man who looks after them. The structures being all made with wood, mud and hey (wattle and daub) require much more attention and maintenance than those made with bricks and cement. To place a misplaced roof tile which is causing a leaking roof it can cost up to 80 usd, why? Because there is simply no-one left close by to do it so the craftsman would need to come from 100km away and he would charge a full days work plus expenses. But these hand made tiles are pretty, they are hand made, they form part of the local architectural identity long lost to ugliness and chaos. The house only has two rooms and this limits the number of guests which it can accommodate, however, the garden now has a swimming pool for children which adults have also found enjoyable in the hot summer days, a 45 m yoga and meditation hall plus a swing as well as the bamboo hut for afternoon reads, tea and coffee in groups. Building more huts and increasing the number of rooms would certainly allow one to increase the number of guests at any one time and reduce the prices somewhat but this requires capital. I simply do not have capital. I live a bohemian lifestyle and am a believer in slow growth. Apart from the main house which was built in 2003 with savings from working as a doctor in London all the rest have been paid for with money earned here with hard labour, often sacrificing personal health and privacy to keep the standards as they are. As one Iranian American guest rightly put it " this is a labor of love", this may not be strictly true as the Oxford dictionary describes the phrase as I have a growing family I need to support and this is my only income but it does make a point. Finally, as someone who works hard to support a growing family I deeply appreciate that every one of our client also has to work hard and earn a living. There is no such thing as a free lunch! Thank you.

The North-South divide

Like many countries Iran has its expensive and not so expensive regions. Generally speaking the economy of Iran is dependent on oil and there is plenty of it so it tends not to be as cheap a destination as other central Asian countries. Inflation in Iran is high. Every Nowrooz many commodities rise 20% in price never to come down again. Western Mazandaran (this is where Khoonegeli is) in the north is the most expensive part of Iran outside the capital. Land prices, groceries and other amenities often surpass those in southern Europe. In contrast places like Qom and Yazd despite being large cities are among the cheapest in Iran. For those travelling north beware that these hyper-inflated prices are a direct result of two major factors. One is the proximity of Tehran, the richest, the most populated and by far the most expensive city in Iran and secondly the existance of lush green forests and the sea which most Iranians find extremely attractive as holiday destination. However, this narrow strip of land squeezed between the beautiful Alborz mountain range and the Caspian sea has a limited capacity for holiday homes. In recent years the government has been clamping down on illegal buildings but despite these holiday villas dot may mountain villages with road access. Land in these places can fetch over 100 euros per square meter. There is no shortage of buyers who push other prices like basic commodities up as a result.

lunes, 27 de febrero de 2017

Easy visa is here but a warning!

https://e_visa.mfa.ir/en/#/travel-business/ An Australian couple recently applied on line for an e-visa. Half way through the application form they realized that it was only possible to get e-visas if they entered Iran via the Persian Gulf Island of Kish, not the commonest point of entry for foreign visitors and definitely not the easiest. Please contact the Iranian Consulate about the latest on Iran entry visa regulations before you apply. Visa on Arrivals are easy to get for many nationalities.

jueves, 23 de febrero de 2017

Live Music courtesy of Khoonegeli

Persian "Daf" is a mother percussion instrument. You may savour a private concert by one of the best Daf players in Persia, Suryadima. A 2 hour concert will cost 100 euros. Here is a sample of the master in India last summer. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o2wYphQVB https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daf

domingo, 5 de febrero de 2017

Independent travel for UK citizens

At the moment and despite rumors all UK citizens still need to be accompanied by an official guide or join a group tour to visit Iran. The only exception is for those who can get a business visa which would allow them to roam freely for up to 15 days. Business visas can be applied for by companies.

Interesting and little known documentary on Iran in 1971


viernes, 27 de enero de 2017

How to get to Alamut

The Alamut Valley is becoming very popular with hikers and quite rightly so. It is a spectacular valley filled with high summits such as Khashechal 4180m, Siyalan 4250m and the grand Shah Alborz 4100m as well as many canyons and waterfalls and remote isolated settlements. The departing point for shared communal taxis is the Gharib Kosh square in Qazvin. These "savaris" will take you to Moalem Kelayeh which is where you need to get off if you are heading for Lake Ovan or Garmarood if you are going to do one of the impressive treks to the Caspian side. The side valleys and canyons such as Gazorkhan where the main Assassin's Castle is located are not served by shared taxis and you are better off getting a taxi to yourself. If you are coming from the Caspian coastline then the Sehezar road ( under construction) is your best option. However, you should note that this road is closed in winter months. There is a minibus that leaves Tonekabon early in the morning and goes as far az Khoshkechal village. You need to arrange with the driver beforehand. The best place to find him would be the Khorramabad Junction of Tonekabon from where shared taxis go to Maran and Darjan. Note: this option is for people on a very low budget and with plenty of time to spare.

miércoles, 25 de enero de 2017

Foreign Exchange in Iran

The Iranian currency is now officially called Tomans instead of the Rial. The denominations in use are 100, 200, 500,1000,2000,5000,10000,50000 and 100000 Tomans ( as they are referred to by the locals although they all still have the extra zero from the Rial days!). You are unlikely to encounter any of the 100 and 200 toman notes, they are worth very little. Each Euro these days gets you 4000 Tomans (previously 40000 Rials). The banks are NOT the place to exchange as they will buy the hard currency at the governmental rate which is some 30% lower than the free market rate. You get the best rates in bureau de change which you find in most city centers and at major airports. You can sell back your excess Tomans at the end of your trip. For foreign travellers, Iran is still a cash economy. Those who wish not to carry too much cash can take a day off and by taking their Iranian money into a bank ask for a debit card.