martes, 8 de marzo de 2016

Visa on Arrival for Iran extended

After much rumor today the Iranian Consulate in Brussels told a client of Caspiantrek that the Visa on Arrival has been extended to 30 days and it is extendable for a further 15. This except for UK/US and Canadian passport holders.

viernes, 4 de marzo de 2016

Interesting video on Iranian Wildlife This is a fascinating video about wildlife in Iran.

martes, 1 de marzo de 2016

Ancient Iran; a journey deep into history

Iran has many surprises. This photograph shows you why. There are cemeteries dating back 10000 years. In order to see autehntic Iran you need someone who travells where others overlook. You may write to me to get a guide to show you places few Iranians and foreigners get to see.

Travel insurance for the independent traveller

Now that the sanctions are easing it should not be so difficult to get a travel insurance for Iran however if you find it hard to get an insurance policy especially to cover sports and adventure then here is a good solution. A friend of mine who also used to help out in khoonegeli eco lodge is now in charge of insurance policies for foreign travellers visiting Iran, his studied in the UK and speaks fluent English his name is Ashkan and his email is Enjoy Iran!!!

viernes, 19 de febrero de 2016

Books on Iran in English

If you are looking for English books on Iran the best source I have found is IB Taurus

jueves, 11 de febrero de 2016

Trekking Equipment in Iran, bring or buy?

Iran is a country of counterfeit and imitation products! Original trekking and mountaineering gears are available through official,semi-official and unofficial retailers, however they are more expensive, sometimes up to 30% more expensive than in Europe. The reason is the custom duties and poorly regulated retail market in Iran. So if you are coming to trek you might as well bring your own gear. There are locally made gear such as sleeping bags, trekking poles, boots etc but their standard of quality falls below the European brands something that is disproportionately reflected in their price. One of the exceptions is an Iranian company producing good quality crampons, trekking poles and axes called Haftgohar. The outdoor gear shops are mostly concentrated in the Moniriyeh street of central Tehran and are open until late at night. The most widely available gas canister is the Kovea.

miércoles, 10 de febrero de 2016

Where to buy Persian carpets?

Famous the world over, the elaborately woven Persian rugs and carpets, "gilims"and "jajims" .... There are literally thousands of dealers in the country but in which city should you buy? A lovely French-Moroccan family were our guests in Khoonegeli last year. I organized a round Iran trip for them with an English speaking guide and then finally they came to Khoonegeli for a trek. We went to Lemira to spend a night. They went to buy a Persian rug from a shop in Isfahan and the guy asked for 6000usd, they thought it was a little overpriced so they started the usual haggling and the guy came down to 4000usd. Not convinced they took a picture and sent it to an Iranian friend in Dubai who was a carpet dealer. He valued it at 2000usd max!! And haggling further they ended up buying it for 2300usd! A whopping 3700usd cheaper!! So where to buy? Yazd and Shiraz are two good places but perhaps just as good or maybe even better would be the bazaar of Qom or Tehran, they are far less touristy and you have a much larger choice. The down side is the time you would need to allocate to filter through thousands of extremely attractive carpets. If time is on your side try one of these two towns, you may end up getting a real bargain. Or you may write to me for further advice!

Vegetarians and Vegans in Iran

It is not easy being a vegetarian, let alone a vegan travelling in Iran. National Iranian food is heavily dominated by meat. As someone who was a veggie for 7 years I can tell you what you can do ! 1. dried fruits and nuts are of very high quality in Iran and also very accessible, although not necessarily cheap, a kilogram of good pistachios can set you back 20usd, buy some whilst in the bigger cities and have them with you, nutritious and healthy! to this mixture you may add home made organic grape syrup and ground sesame and have it with dried bread. you can go on and on on a diet like this for months!! 2. bread and cheese and some fruits! whenever I travel within Iran and can't get a descent meal that is healthy this is my second option! cheap and widely available. 3. vegetarian restaurants and shops are cropping up here and there although in comparison with their western counterparts they are very basic and in their infancy, this is useful link if you are in Tehran.

lunes, 8 de febrero de 2016

Treks for the independent traveller in Iran

For all those who want to go to wild and remote places in Iran especially the central desert of Iran, Kavir National Park and the Alborz mountain range then these websites might be of interest!!

domingo, 7 de febrero de 2016

Laar National Park

Lar National Park. Lar is a national park close to Mount Damavand (5671m) and some of the most impressive 4000m + summits of central Alborz. It is an area where semi nomadic shepherds of the desert areas further south take their herds to graze in the summer months. The best time to visits is when giant Damavand poppies are out and the area’s grassland is covered with wild flowers, this, in the 2 week window period when the park is opened to public and before the herds arrive to eat all that is colourful, which means sometimes in the first two weeks of June. Entry for foreign visitors is not without hassle, a written permit is needed from the headquarters of the environment department in Tehran which is bureaucratic and time consuming (an entry fee is charged, for 2015 it was 50.000 Tomans per person) and overnight stay is forbidden. However, we have routes for you to enjoy a few days of this spectacular area. L1 Hiking from Garmabdar to Yalrood in 3 days and 2 nights. This trek starts in Garmabdar an hour’s drive from Tehran and follows the old path that locals took for centuries getting from Mazandaran province to Tehran. There are dirt roads which were built after the revolution on old mule tracks for the shepherds and we will have to cross them on two occasions. The nights are spent in tents. L2 Damavand Summit and Laar National park excursion 5 days. Climb the highest summit in Iran and then spend a couple of days visiting the National Park. L3 Free roaming Lar. An exploratory trip in 4WD plus a mountain bike and on foot into the hidden valleys of Lar and the surrounding area visiting nomads. An excellent opportunity to hike, bike and take photographs of a large area in a short space of time. Tailor made to your time.

MTB routes near Khoonegeli and Alamut in Iran

MTB routes There are 2 bikes available for hire; a simple MTB with no forks suitable for rides around Khoonegeli and a professional MTB with front suspension FOX 120mm.You are welcome to bring your own! Day rides: 1. Khoonegeli Aghuzhal down to Dohezar Road, a difficult route through a quiet dirt road that leaves Khoonegeli southwards uphill and descends via the Dohezar road further east. Total km 45. The route can be done up to Aghuzhal at 1200m in 3–4 hours and back in 45 minutes downhill. 2. Khoonegeli-Falakdeh. This is a medium route that can either start from Khoonegeli or if you do not want to cycle on busy tarmac take the bike and start in Goleyj Pol. The forest road, after a few kilometres of tarmac passing through quiet small settlements, becomes a dirt road and after 3 hours reaches a few huts. Carrying the bike on a steep downhill forest slope you reach the riverside next to which lies a cave with sulphur spring water dripping from the ceiling! 3. Khoonegeli-Gazane Chal. This a very strenuous ride through a forest road that lies east of Khoonegeli. The altitude difference is almost 1800m, it is only possible to accomplish in one day there and back in the summer. Multi day rides: 4. Khoonegeli-Alamut. This is a multi-day mountain bike ride from Khoonegeli to the Alamut Valley. The altitude difference is some 3100m which is reached in day 2. The road under construction through the Sehezar valley is an unpaved road with sharp turns and steep sections which makes this an enduring ride. Night 1 would be spent in Maran in a local home, night 2 in Piche Bon in a local home and day 3 spent exploring the Alamut Valley with several options thereafter i.e visiting Atan and Andaj, Gazorkhan and the main Assasin’s castle, Evan Lake and the surrounding area. 5. Khoonegeli Haris-Alamut. An alternative to route 4. 6. Desert MTB route through Kavir National Park for full itinerary email me on

Khoonegeli Eco-Lodge in Tonekabon Iran

Khoonegeli Is our home which will also be your home when you visit. Alejandra and I designed and built it ourselves when we came to Iran in 2003. The house is set in an orangery which used to be a tea farm belonging to my paternal grandfather Rajabali Malaki, my uncles and my father worked the land for the past century and when we took over we planted the citrus trees, there are Thompson, Hamlin, Page, Clementine, Persian Lime, sanguine Thompson, Washingtonian, sanguine Washingtonian Yunesi, Seville and Valencian varieties. There are also kakis, lychees, figs, apples and quince plus eucalyptus and some local forest trees. The land measures some six and a half thousand square meters. It is in a semi-rural area between two small villages called Chelasar and Jal-e-Chelasar belonging to Tonekabon municipality and a few hundred meters from the foothills of central Alborz Mountains. The distance to the Caspian Sea is a mere 15 kilometres. The house was built using traditional building method of this region with ecological material such as wood, mud and hey. Approximately half of the wood used in the building was recovered old timber form other such houses which were knocked down to make way for new brick and cement building blocks in Tonekabon. The roof is recycled handmade clay tiles some of which are 150 years old. The chief builder was Usta (Master) Mohammad Hosseini, an illiterate but highly technically minded local carpenter and brick layer with decades of experience in such buildings, he is one the most honest, hardworking and insightful men I have ever met in my life, a big brother to me and an epitome of men of his generation in this region, when he was young he used to be the caretaker of a holy shrine called Chaak where his ancestors are buried. He also followed sheep and goats in these mountains as a shepherd before learning his trade as an apprentice by the late Usta (Master) Ahmad who I had the honour of meeting before he passed away. The house has 2 floors, a downstairs open kitchen, a 20sq m room plus a shower room and squat toilet and an upstairs room that is larger plus a south facing veranda of about 24sqm, we have set the capacity to 10 people at a time but only 2 groups are accommodated at a time so you will always have your private room for sleeping. Downstairs room is more economical than upstairs room. In the garden there are also: a hut containing two toilets (one non squat) a shower room, a tree house plus a swing for kids, a bamboo hut for afternoon teas and gatherings plus a separate room called Ariyaan’s room which is suitable for solo travellers or couples who want more privacy and travel on a lower budget, it has no electricity, an oil lamp is provided. It is some 15m from the washrooms. Kolbeye Shams, another adobe hut with old wooden slates rooftop is a few meters from the main house and is where at the moment we reside. It has a traditional bread oven or tanoor which we fire up for larger groups. A multipurpose hall with the capacity for 15 people is being built, again by the same Master Mohammad Hosseini, we hope to use it for group travellers, yoga, meditation and such activities, and it should be ready for spring 2016.

Multi day treks Northern Iran Alborz Range

Multi Day Treks The forests and pastures of southern Tonekabon are vast. Here are only a few examples:- A. Two day one night treks 1. Aghuzhal to Lemira. Drive Khoonegeli to Aghuzhal 17km 45 minutes forest dirt road, hike to Lemira, visit Lemira then continue to Lemira summit 2800m and return Bale Gardan shrine night in tent or a shepherds dwelling return to Aghuzhal via Valge Sar and Neyestan. Total hiking 8 hours day 1 and 5 hours day 2. 2. Noosha and Kashtan. Khoonegeli to Noosha, night in tent or local house in Noosha, second day climb Kashtan summit 3300m and return via Gerd Kuh and other summits along the way like Charcot and Zard e Sar. Total hiking 4 hours day 1 and 9-10 hours day B. Multi day treks 3 days 2 nights including summits. 1. Lemira to Laktarashan back from Jahak. This is a trek that will take you from Lemira (see above) to a sheep and goad pasture dwelling called Ravar where the first night will be spent amongst shepherds, you would never have thought they could live in such places, well above the forest line at an approximate altitude of 2700m but deep in a valley with amazing views of Nashemin and Kashtan summits and onto Laktarashan village on second day before heading back north again via a different route and spending a night in a forest dwelling called Jahak before returning to the road via Valge Sar village. Trekking time: day one 8 hours day two 6 hours and day three 5-6 hours. 2. Noosha to Aghuzhal via Nashemin and Ravar. A long route showing you some of the remotest and best kept secrets of Dohezar valley and Goleyjan district including some ancient settlements, alpine pasture and rocky summits. Nights in tents in Palungagardan 3000m and Ravar 2700m. Trekking hours day one 7 hours day two 9 hours day three 7 hours. This trek can be extended to include Laktarashan and a night in Jahak.

How to behave in Iran!!!!!!

Iran is a cultural minefield. Here are some tips: Shaking hands with the opposite sex is not common. If you are a man you may shake a woman's hand only if she offers it to you. Men embrace men and women embrace women for greeting. Opposite sexes do not embrace each other in public. Iranians are extremely hospitable and they will be offering you all sort of things, it is often difficult to know whether people’s offering is a genuine one or is it part of the elaborate social face saving Taarof. So when you are offered something you should refuse at first or maybe even the second time, this shows your etiquette and politeness!!! If the person insists then you may accept. Never accept a free ride by a taxi driver they make a living out of it and a simple Taarof does not mean he or she does not want you to pay. Never blow your nose loudly in public, it is extremely impolite. Do not fart, it is extremely unwelcome! Never stretch your legs sitting on the floor in someone’s home unless you are very close to them Men cannot wear shorts but can wear T shirts. They can swim in the sea with a swimming trunk. Women must cover their hair with a scarf, and wear an over coat that covers their bodily curves although once within Iran you will realize how rebellious some Iranian women have become and always try and push the limits. Generally the dress code is easier for tourists than for the locals. Whilst trekking in remote country side or mountainous areas this restriction does not apply, women may indeed wear lighter clothes but should cover their hair in sign of respect for local customs when they come across a shepherd or pass through a village. Remember that although many Iranians are proud of their history they are nevertheless extremely eager to become modern so perhaps what you have come to see is not always what they want to show you! And this is where I come in. I can show you Persia because to a large degree I am like you the potential European traveller, with the difference that I now live largely in Iran.
3000m+ summits; 1. Siyah Kol Summit, this is a nice summit that is very doable in one day. It is just under 3000ms but the views are so spectacular that one feels in complete wilderness. The starting point is the village of Esel Mahalle in the Dohezar Valley some 35 minutes’ drive from Khoonegeli. Starting altitude 1000m. 2. Nashemin Summit. This remote 3300m rocky summit can be ascended from Shane Tarash 1700m and the return trail would be from Lemira via Aghuzhal 1200m or vice versa. It would be a long two day trek with one night spent in a tent. Total hiking per day 9 hours. 3. Hulu Kale- Chalaki- Kangarchal -Yaan return via Daryasar. Drive to Hulu Kale village (700m) in the Dohezar Valley, 35 minutes from Khoonegeli. Hike to Chalaki dwelling deep in the forest continue to above the forest line and camp for the night, tent or shepherds’ dwelling, start the second day climbing Kangarchal and Yaan summits 3300m and 3470m and return via Daryasar pasture plain to Esel Mahalle where you will be picked up and driven to Khoonegeli. Total hiking per day: 7-8 hours. 4. Kangarchal, Chalaki and Yaan are 3 summits all above 3000ms on a ridge to the east of Daryasar and they may be climbed in one day in spring until November and 2 days in winter. 4000m+ summits;- 1. Siyalan Summit 4250m literally translated as the black nest due to black rocks on the summit is the highest summit between Tonekabon and Alamut and reachable on the northern side from Daryasar plain (see above). It is a two day trek that crosses Hyrcanian forests, glaciers, and a small lake and has a view over Alamut valley and the village of Haniz. Night is spent either in Rahe Gardan at 2700m or Viney at 3600m. There is a trail that reaches Khoshkechal and Gazorkhan in the Alamut valley in the south, the village where the remains of the main Assassin’s castle is. The winter route is via Khane Bon summit at 3700m. 2. Alam Kuh summit via Hesar Chal. At 4850m above sea level is the second highest summit in Iran after Mount Damavand. The Hesar Chal route is the easiest and non-technical and can be done in 2 days and one night. Day 1 would be spent trekking from Tange Galoo at 3700m to Hesar Chal (4000m) and the second day is a 4 hour trek to the summit and another 5 hours back to Tange Galoo where a 4WD will drive you back to Khoonegeli. The Alam Chal approach passing Siyah sangha is risky because of loose scree and is only recommendable for small groups up to 4 perhaps. 3. Siyah Kaman summit is a favourite of mine. It measures 4500m and can be climbed either via Nafte Chak (4000m) or Sar Chal refuge (3800m), either approach is a 6-7 hour trek first day and a longer one on day 2. From the summit the biggest glaciers and highest summits in the region including the mighty Alam wall can be viewed from very close range. 4. Kalahoo 4430m. This is one of the least visited summits belonging to the Alam massif, and it is one of the most spectacular one to climb from the Sehezar Valley. On a clear day once on the summit one may observe the Caspian Sea, dense Hyrcanian forests and summer settlements to the north, Alam Kuh and Takhte Soleyman and adjacent summits to the south, the Alamut ridge and valley to the south west and the mighty Mount Damavand to the southeast Day 1 drive to Darjan 1700m and trek to the cave 3600m night in tent day 2 summit and back to Darjan- drive to Khoonegeli. Total hiking 20 hours in 2 days. 5. Langari summit is one of the prettiest summits in the Sehezar Valley that is climbed in 2 days from Darjan it requires some basic rock climbing experience although it is not considered a technical summit, it measures just below 4400m. It is the first of tens of summits called the Haft Khan ridge many of which have rarely been climbed.

Hyrcanian Forests

Hyrcanian Forests

The Hyrcanian forests cover the northern slopes of the Alborz and Talesh mountains from the Caspian Sea up to 2800m and belong to the temperate deciduous forests. The climate is humid subtropical. The rate of humidity and precipitation is high. (600-2000mm per year and decreases from west to east). These forests belong to the Euro-Siberian bio geographical region. The most important and domainant trees of these forests are Quercus castaneifolia, Quercus macranthera, Alnus glutinosa, Fagus orientalis, Carpinus betulus, Fraxinus excelsior and Parrotia persica. This region was not as badly affected as other forests and hence a number of relict species belonging to the Arcto-Tertiary flora still remain in these forests, such as Acer velutinum, Gleditsia caspica, Parrotia persica, Quercus castaneifolia, Pterocarya fraxinifolia, and Zelkova carpinifolia. Of conifers only 2 varieties exist: Juniperus communis and Taxus baccata.
These forests are divided into 3 vegetation types; lowland, montane and subalpine forests. Over 50% of the original Hyrcanian forest has been lost because of mankind. We are privileged to trek these forests and hope that the remaining half will remain intact for future generations to enjoy.
Further reading;

One day hikes in northern Alborz range

Day Hikes and one day summits from Khoonegeli
1.       Lemira: - is a summer settlement of some 50 odd adobe houses in an alpine pastureland above the forest line in an altitude of some 2300m in the Goleyjan district of southern Tonekabon. It is one of the most picturesque summer villages in the area within easy reach of Khoonegeli. It has an amazing panoramic view of the Caspian Sea, the forest below, and the coastal towns from Ramsar to Chalous of some 70km radius.
There are 3 trails to reach Lemira
a)      Khoonegeli (altitude 80m ASL) – Beysar a tiny settlement at an altitude of 600m ASL 15 minutes by car then trek via an old forest trail, hardly used these days as a dirt road to Aghuzhal has shorten the journey  to Lemira, the return can be via Aghuzhal (1200m ASL)  to Khoonegeli 17km 45 minutes. Approximate  hiking time : 8 hours
b)      Khoonegeli- Aghuzhal –Lemira, return via Valgesar. This would involve a 17km drive to Aghuzhal (1200m ASL) in the forest then a 4 hour hike to Lemira and back via another village further east called Valgesar, there is an option of a minor summit approximately 2800m of altitude above Lemira . Average hiking 8-10 hours including the summit.
c)       Shane Tarash to Lemira return via Aghuzhal. A 50 minute drive through the Dohezar Valley on tarmacked road will take us to the last village on this road called Shane Tarash (1700m ASL) with spectacular views of the Siyalan Summit range, Gijekin, Ejar rocky Summit and Alamut ridge from where a long 7-8 hours of oscillating trail through the Hyrcanian forest and pastureland will take us to remote summer villages namely Pish Kuh, Sif Kelayeh, Demiroon and finally Lemira, there are several shepherd’s dwellings along the way. The trail from Lemira to Aghuzhal would take some 3 hours totalling the hike to 10-12 hours. For a good part of the hike the Caspian Sea is visible on our right way down at 27m below sea level.

2.       Lashm and Losarey Forests, are spectacular forest hikes in the lower Sehezar Valley of Tonekabon. A 35 minute drive from Khoonegeli to the village of Khanian (700m ASL) where our hike will begin. The hike entails some steep forest trail that after 45 minutes reaches an old cemetery and shrine after which it is virgin Hyrcanian forest until after 2 and a half hours of hiking we reach a temporary shepherd’s spring dwelling called Charkakooti (1700m) where the deep valleys and dense forests on one side, the Caspian Sea on the other together with Siyalan (4250m) and Beles Kuh (3500m) Summits would impress any hiker, it is a truly glorious panorama.  From here on Lashm (2300m) settlement where cowboys take their herds in the summer months is another 90 minutes hike and a further hour to Losarey the furthest dwellings are right below Beles Kuh Glacier, altitude 2700m. Our return would mostly be via the same trail with some minor detours to see the amazing 4000ms further south in the Sehezar Valley. Total hiking 6-7 hours. There are at least 3 springs along the way. Last year some of the shepherds were granted permission by the forestry commission to build wooden and adobe houses to accommodate their families whilst migrating to the area in search of pasture from April until October and now one can also see some very rural form of life on this hike. Beles Kuh is a protected area.

3.       Gerd Kuh summit, - this is a beautifully round summit of 3050m that is visible from the centre of Tonekabon as the emblem of the city. The hike starts from Shane Tarash (see 1c above) and after 4-5 hours we are on the summit that has a panoramic view of the Caspian Sea and the forests below to the north, other summits such as Kashtan towards Alamut Valley in the south, forests and villages to the east and some of the highest and savage summits of Iran in the Alam Kuh region to the west. Our return would be partly via the same trail and partly heading north to visit some shepherds along the way. This hike can be extended to include 1c with an overnight in a tent or local house in a village along the way for example Lemira.

4.       Noosha is crème de la crème, a village to be really proud of in terms of architecture and natural beauty of its surrounding valleys, forests and summits and I hope it stays this way for centuries to come. It is a summer settlement of some 100 adobe houses in a meadow at approximately 2300m of altitude surrounded by high summits, deep valleys and dense forests. It is normally reached from a trail in mid-section of the Dohezar Valley close to a village called Miyan Kuh which is reachable from Khoonegeli by car in 35 minutes. The 4 hour hike is along Noosha River a white-water river and through a steep forest trail, the return would be along the same route unless one opts for the 2 day hike to include Kashtan summit. Total hiking 8 hours.

5.       Daryasar sub-alpine pasture. This is possibly the most visited and famous meadow in Tonekabon if not the entire country. It is a dried up lake that measures about 200 hectares and contains grassland and short shrubs and trees. It is home to shepherds who each year from May until October take their herds of cows, sheep, goats and horses to graze. It has 2 seasonal rivers that flow into the Dohezar River that finally reaches the Caspian Sea in the centre of Tonekabon. It is the beginning of many trails reaching summits such as Yaan, Siyalan, Kandigan, Siyah Kol, Kangarchal and Chalaki, Khanebon (see under summits). This short hike of 1 hour and 30 minutes to the centre of the meadow can be extended to Khane Bon, Rahe Gardan or Taraj dwellings all approximately 2500-2700m.
To reach Daryasar one needs to drive to Esel Mahalle village in the Dohezar Valley, some 35minutes from Khoonegeli and start the hike at 1000m to reach the beginning of the plain which measures 1500m.
In the summer months a short dip in the crystalline water of the rivers would kick start any dead neurone!

6.       Band e Sar is a 500m forest summit right behind the
 famous Ramsar Hotel and natural sulphur springs, it is a steep one hour hike to the top where some remains of an old King’s Castle remain (Shah Neshin), a visit to the thermal water baths would be a nice end to the day that could include a visit to Ramsar Palace Museum a 70 odd year old temporary residence of the Pahlavi’s. This short hike can be done in half a day and combined with a short visit to a Caspian beach, or rather what is left of it!