By Caspian Sea – Talesh – Siahkal

North Iran

October 2019

From Tabriz I head to east, to my next destination Talesh to visit my dear friends Parastoo and Mohammed whom I met in Turkey couple of years ago. First I went to Ardabil, Mohammed took me from there and we had a quite adventurous journey on his old van on our way to Talesh. After it got dark, it started raining cats and dogs, the wipers of the van were out of order, the front lights turned off at one point, we had a blurry, unclear vision in the dark roads, weird sounds were coming from the bottom of the van, oh surprises one after another. Despite all of these we had a notably fun journey full of laughters. Then eventually we arrived at their land where they live a community life. Ta-daaa! I was now somewhere in Gilan province by the Caspian sea near Talesh.

First I need to tell about the geography of this particular region. In North Iran there is Elburz Mountain range which extends in an arc from the edge of the Azarbaijan region, along the southern coasts of the Caspian Sea and into the northeast reaches of the country. This is the home of Caspian Hyrcanian Mixed Forest ecoregion. UNESCO has recently inscribed the Hyrcanian Forests to the World Heritage List. It’s a very valuable green zone of forests that date back 25 to 50 million years. The climate is naturally mild and humid.

In my first morning I woke up to this beautiful view. Lush green flora of the forest, Caspian sea in the horizon, little villages and many rice fields in the lowlands. . .
Here my host was ‘House of Kindness’ community that was the most harmonious and joyful community I have ever came across. We were 10 people, 2 horses, 4 dogs and a cat. Everyday was starting with joyful good morning hugs. There was a beautiful warm energy hung in the air. Everyone is kind, warm, loving, thoughtful, helpful, respectful. I was experiencing the great hospitality of Iranian people more and more each day.

Life here reminded me of my days when I was living in a village. Recently harvested olives and pomegranates were in process on one side, the herbs were sorted out for the winter tea on the other side. The walnuts were drying, jam was boiling on the cooker, the railings were being prepared in the atelier. There was some weeding work in the gardens. I took some seeds of the vegetables and make them ready for next season. Days were full of many different works.
Every meal was like a feast prepared with love. Every ingredient was so fresh. Yoghurt, milk, cheese, eggs, honey, fruits, vegetables, herbs…

We were meeting by the burning stove at nights, singing, making music. Setar and tanbour were bringing the melodies of traditional Iranian music into the air. The night we gathered by the fire under the fullmoon was magical. The sky was a scene to shooting stars at the night when I was talking about meditation. All were quality times we spent together. The stories we listened about eachother gave a start for openhearted friendships. Hugging them one by one, presenting my thankfulness, giving my prayers for their well being and abundance, I waved them goodbye with the wishes to come back again.

One of my intentions when I was coming to Iran was to find myself an instrument, a companion that I carry with myself in my travels. Even though I love music and rhythms, all my entire life I somehow postponed to play an instrument. I was feeling that it was time to start one. Those days I received the invitation of my dear friends Sara and Hossein to the music workshop they organized. Brilliant! So I headed to Siahkal.
Siahkal is a village close to Rasht which is the biggest city of Iran by Caspian sea. It is another heaven of old Hyrcanian forests. The sessions of the workshop took place in the environments like below, in the midst of beautiful mother nature.

Photo above: Sara Zandevakili

Traditional Iranian music has a rich diversity of instruments. Amongst all the sounds I hear, setar was coming to the forefront. Its sweet melodies were taking me into a journey sometimes to middle east, sometimes to India. Setar with its diversed resonances lighted up the enthusiasm in me. Yes I found my instrument!
I let go off all the expectations that I could put upon myself. Joy was my motivation. All I needed to do was to put my mind aside and open myself to listen. I started to explore setar with this soft orientation. I played and listened to the sounds of the strings for hours and hours. Just like stretching in yoga, in time I could be able to have more clear and clean sounds. My body, my fingers were adapting to setar, we were going into a more harmonious relation. The guidances of Hossein, Sara and Behram were so helpful and supportive.

Photos above: Sara Zandevakili

Traditional Iranian music has a really old history. The old Iranian music which they call ‘Maqam Music’ is born in the villages of different ethnicity. Tanbour of Kurdistan and Dotar of Khorasan are some examples of instruments of these old times. These are simple instruments with which you can play limited intervals. Then just 200 years ago, somewhere in central Iran a new music was born in the royal ground. They call this ‘Dastgah Music’ which is the Iranian classical music. More complicated and more complete instruments evolved which enabled more extended experiences in creating music. So tar and setar was born.

During the workshop we stayed in a village house. I was more and more getting amazed by the delicious Iranian food. No escape from putting on weight. What to do! I had never been a fan of rice but oh Iranians are masters on cooking rice. They put some vegetables like potatoes or aubergines at the bottom of the pan and cook rice on top. As an ingredient saffron is a must. The main feature is that they overcook the bottom a little bit, then it becomes crunchy and everyone fights for getting a bigger piece from this part.

Another highlight of Iranian cuisine is Ash which is a thich and rich soup. It has different varieties like; ash resteh (with noodles), ash mast (with yoghurt), ash sabzi (with herbs and vegetables). It is one of the most delicious and nutritious vegetarian food ever! Despite that the cuisine so much depends on meat or broth, it may be difficult to find vegetarian food. But no worries ash is also a street food that you can find easily.
Kookoo Sabzi is another vegetarian recipe in traditional Iranian cuisine. It is an aromatic omlette prepared with many different herbs, walnut, spices, egg and flour.
Gilani (north) cuisine is my favourite I guess. Mirza ghasami (a mixture of grilled aubergine and eggs), Torshe tare (sour herb stew) are so yummy. As a side dish they serve zeytoon parvardeh (olives marinated with pomegranate and walnuts). I guess I’ve tasted the most delicious pickles here. Coriander is commonly used and I love it.

After completing the workshop we came by the Caspian sea. It was my very first time to meet with these waters. The last time I was by the sea was when I was in Georgia two months ago. As I grew up in a little town near the sea, a kind of a longing shows up when I am away from it. So I was more than happy to meet the water, its broad view, its smell, the soft breeze it carries, the waves, the sands, the seagulls.

Then the time has come to move to Tehran, the capital.

The Author