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From Garmarud to Yuj - Hiking in the stunning mountains of Northern Iran

· Travel Experience,Iran,Outdoor,Hiking

After spending two weeks in dry and hot Southern Iran, hopping from one beautiful city to another, we were longing for some nature, fresh air and outdoor adventure. After some research, we decided to do the hike from Garmarud to Yuj.

The hiking trail would lead us through the Alamut Valley, a stunning mountainside in Northern Iran, towards the Caspian Sea. The trail is about 44 km long and ascends about 1000m towards a mountain pass of 3200m before gradually descending again.

Because it usually takes about 15 hours to walk the entire distance, the trek is usually spread over three days. However, as we had to be back in Tehran early on the third day, we basically had to do the trek in only two days. Still, the trek has offered us a glimpse into a very different kind of Iran, including a very diverse scenery and the lifestyle of local mountain dwellers.

Day 1: Garmarud to Pichebon

To reach Garmarud, the starting point of our trail, we took a bus to Qazvin and then a shared taxi (savari) for 2 hours along a meandering mountain road. The road trip already granted us amazing vistas of the valley - we were ready for more.

Starting our hike at 2pm (not the best time with August temperature) it was quite arduous to walk steadily up and up while carrying 12kg backpacks with water, food and all our camping equipment. But higher up, the landscape alternated between evergreen meadows and barren but beautiful mountains similar to those in Bolivia - It was definitely worth the sweating and aching! 

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At around 6pm we reached the picturesque village Pichebon, which consisted of a couple of houses and many more sheeps than humans. From there, we hiked a small, steep path further up, leaving the village behind and setting our camp site just before dawn. Enjoying the sunset scenery in the mountains we cooked rice and vegetables to fill our hungry bellies.

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One HUGE MISTAKE we made was to underestimate the height of 3000m and not bringing our warm sleeping bags with us! The past two weeks in Iran were always so hot, we couldn’t imagine to ever feel cold again. So we only brought our super-thin inlets which did nothing to fight the sudden mountain cold after the sun went down. In the end, we didn’t catch much sleep that night and were laying in our tents freezing and jittering waiting for the sun to rise again. 

Day 2: Pichebon to Yuj

Sleep deprived, we still had to get up early to start our second hiking day. After all, we had to do the majority of the treck in one single day. In the end, we finished the day just outside of our destination Yuj after 9 hours of walking. 

The landscape was even more stunning than the day before: Windy mountain passes with breathtaking views, craggy canyons rivaling those in Utah, and tiny villages along the way that seemed to be out of another time.

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Three hours into the second day, we reached the highest point of the trail, a mountain pass 3200m above sea level. From there, the trail slowly descended and at noon, we reached Salambar, a cute old village of 20 houses (yes, here all villages are still counted by the number of houses!). In Salambar, we were suddenly invited by Ramin, a 25-year old Iranian, to his house (which he built himself together with his father) for some tea, bread and delicious self-made sheep cheese. 

The next section was the highlight of this trip! Following a narrow mule trail we passed gigantic waterfalls and deep canyons until reaching Maran, the last stop before Yuj. The first part of the path across the waterfalls was actually quite scary (!) as the path itself was badly maintained and the ground barely sustained our feet.

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Somewhere in the middle of the trail was Kulumla, probably the smallest and most remote village of Iran. It contained exactly seven very old houses built out of rocks from the river bed. The village was far from any road but the narrow mule track and the people living there seemed to be all older than 80 years. 

We’re actually afraid the village might die out in a few years. Nicole is already planning to move there as it is such a beautiful and cozy village completely integrated into nature. There, you could easily forget that a world of technology and big cities even exists. 

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Leaving Kulumla, the trail led us along some incredibly steep canyons where one wrong footstep would have meant our certain doom. Luckily, we safely reached Maran after about two hours - a sprawling “city” now compared to the villages we passed so far: 100 houses, more than one “street” and a tiny shop where we were happy to get a cold coke!
From Maran we walked for another two hours before setting our tent at a river just off Yuj enjoying (a considerably warmer) night. Good that we didn’t knew what strenuous bus rides were lying ahead of us! 

Day 3: Yuj and back

We quickly passed Yuj, another tiny village set on the side of the mountains, before hitting the main road again. At a junction, we were invited for tea by an old (and kind of crazy) Iranian who maintained a shop at the side of the road while we waited for passage to Tonekabon. Tonekabon is the first real city in the Alamut valley some 50 kilometers away from Yuj at the Caspian sea. From there, there would apparently be regular buses to Tehran.

Getting to Tonekabon turned out to be easier than we thought. Though mini-buses passing the region are rather irregular, we were soon taken by a guy who was transporting a sheep from the mountains to Tonekabon.

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However, the last part of our journey - Tonekabon to Tehran - turned out to be a real nightmare. At only some 250 kilometres distance, we expected the bus trip to take around three hours. Because of a number of delays (including a situation in which several people fought for the right seating in the bus), the trip would have actually taken more than eight hours! In the end, we had to hire a taxi in the middle of the route to still make it back to Tehran in time. 

Despite the nerve-wracking return trip, the hike through Alamut valley was a truly special experience in Iran. Sadly, zealous road construction is already under way and most of the trail may soon be lost to paved autoroutes. So if you have the chance to visit the North of Iran, better do so quickly!

Kevin and Nicole, written in Baku