Sometimes it is nice to get away from the hectic traffic of Tehran and look for a change of scenery. And escaping the Tehran heat is always welcoming at this time of year. Temperatures have been quite high and we live mostly with air conditioning. So I thought this would be the perfect occasion to visit Baraghan village that is only 80 km away. We left in the morning, hoping to avoid big crowds.
A few kilometers before Baraghan, the urban landscape gave way to mountains. This is something I always admire in Iran, the urban is often overwhelming and crowded but not far lies such beauty that makes you forget about everything else.
Approaching Baraghan, there was a long queue of cars in front of us. It was a holiday falling on Thursday (weekend in Iran is on Thursday and Friday), a fatal combination in Iran, as Iranians tend to escape the city on every possible occasion.
But then it started moving and once we parked, it actually did not look very crowded. Tall, leafy trees and a nice breeze convinced me I had made the right choice. There was the noise of a river nearby and when we hesitated if we should have lunch first and then visit the sights, we looked and discovered we were actually standing in front of the Hosseinieh.
A Hosseinieh is a building where Shia muslims gather and attend religious and mourning ceremonies. These are particularly related to the martyrdom of the grandson of the prophet, Hussein, thus the name but there are also ceremonies for the other Shia imams and other religious related events. It is not a mosque and usually does not hold Friday prayers.
The impressive 800 year building dates back to the Safavid Period. It is made of mud and straw bricks. It looked closed, so we were moving away when we saw people going in. When we asked if it was allowed for us to go inside, we were welcomed with smiles. And then it was like we had stepped in a distant past. It looked like we had travelled to the Arabian Peninsula, the costumes, the scenario, the music.
We had walked into the rehearsal of a play.
Not understanding the words in Farsi, I kept thinking something sounded familiar. The director often gave pointers after a song, he wanted more commitment, more passion. The actors listened attentively and tried to follow his pointers.
Other actors not involved in the scene, waited their turn. There was staff taking notes and others filming.
We were fascinated.
At some point, two performers, with their faces covered, got up and started singing. They were actually two male actors since women are not allowed to sing in public alone.
We left them rehearsing when someone came in with food, which led me to believe they still had a long day ahead of them. When I asked my friends what the play was about, I realized why it had looked familiar: it was the story of the biblical Joseph, which is also mentioned in the Koran. The story of Joseph and his life in Egypt is more detailed in the Koran than in the bible.
We were feeling hungry too, so we crossed towards the river, where some families were setting their picnics and children were playing in the water. We settled in the traditional restaurant beds and enjoyed the atmosphere while we waited for our food to be prepared. There was a fresh breeze and the leafy trees protected us from the sun. It was such a relaxing atmosphere, I could have stayed there all day.
Children were laughing by the river banks, picking up pebbles, jumping deeper and deeper into the water and getting seriously wet. The river was very shallow, so no danger of drowning and parents just let them enjoy themselves freely. Some were already preparing the fire and starting to set the meat in the free public grills.
After a simple meal of chicken and meat kebabs with Persian rice accompanied by Doug, the yogurt drink that I learned to love, it was time to make a special stop for dessert.
The ice cream shop of Majid Goldar, which for generations has been producing the traditional Iranian ice cream. Usually it includes saffron ice cream and other ingredients like rose water. It is called galleh but theirs is a secret recipe and their saffron ice cream is made with sheep and goat’s milk and also includes pistachios. To accompany it, they serve a special sweet and sour plum sauce, that includes pomegranate seeds and barberry.
We just loved it, it is lush and delicious and I had to hold myself not to ask for another bowl.
They also have the traditional Iranian frozen dessert called faloodeh, which is made with such unusual ingredients as vermicelli, rose water, lime juice and a cherry syrup which tastes a bit sour. It is also very popular with Iranians but my preference lies with the galleh.
After the sinful indulgence, it was time to a visit 1200 years old tree, that is still vibrant and gives birth to new shoots and leaves every year. This special tree is set in the grounds of a 700 year mosque. There were a few men praying in the main beautiful hall of the mosque.
The women’s section was upstairs, a more simple room but very peaceful, with light coming through the windows and the green from the trees reflected inside.
The tree is incredible and you feel you are actually in a cave under its roots. There are ribbons that people tie all around. These represent wishes that they hope will come true.
It is surprising to see how much new growth there was. For thousands of years, this tree has been standing tall and providing shade.
I wondered how many historical events it had witnessed, how many people had touched its trunk and hoped their wishes would come true.
There was one thing I still needed to do in Baraghan. The village is known for its wonderful variety of plums among other dried fruits, nuts and seeds. There are shops all around that sell those and the difficulty is to know what to choose.
I bought some of the dried black plums which taste like honey. But I discovered other things, like the wild bush branches of which “sumac” is made. Sumac is a spice used broadly in middle eastern cuisine. It is made with the powdered berries that you can see here still with the branches. It is often preferred to lemon for its slight sour and astringent taste.
And these nice young hazelnuts that are also used in Iranian cuisine.
It was time to leave Baraghan, in the afternoon more and more people were arriving, having greater difficulties to park their cars. Before heading to Tehran, there was one last stop we wanted to make. 10 km away is the city of Karaj where I wanted to visit the Chamran park. In spring it is known for its array of tulips although now in summer they are gone.
But there are other flowers beds all around, to brighten your day.
And some fauna too, like this pelican, swans and other small animals, like goats, sheep, birds of prey, monkeys and even a dinosaur park with moving, noisy dinosaurs that children enjoy.
In the park there is also a small waterfall which is fun if you don’t mind getting a bit wet. There were lots of people venturing, taking lots of selfies and getting very wet
I also ventured under and it was actually nice to freshen up a bit from the heat. The park is beautiful and it is nice to just stroll or sit in the shade and admire the view.
Everyone seemed to be enjoying the garden and the waterfall, but after a small picnic outside, we felt the heat was getting unbearable. I missed the fresh breeze of Baraghan. It was time to return home to Tehran.
We just had one more stop, in my local bakery, to buy warm bread for dinner. It smelled great and it was the perfect ending to what turned out to be a lovely excursion. I’m hoping for many more to come.