Revisiting Karaj and the Alborz mountains

By | Category: Travel destinations
the Amir Kabir dam and lake

the Amir Kabir dam and lake

Karaj is a very busy city in the foothills of the Alborz Mountains west of Tehran with many parks, nicely flowered squares and adorned public spaces. Amost designed as  a modern tourist city with natural landscapes and very pleasant weather throughout the year, its history is rooted in the Parthian era when Zoroastrians used to build fire temples such as Takht-e-Rostam.

Karaj is conveniently located on the route to the Caspian Sea via the winding narrow roads that lead to Alborz Mountain. This mountainous road which leads to the city of Chalous offers visitors one of the most picturesque places in Iran. There are many cafes, kebab houses and restaurants along the road and beside the river.

Another place worthy of seeing with monumental architecture and amazing landscapes on this road is Amir Kabir dam and lake, which was built in 1961. The dam is the main supplier of water for Karaj and Tehran. The lake is also used for water sports such as canoeing, water skiing and gliding. The natural beauty of this area is particularly appealing and very popular with the people of Tehran who wish to spend their weekends and holiday periods in the countryside.

The road continues through long and short tunnels that burrow through the hard, rocky mountains and cross over no man lands. The longest one is the Kandovan tunnel, which is 1.88 kilometres long. The high rocky mountain overlooks a zigzagging passage, which is very steep and dangerous along the canyon.

a combined kebab house and cafe on the Chaloos road

a combined kebab house and cafe on the Chaloos road

The village of Lashgar Abad, which is where I was bound, has two contrasting parts, the old neighbourhood with small houses and a new affluent area that contains large villas. They are built in the middle of a large piece of land surrounded by many trees, laden with different types of fruit. The main street of the village looks uneven and very simple with only a few shops. However, very high trees overhang the streets leading to and shading the villas from the heat of the midday sun. It is secluded with very pleasant weather in the summer.

I was told that there is a small airport nearby which I could fly from but, I confess, I did not think that it would be so easily possible to do this in Iran. We travelled on the motorway along the Alborz Mountains before reaching Azadi Airport in the middle of a desert.

The Azadi Airport is one of the largest private aviation centres in Iran and the Middle East and concentrateson research and other industrial activities. It facilities for pilot training and pleasureflights for individuals and organisations. Men and women can attend theory classes and experience flights before being given internationally recognized certificates from the Civil Aviation Organization that would enable them to fly independently. The trainee pilots would also learn advanced manoeuvering and can fly to nearby cities in all directions in Iran. It is particularly popular among enthusiasts flying to the seaside cities of Chalous, Noshahr and Ramsar by the Caspian Sea.

"my" plane for the twenty minute flight

“my” plane for the twenty minute flight

Many light and ultra-light airplanes owned by private individuals are overhauled and maintained by professional flight engineers in the terminals.. The airport is also a centre for trading and assembling small aeroplanes with full post-purchase service. It is fully equipped with a traffic control tower and a weather station and has everything, a professional aviation centre needs.

The airport is conveniently located in Nazarabad near a motorway between the city of Karaj and Qazvin, not very far from Tehran. It is situated in a vast dry field, far from residential areas, which makes it safer for flights and emergency landings. It is also a perfect place for holding cultural festivals and air shows, a fun place for everyone. Individuals, families and professionals can equally enjoy a day out.

I enjoyed my 20 minutes flight over waterless wasteland which contained  just a very few green patches. There are only a few small villages scattered around but this is true Iran, the Iran that many westerners never get to hear about. The dome of a mosque in the middle of Nazarabad surrounded by houses is one of the highlights of this area. I could see a single line of trees planted by the road to create a green belt.

The two-seater small plane was very tight on seating space with no space to move around. I wore headphones to communicate with the pilot who was seated next to me. It was also necessary to have it on to counter the noise from the airplane’s single engine.

an aerial view of the villages near Azadi airport

an aerial view of the villages near Azadi airport

It was a very hot day in the afternoon and the air was still, making it more difficult to flow in the air to navigate. The pilot had to make the flight short and landed very smoothly. It was a great experience and, because I was so excited I did not think about the dangers of flying at the time. After we were on the ground, I asked the pilot about health and safety issues. He explained to me that the aeroplane is equipped with a heavy-duty parachute and there is no need for individual life jackets.

I wish I had had time to stay there for a few weeks to learn how to fly. Perhaps I will return to do it one day.

Back on the ground we came a cross a house and we were told that it was the home  of the late Dr Mohammad Mosadegh and his tomb was in the village of Ahmad Abad on our way back to the motorway.

the simple house of Mosadegh

the simple house of Mosadegh

Mosaddegh was a prominent Iranian politician and Prime Minister of Iran from 1951 to 1953. His democratically elected government was overthrown in a coup coordinated by American CIA and British MI6 agents. He was renowned because of his policy against foreign domination and support for nationalisation of the Iranian oil industry, revoking the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, which had been imposed on Iran in 1913, exploiting cheap oil and profiting for nearly 40 years.

There was no sign directing us either on the  road or by the house, but we finally found it. When we reached it we had to knock several times before the caretaker opened the door. The house is a site registered by Iran Cultural Heritage, but it does not look as if it is being promoted to attract local visitors and tourists. We entered a large garden and saw a two-storey building at the far end.

his car is still available to be seen in a special room

his car is still available to be seen in a special room

Mosaddegh revived a new village in an area where no one lived 100 years ago. He named it after his eldest son Ahmad and called it “Ahmad Abad”. He built a simple brick house with gable roof in Gajarieh  style situated on 8000 square metres of land. The characteristics of the house are limited use of materials externally and a simple internal décor plus modest rooms with wooden doors and windows. Mosadegh’s permanent resting place is in one of the main rooms and his ministerial light green 1948 Pontiac is on display in another roomwhich has been opened up so that you can see it.

There are many other interesting places near Karaj to visit. Imam Zadeh Taher is a holy shrine of Taher, a noble man and descendent of the Holy Prophet and his family. According to documents, he is believed to be son of Imam Zaynul Abedin, the fourth Shiite Imam. It is also one of the famous cemeteries in Iran because many prominent noble members of Iranian art, literature and culture are buried here.

Shah Abbasi Caravanserai (like a large guest house, lodging house or motel)is a medieval resting place built by King Abbas in the 16th century on the ancient Rah Abrisham (Silk Road). It is located in the city of Karaj and attracts many visitors who are interested in history and architecture.

the village of Ahmad Abad

the village of Ahmad Abad

There are many more registered cultural heritage attractions in the vicinity of Karaj from the Islamic period and pre-Islamic periods including the fire-temple of the Takht-e-Rostam which dates from the Parthian and Sassanian periods; the Soleimanieh Palace, which is part of the Agriculture Faculty of the University of Tehran and the tomb of Shahzadeh Soleiman. (what is his significance)

Although I have been to Karaj so many times visiting my uncle’s house, I won’t hesitate to go back again to find out more about its rich heritage and explore many more inspiring attractions nearby and along the Alborz mountains.

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