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Thursday, 8 August 2019

Gilan’s Rudkhan Castle and Masuleh

Throughout Iran, whenever I mentioned Gilan and the fact that I loved the food there most, locals would laugh it off—‘They’re vegetarian in Gilan’ :-). My point precisely.
Having left Mazandaran’s Ramsar in a mix of terrible heat and humidity, we continued in the same way along the rice fields of Gilan Province. The oranges and the blood oranges that Marcel bought on the side of the road helped us stay hydrated.
The rice fields of Gilan, Iran
We had changed our route and were aiming for Rudkhan Castle and then… spending the night in Masuleh. We didn’t know that it would be a bit tricky, time-wise. [Driving through the north of Iran turned out to be the most challenging from all the countries in the world we’d seen and it took a lot of time getting from point A to point B unharmed. Marcel will always be my hero.]
Fast-forward a bit—we were standing in the giant parking and… it was full. No foreigners, no guides, only locals. Many of them were cheerfully shopping for food and various items made in the area and they were all looking at us curiously. I needed to check the date – no, it wasn’t one of their weekly days off. It was a day like all other days.
On my way to Rudkhan Castle; Gilan, Iran
By the time we had started to climb the steps to Rudkhan, we had already replied to tens of ‘Welcome’s and ‘Where are you from?’s. We had already taken selfies. We had already been part of live streams that were shot ‘without us knowing’. I didn’t mind. I was happy to be part of their joy and positivism, of the Iran that never leaves one disappointed. I was also looking curiously at the people picnicking along the trail or close to the water.
On my way to Rudkhan Castle; Gilan, Iran
I wasn’t used to the tremendous heat or to wearing the hijab and I didn’t quite understand the use of the steps [as they were too high for me and for the children heading to the castle, too], so I took the ‘off-piste’ climbing route whenever possible. I was hyperventilating and dying to wear short sleeves. Still, we were encouraged to move on and told how far or close we were; in the end, we reached the ruins. 
Rudkhan Castle; Gilan, Iran
Rudkhan Castle – a medieval fortress built as a form of protection against Arab attacks. And more steps to climb. I found my haven in a corner overlooking a sea of green. Ehsan, a young man speaking excellent English and originally from Arak, came over for a small chat; I also met his wife and he then called my data operator and helped me with precious information on how to recharge my card. While we were exchanging contact details, he saw ‘Botic’ as one of the last numbers I’d called. I explained that it was Marcel’s and he met him a few minutes later.      
On our way down, I stumbled upon Asma. Originally from Kermanshah, she was also travelling the north. She asked for my Instagram account and we connected immediately, as she is very kind and full of positive energy.
I am still friends with both of them and we keep in touch. I am grateful that the trip to Rudkhan Castle helped me meet them!
Nearly at the base of the route, a funny thing happened.
‘Where are you from?’ we were again asked at one point.
‘C’mon’ another guy cut in ‘It’s Botic and his wife and they’re from Romania.’
Shock. And laughter. Marcel was now officially the ‘king of Rudkhan’, as I started to tease him.   
The smiles didn’t stop as we found our way back to the parking, buying water, jam jelly, local bakes, and even a small green clay pot for me [I now use it to store salt and I haven’t seen similar items in other parts of Iran; so, if you like something, buy it – you could also help the community this way].  

Past the rice fields, we had no idea how we would find a place to stay in Masuleh Village and we were struggling to make it there right before it started getting dark, to perceive the contrast between the lit windows and the sky.
It almost happened, as the guys waiting (with accommodation offers) right after the checkpoint didn’t understand that we needed a roof but were keen on taking pictures first… We returned to them, after a first set of shots. The sides of the road were packed with cars and I honestly couldn’t climb anymore, not after Rudkhan. I was cold and I was shivering, so Marcel went to have a look. He returned with good news: the house was modest, but it had a shower, and you couldn’t quite beat the EUR 12 price tag. He helped the guys vacuum and get the house ready for us while I fell in love with the view, agreeing to those who’ve said that Masuleh is one of the most beautiful villages in the world.
Masuleh at night; Gilan, Iran
Terraced. Friendly. Full of buzz in its small centre. It’s where we had our dinner, not being able to locate the restaurant of our host’s brother. I had heard a lot of good things about Mirza Ghasemi (=a mix of eggplant, tomatoes, and garlic), but I had no idea that I would like it that much! I actually congratulated the chef and asked for a second portion. The delicate yet poignant flavours of the main ingredients would stay with me throughout our Iranian trip and would be my solution to not going to bed on an empty stomach on most of my North-Iranian nights.
We weren’t able to sleep much, didn’t particularly enjoy breakfast, but loved walking the various levels of the village the following morning. Called by notes of cinnamon, I discovered a local bakery. They gifted me sesame treats and I ended up taking away a big piece of the cake they’d just taken out of the oven.
Our accommodation in Masuleh; Gilan, Iran
Masuleh; Gilan, Iran
Us 2 in Masuleh; Gilan, Iran
Breakfast tea in Masuleh; Gilan, Iran

There was another road ahead, another province waiting, and a good deal of adventures along the way! A confession for the end – I now climb stairs very easily. :D