Masuleh is a village in the northern province of Gilan that was mentioned in Dr Moqaddam’s books. Further reading showed it has some unique characteristics and architecture. It seemed like an interesting place to visit, so I added it to my ‘to see’ list.
The people in this part of Iran speak Gilaki, an Iranian language which is separate from Persian, though most people are at least familiar with Persian.
An obiter dictum: there are several spoken languages in current use in Iran. The largest is Persian, then Azarabaijani, then Kurdish, then Gilaki (and Mazandarani), then Luri. After that there are languages with 1% or 2% usage. The lingua franca of Iran is Persian.
In Tehran I started planning. Looking on my map the nearest city to Masuleh was Rasht, so I started searching for hotels and found the Grand Hotel Kadus. I telephoned them and made a booking.
Getting to Rasht
June 2011, it was time to go to Rasht. The day before I had persuaded a taxi driver to drive me from Tehran to Rasht via Chalus on the Caspian Sea, about 240 miles (390km) and 7 hours time. He arrived early and we set off immediately. Taxi rides, even long distances, in Iran are cheap. I shudder at the thought of the cost a similar journey to this would be in the United Kingdom, even in an emergency.
The road to Chalus was already interesting. We passed through ravines covered with greenery, not at all like the dry desert conditions of Esfahan and Shiraz that I had visited a couple of weeks earlier. And it was humid. Iran, first hand, is a country of great geographical and climactic diversity. This may not be apparent if one takes an organised tour to the popular tourist cities of Esfahan, Shiraz, and Yazd. Iran is mostly desert, that is true. But it is not only desert. If one looks at Google’s satellite maps for the Iran’s provinces adjoining the Caspian Sea, they are entirely green.
We stopped for tea near Chalus on the Caspian Sea (also called the Mazandaran Sea). This is the largest lake in the world. But note it is named a sea, not a lake. It is about 140,000 square miles in size, so roughly 1.5 times the size of the United Kingdom. Ascribable to this size it can have storms and waves that one may tend to associate with the open seas, rather than a lake. In addition to Iran is bordered by Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan. Today the Caspian Sea is an important region politically due to gas and oil deposits.
Masuleh is 40 miles or 62 kilometres from Rasht. The journey took about one and a half hours by taxi. The first thing I noticed travelling from Rasht, even more so than the journey from Tehran, was how green this part of Iran is. The air was humid but clean. This is the rice bowl of Iran.
The route I took into the village was around the upper edge, which offers a scenic view. While talking these photographs a local came along and posed. I could also see more clearly for the first time what makes Masuleh unusual, and possibly entirely unique: the pathways (there are no roads) are built on the roofs of the houses. The houses themselves are built on the side of, and in some cases into, the mountains.
Cars are prohibited in Masuleh. For practical reasons, roofs are not designed to bear the weight of vehicles, and in any event the steepness of the village layout would make this impossible. Most buildings have a mustard tint.
While Masuleh is very picturesque, almost romantic, one imagines life here in winter is hard. Removing snow from the paths is removing snow from the roof over one’s head.
I wandered around Masuleh for an hour or so, and later I regretted not visiting the mosque and not buying some local souvenirs. While not solely a tourist village, tourism is an important factor for Masuleh. Coach trips bring in tourists during the summer months. In winter, the village can be cut off from the outside world.
My visit to Masuleh opened my eyes to the great variation of climate and geography in Iran, and reading about Masuleh I learned something about the different peoples of Iran. I would like to go back to Masuleh one day.
Back in Rasht that evening, in the hotel restaurant, with my ignorance of Iranian food I ordered chelo kebab, the roast beef and Yorkshire pudding of Iran. The waiter could so easily have taken my order and carried on. Instead, thankfully, he suggested I have fish from the Caspian Sea instead – a local dish. It rounded off a very good day.