Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Truth be told, I had never heard of Bandar Anzali. But there was a holiday in the middle of Tehran’s scorching summer, so my cousin and I decided to take a short road trip. A quick getaway for Tehranis means going to shomâl (the north), and the province of Mazandaran is usually their escapade of choice. Lucky for us, we would avoid the heavy crowds because this port city is in the neighboring northern province of Gilan. 

One of the things that I love about shomâl is that the scenery suddenly becomes lusher, with bushy trees, grassy hills, and all things green. As humidity creeps into the air, you can feel your skin plumpen up as if it can breathe again, and you wonder how it ever managed in the dry Tehran heat. 

Shells collected on the beach

After an early start and no traffic, we arrived in Rasht about five hours after setting out. With no actual plans as to what we were going to do, we went straight to the shores of the Caspian. It was the perfect day- cloudy, breezy, and cool (chilly, even), with low humidity and just a drizzle of rain. Families were out wading along the shore and children were playing in the sand. There was a newly engaged young guy, Mohammad, who was spelling out his fiancee’s name with shells and seaweed on the beach (in English letters no less. It tickles and puzzles me when Iranians opt to use another alphabet instead of their own.) He was asking his aunt to take pictures of him in front of his creative design so he could send it to Parisa, and his aunt relentlessly taunted him for already being so zan zalil, henpecked. After a nice welcome from the sea and still no plans, we bid Mohammad the best of luck, got back in the car, and drove another 45 minutes to Bandar Anzali, where there was some lagoon that my cousin had heard of.

Mohammad's loving dedication to Parisa

I had no idea what was in store. We found a hidden dock and opted for the hour-long boat ride since we had time to kill. After putting on panchos and life vests, we hopped in the motorboat and sped through the wetlands, passing men with fishing rods and houses built on wooden stilts before entering the open water, home to hundreds of migratory birds. That’s when the rain picked up. The drops pricked our faces like needles as our boat bounced up and down zipping through water. Considering the dry oven I had just left, I was having the time of my life under the rain and didn’t think it could get any better.

Cruising through the canebrake

Fishermen along the route to the lagoon

And then we were suddenly surrounded by patches of green marsh with pink Caspian lotus flowers. I don’t remember how deep it was. All I know is that those beautiful flowers had to push through an awful lot of sludge and darkness to breach the surface of the water into light. (How very poetic.) I spent some time taking photos, observing the flowers, and quite simply basking in the delight of having encountered such an amazing place unlike anywhere else I’d seen in Iran. We then rode to the harbor where enormous ships were docked, and as we headed back, we slowed down along the canebrake to observe the birds and take in the peaceful atmosphere.

The Sefid River, Lagoon, and other water passageways feed into the Caspian, so as we later explored the town on foot, we came across more houses on stilts whose backs faced the water where their boats were tied. The style was actually rather reminiscent of Chiloe Island in Chile. All sorts of cows, chickens, and hens also seemed to be roaming rather freely- the true definition of "free range". Later that evening, we took a stroll along the harbor where we were earlier that day. Bandar Anzali was a lot like Ahvaz in the sense that it was calm and easy-going. It must be a characteristic of cities located around water. 

If you’re in the north, I would recommend a quick stop in this port town, which also happens to be Iran’s center of caviar production


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