Rasht is the capital of the state of Gilan, and despite sounding like a medical condition is surprisingly beautiful. The region is completely green – full of lush paddyfields, thick forests and misty canyons.
It comes as a surprise to most that you can find this kind of scenery in Iran; indeed, this area is the least popular choice for foreign tourists to visit. The late Shah of Iran tried to beautify the area further as it was his favourite holiday destination before he was so unceremoniously given the boot. Nevertheless, it remains perhaps the most underrated part of Iran.
Interestingly, Gilan was part of a breakaway “Soviet Republic of Iran” in 1920 led by communist (and the arch-rival to the then Shah) Kuchick Khan. The area was absorbed back into greater Iran after just one year. In Rasht I stayed with an old friend on his family’s rice just outside of Rasht. The hospitality was overwhelming; I will never forget eating freshly made bread, butter and honeycomb with tea for breakfast every morning.
Rasht was the perfect base for exploring Gilan, and my friend and his family kindly took me to Lahijan where Iran’s tea is grown.
Lahijan is simply delightful – a large lake is home to a small island which is connected to the mainland by a bridge. The whole thing can be viewed from the top of Shaitan Koh (the oddly named Satan’s Hill).
We also visited the misty canyon-side village of Masuleh. The air was a thick humid soup, and we spent the morning wandering around the village laneways, zigzagging our way through the village, passing games of backgammon and hole-in-the-wall bakeries serving up fresh, aromatic “barberi” bread. Each house is built on the roof of the one below, so the village appears “stacked” up the side of the hill.
Masuleh, Rasht, Lahijan and Gilan in general are the antithesis of what many outsiders imagine about the landscape of Iran… And being there without throngs of tourists, and visiting there with friends, made it unforgettable.