The Persian gulf might remind you of many things. The excessive amount of oil, the skyscrapers in Dubai, the Arab league or the fight over its name. But it’s almost unlikely to remind you of some of the most remote islands in the world where a totally different culture and lifestyle is practiced.
I’m talking about Qeshm – the biggest island in the Persian gulf yet one of the most refreshingly untouched. There are pros and cons to how remote this place is. Just about a decade ago, Iranians would never skip out on the luxury of Kish island and spend holidays here instead. Today it has become the trend and there’s even a flow of international tourists that come to see some of the most outstanding geological sites of the region or even the world.
As of 2006, considering the exceptional geology of the island, a Geopark was installed in the western region of Qeshm and became the only registered Geopark in the Middle east recognized by UNESCO. This was again another excuse to bring Qeshm into the spotlight. If you travel to Qeshm you’d quickly realize the amount of construction going on. A couple of 5 star hotels are about to open, a new hospital has just started working, dozens of new shopping malls and a lot more. But the infrastructure has a long way to go before Qeshm can become the ideal tourist destination.
But despite all this, I made it to this exotic island. I wanted to go somewhere different from anywhere else I had been and Qeshm came out to be the best decision. I was confronted with a absolute new culture in my own country. During the years I have spent living in Iran I don’t think I have really came across any friends from the south or specifically the Hormozgan province. Amongst the huge number of immigrants from other cities in Tehran, southerners seem to prefer their hometown to the hustle and bustle of the capital.
Here are a few places in the island that got me mesmerised!
The Stars Valley
It has taken a good 2 million years for the wind and rain to create this masterpiece. The locals seemed to think it was caused by the fall of a huge star, hence why the call it the stars valley! They also strongly believe in the existence of ghosts in the region at night time so no one dares to get close after sunset. Obviously there has never been any actual evidence proving the idea. The belief is probably the consequence of the strange sounds echoed in between the rocks caused by the wind. But if you’re brave enough to head over here at night time you’re going to be able to pick the stars as they are going to feel so much closer to earth.
Naz islands are a few tiny islands extremely close by Qeshm itself. During a low tide a narrow piece of land connects the two islands together and makes it reachable by car or foot. Come two hours later and you’ll have to get a boat to get to here.
Harra Mangrove forests
The Harra Mangrove forest is the biggest of its kind in the Middle East. There are speed boats available to explore the forest. During spring time it’s told that over 150 species of migrating birds are to be found here. We got to see quite a few but we were lucky because some people see none!
And now for the best part of the trip!
After 40 min driving from the city of Qeshm (don’t confuse with the island) we got to Shib Deraz. Here’s where you can get a boat to go on a first-hand experience of dolphin watching! Sometimes the Dolphins come so close to the beach that you might even be able to observe them from land, but as for us we had 30 min of speed boating to get a glimpse of these gorgeous creatures. Dolphins are my favorite animal of all time, so you can imagine I was in rapture when I got to see a few of them swimming by our boat as if they were doing some coordinated dance moves!
As we were here during high season there were a lot of other boats waiting to see the dolphins and that’s probably why they were a little intimidated to come out and show off their beauty. But we were told that when there’s not so many people around you might even see as much as 100 dolphins here! Imagine that!
But Hengam is not just the dolphins. Once you reach the island, visitors were let loose to wander through the market, sample ethnic delicacies and perhaps get a henna tattoo.
The economy of Hengam island runs by the men doing the fishing and the women selling local food, corals, and handicrafts. The women here don’t show any intimidation when it comes to wearing bright colors and they certainly give a colorful look to the island with their gorgeous textiles.
The normal tours will include watching the natural aquariums and also the silver beaches.
Tips: The normal tours of the island will give you about an hour to explore. The island is quite big and has some amazing beaches, so if you want to spend more time you’ll have to get a private boat and negotiate the price and stay duration with the driver.
Qeshm is a paradise of animal lovers and geologists. The Geo park has 8 main sites and we got to only see a few. For example the longest salt cave system of the earth is to be found here in Qeshm at Namakdan cave and Chahkooh canyon which we unfortunately missed out is one of the most impressive sights of the island.
There’s also the cultural side that doesn’t disappoint. Here the Bandari culture (referred to the culture of the Persian gulf region of Iran) is well alive and striving. Locals still dress in their traditional clothing and live in houses cooled with Badgirs (wind catchers) which can precisely be seen in the village of Laft.
Qeshm might not be your average island getaway but it’s bound to surprise you in so many ways like it did with us.