When living abroad, I crave for the strangest things; like grabbing a handful of barberries from the fridge and gobbling them up before anyone sees, a sprinkle of Persian hogweed on my bowl of pomegranate seeds, the seasonal greengages and green almonds that we would get in spring and a bucket full of mulberries that was possibly picked from a garden in the outskirts of Tehran. There’s certainly one thing that my mum thinks I’m a weirdo for: craving for homemade yogurt from Siah Bisheh…
Siah Bisheh is a small village along the road of Chalus. It’s deep within the mountains and almost always covered with a blanket of fog. Famous for its local-made dairy products, we would always make a stop here to purchase a bucket of their finest yogurt when I was a child. The thick sour taste still lingers in my mouth…
But Chalus is not only about the postcard villages offering a variety of pickles, lavashaks and dairy products. Along it’s curvy narrow asphalted route are rivers floating, endless green forests home to wild animals, dams creating artificial lakes and scenery that is nothing short of ethereal.
Chalus holds a special place in the heart of Tehraners. Providing the quickest connection to the Caspian sea, it is their escape route when the bustling city holds a grip around their neck. Chalus is basically a village in the north of Iran, right before the Caspian sea which was later connected to Karaj and consequently Tehran through the Alborz mountains. It took years to construct it as it curves around rocky mountains and sometimes goes right through them via numerous tunnels. It’s winding, narrow and and possibly dangerous if you’re not a careful driver, but nevertheless offers stunning panoramas with every turn.
The southern side is an uphill ride. It’s usually drier, but comes with the gushing sound of the river flowing by. The dam of Karaj, providing the major water supply of the capital can be quite a scene. Numerous restaurants and teahouses offer kebabs with saffron rice followed by a cup of tea beside the river. Many Tehraners just come here to chill. To them, the road is not simply a path, it’s a destination.
For me, the road is nostalgia. Ever since I was a child and during the years we’ve spent in Iran, Chalus was always our go-to road on almost every holiday. With my grandparents vila situated in Mazandaran, this would have been the quickest and easiest way for us to get there. We’d be with aunts, uncles and cousins, sometimes up to four cars driving one after another! (That’s how we roll in Iran!) We’d have a delightful breakfast by the river, make pitch stops for Ash just before the famous kandovan tunnel, have a picnic in the forest while devouring homemade Loobia Polo and squeal with delight when the Caspian sea came to horizon.
The road is an uphill drive until the 1886m length tunnel of Kandovan. Once you get out of the other side, everything has changed! Snow is almost inevitable unless you’re travelling in the very hot season. Dried rocky mountains have been replaced with lush greenery home to wolves, lynxes and bears. From here to the north, it’s all crawling downhill and the scenery only gets better.
When to travel?
The best season would be autumn or spring. They both guarantee spectacular views. One filled with colourful red, yellow and orange tones and the other with marvelous greenery. Waterfalls and rivers will be in sight and chances witnessing untouched white snow is high.
When not to travel?
Iranian holidays! Even though there are a few roads connecting Tehran to the Caspian sea, this is by far the most popular. It’s easy to get stuck in traffic for hours if you’re travelling when everyone else is. Trust me, it’s not fun.
Checking weather conditions before departure is a must. This road can easily be closed to public during the winter time as avalanches and heavy snow falls are not rare.
This road is to be driven leisurely. It is no place to speed up and test your driving skills. While the road is serene to pass through, it has seen many deaths and dark stories. The crazy Iranian driving has really proved how it does not work on this road.
Chaining up in winter is almost a must. On certain days you will not even be granted access if you don’t have them. Even if it’s not super cold, having them back in your trunk is mandatory.
Where to stop?
Everywhere! I’d say, take it as slow as can. Depart super early in the morning to beat the crowds if you’re travelling during the weekend. Make stops for tea and lunch. Make sure you get a bowl of Ash just before Kandovan tunnel and don’t skip a picnic in the forest just to arrive an hour earlier to your destination. Enjoy the road, marvel at the scenery and make it your destination.