Unlike the classic route of central Iran which tends to cross barren desserts with little to no vegetation, a road trip to the Iranian Kurdistan is rewarded with lush scenery, neon greenery and locals seen dancing in colourful outfits to Kurdish music for no good reason. 🙂
Iranian Kurdistan and Iranian Kurds, in general, have faced a lot of discrimination for various reasons:
The rise of Kurdish nationalism has always been something for the government to keep an eye on. The majority of Kurds in Iran are followers of Sunni Islam which have made them feel isolated from majority Shia Iran. Kurds in Iran have a language of their own, one of the richest in Iran belonging to minorities, along with a deeply routed literature. Due to their proximity to Persian in not only their language but their culture, Iranian Kurdish leaders don’t show any interest in Kurdish nationalism.
But that tends to be portrayed a bit differently to us living in the capital.
Having had a Kurdish friend back from my uni days and planning to meet up with him after such a long time gave us the excuse to bombard him with our questions.
Even for us as Iranians, Kurds, and Iranian Kurdistan is a rather blurry concept. We tend to have this vision of them as being warriors and rebellious due to some historical events. This is something the government clearly does not want us to forget. However, even the democratic party of Iranian Kurdistan has shifted their ideology from separatism to autonomy within a federal government. Nevertheless, what makes them look like a threat is their opposition to Iran’s current regime.
For all the above reasons and Iranian Kurdistan’s proximity to the Iraqi border, many tend to think of the region as unsafe. I would be lying if I say we weren’t also feeling a bit extra conscious, but that was totally gone after our first day.
Kurdistan is just as safe any other Iranian city. It’s stunning and the people are one of the kindest and friendliest I’ve ever seen. They were all open to holding conversations with random strangers, didn’t mind to have their photo taken and were just extremely happy in general.
An itinerary for a road trip in Kurdistan, Iran
Our trip to Kurdistan was rather short. We were a big group of friends and had to make sure everyone could take enough days from work. But due to the huge distance between Tehran and Kurdistan and also the region’s never-ending scenery, we could have easily spent a week here without ever wanting to go back.
We had 4 days and 3 nights to spend in the province and we decided to visit the highlights and leave the rest out for later travels. Here’s what our route looked like:
Essential experiences to have in Iranian Kurdistan
- Treat yourself with barbecued fish for lunch or dinner in either Palangan or Marivan.
- Learn to dance Kurdish from locals.
- Watch the sunset over Marivan lake.
- Hike. Hike. Hike.
Accommodation in Kurdistan
We rented a local home for two nights and spent the last at a friend’s house. It’s easy and very straight forward to rent local homes on arrival. There were no hotels in Palangan, but we found a decent hotel in Uramanat which had been fully booked.
As of recently, a brand new and beautiful hostel and art residency has opened up in Marivan. We’d highly recommend booking your stay at the See you in Kurdistan hostel which is run by the lovely team of See you in Iran.
Transportation & Driving to Iranian Kurdistan
The easiest way to get here is by renting your own car. I know it’s not common for foreigners to rent cars in Iran and they are mostly advised against it due to the crazy driving habit in Iran. I agree that it might be a bit tricky to drive in big cities, but if you’re planning to go off the beaten track it’s totally worth it. I’ve met people who were extremely happy as they got to visit places they wouldn’t have had otherwise.
If renting a car is not an option, then you’d have to take a bus to the closest city and then hire a driver to take you the extra mile. Buses from Tehran to Marivan or Sanandaj run daily and it could be a great base point in Kurdistan.
Roads in Kurdistan are mountainous and not always in perfect conditions. Smuggling is huge here hence there will be a lot of checkpoints. You don’t have to be some exceptional driver to manage but if you feel a bit unsure then just avoid being on the road at night.
Best time to visit Kurdistan, Iran
Kurdistan is best visited during spring when it’s fully green. The weather is absolutely delightful until early summer before the heat wave hits. It can get very cold and snowy during winter.
Day 1: Tehran to Palangan
After almost 8 hours drive and stopping for impromptu photo sessions, breakfast and lunch, we arrived at Palangan late in the afternoon. On the last 30 minutes of our drive, we could get glimpses of the valley on occasional turns. We arrived right when the sky and lamp hold hands and held our breaths witnessing the view we were about to discover the next morning.
I’ve written a very detailed post on our stay in Palangan.
Day 2: Palangan and Uramanat
Our drive from Uramanat turned out to be a lot harder than we thought. We started with taking a shortcut through the mountains and only found an hour later that the rest of the road was in such horrible conditions that we had to go back. We had planned to avoid driving at night but ended up driving for hours in pitch darkness.
We arrived at Uramanat really late and shattered from all the driving. We were lucky that we had already gotten a contact in Uramanat from a local in Palangan otherwise we would have been wandering around town for accommodation.
Day 3: Uramanat and Marivan
The next day we visited the tomb of Pir-e Shaliar, a sacred figure in the village of Uraman. There is a 3-day celebration held here each year in late January which dates back thousands of years ago. It involves a lot of dancing, great music and a traditional meal with an old recipe. It’s very touristy, so expect lots of crowds if you ever plan to go. 😉
Later in the morning, we hiked to the famous pending bridge overlooking the village. Only a few of us could dare to cross it but the adrenaline rush was there for all of us.
Thankfully there isn’t a lot of distance between Uramanat and Marivan. So we arrived at Marivan for a late lunch and still managed to visit the famous Ghoori Ghaleh cave on our way. The water cave is huge but I wasn’t really that impressed with it. I would probably suggest that you skip it. If cave exploring is your thing, then Alisadr cave in Hamadan is the place to go in Iran.
After lunch, we headed to the bazaar of Marivan. Like I said smuggling is a huge business here and a lot of branded products are sold cheap in Marivan. This is the case for a few other border cities in Iran and while the government is pretending to do something about it, it has gotten out of control. Apart from smuggled items, there are few shops selling local handmade shoes known as Giveh, the traditional Kurdish outfits with the famous Aladdin pants and lots of spices.
We spent the evening celebrating a friend’s birthday by the Marivan lake and went on a boat ride on the lake right after sunset.
We celebrated the evening dancing Kurdish by the lake and treating our bellies to a scrumptious barbecued fish which turned out to be our favourite meal of the whole trip. 🙂
Day 4: Driving back to Tehran
Considering how long it had gotten to us to reach Palangan in the first place, we decided not to lose any time and headed to Tehran right after having breakfast. We stopped to buy some pastries in Kermanshah and had a picnic in a random village just after Hamedan.
What to eat in Kurdistan?
Apart from the famous fish that you ought not to miss, there are few other snacks famous to Kurdistan. There’s Yersagh which is a sweet oily bread and Kalaneh, again an oily bread with vegetables. I honestly found both of them too greasy but it’s always worth a try. 😉
I was totally happy with how much we got to see in just 4 days, but I’m aware that we spent a great amount of time driving and that’s not something I’d really recommend. If you can go slower then do it. But I’d still wouldn’t have changed our destinations. 😉