Iran Day 8: Alamut (8 Mar 11) – The Castle of Assassins

The Honesty of Iranians

We woke up pretty early today as we were rather excited about the trip today. This is the third climax of the trip and certainly is the highlight of the trip. As we were packing up getting ready to check out of the hotel, I realised my camera is missing! OMG, my worst fear has come true. Throughout the trip, I had this constant thought that if my camera goes missing or the memory card got corrupted, all the pictures I took will become memories! My best bet is to go back to the restaurant we dine last night, and hopefully, it is either still there or some kind soul found it and passed it to the staff. While our guide was settling our check out, I headed over to the restaurant to asked about my camera. Luckily the staff slept in the restaurant for the night and someone was there to open up for me. However the staff do not speak English and I do not speak Farsi, but he is kind enough to let me in and look for my camera. I went to where we were seated last night, but the table and chairs were re-arranged. My camera was nowhere to be found! At this point, I was thinking, maybe I should get my guide who can talk to them. As we were walking back to the hotel, we saw our guide coming out of the hotel looking frustrated, we asked him what happened. He said that the hotel had stuffed up the paperwork for the payment. The travel agency had made the payment for our stay and the hotel staff cannot find the paperwork, as such, they are still withholding our passport. As the hotel staff is still searching for the paperwork, we went back to the restaurant. Our guide spoke to the staff and they said they have found my camera, but it is locked and the key is with their boss. After our guide told them to search again, they found my camera bag just below the counter. I opened the bag, my camera is still there! What a close shave. I thanked the restaurant staff, and we headed back to the hotel. By this time the hotel staff had found the paperwork and we were given our passports back, soon we were on our way to Alamut castle.

Driving Up and Down Mountains to Alamut Castle

The distance from Qazvin to Alamut castle isn’t that far, but the road to the castle makes driving slow. Our guide wasn’t lying when he said the road to Abyaneh is peanuts. The road towards Alamut castle was alright initially, however as we head further in, the road headed up the snow-capped mountains. To make things worst, the side that is at the edge of the mountain has no barriers! One wrong move or an avalanche would send us 2200m into the valley. The windy road at certain part has a roughly 150 deg turn, snaking up and down the mountainous roads, watching the snow-capped mountains zoomed into valleys, the drive is beautiful! Along the way, there are 2 towns that we passed by. Made me wonder why would anyone wanna leave in the middle of the valleys, where the only way out is up to 2200m high mountain through the winding roads. To reach Alamut Castle, we went up about 3 mountains and then into Alamut Valley. After about 3 hours drive, there it is Alamut Castle sitting right on top of the mountain. The whole area including Alamut Castle was covered with snow! Seeing the castle and the snow I was doubly excited. However, when I looked up and first saw Alamut sitting on top of the vertical part of the mountain, my first reaction was “How the hell do we go up that thing on top of the vertical cliff???!!”. I read on Lonely Planet to get to the castle involves a “25 min sweaty trek”, from where we were, I do not see any access to the castle.

The drive towards Alamut Castle
Gradually we saw the landscape turned from green to white
Driving up 2200m towards Alamut Castle
Snow snow everywhere
On our way to Alamut Castle
The white snowy scenery captivates me
First time I see so much snow
At one point I was wondering if we would have a chance to go out and play with the snow
The highway that cuts across the mountains
And we began our descent from the mountains
The scenery along the way was fantastic
Driving towards Alamut Castle
Panoramic shots along the way
Panoramic shots along the way
Me amongst the mountains
Arrival at Alamut Castle
Alamut Castle is just above this cliff

The Legendary Castle of Assassins – Alamut Castle

As soon as we got out of the car, the “mystery” of how to scale the castle was solved. Our guide brought us round to the back of the mountain and there it is, a stairway leading up to the castle. This stairway is covered with snow. Walking up is fun but tiring, and not to mention slippery, as the way up was covered with both snow and mud. The walk up was initially gentle, as it is made of rocks. As we walk up towards the lower castle, the rest of the way up was made of wood. The makeshift stairway was constructed recently to enable easier access to the castle. The first set of led us to the lower part of the castle. There is a short tunnel that leads to the watchtower. More like a watch area to me. But the view here is amazing! I can see the whole of Alamut Valley and the way that we came in from. The view stretches as far as the Alborz mountains far in the backdrop of Alamut Valley. Our guide told us this place is used as a watchtower for precisely this reason. The builders of this castle chose their location very well. We went further to the upper part of the castle. There are a lot of restoration works going on at the moment, scaffolding was visible everywhere. We went to the inner part of the castle, I can see they have everything here! From Stables to water wells to storage area for food, as well as a prayer room, this place is self-sufficient any time.

The legend behind this castle was that for centuries this castle is unconquerable due to its location and the well-pointed watchtower. However, it fell to the Mongols subsequently. I take my hat off the Mongols for their ability to take this castle, as there is only one way in and one way out. To get into the valley undetected is amazing. We then went towards the roof part of the castle. From here, the whole snow-capped Alborz mountain ranges is within our sight. Standing at this point, looking out into the mountains and the valley beneath us is so relaxing. The tranquillity standing here facing the breathtaking Alborz mountains is beyond description. Coming here, scaling the Alamut castle is indeed a once in a lifetime experience for me, moreover not many people have come here. At the end of the rooftop, there is a section that is out of bounds, and it leads to another part of the castle. The partially buried in snow structure reveals what seemed to be another rest area. It is a pity that part is out of bounds.

We spent a little more time appreciating the beauty and the tranquillity this castle offers before returning to our car. The downward route seemed a lot short and easier, however, the slippery snow and mud make descending slightly challenging (well half the time I was walking into the knee-deep snow, after all, I am not sure when will be the next time I will come into contact with snow). As our car was driving back towards Qazvin, we went through the treacherous mountain road, up and down the mountains. As we were at the snowy part of the mountain, it began to snow! This is the first time I have seen snow! There is a part of me which hoped that we could stop the car, get out and play with the snow. However the road conditions do not allow us to do so, I think partially our guide is trying to get out of the mountains as soon as possible, if the snowstorm gets heavier, driving through it is going to be rather dangerous. As we were out of the mountains nearer to Qazvin, our guide told us we were lucky to have been to Alamut today. If the snow was in the morning, visiting Alamut will not be possible. I guess we have our lucky stars to thank for allowing us to see this ancient wonder.

This is the stairs that led us up to the castle
I was very excited to see snow and walked in the snow
Me at halfway up to Alamut Castle
There is some restoration work being done to the castle when we were there
The structure on top of the hill is Alamut Castle
This is taken from the Watch Tower, which essentially is a cavern where the guards stood watch for  potential enemies attacking from the only route into the valley
We can see part of the cavern and the castle is just a further up
Me at the watchtower
The mountainous region contributed to its impenetrable for centuries
This is the interior of the castle, where restoration works were taking place
Interior of Alamut Castle
This is part of the living quarters for the assassins in the castle
Interior of Alamut Castle
We were told this is the stables where horses were kept
This hole leads to the storage area where food was kept
Inside of the castle
Inside the Alamut Castle
This is the roof of the castle
There is another annex to the fortress
Panoramic view of the mountains surrounding the fortress
Me at Alamut Castle
Part of Alamut Castle
Alamut Castle
Panoramic view of the mountains surrounding the fortress
This is the top part of the fortress
Panoramic view of the mountains surrounding the fortress
The view from this area is just stunning
This is where we trekked at Alamut Castle
Alamut Castle
This is the highest point at Alamut Castle
Alamut Castle
On our way down the castle
Final shot at Alamut Castle
On our way out of Alamut Valley
It started to snow
We can see snowing coming our way on our way out of the valley

Onward to Rasht

We drove on to Rasht, where we will be spending the night. En route, the scenery changed into what looked like a mining mountain, with heavy vehicles plying through the tunnels in the mountains. As the road leads us to this town, all of a sudden, it seemed as though the clouds have fallen onto the town, blanketing the sun from the town. The low clouds make the rest of our journey looked gloomy. Though on the map Qazvin to Rasht seemed close enough, this leg of the road took longer then I expected it. We arrived at Rasht at dinner time. After checking into the hotel, we headed out to find food ourselves. My friend wanted to get a pair of socks and we went to this sports apparel shop. The lady in the shop was friendly and started to chat with us. She then told us that most of the people in Rasht do not speak English, as there are very few foreigners travelling to this part of the country. We took the opportunity to ask if there are any good restaurants, she recommended one and we went there for dinner. She was right, the food in this restaurant is indeed good. The chicken kebab is very juicy and tender (by the way we pointed to pictures in the menu when ordering our food, it is amazing that the staff at the restaurant brought what we wanted to eat). We went back to the hotel after dinner to rest for the night.

Driving towards Rasht on the highway
The dense low clouds gave this area a sense of mystic
We can see low clouds ahead
This is a phenomenon that is not seen in Singapore
Persian Dinner
The juicy chicken Kebab


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