Sometimes you can even doubt to be on the Earth Planet and you also wonder if the geological era has perhaps changed.
Vast expanses of ice, deep fjords, hot springs of an unusual milky blue, gysers: hot springs that periodically give rise to powerful jets of warm water mixed with steam. One of the most fascinating natural events that can be seen.
If you go in the right season you will be able to see the marvellous spectacle of the “sun at midnight”an ephemeral phenomenon, wonderful, amazing. For us, not Icelander, the continued presence of the sun in the middle of the night has something magical, the light that spreads in those particular moments is something unreal!
This is Iceland, a land of extremes and of contrasts! A unique destination for those who love nature and solitude!
I was particularly excited and curious to make this journey. An important route thru Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Xinjiang and last, but not least, Pakistan, the Land of Pure.
But the greatest thrill was to return for the third time to the intriguing city of Peshawar.
It would have been a journey of magnificent landscapes, passes almost inacessible with peaks set against a deep blue sky, boundless steppes. And the Karakoram highway, a 750km long road between the peaks and the highest mountains in the world. The Nanga Parbat, the Khunjerab pass with its spectacular road, one of the most impervious spots of the ancient silk road.
Off we go then! Leaving Italy towards Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan to visit Qoqand in the enchanting rich Ferghana Valley and Andjan, birth place of Babur the first Mogul Emperor. From Andjan our journey takes us to Osh and then Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgizstan, situated between Kazakhstan and the Tien Shan chain mountains.
Our journey proceeds thru spectacular places which skirt the Pamir mountains, the roof of the world. We stop in Naryn for the night and we sleep the 4 of us in a typical yurta tent. What an exciting and cold experience!
The next morning, after a typical local breakfast, we start our drive on a road flanked with plateaus and snowy mountains to reach Kashgar in the Takla Makan desert. Kashgar’s history spans over 2000 years and its importance comes from its strategic position.
Its Sunday market it’s spectacular, an experience that only Kashgar can offer. A fascinating mix of ethnic groups such as Kirghiz, Chinese, Kurds, Turk Mongolian in its typical costumes and caps. Here you can buy almost everything from sheep to horses, food and any kind of fancy goods. Trade remains a bygone style where the entire community gathers at the world’s liveliest market.
As we proceed towards the Karakul lake at 3700 mt the scenery is incredible and we can admire the great amphitheatre of the Kongur chain mountains and the breathtaking Muz Tagh Ata (7569 mt) glacier.
We arrive at the border city of Taxkorgan in the Cinese Xinjiang Uygur. After customs formalities, which take quite a long time, we leave Taxkorgan and thru the Khunjerab pass (4700 mt) we finally reach Karimabad in PAKISTAN! Here we meet Mehrab Khan (uncommon name for this country!!!!!!) our Paki guide, with the 2 Land Rover waiting for us. Our Pakistani Adventure starts!!
We first visit the Hunza Valley with its small characteristics villages surrounded by huge glaciers. We proceed towards Skardu Valley and Shyok Valley to visit Kaplu and the famous Baltoro glacier. Then back towards Gilgit passing by the majestic Nanga Parbat. Thru the beautiful scenarios of the Shandur Pass we enter Chitral Valley with the great panoramas of Hindu Raj and Hindu Kush. We stop 2 days in Chitral and visit Bamburet and Birir villages where we meet with the Kafiri Kalash people who seem to be descendent from Alexander the Great. Women and girls are dressed in their colourful local dresses, their hair is blonde and they have beautiful blue eyes! These people still maintain their culture, traditions and animistic beliefs. It’s with great sorrow that we leave these beautiful places and the lovely people! But our journey is close to its end. Down the Lowari Pass and we arrive in Peshawar.
Peshawar, a striking, animated city, an important commercial crossroads of Central Asia. The ancient part of the city, more crowded and fascinating, it’s a labyrinth of narrow roads, shops and the extraordinary bazaar full with all kind of things. I spent most of my time at the Afghan bazaar buying all sort of things from old tea pots, to tea trays, jars, carpets, always assisted by Mehrab, our guide, who tried to negotiate the best price for me! I was fascinated by the Afghan vendors!
Goodbye Peshawar, I wonder if I will see you again!!!!
A quick stop on the road at Darra to have a look at a weapon shop and then off to Islamabad airport. Lahore is waiting to say goodbye to us with its splendour. We have just enough time to visit again the Mogul fort, the Badshahi and Wazir Khan mosques and the Shalimar Gardens.
This is a journey I will never forget and I promised to myself that, sooner or later, I will return to Pakistan, a country that has a special place in my heart!
That it was a particular destination we realized it on the plane upon our arrival at Tehran airport. Suddenly, even though the season did not require it, from women handbags came out coats, shawls, scarves that transformed all ladies on board of the aircraft. At the Tehran airport this was elegantly confirmed by obvious signs saying:
“DECENCY, MODESTY AND HIJAB OF WOMAN HAVE MADE HER A DIVINE BEING”.
We were approaching a different world full of charm and contrasts. On the other hand Iran has been able to keep forever its different culture, its distinct way of life dictated by its own origin: an Aryan area compressed between the Arab and Indo Asian world.
And here we are in Tehran, the chaotic, vibrant capital of Iran. The city, surrounded by the Elburz Mountains, called “Polar Star” by the Iranians is a modern city full of restaurants, cafes, art galleries, fashion shops and museums, palaces and memories of past and recent times. To mention a few: the Golestan Palace, the Sad Abad palace with its magnificent rooms with shiny crystals and luxurious furnishings. And the Peacock Throne, the Imperial Crowns, the precious Globe, an indescribable accumulation of precious stones.
The Azari Tower built in the occasion of celebrations for the 2500 years of Persian empire.
The Imam Khomeini Mosque. Tehran is all this and much, much more.
We proceed our journey towards Shiraz, a very refined city known as the cradle of Persian culture with its madrasas with mirrors vaults, prayer halls illuminated by stained-glass windows that create an unreal, relaxing atmosphere.
We continue by car towards Persepolis, the ancient Parse of Cyrus the Great, of Darius, of Xerxes and of Artaxerxes, visited and unfortunately accidentally destroyed by Alexander the Great during a night of drunkness.
Far beyond the plains of Parsagat are the imperial tombs of their ancestors carved into the rocks.
On the route of the silk road, we find the city of Yadz with its ancient Kabir Jaan mosque, its Zoroastrian temples where the sacred fire is kept burning since thousand of years.
But if one has to identify a place that can make lasting memories on the beauty of a whole nation, well for Iran there would be no doubt! We visited a town, in our opinion, the most beautiful ever seen: Isfahan (Nesf-e-Jahan) which in Farsi language means “the half of the world”.
The huge square, of almost ten acres full of jetting fountains and gardens with flowers of every colours, at the sides of which there are two of the finest mosques ever built, with high blinding blue domes and slender minarets towering on the sides. Rich of blue tiles, mosaic, the angle of the whispers, the 12 echoes of the mosque.
Its bazaars full of endless tunnels and narrow streets, center of every business.
The palace of Ali Qapu, high soaring sumptuous and sign of political power.
And the bridges lit up at night, place of meeting for Isfahan youth.
But my last thought goes to the people, so friendly, open and curious.
This is Isfahan, masterpiece of Iran and Unesco world heritage site.
We leave Isfahan, and return towards Tehran stopping in Kashan for a quick visit. Kashan is a pleasant city with its ancient luxury traditional houses (Khan-e-Borujerdi, Khan-e-Tabatei, Khan-e-Ameriha, to mention a few) surrounded by gardens dotted with springs of crystal clear water.
We continue towards Abyaneh, a 1500 year old village perched at the foot of Karkas mountain and situated in a narrow pittoresque valley. Abyaneh is one of the most attractive villages to visit in Iran. Even today the way of life, costumes and dialect of its inhabitants has remained unchanged from past times. This village really deserves a visit!!!
We reached the end of our tour. But one trip to Iran is not enough to discover the many beauties of this nation and its people.
For this reason I have decided I will return very soon and complete my knowledge of this land, its culture, its customs and its wonderful people, so friendly, warm, hospitable and, why not, curious.
KHODA HAFEZ IRAN!!!!