Alamut or Alamoot

1. About Alamut
2. The journey from Qazvin

About Alamut and alamuttrek

In the early 1990’s on a visit to Iran from England, I asked my grandfather Rajabali Malaki, a literate and well known merchant in Tonekabon about the mysteries I had heard regarding the Assassins, their leader Hassan-I-Sabbah and the Alamut Valley fortifications. Soon after, I had in my hand the book “Khodavande Alamut” (literally translated as the “God of Alamut”) by Paul Amir, a gift from my paternal grandfather. Little did I know that a few years later I would leave a promising career as a medical doctor in the UK  to return to my roots and start a trekking company offering travellers a taste of real Iran and her nature.

Alamut Valley or the valley of the Assassins is a valley that, for centuries, has played an important role in the politics of the region. The Assassin’s main castle in Gazorkhan is the emblem of the valley as far as political history is concerned but to see wild mountainous Alamut one needs to travel a little deeper into the valley either northwards to Khoshkechal and beyond or reach Garmarood, this is where rock formations, canyons, rivers and waterfalls, spectacular summits and glaciers, alpine plains together with the remnants of an ancient pine forest and grasslands with old settlements make a beautiful and unique combination of nature and cultural life of its people.

In lower to mid Alamut, wheat, barley, rice and cherries are major crops and in the highlands potatoes are grown, traditional sheep farming with nomadic lifestyle still dominates part of an average family’s way of life and income in upper Alamut valley although sadly this is fast giving way to modern way of living. Today there are many Alamutis who live in apartment blocks in Qazvin and only visit their homeland during the summer months.

The treks in Alamut will bring you in close contact with the locals and despite its fame among the foreign traveller it is still a region where you will see few fellow hikers.

There existed several mule trails which connected the valley to the Caspian littoral and people from either side would travel in large caravans even until 35 years ago. An old cemetery in Piche Bon is testimony to the hardship and dangers these people faced crossing the mountains.

Alamuti women from Garmarood and beyond would cross the mountains on foot and spend 3 nights in tea houses along the old mule paths getting to Tonekabon, also known as Shahsavar ( a costal city on the lush fertile Caspian littoral) to plant the rice paddies and make the same journey back to provide for their families. The road under construction from Alamut to Tonekabon at a huge environmental cost has meant the destruction of one of the historic trails that went from Garmarood to Tonekabon as well as large portions of some of the most pristine Hyrcanian forests of northern Iran. By using the knowledge of local shepherds,  I have managed to combine routes in order to show you the trekker areas that avoid roads and have somewhat escaped modernization so far.


The journey from Qazvin

The city of Qazvin is some 2 hours away from Tehran, a good motorway links the city with the Capital.

After passing Razjerd the last settlement in the plain of Qazvin one enters a height called Ghostin Laar which is the beginning of Alamut, from this height two thirds of Alamut territory is visible, from Rojai Dasht (aka Siyah Dasht or the “Black plain”) which embraces Shahrood River, the main river in Alamut, to the Siyalan Summit, the highest point of Alamut at 4250m, Razmiyan and also Bahram Abad rice paddies and fruit orchards.

After Ghostin Laar one arrives at the Salt Mines of Alamut from which salt is extracted for human and animal consumption as well as in building.

The last village in upper Alamut along the Qazvin-Alamut-Tonekabon road is Piche Bon (approximately 2700m above sea level) from where a 3 hour drive along some of the worst dirt road, deepest valleys, dense Hyrcanian Forests and highest summits in Iran finally enters the Caspian Littoral. This road is under construction and expansion in places.

Lambesar Castle in Razmiyan 22km from Rejai Dasht and 5 km from Razmiyan is one of the most impressive fortresses of Iran that predates Islam. It is the biggest and considered to be the second most important of all Ishmaelite’s Castles after the Fortress of Hassan Sabah in Gazorkhan. It was consisted of 8 towers, ammunition and food depositsو water reservoir and a stone water canal some 1225m above sea level in an area of 6 hectares. The access points of the Fortress dwellers with the outside were from the northern and the southern faces. It is surrounded by deep valleys on three sides. One of the amazing things about this fortress is the water supply which was Nineh Rood some 15 km away, through stone canals and cliffs which is still visible today. The altitude of the fortress from the river is 140m and is relatively better preserved in comparison to other fortresses.

Hir and Viyar in Nineh Rood Valley, the old trail from Qazvin to the province of Guilan would pass through this valley where some of the old stoned road is still visible. This valley is situated in the north of Razmiyan.

A few kilometers away in Sefid Ab there is a cave bearing the same name, time permitting you may wish to go and have a look. It involves walking underground.

Shir Kuh Castle near Doab some 23km from Moalem Kelayeh near Baghdaasht village on a hilltop some 1851m above sea level situated between Alamut and Taleghan Rivers in a highly strategic position counts as the most strategically placed castle. Access to this site is very difficult as there are over hanging cliffs of some 600m, as well as deep valleys. It has 8 water reservoirs some 6-16m long and 1.75m wide, a watchtower called Izai is situated some 3.5km to its west which oversees the Strait of Taleghan. There is also a stone bread oven some 1.6m high and 1.75m in diameter as well visible in the Castle.

Shams Kelayeh Castle (Meymun Dej or Homayoun Dej) and 12 Imam Holy Shrine 2 km from Moalem Kelayeh, in a boulder overlooking the village of Shams Kelayeh is the remains of what is believed to be Meymoon Dej. Its access is impossible without ropes or ladders. If it is the Meymoon Dej it would have been the last remaining stronghold of the Ishmaelite rulers.

Aliasgar Emamzadeh (Holy Shrine) with its famous tree that “bleeds” during the mourning ceremonies of Ashura, Zarabad Village 7km from the main Alamut road.

Evan Lake 8km from main road westwards measuring some 6 hectares in surface area (335m x 275m) at 1800m of altitude is the biggest lake in Qazvin province. Its depth varies between 1-20m and it is home to wild trout amongst other fish, crabs, turtles, wild ducks and numerous birds and insects.

Andaj and Andajrood, canyons and natural caves Kherse Geloo and Farandaj aka Parand Dej ruins of castle near Andaj 15km from Moalem Kelayeh and 80 from Qazvin.

Gazorkhan and the main Castle of Hassan Sabah. Hassan Sabah opposing the rule of the Seljukian Dynasty and Malek Shah eventually immigrated to Egypt and there learns about the Ismaeilite sect and returns to Iran as a promoter of this sect. After travelling through Iran he chooses Alamut Castle as his base and “conquers” the Fortress without any bloodshed. The historian Jahangoshay Joeini describes Sabah’s entry into the fortress as crafty and writes that Hassan in the year 483 enters the fortress clandestinely and bought it from its guard Mehdi Alavi for 3000 Dinars. This fortress was built on a 200 meter hilltop in the year 246 (lunar calendar) by Hassan Ibn Zeinolbagheri from the Mazandarani Alavi Family and is divided into two sections; the upper Castle and the Lower Castle. The length of the Fortress is 120m and the width 35m. It is 2000m above sea level and only accessible via the northern part, the southern portion is a 150m vertical cliff. The water reservoir is permanently filled with water and it is said that this water never becomes stagnated despite the fact that it has a constant level and no water entry into the reservoir has been identified.

It is said that Hassan, in the 35 years that he lived in this fortress only left twice and went to the rooftop and spent the rest of the time reading, researching in religion and dedicating his time to the affairs of the public until his death in 518. The successor to take over his rule was Kia Bozorg Omid until he was overthrown in 532.

Hassan Sepahsalar Holy Shrine in Khoshkechal 3km from the main Castle.

Ataan Village with typical stepped architecture 27km from Moalem Kelayeh.

Navizar Shah Castle the main summer Castle in Garmarood over a very impressive rocky cliff some 2000m above the Shahrood River. Rather difficult but possible to access without technical climbing. The Castle’s strategic position meant it has views over some of Taleghan and the Caspian peaks.

Caravanserai in Pichebon some twenty minutes’ drive from the village. This refuge was built just prior to the Ghajar Dynasty about 200 years ago for people crossing the mountains to and from the Caspian littoral. It is in a dire state after some 120 thousand US dollars were spent renovating it only to see vandals destroy it again. It is situated in Salambar Pass at 3200 m of altitude.