Overview
Costs
Food
Hotels
Money
Mobile phones
Internet
Weather
Health
VISA
Security
Recommended
Avoid
Getting around
Photos

Iranian Azerbaijian and Kurdistan (Zanjan, Soltaniyeh, Takab, Karaftu, Takht e Soleyman)



5.5: Dubai -> Tehran -> Zanjan
6.5: Zanjan -> Soltaniyeh -> Takab -> Karaftu caves -> Takab
7.5: Takab -> Takht e Soleyman -> Tehran




Planning and overall impression

This was a short weekend trip into Western Iran, starting and ending in Tehran. It was planned short term and with the help of a travel agency. The region northwest of Tehran is quite different from the parts of Iran I have visited so far. It's cool, mountainous and with snowfall in winter, with snow lasting until May. It's a relatively green area with a number of historical and natural sites. Also the local culture is quite interesting. The local Kurds still wear the traditional baggy trousers.

Costs

Hotels cost between 20 and 70 Euro/night. The largest expense was the car with driver for 3 million IRR/day (three days). Meals were relatively inexpensive.


Food

Mostly chicken kebab, which wasn't bad in the hotel in Takab and also elsewhere in the region.



Accommodation

The hotel availability in the area is a bit limited. The hotel in Zanjan where I stayed was supposed to be the best of the city, but was pretty old, while Takab only has one two star hotel. Both hotels however were adequate. For some reason most hotels in Tehran were fully booked at the time I was travelling. It took some effort to find the hotel Sasan in Tehran and to find their telephone number. With the help of a friend in Tehran I managed to book a room in the hotel. The hotel rate, because we booked directly with the hotel, was half of the rate of an Internet portal.


Money  / Exchange rate (May 2016)

1 Euro = around 38000 Rial
1 Euro ~ USD 1.12
For current exchange rates check the Universal Currency Converter.

I used cash, because (international) bank cards and credit cards could not be used in Iran due to the embargo


Mobile phones and prepaid cards

I got a local SIM card (Irancell) which cost 800000 IRR, because it included an Internet package in addition to some voice call volume.


Internet access

WLAN available in some of the hotels, but with moderate speeds. Where available, I relied on the mobile phone to access the Internet. A number of western news site are blocked in Iran.



Weather

Mostly good weather, but quite fresh due to the altitude, sometimes overcast in the mountains. In Tehran relatively hot.


Health / Vaccinations

No vaccinations are needed for Iran and there are no health risks.


VISA / Entry requirements

This time I just had a registration number, which however was sufficient to get a visa on arrival. Very fast and smooth processing at the IKA airport. Travellers to Iran now need a travel and accident insurance when visiting Iran, which they can purchase upon arrival at the airport.



Security

Iran is a very safe place. I experienced no problems when travelling there. Overall Iranians are very honest and friendly.


Recommended things



Things to avoid



Getting around

I had a driver who picked me up at IKA airport and drove me around, allowing me to optimise the (limited) time. The cost was 300000 IRR/day which included everything. This is actually a very good way of travelling around, as the driver knows all places.



Travel agencies and guides who helped us on this trip



5.5: Dubai -> Tehran -> Zanjan
Grand hotel, Zanjan. 2650000 IRR for a room. Supposedly one of the better hotels in Zanjan, claims to have four stars. Perhaps it had four stars years ago, because the hotel is quite old. In any case the room has everything (TV, electronic safe, fridge, furniture etc.). Hard beds. Good shower with plenty of water. Rather basic breakfast, more directed towards the Iranian taste, less for the western taste (only Iranian type of bread and cheese, no cereals, jam etc.). No A/C, only heating (there is a combined A/C and heating unit, but it only generates hot air). WLAN in the room, but very slow.
Weather: Hot & steamy in Dubai (temperatures well above 30C, high humidity), quite fresh in Tehran and Zanjan (around 12C).

Shortly before 12pm I check out of the hotel in Dubai and take a taxi to the airport. It's a limo of the hotel which is supposed to bring me to the airport for 90 AED. A Lexus car, quite nice inside. We reach the airport around 12:30pm. There I check in (I'm done by 1pm), then I leave the backpack in the left luggage. Some queue there (you have to take a queue ticket). 25 AED for the storage of my backpack, a bit pricey.

Since it's already 1:15pm I take a taxi to the City Centre Mirhib (?) mall (instead of trying out public transportation). Getting there takes only 10 minutes, but the taxi is a bit expensive (56 AED).

The Mirhib mall is quite big, modern and has plenty of shops, restaurants, a food court, a kids area with a gaming centre and a cinema. Quite full today, perhaps because today is a public holiday. I have some Chinese food and a banana pancake (30 AED). 

At 2:45pm I notice that I should get back to the airport. I walk for a few minutes through the mall to reach the taxi area. Luckily there are taxis waiting for me. It's a smooth drive with no traffic jams. I'm back at the airport at 3pm. There I take my bag and proceed to the gates.

When I'm passing the first contrl (guy checking if I have a boarding pass) the guy says that I'm late and need to go to another lady. This lady again complains that I'm late which is strange because it's just 3:20pm and the flight leaves at 4pm. Some phone call, then this unfriendly individual tells me I can try to reach the gate, but I might not make it and they won't wait for me.

10 minutes later I'm at the gate, 10 minutes before the gate closes (3:40pm). I could have avoided rushing through the airport. I'm not even the last person to board the plane. The plane, an A330, is almost full.

The flight EK979 takes off with some delay at 4:25pm and lands in Tehran IKA at 18:40 local time. Then to my surprise things go quite smoothly. By 19:10 I already have the visa and have gone through immigration (now travellers need a travel and accident insurance when visiting Iran). By 19:25 I have the luggage and shortly after 7:30pm I'm in the car to Zanjan.

There is some traffic around Tehran, but once we are on the motorway everything proceeds smoothly and we reach the Grand hotel in Zanjan shortly before midnight.





6.5: Zanjan -> Soltaniyeh -> Takab -> Karaftu caves -> Takab
Hotel Ranji, Takab. A moderately priced two star hotel (the only hotel in Takab). The hotel is actually better than what I was expecting. Two beds, ridge, TV, phone, bathroom with shower (quite old). There is a quite good restaurant attached to the hotel. WLAN in the room of variable quality.
Weather: sunny in the early morning, then mostly overcast. Some rain on the road to the Karaftu caves. Some sunshine in the evening. Quite fresh (the lowest temperature is 6C up in the mountains at 2500m altitude.)

We leave the hotel around 10am and first drive to Soltaniyeh. There I spend some time exploring the Dome of Soltaniyeh (entrance fee 100000 IRR). This is an old mausoleum currently undergoing renovation. Not too special, just sort of interesting. Plenty of visitors, most of them Iranian. Visitors go into the dome, then climb up the staircases to the second and third levels.

Shortly before 12pm I'm back in the car. We now drive towards Takab, a city in the west Azerbaijan region of Iran, about 200km from Soltaniyeh. The road crosses some mountain ranges, with the highest point being at 2600m altitude. In some places there are still patches of snow, which means that in winter this area must be covered by snow. Quite interesting, because the driver tells me that today the temperature in Yazd is 45C, while here in the mountains it's just 7C.

Anyway, it's a pretty cool drive on these high plains. Most of the time we are between 1800 and 2500 metres of altitude. These are high plains, quite smooth terrain, you don't realise that the altitude is so high.

We reach the hotel in Takab ahortly after 3pm. The city of Takab itself is unremarkable - just a collection of concrete buildings, with apparently no historic core. Supposedly Takab is the capital of this region. We have some late lunch in the restaurant of the hotel. The hotel clerk suggests to drive to te Karaftu caves, 40km from Takab (one hour by car). Supposedly an interesting place. Since there is nothing to do and see in this city, I agree. For 25 USD the guy will drive me there and bring me back.

At 4:15pm we leave Takab. The road is initially good, then turns into a mud track, then is paved again. Pretty cool scenery. Smooth hills and undulating fields, farmers plant crops. The cool thing is that we are at 2000m of altitude. At one point we leave West Azerbaijan and enter Kurdistan. By the way, the Kurdish men here all wear wide, baggy trousers.

The Karaftu caves (entrance fee: 150000 Rial) are very scenic and photogenic. They are inside what seems to be a sandstone cliff. According to my guide it's a cave system with 16km of caves. Nicely lit internally, plenty of visitors. We spend one and a half hours at the caves, and leave at 6:40pm.

I'm back in the hotel around 7:30pm.



7.5: Takab -> Takht e Soleyman -> Tehran
Hotel Sasan, Tehran (Nirou street, corner of Shariati avenue). 41 USD for a relatively basic and small room with a fridge, telephone, small cupboard, table+mirror+chair, smaller table, small flat screen TV, attached bathroom with shower. Not clear is there is A/C, but the room has a heater. No WLAN in the room. No toilet paper in the toilet (I have to ask in the reception for it). This place is not too terrible, but far away from the centre of Tehran. In fact a lady on the street expresses disbelief when she sees me walking near the hotel and tells me I should go to Vali Asr avenue, because in this area there is nothing for tourists.
Weather: sunny, blue sky with some clouds in the morning. Temperatures around 17-18C in the mountains. More cluday in the afternoon, but quite warm (28C at 1400m altitude). No rain.

We leave Takab at 9:40am and initially drive towards the Takht-e-Soleyman archaeological site. At 10:20am we stop at Zendane Soleyman, sort of a hill I had spotted yesterday. Turns out that this is a 100m tall, volcano-like structure. A rocky cone which rises in the plains and has a deep circular hole inside. Some ruins surround this cone. According to the description this was formed by an artesian well, which deposited calcic sediments on the rim. Pretty cool views of the surroundings from the hilltop.

I'm in this place until 10:45am, then walk down to the car. We then drive to Takht-e Soleyman, which is not far away. We are there at 11am.

Takht-e Soleyman is centered around a round pond, probably of artesian origin, i.e. it's a small lake with no incoming river situated on a small hilltop. Around this lake there are ruins of buildings of different ages and everyhting is surrounded by a large wall. According to the guidebook, this was a fire temple in anciant times. The entry ticket costs 200000 IRR (a bit pricey) and you are not alloweed to bring in a tripod. Today this place is quite empty - besides me there are only a handful of visitors.

I spend about an hour in this place, then get back to the car and start the long drive back to Tehran. At 2pm we pass by Zanjan, but don't stop there for lunch. Instead we continue driving on the motorway and a few minutes later we stop in a motorway restaurant. There we have some lunch (chicken kebab, just for a change). At 2:40pm we continue drivong to Tehran.

The motorway is quite empty and the driver manages to keep an average speed of 120km/h. In Tehran we get stuck in a traffic jam, because we need to cross half of the city to reach the hotel. We finally reach the hotel at 6:20pm. I pay the driver and check into the toom. In the evening I explore the area around the hotel. The streets are clean, the buildings are all nice and in a good shape. Seems I'm in a "good" or "elegant" part of Tehran.



Copyright 2016 Alfred Molon