My Climb to ‘Sacred’ Alamut, Where Every Stone Tells a Story

By Ali M. Rajput

I am pleased to share with readers of Simerg an account of my memorable trip to the Ismaili Castle of Alamut, which became the capital of Ismaili power for 171 years, following the Nizari-Musteali Ismaili split upon the death of the Fatimid Imam, al-Mustansir. The trip took place during the summer of 2007, when I spent a total of 3 weeks in Iran.

A map showing Ismaili Castles in Iran and Syria. Some of the places Dr. Rajput visited in Iran were Tehran (inserted to original map), Qazwin, Alamut, Lamasar and Mashad (Eastern Iran, not shown above). Map: http://www.iis.ac.uk

I was accompanied by my son, Dr Karim Sultan Rajput. Most of the time, we stayed with old Ismaili friends in Tehran, Mashhad, Tus, Neshapur, Dizbad and several other Ismaili villages. We were able to renew ties of old friendships and made new friends within the Ismaili Jamat. We attended the Jamatkhana if there was one in the area we were visiting, and tried to understand the local issues and problems of the jamat. During our stays in Tehran, Mashhad and Dizbad we went to the Jamatkhana regularly.

The frontispiece of the Jamatkhana in Mashhad, Iran. Please click image for enlargement and an explanation of the calligraphy.

Our main host was my very dear friend Hadi Mirshahi, originally from a very old Ismaili settlement of Dizbad, which was the centre of the mirshahi Ismailis and where many well-known personalities sprang up in the past. Hadi now lives in Mashhad where there is a sizable Ismaili Jamat. He had been our host for the entire time we were there, and we thank him and his wife and two sons for their hospitality and very great kindness.

Hadi Mirshahi (left) and Ali Rajput (right) pictured with Ismaili house holders in Dizbad. Photo: Ali M. Rajput Collection

One of the most important components of our journey was our visit to the celebrated castles of Alamut and Lamasar. Both of these castles are being excavated by the Iranian government which considers the Ismaili castles as their national heritage. We set aside three whole days for the sight seeing of these historical sites. We also examined the geographical, agricultural and cultural factors which helped sustain an Ismaili state for 171 years, considering the Jamat faced a combined threat from the powerful Seljuk Turks and the Sunni Caliphate of Baghdad. At the present time, a network of good roads makes it easier to reach these castles, and the whole mountain region is really well cultivated and prosperous.

A road sign: Left arrow pointing to Qazwin and the right to Alamut. Ali Rajput went to Qazwin first to see a museum. Photo: Ali M. Rajput Collection.

Our excellent guide and driver was a young Ismaili engineer by the name Daryush, who was very well acquainted with this part of Iran. We began our journey in a small car from Tehran and took the highway heading north. We reached a junction road indicating the signs to Qazwin and Alamut. We wanted to explore the city of Qazwin first, and we took the road to the left and reached the city, which is the gateway to the district of Rudbar.

The city of Qazwin has a museum which throws a valuable light on its history of 11th and 12th centuries, when the city spearheaded the attacks by the Seljuk Turks against the Ismaili state. We had a fruitful discussion with the local scholars of the city on the subject of Alamut. After a short rest, we took the road leading to the district of Rudbar, and after some time we were traveling through the valley of Shahrud, the domain of the Ismailis confederation of the Ismaili State during the Alamut period.

View of Alamut Valley from car window. "Alamut, Alamut," Ali Rajput said in a high pitched voice, as they arrived in the valley. Photo: Ali M. Rajput Collection

The road that takes you to the district of Alamut is good, and the same road continues another 45 kilometres to the north towards the Caspian Sea, and to the castle of Lamasar.

I looked all over around the road, the hills and the valleys and was drowned in deep thought as I sank into the historical past. Then after some time I opened my eyes widely and shouted at the pitch of my voice “ALAMUT, ALAMUT, this is the valley of Alamut.”

The landscape seemed so familiar that I felt as if I had walked on these hills many times in the past. But this was the first time I had ever put my foot on these highlands. As I went back into history, I recollected the deep dedication and devotion with which Ismaili fidais had served the Imams so well by completing their assignments successfully. I felt gratified and humbled that I myself had devoted my life in the service to the Imam.

Two key Ismaili leaders in post Fatimid Nizari Ismaili history; Hasan-i Sabbah of Alamut, Iran, shown at left and Rashid al-Din Sinan of Syria. The obedience of the Ismaili fidai's to these two leaders were crucial in safeguarding the Jamat for many decades.

Times have changed to an angle of 180 degree, and the demands and nature of service have altered according to the changing times. The assignment of a fidai was dangerous and life threatening. In the present time, services to the Imam are offered in more peaceful circumstances. But are they less demanding? Not really, if one thinks about it, because service needs the same sincerity and complete devotion today as it did in the past. This notion of sincerity, complete devotion and serving the Imam with humility and a proper understanding of our faith should not change with time.

We arrived at the village of Gazar Khan whose population claims to be the descendants of Kiya Buzurg Umid, the second hujjat (proof or representative of the Imam) of the Castle of Alamut. The residents take pride in their ancestry, and relate the story of their past. They believe that after the fall of Alamut in 1256, and the subsequent massacre of the Ismaili population, those who survived and could not escape to distant lands had no option but to stay on. During the Safawid rule the residents were forced to adopt Twelver Shiism and as a consequence there are today no Ismailis living in the vicinity. We took leave of the village and headed towards the Alamut Castle.

The cherry orchards of the Alamut valley. The cherry grower declined to take money from the visitors and instead gave away a couple of kilos to Ali Rajput in remembrance of the "Old Man of the Mountain" (as Hasan-i Sabbah is popularly known). Photo: Ali M. Rajput Collection)

The valley of Alamut is green and full of cherry orchards. A local cherry-grower told us that they harvest the fruit in the early hours of the morning. The fruit is then immediately flown to Dubai and reaches the breakfast table of the Emirate’s aristocracy. The castle of Alamut is only one kilometre away from the centre of the village. We wanted to purchase a kilo of fresh cherries but the owner would not accept any money from us. Instead, he gifted a couple of kilos to us in the memory of the “Old Man of the Mountain,” as they used to call Hasan-i Sabbah.

We proceeded on our journey and after a short while of driving, a tall black rock of black granite appeared in the horizon. At once I recognized it as the unassailable rock of Alamut and the famous castle of Alamut nesting on top of this huge mountain of granite stone. This was the Capital of a Confederation of the Ismaili State founded in 1090 AC, by a great genius of all times, Hasan-i Sabbah which lasted for 171 years against formidable enemies and ultimately surrendered before the Mongols in 1256 AC. The Ismaili State was defended by a string of castles, over one hundred in number and Alamut being the capital of the State.

The Castle of Alamut was built on top of an unassailable granite rock, on one of the peaks of the Alburz range, 100km north of modern Tehran. It is located in the south of Caspian Sea in the province of Daylaman in the Rudbar region near the city of Qazwin. Photo: Ali M. Rajput collection

The entry point of the castle is on the opposite side of the road, and so we parked our car at a suitable parking space and proceeded to the entry point on foot. The Iranian government was excavating the site to preserve it as their national heritage, and had erected some scaffoldings as well as some staircases to climb to the top. The climb seemed very high, especially for me, considering that I was 84 years old then. Formidable indeed, and I wondered if I had ever be able to make it to the top.

Dr. Ali Rajput riding a horse which took him only half way up. Determined and with encouragement from his son, Rajput then walked the remainder of the way up to the top, even at his age of 84. Photo: Ali M. Rajput Collection

My son, Karim, kept on encouraging and motivating me and I was also extremely determined to reach to the top. We saw a horse for hire, and Karim hired it for $5.00 to give me a ride. The horse owner agreed to take me, but  only half way up, saying that the remaining half was too steep and slippery even for the horse to climb. Once I had dismounted the horse half-way up, I began the upper half of the climb on foot. Taking my time, slowly and steadily and with resolute determination and effort, I managed to reach the top of the rock.

Climbing up-hill on stairs created by scaffoldings. Dr. Rajput with his son, Dr. Karim. Photo: Ali M. Rajput Collection

We were now standing on the sacred grounds of the castle of Alamut. I looked at the over grown site of the castle of Alamut, and was dumbfounded for ten minutes. I had to hold back my tears to avoid embarrassment.

We had reached the sacred site of the capital of the Ismaili State and the center of the Ismaili Dawa for more than 171 years. This was the place chosen as the refuge for the Ismaili Dawa by one of the greatest genius of all times, Hujjat Hasan-i Sabbah, who laid the foundations of an Ismaili State, and where he resided the last 35 years of his life. This was the place where seven Ismaili Imams resided, which included Hasan ‘Ala dhikrihi al-Salam who made a declaration of Al-Qayamah.

List of Nizari Ismaili Rulers at Alamut (1090-1256 CE)

NIZARI ISMAILI DAI’S WHO RULED AT ALAMUT

1. Hasan-i Sabbah (1090–1124)
2. Kiya Buzurg-Ummid (1124–1138)
3. Muhammad (b. Buzurg-Ummid?) (1138–1162)

NIZARI ISMAILI IMAMS WHO RULED AT ALAMUT

1. Imam Hasan ‘Ala dhikrihi al-Salam (1162–1166)
2. Imam Ala Muhammad (1166–1210)
3. Imam Jalal al-Din Hasan (1210–1221)
4. Imam ‘Ala al-Din Muhammad (1221–1255)
5. Imam Rukn al-Din Khurshah (1255–1256)


Climbing up-hill on stairs created by scaffoldings. Dr Rajput with Daryush, the car driver. Photo: Ali M. Rajput Collection

Here the great scholarship of the two centuries flourished and one of the celebrated libraries was housed. After an uninterrupted rule of 171 years, a conspiracy of the enemies of both within and without, the Ismailis were compelled to surrender to the barbarian Mongols. It was here that the last Lord of Alamut and the Imam of the Ismailis, Imam Rukn al-Din Khurshah surrendered before Halagu Khan.

It was here that the Mongols violated their own treaty of peaceful existence with the Ismailis. When the Ismailis surrendered all of their castles – over one hundred in number – the Mongols invited all Ismailis including old and young under false pretence and then massacred them all, some 200,000 souls, the other made their escape some how.

“None of those peoples be spared, not even the babe in the cradle,” declared the Mongol edict. According to the testimony of the Mongol historian Juwaini and other contemporary historians it was generally believed that after the fall of Alamut, the Ismailis were completely wiped out from their usual habitat.

The scaffolding to reach the top of Alamut Castle. Photo: Ali M. Rajput Collection

It does not however, seem to be the case. The evidence available from the local histories of Gilan and Daylaman and also the examination of the Ginanic literature of the Indian sub-continent, amplifies that Alamut was once again re-occupied by the Ismailis and was the place of residence of the Imam Islam Shah.

The general aerial view of the Alamut Valley from the top of the Castle. Notice the fine road that has been constructed, making it easier to reach the valley. Photo: Ali M. Rajput Collection

The region of Alamut is situated in Daylaman, a province of northern Iran, south of the Caspian Sea. Pir Sahib al-Din and his successor son, Pir Sadardin whose centre of dawat was situated at Uchch in Sind,  have a number of ginans (devotional songs) attributed to them which speak of  Daylam-Desh, Gar-Alamut and the lofty mountains of the Ismaili kingdom, and also mention the Imam of that age, namely Imam Islam Shah who resided in the castle of Alamut. The Pirs went to pay homage to the Imam of the time. In one of the ginan’s attributed to Sahib al-Din, the Pir says:

For, in the land of Daylam
The great king, my lord has descended
Imam has arrived in the garb of a human being
At the castle of Alamut, the capital of the land of Daylam
You are our lord, the Mahdi,
Lord Islam Shah, the granter of boons
How blessed is the region of Alamut
Where you have established your physical residence

Thus Alamut was only vacated  150 years later in favour of a safer and more convenient place known as Anjudan.

The top of the Castle. Major excavation activities have been underway for the past few years resulting in interesting archaeological discoveries. See notes following this story. Photo: Ali M. Rajput Collection

We had a detailed discussion with the station civil engineer in charge of the project of the excavation of the site. We learnt that the castle of Alamut had been used as a high security prison by the Safawid rulers. These new masters made some changes in its buildings, which have been marked and identified as such. As the excavation of the site nears completion, a clearer picture is beginning to emerge and this valuable information will enrich the Ismaili history of those times. A second similar project will cover the site of the castle of Lamasar, a further 45 kilometres to the North.

Ali Rajput points towards the Castle of Lamasar on the mountain to the left. They could not climb up until some scaffoldings are fixed. Dr. Rajput hopes to make a pilgrimage to this castle, one day! Photo: Ali M. Rajput Collection

Daryush standing beside a road side Government sign-post for the castle of Lamasar (Lambesar). Photo: Ali M. Rajput Collection

This trip to Alamut was one of the most important ones in my life. For those of us in the Jamat who are aware of the Ismaili history of that time, this is indeed a place of pilgrimage full of unforgettable traditions and rich heritage.

To me every stone of Alamut tells us a story and indeed is very sacred in my eyes.

Publication date: November 25, 2010.

© Simerg.com

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Editor’s Notes:

Former Statistics Professor, now 86, is devoting his life for service to the Jamat

Writer’s brief profile: Since retiring from University teaching in Birmingham as Professor of Mathematical Statistics, Dr. Ali Rajput has devoted his life to a better understanding of his faith and serving the Ismaili community. In 1991, the current 49th Ismaili Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, asked him to visit his headquarters in Aiglemont, where Dr. Rajput was assigned to go on a mission to Tajikistan in March, 1991. Ever since that time he has been in the service of the people of Badakhshan, where he spends his summer working as Professor Emeritus at the University of Khorog. He spends the remainder time in Birmingham, England.

His other contributions on this Web site are:

(1) Yakimour 1954: A Golden Moment for an Aspiring Student – An Audience with the 48th Ismaili Imam, Aga Khan III
and (2) A Unique Moment in the Life of the Punjab Jamat (as part of I Wish I’d Been There series; it includes Dr. Rajput’s detailed profile).

Please visit the Simerg Home page for links to articles posted most recently. For links to articles posted on this Web site since its launch in March 2009, please click What’s New. Sign-up for blog subscription at top right of this page.

NEW ARCHAEOLOGICAL FINDINGS AND PROFESSOR RAJPUT’S VIEWS ON NASIREDDIN TUSI

1. Recent archeological excavations at Iran’s Alamut fortress have yielded food storage rooms and water reservoirs in the northwestern historical site. Archeologists found a number of storage rooms on the west side of the fortress, which show that residents of the site made good use of their rocky habitation.

According to Head of the Alamut Research Center Hamideh Choubak, a number of stairs were also found which experts believe were used to reach the food storage.

Also, the archeologists found some windows which they realized had not been used for scouting to protect anything. These windows open to the Southeast, that is the direction that stars first come into sight according to Chobak. She notes, “These three windows that come in certain distances from each other have been used by Nasireddin Tusi for observing the stars. A comparison of the Alamut Castle with Maragheh observatory discloses Tusi had constructed and modeled the famous Maragheh observatory after the Alamut observatory.”

2. With regard to the subsequent role of Tusi and the fall of Alamut, Dr. Ali Rajput says: “The tragedythat fell upon the Ismailis, I blame it squarely upon Tusi, who served as Prime Minister of the State during the time of Imam ‘Ala al-Din Muhammad (see A Brief History of Ismailism by Abuali Aziz, 1974). Circumstantial evidence strongly points to the fact that he played a double edged game with his Imam. Otherwise the fidais were united and ready to lay their lives fighting rather than being slaughterred in a massacre which followed.”

17 thoughts on “My Climb to ‘Sacred’ Alamut, Where Every Stone Tells a Story

  1. A very important article that shows the history of a Muslim hero, who defended and fought the Crusaders. Dr. Rajput is to be congratulated for the story about his Alamut climb.

  2. Great Job Dear Alimohamed! Inshaalah, you are full of energy and one day would be able to go and visit the castle of Lamasar!

  3. Very good and informative articles with photos of historical places. We are learning more about the Ismaili faith through the information we get from the Web site.

  4. Congratulations to you Dr. Rajput and your son Karim for visiting the historical site of Alamut Castle.

    Amir Ali Babul, Karachi, Pakistan
    Formerly of Tanga, Tanzania

  5. Dear Dr. Rajput,

    I have been to Alamut once when I was only 20. I do remember being overwhelmed by the immense power that is emanating from this castle. Nevertheless, your insightful travel account has convinced me to go back to Alamut once again and try to reflect on what I have missed in this journey.

    Thank you

    Hamed, Iran

  6. Mubarak!!! It is an honor for me that I heard this episode personally from you in Khorog, Tajikistan. Your gatherings with us were always inspiring. Wishing you and your family good health and happiness.

  7. Mubaraki to Dr. Rajput and his son for making the journey to this site of magnificence and for sharing their experience with us. I truly laud the courage of Dr. Rajput and pray that Mawla grant him courage and opportunity to continue serving his Jamat always!

    Also I had a query and was wondering if Dr. Rajput or anyone else could answer me. The notes above while describing the role of al-Tusi in the fall of Alamut describe him as the first minister of state. Kindly identify the historic reference for this matter if possible.

  8. Dear Dr. Rajput,

    No doubt every Ismaili Mureed of the Imam would love to visit this place and stand on the ground of the Great Alamut as you did.

    One sentence of the article that really touched my heart and soul was the sincerity and loyality in the service of the Imam during that time. I think that if each one of us realises that and applies it daily in our work and service we are very capable of building a new Alamut. My suggestion is that we explore the FORT within us, and do the needful to contribute most sincerely and meaningfully in the service of the Imam and the Jamat.

    We are indeed fortunate that the nass made by Prophet Muhmmad at Ghadir Khumm has enabled us to be where we are today, under the loving care and guidance of Mawlana Hazar Imam. We are spread out in so many countries of the world.

    These are immense blessings and Dua we have from the Imam of the Time who guides us through thick and thin.

    Engineer Baig Ali Toojik
    Islamabad, Pakistan

  9. My heartiest Muraraki to Dr. Rajput and his son. I myself also have that same feeling of making a pilgrimage to Alamut. While reading this article, one of my old friends now residing in Philippines said there are lots of Iranian Ismailis students in Philippines. At least you have visited Iran and found out more about their lives in Iran.

  10. My personal Mubaraki to our old friend Dr. Rajput and his son. That is the kind of venture I have often dreamt of and indeed planned it some five years ago. But was disuaded by the then political situation.

    Wonderful to have him do it as he also has the advantage of knowing the language and customs. Age did not deter him at all.

    May you continue to contribute to the Ismaili knowldge and let your son take up and continue in the same way.

  11. Excellent article!I enjoyed every moment of your journey to Alamut, Dr Ali Rajput. Thank you for taking me there.

    Thank you Malik for this wonderful and informative site.

    Bless you both.

    With Ya Ali Madad,
    Shamim.

  12. Mubarak Dr. Rajput and our family friend Karim for making a pilgrimage to Alamut. While reading this article on your journey, I also felt traveling with you to the Ismaili Castle of Alamut.

    Thank you for this feeling, and sharing these kinds of memories assisted us to understand our history better.

    Muhayo, from Tajikistan

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