By Muslim and Nevin Harji
Editor’s note: Muslim and Nevin Harji of Montreal, PQ, Canada, visited Iran for a period of 4 weeks in October 2011. A magnificent collection of photos portraying the people and foods of Iran appeared in the first instalment of this series. The Harjis summarized their unforgettable journey as follows:
“There are no words to describe the hospitality, kindness, love and gentleness of the Iranian people. So far we have ventured into over forty countries, but never have we experienced such generosity. Our bodies may be back in Montreal, but Iranian hospitality has stolen our hearts which are probably somewhere either in Esfahan or Shiraz.”
After a few days in Tehran, a metropolis of 16 million people, the Harjis ventured up North into the Alborz Mountain range, and spent sometime at the quaint village of Ghazor Khan, which is at the base of the historic Alamut Castle. They then trekked their way to the ruins of the fort. A collection of photos from their visit to Alamut is produced on this page. Alamut remained a Nizari Ismaili stronghold for almost 170 years from 1090 and 1256 AC. The resilient Ismailis finally surrendered to the brutal Mongols, who had issued an edict with the chilling words, “none of that people should be spared, not even the babe in its cradle.”
At the editor’s request, the Harji’s have made a high resolution image of the panoramic photo (top photo) available for browsing. This is quite an astonishing image and you are invited to click on the link to the large format immediately following the article.
THE WINDING ROAD
Alamut lies at the end of a tortured, winding road that twists and turns over three mountain ridges, countless valleys and across some of the wildest and most spectacular scenery in all Iran. No one comes here by accident. The 80kms journey from Qazvin takes some three hours of hard driving on a modern road that is only a few decades old. Before that, all that existed was a narrow donkey track to lead the traveller to his destination, a journey that could last days, and sometimes weeks.
At the foot of the mountain on its western side lies the little village of Ghazor Khan, nestled among orchards of pretty cherry trees. From this position, the rock appears as a slim, rugged pyramid.
THE ROCK OF ALAMUT
It is not until you come to the foot of this colossal mass of stone that you realize the immensity and impregnability of the fortress at its summit. Bigger than anything else in the world it seems, this rock is deeply scarred by grooves and curious striations that change colour with the quality of the light: now purple, now mauve, metallic grey, brown. You could almost believe this mass of rock was breathing like an immense, sleeping organism.
The ascent begins with 800 stone steps recently constructed for the benefit of visitors. Thereafter the path dwindles to a narrow goat track that winds its way laboriously around the northern side of the rock to its eastern side.
Local village boys also offer donkey rides up part of the track, but the Harjis declined the offer.
The fortress itself clings impossibly to the summit of a gigantic boulder set against the high peaks of the Hawdeqan Mountains. The hills around it are folded in delicate shades of pastel green or lavender, pinkish in some places, terra cotta in others. Ochres and browns are streaked in wide brush strokes across the landscape. It is a truly beautiful place.
Under the leadership of Hasan Bin Sabbah, Alamut became the site of intense activity for the Shia Nizari Ismaili Muslims between 1090 and 1256 AC. During the medieval period, the castle functioned as the major stronghold of the Nizari Ismaili state. In 1256, Ismaili control of the fortress was lost to the invading Mongols and its famous library holdings were destroyed when the castle’s library was condemned to be burned by Ata-Malik Juwayni, a servant of the Mongol court.
AT THE SUMMIT
Attaining the summit is a breath-taking and exhilarating experience. The fortress complex, one soon discovers, sits astride a dangerously narrow ledge of rock resembling the handle and blade of a knife.
EXCAVATION EFFORTS AND FASCINATING DISCOVERIES AT ALAMUT
THE PRAYER HALL
Recent archeological excavations at Iran’s Alamut fortress have yielded food storage rooms and water reservoirs in the northwestern historical site as well as a prayer hall.
In one of the rooms at Alamut, can be seen the legendary water basin which filled itself up by collecting rainwater and melting snow from channels and canals on the mountains. It was famed never to overflow. Other rooms were clearly intended for storage, perhaps once filled with barley, honey, oil, dried fruit and sheep fat to enable the citadel to hold out during a siege for years if need be. Legend has it that during the castle’s conquest and destruction by the Mongols, an invading soldier is reported to have fallen into one of these tanks and drowned in a vat of honey!
Today, as noted in the last caption, Alamut is being carefully excavated under the watchful eyes of experts from the University of Tehran. The eleventh season of archaeological excavations in the Alamut Castle for removing the detritions of tank water that is located northwest of the Cape began a few months ago.
Date posted: Sunday, February 26, 2012
Next (Week of March 5, 2012): The Treasures of Iran
© Copyright: Muslim/Nevin Harji, February 2012.
Please read previous instalment – Photo Essay: Iran Through a Canadian Lens
Editor’s note: In compiling the text for the above piece, the authors made extensive use of Ryszard Antolak’s 2010 article “Journey to Alamut” which can be read at the following links:
About the writers: Nevin and Muslim Harji live happily in Montreal, where, over the last 35 years, they have raised two children and run a successful business. Upon retirement in 2004, Muslim and Nevin truly started to explore the world. All told, together and individually, they have visited more than 40 countries around the globe, experiencing the beauty of the Middle East, the exoticism of Asia and the wonders of South America. Kayaking the Magellan Straights, exploring Palmyra by camel, hiking up to Alamut Fort in Iran or travelling by overnight train in India, Nevin and Muslim have always favoured unique ways of experiencing the countries they visit and plan to continue fostering their love for travelling the world.
Alamut panoramic photo – high resolution (5MB). For personal use only. All photos are © Copyright: Muslim/Nevin Harji.
Related must read articles on this website:
My Climb to ‘Sacred’ Alamut, Where Every Stone Tells a Story by Ali M. Rajput
Voices: Unravelling the Dark History of the Medieval Ismaili Community being a review by Valerie Gonzalez of Professor Peter Willey’s “Eagle’s Nest”
“Hashish Assassin” – Pulling Back the Silk Curtain by Dr. Karl S. Kruszelnicki
The following appeared in Simerg’s highly acclaimed series I Wish I’d Been There:
The Eid-i Qiyama! by by Jalaledin Ebrahim
The Great Resurrection by Khalil Andani
Khawja Nasir Tusi’s Tales by Arif Babul
A Fida’i Mission: Into Saladin’s Tent by by Shazia’Ayn and Aliya-Nur Babul
Inferno of Alamut by Shariffa Keshavjee
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