Damavand volcano is a majestic stratovolcano located 70 km NE of Tehran and 70 km south of the Caspian Sea. Mt Damavand is the highest peak in the Middle East and the second highest volcano in Asia (after Kunlun volcano in Tibet).
Damavand last erupted about 7,300 years ago. There are no historical eruptions, but fumaroles at the summit crater suggest that the volcano is still active.

Damavand is located on the tectonically active thrust and fold belt of the Alborz Mountains.
It is a massive stratovolcano with a volume of about 400 cubic kilometers and consists of a younger cone that was constructed during the past 600,000 years above an older, 1.78 million years old edifice, remnants of which were previously thought to be part of a caldera.
Damavand has only few flank vents. Most activity has been from the summit crater, which has erupted a series of radial lava flows, mostly of trachyandesite composition. Most eruptions of Damavand seen to have been effusive, and only one significant explosive deposit is known, a welded ignimbrite that was produced about 280,000 years ago.
The latest activity occurred about 7300 years ago and produced lava flows from the summit crater that cover the western flank.

Damavand

Damavand, the oldest mountain ever been climbed, is world’s mountaineering heritage.

 

Looming high above the wind-scoured steppes of the Alborz Mountains – the crescent range that divides the Great Salt Desert from the fertile Caspian coast – Damavand’s dimensions make a mockery of its limited renown outside its homeland. Based on its summit’s most widely cited height of 5,671m, this is the highest point in Eurasia west of the Hindu Kush. It’s also the highest volcano in Asia, and it’s this aspect of its physiology that lends Damavand its near-symmetrical lines, the graceful form of a stratovolcano that has lain dormant for 10,000 years.

But the thing that had struck me most that first day on the mountain, wending up the vague mule-trails on its north-eastern flank, was how much it transfixed the eye. Though surrounded by lesser peaks in every direction, Damavand still cut an aloof and imperious figure. We’d come here to bag a peak, and found ourselves on a pilgrimage to a country’s geographical heart.

As dusk fell, a cloud inversion filled up the northern valleys like a tidal surge, blanketing the lowlands to leave behind an archipelago of mountaintops nudging above a rolling purple ocean. Every ten minutes the clouds’ tendrils clawed up the slope and lapped at our feet.

The only direction left to look was up. After a fitful night, we broke camp with the dawn, each lamenting the thin air and lack of sleep. Damavand’s broad topography means that the journey to its summit starts high, and night one had been spent at the already heady altitude of 3,800m.

Mercifully, our second day’s trek was a short one, spent engulfed in a mist of condensation that filtered out the scorch of the sun. we climbed over ground covered in hardy, dew-soaked flowers, flourishing in soils made fecund by the ashy deposits of ancient eruptions. Three hours’ march took us to the ice-line at a translucent slick the shape of an inverted teardrop. We stopped to replenish empty water bottles from the glacial run-off, while the guides grumbled about wider issues down on the plains.

“On the north side, the Siyouleh Glacier used to stretch all the way down to 4,000m; now it finishes 600m higher up the mountain,”

As we shivered over this forlorn remnant of Damavand’s colder past the country below was feeling the burn.

 

damavand foothills

Damavand, this unique beauty is located south of Caspian Sea. It is 5610 meters high and quite visible from southern Caspian Sea shores.

 

A little past midday, above a cruddy slope of light brown pumice, the base camp hut came into view, looking like a miniature aircraft-hanger around 10m long by 4m wide, its semi-cylindrical roof striped orange and blue. Inside we found a shrine to past expeditions. The gloomy room reeked with the musty smell of anxious nights, while all over the bare-brick walls and sheet-steel ceiling, swirls of Persian graffiti – Islamic invocations and summit posts – reflected the human tendency to leave a mark where humans seldom tread.

We unfurled our sleeping bags on a dirty wooden platform, strewn with woven plastic sheets and discarded pistachio husks, and chugged down some sugar-laden tea. The plan for the afternoon was to ascend ‘Himalayan style’, ditching our gear in the hut and then trekking up to 4,900m or so to accustomise lungs to the lofty altitude, before heading back down for supper and sleep.

Lightning darkens the mood

The weather ignored the script of course. Bound by the Englishman’s congenital over-excitement at the sight of weather that’s not drizzle, we scampered outside when the snow started tumbling out of the firmament in heavy, thumb-sized dollops. But this was only a prelude to something more sinister, its coming heralded by a thunderclap of biblical fury and a fizz in the air that crackled in our ears: lightning hunting for a salient point to strike.

So much for Himalayan style. For the next four hours we were confined indoors while a scything wind consumed the shelter, jeering us as it rattled the opaque Perspex windows.

At 6.30pm, as the light began to fade, quiet finally returned to the mountainside. Their tantrum exhausted, the clouds fled downhill like a sheet being drawn back to reveal a whole new mountain: starkly placid and dressed in two inches of snow. On the craggy promontory that overshadowed the hut, we submitted offerings to a 2m-high, meticulously crafted rectangular cairn in thanks for the turn in providence, and gritted our teeth against the biting chill.

The scene below – a replay of last night’s surreal cloudscape – was suitably magical, for this was a mountain swathed in myth. In the Shahnameh, the poet Ferdowsi’s epic 11th-century distillation of Persian folklore, this region was the scene of a showdown between the hero Fereydun and Zahhak, a tyrant king said to have fed his pet serpents on his subjects’ brains.

Confronting his nemesis on the slopes of Damavand, Fereydun smote Zahhak with his ox-head mace, imprisoned him within the mountain and usurped the crown. His benevolent rule lasted for 500 years.

In the centuries since, the spectacular ridge on which we stood, and which delineates much of the north-east route from here on up, has come to be known as the Takht-e Fereydun – Fereydun’s throne. Zahhak, meanwhile, remains trapped in the earth that lay beneath our feet, his vengeful rages expressed in the sulphurous billows that belch daily from the summit crater.

with the sun rising at our backs, we set off up the spine of the ridge, eyes squinting in the direction of the summit – from here a blazing white dome, defiant and still impossibly remote, framed against an auspicious cobalt sky.

With boots crunching through snow hardened by the night winds, I reassured myself with the knowledge that we were embarking on the business end of what is a relatively uncomplicated climb. “Basically a walk-up,” one website had declared reassuringly as I researched the trip from the comfort of sea level. “Technically easy and physically moderate.”

As long ago as 1837 it had proved straightforward enough for the English explorer W Taylor Thomson to achieve the first recognized ascent, no doubt attired in tweed and probably taking pot-shots at the Asiatic wolves and black bears, now so rare in the region, with his musket.

damavand peak

It is 5610 meters high and quite visible from southern Caspian Sea shores. it was listed as the Iran’s first natural heritage and preserved as national natural monument.

 

Braving the elements

But I also knew that we had been unlucky with yesterday’s sudden squall. The previous evening, Mohammad, who likes to quantify things, had conceded that Damavand snow showers only occur about 15% of the time in the summer months, and that the snow cover was likely to make the climb around 25% more difficult than it would be otherwise. How much harder could things get, I pondered nervously, if the elements turned again?

The digital display on Nasir’s GPS flickered past 5,000m, and we stopped to take stock of rapidly deteriorating conditions. This morning’s plucky breeze had become a biting gale, while an angry carpet of slate-colored cumulus was working its way up the slope to the east, threatening to converge with the wispy penumbra coalescing about the summit. The icy wind had left my extremities numb, and I couldn’t help but recall images of frostbite victims from the Everest disaster book in my luggage, a regrettable choice of holiday reading.

Taking on this mountain means dueling with its fickle winds. Like other prominent peaks around the world, Damavand has a weather system all of its own: hot air blowing up from Iran’s parched interior bombards the mountain’s southern flank, yielding storms that are sudden, unpredictable and capable of quashing the ambitions of the most seasoned summiteer.

In the early 1970s, the man widely considered the greatest alpinist in history, Reinhold Messner, learned this lesson the hard way when a storm swept in and sabotaged his summit bid. Henceforth, Messner, whose normal playground is the death-zone of the Himalaya, would describe Damavand as “that little hill that defeated me”.

Determined to outdo the great Tyrolean but far from sharing the “little” sentiment, our single file trundled on, heads bowed in submission to the eye-watering headwind. (Later, recuperating in a Tehran café, we calculated our average speed on the way up: 1.2km/h.)

At 5,400m we were within touching distance of ‘the gate’, a gap between two rocky outcrops, like a half-finished barricade, through which lay our goal. Cheered by its apparent proximity we urged Nasir onwards. “Ten minutes from here,” said the indefatigable Azerbaijani, fibbing brazenly in a last-gasp attempt to raise our spirits – it turned out to be more like 40.

Smell to high heaven

Eventually, at a little before noon, we clambered onto the roof of the Middle East, a barren plateau festooned with ugly, Sulphur-yellowed stones. It seemed a slightly anti-climactic end; enveloped in cloud, we had no sweeping views of the land below and no fresh mountain air.

Instead, an acrid smoke contaminated each breath, as fumaroles within the snow-covered crater – the reason behind the rocks’ jaundiced coloration – pumped out a noxious brew of gases from the center of the earth. The stench served as a reminder of Damavand’s earthly purpose: a pressure-valve built by nature to relieve the earth-shuddering friction at the conjunction of the Arabian and Eurasian plates.

Even so, at 5,650m, we congratulated ourselves at being the highest earthbound people for thousands of miles around. To find humans suffering at higher altitudes you would have had to travel east to the Pamirs, west to the Rockies, and south to Kilimanjaro.

In a fit of clarity that belied my exhaustion, it struck me then that Damavand was indeed an appropriate symbol of the multifarious melting-pot that is modern Iran. Heightened over millennia by the eruption of successive layers of lava, this is a mountain borne of ferment and upheaval. Like the country in which it resides, a hostile reputation had disguised a place that was magnificent to behold and engrossing to explore.

For now, it merely slumbered, a sleeping giant waiting to be discovered.

damavand volcano

The steepest volcanic mountain, Mythical Damavand peak, deserves to be hiked more than 20 times from different faces.

Iran-tea

Tea first reached Iran by caravans traveling the Silk Road 450 years before the modern Christian era. Residents were largely coffee drinkers until the seventeenth century but now consume four times the world average for tea.

The beverage is served hot at almost all social occasions and family gatherings.

Every morning, in houses all over Iran, a gas burner flickers to life under a kettle that will continue to boil all day. It boils through morning prayers, lunches of rice and kebabs, afternoon conversation and late into the evening meal, sustaining talk of politics, gossip and news well into the night.

The kettle contains tea, one of the most important cornerstones of Iranian culture, and the tea house is its centuries-old keeper.

culture

culture

 

Tea production is a major industry in the Caspian Sea area and a large part of its economy. Before 1900, there was no tea production in Iran, but in 1895, an Iranian diplomat named Kashef Al Saltaneh decided to change that.

At the time the English had a strict monopoly of tea production in India, with rigid rules against non-Europeans engaging in this trade. Kashef Al Saltaneh, who had studied in Paris as a young man and was fluent in French, went to India, posed as a French businessman, learned the trade and smuggled some tea saplings and seeds to Iran.

lwjxLXeV_Ethnology

After six years of experimentation, he introduced his first product to the market, and started the industry that revolutionalized the economy of two northern states, Gilan and Mazandaran, and made Iranians avid tea drinkers.

He is known today as the father of Iranian Tea, and his mausoleum, in the city of Lahijan, houses the tea museum.

kashefolsaltane

Further reading reveals that Kashef Al Saltaneh’s other honorable titles include Prince Mohammad Mirza, Iranian ambassador to India, and first mayor of Tehran.  Moreover, the stash that commenced the tea plantation might have actually been 3,000 saplings!

Tea houses, or chaikhanehs, have been in existence since the Persian Empire. They gained prominence after the 15th century, when coffee was abandoned in favour of tea leaves that were easier to come by through China’s Silk Road.

Though once the purview of men, chaikhanehs have increasingly become frequented by all members of society, and especially by Iran’s large youth population.

kerman tea house by travfotos

Iranian tea comes in a variety of subtle flavours, but its defining characteristic is its deep reddish-brown colour, which tea-drinkers can choose to dilute with water depending on their preference. Despite its cultivation in the country’s northern provinces, other teas from Sri Lanka and India are also widely consumed as the country imports a majority of its tea in order to meet the large demand.

tea-party

 

Most chaikhanehs will serve tea on the stronger side unless otherwise indicated by the drinker. The stronger the tea, the higher the concentration of tannin and caffeine, so a good cup of tea is like a good cup of coffee for those who take it straight. Because of its bitterness, many prefer to have sugar with their tea. The traditional way to do this is to take a sugar cube and place it between your teeth. You then sip the tea and allow the sugar to melt. Iranians, especially in colder regions of the country, find this a convenient way to drink multiple cups. Crystal, or rock sugar, can be found throughout the country and bought in spice shops for this specific purpose.

 

The taking of tea is a ritual unto itself: most meetings or formal occasions will begin with the offering of tea, and most meals will end with it. Some chaikhanehs have takhts, or low-rise platforms covered in rugs and pillows that you may recline on. Remove your shoes before doing so; most meals are served on a tablecloth laid at your feet.

Traditionally, tea is served from a samovar, a heating vessel originally imported into Persia from Russia. Literally meaning “self-boiler”, the samovar is used to keep water hot for prolonged periods of time through a fuel-filled pipe in the middle of the structure that heats the contents surrounding it. Made from copper, brass, silver or gold, the samovar is still used throughout Russia, central Asia and Iran, and ornate versions from the -Qajar dynasty may still be found in use.

Chaikhanehs come in all shapes and forms, from the simple kitchen-turned-tea room in villages to ornate venues in urban centres, and from underground venues to popular tourist destinations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Azari Tea House in Tehran is one of the most famous chaikhanehs known to tourists and locals, with its detailed architecture and traditional decoration. In existence since the 14th century, this chaikhaneh on Vali Asr street contains one of the more interesting embellishments to emerge from tea house culture: teahouse painting.