We meet at 8 p.m. in Tehran, at the always crowded Âzadi terminal, at night we arrive at Qazvin. The city has just recovered from the daytime lethargy of Ramadan, it pulsates lively, as if we were in Rome, taxis glide, multi-person motorbikes zigzag in search of restaurants. We sit in a popular fried chicken place, elegance on the top, with American fast-food ambience and waiters in French uniforms, on the ground floor a goldfish pool with languid turtles nodding. In contrast to their relatives in China, they are safe, turtle meat is not halal.
At three in the night at the highway toll gate of Qazvin, waiting for the others who left Isfahan in the afternoon. A huge crowd, the Ramadan fast ends tomorrow, a four-day holiday is coming, the whole of Iran is setting out for somewhere. We lay a carpet on the asphalt of the hard shoulder, boiling tea with a gas burner, eating cakes.
I wake up at dawn in the bus, a dizzying depth to the right, the canyon of Qezel Ozan river, as it cuts through the golden-colored mountains of the Afshari nomads. Softly curving hill ridges shine in the light of the rising sun, colorful geological layers are revealed on the barren hillsides in the wake of the river’s scalpel. Chessboards of arable land, spare fields of grass, with the signt posts of a few lone trees. In the distance, a majestic snow-capped mountain ridge, the Savalan, Iran’s third highest peak.
At sunset we reach the base camp, at three thousand eight hundred meters above sea level, at the foot of Savalan. We set up the tents, during the first night we must get used to the altitude, the thin air. Strong-smelling flowers bloom in the protection of the bizarre boulders of the volcanic mountain side, mountain lavender, sage, anemone. In the distance, somewhere deep, the village of Alvâresi, where we parked the bus. Narrow glacial streams run down to the valley. Below us, all around on the lunar plains, the yurts and flocks of the Shahsavan nomads.
After sunset, the air becomes cold and heavy, clouds leak in between the mountains, they coalesce, envelop the valley.
At four in the morning, a winding line of tiny points of light is weaving on the dark mountain side, up towards the crater of Savalan. We make tea, break down the tents, and set out on the path, groping our way among the rocks. The hillsides around us slowly unfold from the darkness, the distant peaks as lonely islands rise out of the thick clouds covering the valley.
We are not alone. Lots of little eyes follow our way. The Persians nibble an amazing amount, and they nevertheless remain slim, which is not fair. Many crumbs fall on the path, and it quickly find new owners. The climbing route gives food to hundreds of birds and rodents, who are more afraid of their rivals than of us, so they follow closely behind.
At four thousand seven hundred meters, just before the peak, a snow shower strikes us. The snow and icy rain penetrate into the smallest gap, so I need to pack away the camera. Had Hassan not asked me to take a photo of him in the snowfall, I would have no document of it at all.
By the time we reach the crater lake of the peak Savalan Sultan at 4811 meters above sea level, the storm stops. We have no time to climb the hillside and take photos of the lake from there, because by dusk we have to cover the one-thousand-meter of altitude difference in reverse. We celebrate on the shore, mashallah guru, long live the team, we shout, we brew tea from the water of the glacier lake.
The road back is in no way easier, the rocks are slick with snow. We are perhaps two hundred meters lower, when a frightening crash is heard from the other side of the ridge. An avalanche of rocks. We stop, we try to put together what we observed before, from above in the valley. We hope neither climbers, nor nomadic shepherds were now on that side.