By afternoon the morning sickness faded, miraculously cured by a grand lunch of Caspian Sea fish with rice and yoghurt whipped up by a Rashti roadhouse chef. Now feeling more chummy towards the two Ali’s, I agreed we’d never make it to Azerbaijan before dark and was persuaded to detour inland in the direction of South Gilan Province. Ahmed Ali knew an ancient village below Mount Talesh that was worthy of a visit, so we cranked the V.W. steering wheel sharp left and headed towards the “staircase village”, the music of Shajarian blasting out from the cassette player, damning any Revolutionary Guard to stop us.The air smelt great; orange blossoms, damp woods and cow pats from the lush meadows and forest around the Caspian shoreline (called “jangal” in Farsi, the origin of our English word jungle).
After chugging up a soaked, pot holed road for a couple of hours, Masuleh suddenly revealed itself, a village carved into the mountain-side. Glimpses of jagged stone dwellings peeped out behind veils of heavy spring mist. Ahmed Ali told us the place had been populated for at least 1,300 years by dairy farmers and shepherds; their fetta cheese reputed to be the best in the North.
Daylight was fading fast, and small boys gave us only the briefest sideways “chap chap” glances as they hurried to get their goats, sheep and calves into mud-brick grottos for the night. Everything was cold and damp. Peering longingly into the first chai shop we came across, I saw a bunch of old guys lazily drawing on hookahs, defying me to enter their boys only sanctuary. Wandering off alone in search of tea and toilets, stumbling across gravelled lanes, I climbed higher into the belly of the mountain, and was suddenly hit with the realisation that the roads were actually the roofs of houses.
Akbar Ali popped out of the fog, full of excitement. A local had spotted my unusually large belly, taken pity on her fellow sister, and invited us all to be her guests. Of course I jumped at the chance to feel the warmth of the samovar and charcoal fire in a real homely tea house.
Although there was much brutality and darkness during those early months of the Revolution, the spirit of the Iranian people shone through, and I was fortunate to witness and absorb some of this old and deep culture.
Listen here to the great Mohammad Reza Shajarian ~ his passing in October 2020 was a very sad event for all lovers of Iranian traditional music.