A story about the Chalus Road in Iran. A tribute to the much-loved road that connects Karaj to Chalus. And about the ability to make new friends, wherever you go! Including tips, and practical information to plan your own inspiring Chalus Road trip.
The road is calling
Over time, many people had told me already; ‘Go see the Chalus Road! It’s one of the most beautiful roads in Iran. Crossing the Alborz mountain range’ Autumn was slowly passing and, after weeks of breathing Tehran’s heavy, polluted air, my lungs felt weak. And in an urgency to leave the city.
Months already I ignored my desire for the mountains. To travel north, where leafy trees, montane forests, mountain ridges, and water bodies are exuberant didn’t seem like a bad idea now. In fact, it was the last moment to enjoy the north comfortably, before the winter would set in.
‘Are you coming with me?’ I asked Amir, my loved one. But I already knew that he wouldn’t be able to make time. ‘I’ll go alone then’ I continued firmly. Determined to follow my heart and to make this trip happen, my small backpack was ready within an hour. All set for the bus station the first thing in the morning.
‘Try to stay awake. The Chalus road is very dangerous but has good views’ Amir kissed me on the cheek. Followed by a short goodbye I was on my own again. Facing my new solo-adventure from the comfortable intercity bus to Ramsar. Ready for new, meaningful adventures in Iran.
Solo, but not solo
All settled, it took about two minutes before I met my companions for this trip; Meghna and Siddharth from India sat right across me. ‘Are you traveling solo in Iran?!’ they asked curiously. And ‘What are you doing in Iran?!’ Although I barely got any sleep last night, I replied surprisingly energetic; ‘I’m currently living and traveling in Iran. Sometimes solo, sometimes as a couple or with friends. What about yourselves?’ ‘We have just moved to Iran for work. And are on a short trip to the north of Iran. We’ve heard good stories about the Chalus road’ ‘Excellent!’ Excited about today’s journey we kept talking and exchanging information with each other. Sharing details about ourselves, Iran and other experiences abroad. The energy, and amount of interaction that comes with traveling solo, as well as the ability to make friends easily, still amazes me from time to time.
Chalus road, what will you bring us?!
From Tehran, the conversations up to Karaj kept me awake for the first part of the journey. And just as I was about to relax for a little while, the Chalus road started and a whole new energy took over. A child-like excitement grew as the paved road narrowed and high, dry mountains took over. Until we were completely surrounded by nature. With only the road ahead of us. Gazing at the rock-walls besides me, a translucent moon came in view, perfectly balancing above the ridgeline. Given that this happened a little after midday, against a bright blue sky, I felt blessed with this view immediately. Nature never fails to amaze me.
Driving along the Karaj River, colorful valleys popped up when we entered the Adaran Rural District. Trees in dark green, bright red, lightning yellow and deep orange bring an explosion of color. Together with the glistering, bright blue river, and just a few smoky clouds rolling over greyish mountains in the distance, they look like little pieces of heaven. I can already picture myself there, exploring and walking around, but the bus continues. Slowly climbing to higher altitude.
At around 1600 meters above sea level, only 23 kilometers north of Karaj, the impressive waterbody of the Amir Kabir Dam Lake appeared after a bend in the road. Her majestic, calm turquoise watercolored the foot of the Varian Gorge. And also a first glimpse of the first snowcapped mountains came into sight. The dam is a popular tourist stop, but also here the bus kept driving. And even before I could fully capture the surroundings, we entered a long tunnel. One high, snowy pass later, we finally had a short break.
Jump from excitement
While most people went on with the usual business; using the toilet, getting some food or a drink, I couldn’t wait to run down to the river. After all that sparkle and jaw-dropping scenery, my hands craved to touch the water and the colorful trees. Or to even feel the earth cracking under my feet. So when the opportunity presented itself, I took a deep breath of fresh mountain air, and almost ran to find a quick way down. Yet, after facing one fence after another, I had to give up on this soon. A little let down I joined Meghna and Siddharth inside a small eatery, to escape the cool outside temperatures. Warming up with hot tea, a melody popped up in my mind ‘the mountains are waiting, be sure that I come’
Back on the bus, we were instructed to fasten our seatbelt. And for a reason; from now on, the road became increasingly winding. Driving all the way up to the Kandovan tunnel at 2863 meter high, the scenery slowly changed. Most trees had lost their color and only soft, earthy tones prevailed. Small, light-grey clouds drifted over the mountains at eye-level. Moving like smoke from an invisible fire.
When more and more snow came to view, it lifted me and my new friends to another high. ‘Look there!’ Siddarth shouted ecstatically. Almost jumping from excitement. ‘Quick you’re missing it!’ Pointing at yet another mind-blowing view.
At its peak, cozy, roadside restaurants appeared at the Kandovan pass. Most rooftops with a characteristic red color. Serving a variety of local food, including Ash -a much loved thick soup- dough, -a mildly salted yogurt drink,- and kebabs, it’s a favored stop for many. And the last option to rest and eat, before continuing the Chalus Road to the 1884 meter long tunnel.
Entering a new world
Time ticked away as we slowly moved between the arch-shaped walls of the underground passage. Until finally light brought us back to the surface. And a new world seemed to unfold in front of my eyes. Under a bright blue sky, the sun warmed my face through the window, while I stared wonderstruck at the depths of the valley below. Dry, snowy mountains made place for an abundance of lush, green vegetation. As if we’ve suddenly shifted to a more fertile side of life. Additionally, the higher Alborz mountains in the distance stood gloriously. Formidably even, with snow-covered ridges like a long silverish blanket. And long lines of majestically floating clouds above them.
Following a series of exhilarating, steep hairpin bends down, we eventually met the river again. Captivated between hundreds of meters of rock, the driver navigated us through narrow passages. Before large, forested terrain took over, and we eventually left the mountains behind. Nearing the city of Chalus, the road led us to one, last surprise.
Where mountains meet sea; reaching heaven?
Dreaming away along a flourishing green countryside, Siddharth all of a sudden grabbed my attention; ‘Priscilla, look over there, at the horizon!’ From the windscreen, the first views of Chalus came into sight. ‘Do you see it?’ he continued, almost admiringly. ‘Do you see the Caspian Sea?!’ Squinting my eyes to look ahead in the distance, it took a couple of seconds before I noticed the immense body of the blue sea ahead of me. And for the last time today my jaw dropped. Truly captivated by nature’s splendor.
Continuing the road into the direction of Ramsar, it’s the long range of white-capped Alborz mountains on the left, together with the blue-greyish Caspian sea on the right side, that left the impression of having entered heaven. A long line of white clouds, stretching from mountains to sea, seemed to form a large halo around the area. Creating an almost mirror-like illusion, in which the mountains seemed to have disappeared into the Caspian Sea.
Treated to similar views the journey continued for another hour or so. Until we finally got off somewhere along the main road in Ramsar. The time to say goodbye to Maghna and Siddhart came way too soon. But with the shared experience of the Chalus road in mind, I knew we’d stay connected.
Chalus road; the road is the destination
In only a matter of hours, the Chalus road managed to show me all elements in life; from solid earth, in shape of the mountains, to the flowing water in the river below. And from breathing fresh air in a state of freedom to a pure feeling of heavenly blessings. Altogether, igniting a passionate fire in my heart.
Leading along a diversity of nature, the Chalus road has been a celebration of experience. To see the landscape change from concrete city to high rocks, deep valleys, narrow gorges, snowy peaks, and expansive woodlands. And to watch the trees change their colors from the brightest pallet to black-ish and back to even lusher green scenery would be amazing enough on itself. But combined with the mesmerizing view of mountains meeting the sea, it’s one of the most energizing, diverse, spectacular and heavenly roads I’ve ever experienced.
Who would’ve thought it’s possible to reach such a ‘high’ from something so common as an intercity bus journey?! It proves that the Chalus road is not only a road, but a destination in itself. And that one simple journey, can lead to new friends and unexpected worlds. Chalus road, you’ve been a blessing today. Khodahafez, be omide didar (in hopes of seeing you again) Be sure that I come!
Chalus Road, tips and practical information
Use this information to plan your own inspiring Chalus Road journey.
Best travel time
- The Chalus Road is officially named Road 59, and also goes under the name of Kandovan Road. Much-loved amongst Iranians, it’s the most popular route from Tehran and Karaj to the Caspian Sea. In that regard; try to avoid weekends and holidays, as crowds and traffic jams will increase travel time. Under normal conditions, expect around 4-5 hours of travel time.
- Driving through forested area and mountainous landscape, the Chalus road is best to be visited in spring and autumn. When the valleys are blooming and full of color.
Mode of transportation
- Frequent buses depart from Tehran’s West Bus terminal. Tickets can be bought in advance, but also on the spot as you go. Get a window seat in any VIP bus for the most comfortable experience. Although water and snacks are usually provided, it doesn’t harm to bring some extra food if you fancy.
- Self-driving & private transportation; while driving in Iran is challenging on itself already, extra caution has to be taken driving the Chalus road. Drive slowly and moreover, focus at all times. Also, check if you got the right tires on and check the weather before going. Don’t put yourself in unnecessary danger by driving in heavy rain or snow, or extreme weather in general. And stop at designated area’s to rest frequently. Of course, enjoy your trip as well, but do so responsibly. Depending on your driving skills, Renting a car with an experienced driver might be the better option.
Continue your journey
- To Ramsar, where you can soak in natural hot springs, experience life at the Caspian Sea as well as numerous other activities that I’ll write about later. From the Tehran bus terminal there are direct buses to Ramsar, so you don’t need to transit.
- To Rasht. Known as a food destination, the province capital is the place eat your way around the city. Additionally it’s the perfect base to organize day trips from to other places of interest. If you plan to take the Chalus road to reach Rasht directly by bus, make sure to ask for the Chalus road specifically. Usually, buses travel the much faster Rasht- Qazvin road instead. Expect your travel time to double, but the views will make up for that 😉
- Consider your safety. Not only is the Chalus Road one of the most loved and beautiful roads in Iran. It is also renowned as one of the most dangerous ones. So put on your seatbelt and check the weather forecast before you go. Don’t get stuck there in snow and ice.
- Don’t miss the Amir Kabir Dam and lake. From there, take the boat to Varian village if you have time. Additionally, eat Ash at the Kandovan tunnel or lunch, eat or drink in many other places along the road. Stop for photo’s at safe places only, and gaze over all that beauty around you.
Did you visit the Chalus Road?! I’d be more than happy to hear your experiences through the comment section below :D!
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