When you ask a Tehrani what they want to do on the weekend, they say, “Anywhere, but away from a concrete jungle into nature” They have multiple choices to escape Tehran’s rush and air pollution. When we asked our hostel manager Khuyar, he asked us two questions – “How long are you in Tehran, what all have you seen till now”
That was our first day in Tehran. We were back to the hostel after strolling in Baharestan square and sipping some Saffron Chai in a cafe. We were definitely shocked to see how the traffic worked (similar to India, though). When we told this, he replied – You will be in the city all day tomorrow. So I recommend you escape the rush and head to a quieter place like Teleqan dam / Latian dam/ Lavasan or Darband.” Our favourite traveller Rick Steves said he had an amazing time in Darband & He never lies So we had to go to Darband following his footsteps.
Here is your complete guide to Darband for those who want to hide away from the city and go hiking in the pristine riverside town.
Why visit Darband
In Persian, the word Darband means gateway or door to the mountain, and it’s the beginning of a hiking trail to Mount Tochal, which lines the busy-bee Tehran.
This is really a contrast to Tehran – Quieter (it is filled with local tourists still, but the sound of flowing river nullifies human noise). Darband is a beautiful riverside destination for Iranians over weekends. They come here to relax and escape from the traffic and air polluted Tehran. There are lots of cafes lined by the riverside and on the cliff. So if you are looking for a relaxing time for yourself in nature’s lap and are up to light hiking, Darband is a great choice for a day trip. Chai with some puffs of Hookah sitting beside the river on a Persian carpet after the hike is what makes it more exciting. Let’s say you don’t want to hike – The slopy town’s alleys take you around with shops lined with selling Lavashk, Kubideh and Kababs.
Know before you go
- The best season to visit Darband is summer. The river keeps the air cooler, and the views are better. In winter, platforms by the riverside can’t be used for dining because of snowfall. Still, this doesn’t discourage Iranians to get to Darband. The cabins for Hookah were occupied even in January’s snowfall time.
- Best time of the day to visit – The days are beautiful when you can actually see the river and mountains. So if you arrive early when there is still daylight, you can see the place and experience the nightlife once it sunsets – The hotels and cafes get lit brightly and makes it looks like a hub of pubs.
- How many hours to spend here – Some travellers may even make this place a base point to explore Tehran and around. So you can even stay there for two /three days and make day trips to Tehran. I prefer the other way round- staying in Tehran & making a day trip to Darband. If you are hiking to Tochala mountain’s peak, you will need a whole day. Like 4 hours of to&fro hiking, then chilling by the riverside. Then around 2 hours for Hookah and dining.
- How to reach Darband – The nearest metro station is Tajrish. From there, around 500m walk or a shared taxi takes you to the entrance of Darband. Your hotels/hostels can always arrange for a private cab – Usually, the private cab specifies waiting hours like 2 hours along with pickup and drop. Fix the price before you go. Private taxi from Tehran cost around 45 Euros.
- There are no ATMs in Darband. Either you draw money from your Iran’s travel card or carry cash. But the good news is, smallers fruit seller will accept your Iran bank cards too.
The best of Darband in winter – eating Lavashk
On that early evening, we sat on the couch in our hostel & waited if any other travellers wanted to come to Darband with us – The private taxis are expensive. For our bad luck, a group of travellers had left 15 minutes before we asked Khuyar. So, with the dropping temperature and the dark clouds in the sky, Khuyar asked us to take a private cab to avoid getting stuck in the rain.
An elderly man came to pick us up. With a broad smile, he said, welcome to Iran & we said, Mercy & Salaam. The transition was very evident – There was a lot of military presence in Baharestan since it is where the Parliament building is located. The rain & sun kept on playing hide & seek while we were cruising our way through Tehran’s traffic.
As we approached Tajrish, the sun vanished, and we could see snow trickle down from the sky. The uphill road ended at a square & the snowfall was intense. A colossal statue of a mountaineer stood undisturbed by snowfall while we both were shivering about to become numb.
The gorgeous town looked pale – the restaurants on top had turned on the glittering lights. The snowfall didn’t seem to affect Darband’s people. Smoking and sipping Chai, their day looked undisturbed by the weather. Wearing all possible jackets we had carried, we began to walk uphill. The Darband river was flowing at its glory. The trees and plants were getting painted white. The poor flowers bent downwards, not able to bear the weight of the fallen snow. The noon-slipper stoned pavements were lined with plenty of shops where local dried fruits are sold and several cafes and restaurants along the trail – The fruits didn’t look like normal fruits. They were in a glass bowl with some syrup. Finally, the rain decided to have no mercy and began to pour, overtaking snowfall.
A local saw the two struggling tourists and asked us to stand under the roof of his shop. Three strangers talked to each other in a language that the other didn’t understand. He kept saying something that sounded like “Kalyan” (Which means marriage in our Indian language). While we wondered what he was telling, he kept his folded fingers on his leps and blew – Ahhhhh, he was asking us to go do Hookah! He pointed at a hilltop building to which we ran after thanking him.
When we entered that particular restaurant, they warmly welcomed us and kept on saying Kalyan or Dinner! At this moment, we got an idea Kalyan must be the name of Hookah (Shisha). Ultimately, a waiter pointed out a closed cabin with a Hookah and said Kalyan again! Oh yeah, we came to do Kalyan, we said. When e looked at the menu, we understood it wasn’t Kalyan but GALYAN!
Galyan + Nabaat Chai+ Toffees at Koohsar’s private Cabin for 405000 Rials = 3 Euros
.The closed cabin had a heater – it was the need of the hour. The soft, plain red carpet was adorned with regular and triangular pillows. We asked the waiter to get his favourite flavour of Gelyan; he brought Blueberry along with a tray with a kettle of Chai, a yellow candy kind of a thing with some caramel toffees. Looking at those two sticks, sincerely, we asked the waiter what to do with them – Is it like a lollipop to suck on or a candy that we should lick after Galyan. The waiter smilingly poured a Chai into the cup, took the yellow stick, dipped it in Chai and stirred – That is a sugar stick “Nabaat”, which is created by crystallization of sugar with added herbs, particularly saffron.
We could see our immediate cabins through the transparent plastic sheet encircled the cabin. Women in the other cabins happily removed the Hijab and were smoking. It is clearly, a place where moral policing is less and girls are free of their Hijab. The Galyan session continued for more than an hour until it was our time to refill the coal.
The cabin was comfortable with a heater, elevating Galyan and Nabaat Chai. But we decided to walk In the rain /snowfall. The paved walkways were lined with potted plants that were tired of snowfall. The raised platforms by the river remained empty of carpets and low height stool because of rain – That typical Darband dining experience wasn’t happening because of the rain. Most restaurants were vacant, and all owners were standing at the edge calling out fewer tourists like us- Trust me, we may have met around 10 different cafe owners/workers. None of them pestered us to come. Instead, a simple invitation “Come have Kebab with us, Do you want Gelyan, Did you eat Lavask, I sell the best” with a broad smile – When we say no, thank you we already had, they said “no problem, bye Take care, Welcome to Iran” or ask us few questions about our country!
Since we entered the town in the snowy evening, the fruit shops are the ones which looked most interesting. They were neither dry like nuts nor the fresh fruits -There were berries, dates, Kiwis all dipped in syrup inside a bowl – We had to know what it was. So curiously, we chose a random shop. We told the shopkeeper that we may not buy it, but we wanted to taste it (using a translator) – He took out two big lumps with syrup dripping. When it touched our tongue, there was an explosion of flavours. The fruit was soft and chewy, the thick syrup was sour and sweet. Chewing and sipping, we loved every bite of it. Now we knew we had to buy it – The shopkeeper read our mind and kept feeding us with more lumps of fruits and ultimately a slice of fruity rolls – This tasted something like sweet Banana rolls we prepare in India.
These fruits are called Lavashak – Persian fruit leather is Persian’s all-time favourite snack. Deseeded fruits are dipped in sour+sweet syrup and kept for days. Either you can eat these soaked fruits as a lump or make them into rolls after making them paste and sun-drying. The best part is that we could use it for almost a month after buying Darband.
The Kabab Kubideh is like Darband’s regional dish. It was hard to see any local without buying Kubideh Kababs here. Though I wasn’t hungry, it felt I was committing a sin if I left Darband without Kubideh.
My favourite Persian dish remains Bhaigani Polo, but the meat here is the freshest I ever had. Our hostel people told me that the Darband’s Kubidehs are famous for their freshness. They use only animals raised freely on farms – The best quality meat grilled to perfection is worth its high price, 4 Euros, for some 10 pieces of grilled meat. ( more than 500000 Rials)
Of course, we couldn’t see Darband like we imagined it because of the weather. We couldn’t see Tehran from the Tochala mountain peak. But the experience of trying all possible fruits, Galyan in a private cabin, walking in the snowfall by the riverside is an experience we will never forget.