Along the Caspian Sea



The Caspian Sea from East to West
After a well deserved break from driving in Teheran, we headed north-east to the border with Turkmenistan and the Caspian Sea. Once out of Teheran (and that does take some time !) the road heads through desert. However, we were greeted with a winding road through some beautifully coloured mountains.



On our way up we stopped in the small and quiet tree-lined city of Bastam where a plain clothed man who claimed to be a policeman asked us for our passports which we refused to hand over. The 11th century mosque there is decorated with beautiful Seljuk style stucco.



A well-preserved caravanserai of the ancient Silk Road, South of the Caspian Sea, Iran


After Bastam we continued North to the city of Gombad-e-Gavus only some 40 km from the border with Turkmenistan to visit a spectacular tomb tower. Reaching 55 meters in height, this 11th century tower must be one of the earliest skyscrapers. We must have been expecting something else as we thought the tower resembled a water tank more than anything else and did not even bother to get out of the car ! One very interesting aspect of the region is its weather. Below the Caspian Sea lies the "Alborz" mountain chain which blocks rain from reaching the rest of Iran. The result is that the Caspian coast itself is soaked for most of the year and that the area is green ! As soon as we crossed this mountain chain and headed down to the "littoral" we switched seasons and discovered a gray, rainy and miserable Iran !



We headed straight West for Bandar-e-Torkaman (Torkaman = Turkmen people) where we had our first glimpse of the Caspian Sea. We were looking for the Monday market which we did not find. What we did find was a small spot at the end of a peninsula where there was a small teahouse cum restaurant where we spent 4 or 5 hours doing nothing that Monday morning ! We must have found a special spot as one hour after we had arrived the spot was stormed with people celebrating a local wedding. After that first wedding came a second and a third etc. etc. ! This place must not have seen many tourists as we were very politely asked by 2 soldiers armed with AK47 for our papers. The crowd was as interested in us as in the wedding celebrations but all this happened in a most pleasant atmosphere. 


The wedding couple came to the Sea for a boat ride (left), local Turkmen women wearing colourful veils (right), Bandar-e-Torkaman, Eastern Iran.



This first introduction to the Caspian Sea coast was nice. Not so for the rest of the coast that has been built for local tourism far too quickly. Caterpillars and concrete building have ravaged this coast without any urbanistic concern. The fact that it hardly stopped raining and that much of the coast is littered with construction garbage didn't help. The water level of the sea is rising by 15 to 20 cm each year giving the strange sight of real trees on the beach.



Waiting for yet another minced beef kebab (left), soaked roads (centre), pumpkins for sale along the road (right)


Visit to a caviar processing factory
Iran is one of the very few countries in the world to produce caviar. During our trip to the Caspian Sea we managed to visit a caviar processing factory. We arrived in the city of Bandar-e-Anzali on a Thursday only to be told that we needed official government permission as the whole business of caviar in Iran is State controlled. After a visit to the mountain village of Masule we returned to Bandar-e-Anzali and went to see the authorities.


The town of Bandar-e-Anzali is split like Buda-pest on two sides of a river.


With the necessary piece of paper we returned to the factory where, unfortunately, no-one spoke English. The first part of the visit was the most impressive. We were taken to two large storage houses that are kept at a constant temperature of -20 degrees C ! We were given an extra jacket and entered the cold storage where we discovered tons of sturgeons piled meters high ! These have been killed and opened up to collect the precious eggs. They will be cut into pieces and sold on the market place.


Tons of sturgeons slit open (left), Kathleen next to two "Beluga" sturgeons (red cheeks testify of the cold temperature) (centre)


Everybody say "CHEESE" ! 


In the last years there has been over-fishing of sturgeons and the number of fish being caught has diminished seriously. Over 30,000 tons of fish where caught in 1984 compared to just 2,000 tons in 1996. It is therefore strongly forbidden to catch small fish. The small ones below have died when they got entangled in fishing nets.



Apart from the caviar quality control posts, there was nothing else to see in Bandar-e-Anzali. We took our "guide" 35 km out of town along the shores of the Caspian Sea to visit the processing factory. This should have been a lot more interesting. Unfortunately, there were no fish during our visit and we were given extensive "gesticulary" explanations to try and make up for this !


This is where it happens (centre), three colours = three qualities of caviar : sevruga (red), asetra (yellow), and the best, beluga (blue) 


The finished product : 2 kg of the best Beluga !


Yes, that's us !


Sardines and anchovies fishing boats, next to the caviar factory, Bandar-e-Anzali, Northern Iran.


The village of Masule and lush surroundings (left & centre). As soon as we pass the mountains heading South to Teheran, the scenery reverts to desert (right)


We are doing well !

Iranian teahouses Back to Trip page Vehicles in Iran