Saint Khaled Nabi
1 – 1 the decision to go
There was a sudden jolt and I woke up in a mini bus with 20 others. We were in the middle of nowhere in front of some sort of complex, a mosque a parking lot and sanitary facilities.
The south surrounded by green hills and the north by green planes sparsely dotted by faraway rows of three’s that could be barely seen through the 6 am mist.
It all started 2 weeks ago when I was told about a party of 20 young people, including nine cyclers, planning to go to Saint Khaled Nabi shrine in Torkaman Sahra in north eastern corner of Iran in Golestan province near the Caspian sea. In the middle of nowhere .
My interest lied not with the shrines but with the magnificent ancient burial site adjacent to Khaled Nabi. A site of whose history I virtually know nothing but I had seen some pictures of the site about a year ago.
I wanted to go but I had to battle with myself. First, two days was too short for a place 550 kilometer away which required at least 3 days. Second most of the group except me were under 25 . A very merry group indeed who thought very little of planning and mostly concentrated on enjoying the moment not that I think there is anything wrong with such approach to life, at least when on leisure , but it was contrary to my mind set.
The group mostly avoided letting thoughts of risks in future get in the way of the present enjoyment, such as, going on the roof of the mini bus on the move, which could have devastating consequences for the group. But they really enjoyed their time as they say a bird in the hand is worth ten in the bush.
Eventually I made my mind to go and promised myself to lay to rest the forward looking part of my mind and to go by their rules. In fact the trip was never behind schedule as the schedule unfolded by the moment.
1 – 2 start off
Torkaman sahra is roughly 550 km from Tehran. A large 200 by 60 kilometer plane in the north eastern corner of Iran situated in the province of Golestan.
It has a population of 1.7 million (2005) and an area of 20,380 km². The major townships of the province are: Bandar Torkaman, Bandar Gaz, Ali Abad, Kord Kooy, Gorgan, Gonbad Kavoos, and Minoo Dasht. For more information see
To get to this plane one has to pass the Alborz Mountains situated north of Tehran through one of the several passes. The route we selected took us to the city of Sari south of Caspian sea and about 270 km from Tehran. From Sari one has to travel about 250 kilometers due east along the Caspian road through Gorgan to Tamer Qareh Qozi. From Tamer Qareh Qozi another 47 kilometers due north along a dirt road takes one to Saint Khaled Nabi shrine.
Some of the group had to be back in Tehran by Saturday morning. therefore as time was short the group decided to start off at 9.00 pm Thursday night ( 86/1/7 ) from gathering place , a house at south of Tehran. I timed my departure so I would arrive at the gathering place at 8.50. This was start of my education I had a lot to learn.
To my surprise there was no activity at the gathering place. A mini bus was parked in a corner and a wondering sole, perhaps the driver, was walking around it.
In the house, I was the second person to arrive . We had dinner at 10.00 pm and we had to phone the tour leader who was still at home?
11.30 eventually we all got into the mini bus and it was raining cats and dogs. Although the covered van which was supposed to carry the bicycles ( as some of the group wished to cycle the last leg of the trip) and the back packs had not arrived, and was not to arrive for another 2 hours, we left without it leaving the bicycles, the back packs and the tour leader behind. The van eventually started at 1.00 am with a lose fan belt, dead starter – meaning it had to be pushed every time it stopped – and faulty screen wiper.
The group in the mini bus never stopped singing, laughing, and reciting jokes all through the night and the journey
This kind of approach to life, especially in vacations, has its merits even when it is set against constraints such as time. The answer is always so what. When you miss a target you pay an affordable price and set a new target but on the other hand you stop worrying about missing targets and concentrate on enjoying the moment.
1 – 3 Enroot main roads
7.300 am the mini bus had stopped in front of a complex, surrounded by fantastic foggy green on all sides.
We had a flat tire and the van had broken down some two hours from us. We had traveled about 270 kilometers in the night passing the Albor Mountains through the Firuze Kuh pass. We had passed the city of Sari, and we were some where at the outskirts of town of Behshahr and still had about 250 km to go.
We waited for an hour for the van, it was hapless, we could not get through to their mobile, we could not figure out the vans position so it was decided to go to the next town (behshahr) and have breakfast instead of getting wet in the drizzle.
I estimated that we would get to Saint Khalid Nabi by 1.00 pm. It was just simple arithmetic, 200 km to go, divide it by a pessimistic average speed of 60 km/h and the answer is about 3 hours. Add 3 to 10 am (time of calculation) and bingo your forecasted arrival time is 1 pm. Some never learn.
1 3-1 8.30 am Behshahr
Around 8.30 am we arrived at the outskirts of behshahr. To me behshahr is very much like any other Caspian city, Small, one story old looking buildings.
The drizzle has stopped. There is still hope for better weather at Khaled Nabi. Nobody on the mini bus think a head, so what if it dose not stop raining. They are all so busy enjoying the present. Everybody is jolly in spite of sleep deprivation. The mini bus stopped at a filling station next to tea house.
The tea house menu is tea and fried eggs, 3 eggs to a pan, for all of the willing, meaning all but me- I don’t usually have breakfast or for that matter lunch- There is still no sign of van
It is approximately a forty-five minute drive from Sari by car. The name Behshahr literally means Heaven city. Behshahr was also previously known as ‘Ashraf’. It includes many historical sites such as Abbas Abad – the home of the Abbas the Great and the Chit Sazi Factory. For more information refer to following site.
1-3-2 10.00 am Gorgan
Drizzle of the rain
A heavy overcast sky
Hills covered in rolling fog
Spring green of the trees barely seen through the fog
The green misty planes to the north
Vanishing in distant fog
Dots of threes here and there
The city was named as Hyrcania, Hyrcani or Hyrcana in ancient Greek records, which comes from Old Persian Varkâna — “Land of the Wolf”. Although modern Gorgan is only a city the county also shares the same name., Ancient Hyrcania was the name of a region on the southern shores of the Caspian Sea (encompassing present day Golestan, Mazandaran, Gilan and parts of the republic of Turkmenistan). In more resent times the city was known as Astarabad until 1937.
Some 150 km east of Gorgan is the famous Golestan National Park. The city has a regional airport and several universities.
The wide Dasht-e-Gorgan (the Plains of Gorgan) are located north of the city of Gorgan and is geographically bounded by 37°00′ – 37°30′ north latitude and 54°00′ – 54°30′ east longitude and covers an area of about 1,700 square kilometres.
Gorgân’s Defense Wall (between155 km to 300 km long, 6 to 10 m wide and 10 m high) is one of the most outstanding and gigantic architectural monuments in Dash-te-Gorgan and Gonbad Steppes. This wall, which is the largest defensive wall in the world, after the Great Wall of China, starts from the Caspian coast, circles north of Gonbade Kavous, continues towards the northwest, and vanishes behind the Pish kamar Mountains. For more information on gorgan see:
We get on the minibus and our next stop is Aliabad 30 km from Gorgan. No estimates this time. Apparently the vans screen wiper has been repaired and the van is nearing Behshahr but it still has to be pushed to start
The view on both sides is spring green and I don’t know why it all reminds me of Samarkand. Sky is lighter and the clouds are higher so part of the mountains can be seen clearly. The drizzle has stopped and the road runs straight into the horizon due west
The flat planes to the north,
Painted green with wheat
with very few trees at the distance
run to eternity
And the music is playing a Persian song:
Nazi jun ( dear nazi)
Nazi ham-dam-me man (my companion)
Nazi meh-ra-ba-nam (my kind nazi)
Nazi bia bar-gard beh khaneh (come back to our house)
And again there is drizzle
But this time with no rain
And the guys at the back of the minibus are singing and singing and singing.
Just before Aliabad the driver decides to stop and repair the flat tire that was changed before. The van has not caught up. And despite repeated mobile calls we don’t know where it is. Nobody cares . They know that the van will eventually arrive. But not me I was thinking to myself perhaps they took the road to Gonbad-e-kavusabus as this is another possible route.
The mini buss stopped in front of small standalone shop next to a tire repair shop. The shop was at least 15 km from anywhere, it sold all sorts of things and it was run by a bearded old Afghan gentleman right out of Samarkand.
I met some locals and asked them if they know anything about the history of the area or if they knew of any interesting historical places around. All I got was the standard reply, a lovely grin.
They appear to be devoid of any historical memory. I wonder how cans in politics any one hope to move such people by using ideas like Aryan race , ancient history. Islam is something they touch daily. Going to mosque and praying every day and getting together on various Islamic festivals. Islam is the glue that binds most diversified groups in this country. Islam is also providing them with all the historical memory and symbols they need.
About 2500 years ago gorgan or province of golestan was part of growing Median empire. I know little about history of this period but during Achaemenid period this province was satrapy of Hyrcania. Achaemenid Empire was divided into number of satrapies and hyrcania was one of them
After the Arab invasion of Iran , people or perhaps more correctly the Aryan ruling class fled to the thick wooded mountains of the Caspian and maintained their way of life for 200 or 300 more years .but then there was the Mongols invasion (which embraced Islam) and the Turk (Turkic peoples) invasion (who also converted t Islam) and gradually people of these areas also embraced Islam and their cense of identity gradually changed with time.
As for historical monuments a 150 – 300 kilometer Gorgân’s Defense Wall near gorgan is not something that can be missed (10 meter wide by 10 meter high, with regular castles every so many kilometers off course at places that are still standing). It is the second largest defensive wall after the Great Wall of China and it is sometimes referred to as the Dam of Alexander. This wall was built as a defense against repeated invasions of nomadic people from the north by the Sassanid’s or before them. The wall is only about 30 kilometers away from the shop but the locales I met had never hared of it.
The van at last arrived.
We are off again and at the back of the mini bus they are playing a game called mafia that totally baffles me . perhaps we will arrive at our destination by 3.00 pm . the arrival time moves back with the horizon.
The scenery from Ali abad to Behshahr reminds me of English country side, perhaps works of John Constable .
the mountains have receded
green flat plans stretch to the horizon
dots of trees here and there
the sky is overcast again.
and at the back the group is playing and playing.
We neared a police inspection post, there is one between every two cities, some one in the front calls inspection post and then there is a frantic movement. the people standing try to find a seat , those who don’t have a seat try to keep low – we have more passengers (2) than seats something not allowed- We are not stopped this time and we are waved by while some one was shouting for god sake turn the CD player down. This scenario gets repeated every 30 minute or so and life goes on as if nothing ever happened.
Near Azad Shahr the scenery is less spoiled and reminds me of how Caspian roads used to look when I was 12 (52 years ago) going from Rasht to Ramsar with the difference that now the roads are asphalted.
1-3-5 1.00 pm Minu dasht
A totally different view from other Caspian cities . Minu Dašt city looks small but modern with new one or two story buildings in a very green surrounding
1-3-6 1.40 pm kalaleh
Kalaleh a large town, green on all sides. After Kalaleh there is a change in scenery . To the south low wave like green hills with no trees and to the north stretches a vast green plain all the way to the horizon with no trees cultivated with wheat that is now about one meter high.
Such scenery bring to mind images of ancient nomads moving in the Plaines on horse back, perhaps Scythians, Medes, or even Mongols.