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Mountains, the Tehran Pleasure Ground
Travel

Mountains, the Tehran Pleasure Ground

There are many things that make Tehran a great city to live in, but what immediately makes it stand out from most other cities is the beautiful majestic mountains that envelope it’s sprawling, chaotic expanse.
It is only when living here that one becomes aware that these city dwellers are in fact mountain people! Apart from the backdrop and orientation that the mountains provide, they also form an integral part of the urbanites daily existence.
Depending on where one lives, access to the mountains can be anywhere from minutes to just half an hour away, giving ample opportunity for a daily morning or evening hiking regime or short excursions for a picnic or for hanging out at the still incredibly authentic, rustic cafes and eateries that pepper the winding paths.

  Darakeh & Darband
Many of the small shops that meander along the river can only be accessed by foot or donkey, and as one makes one’s way up the hill, one negotiates the steep, rocky, path with donkeys carrying up provisions to small stores and cafes further up.
There is something on offer for people of varying fitness levels. Depending on how far one feels like walking, there are a number of incredibly quaint spots to stop off and reward oneself with sweetened black tea and cake or a simply made, but delicious omelet or adassi, a Persian daal.  
Age is not the determining factor for fitness here, and as one huffs and heaves up the hill, it is quite sobering to watch streams of sprightly grey haired seniors steam past, sporting backpacks, hiking boots and sticks evidently heading for far greater heights.
Shirpala is the first shelter for the Darband trekkers and then there is Amiri.
Professional hikers get to the top and camp over night, others stay behind and enjoy their break, breakfast and a lazy chat with friends and wander back down to work or to run their day’s errands.
Hiking and enjoying the fresh air and quaint little cafes is not where it ends for the Tehranis, the best is yet to come.
How about going up for some skiing as a wonderful way to spend the day or even just the morning, to leave the city smoke, and hassle and bustle behind?
Yes, it is for real; there are a number of world-class ski resorts in close vicinity to the city, which operate during winter, not just winter, but also well into spring.  
This is something quite unimaginable to most foreigners who always picture Iran as a desert country, and when one mentions it to them they initially think you are pulling their leg!
There is Darbansar, Dizin and Shemshak for the more avid skiers, but Tochal, which is adjunct to the city, is only a short cable car ride away.

 Tochal
Experiencing it for the first time during early spring, around March or April feels like arriving in Narnia!  
It is impossible to imagine waking up in the morning to blue skies and blazing sunshine, that one can get to snow and slopes in a matter of minutes! To get to the top one has to be prepared for a drastic change in temperature and pack accordingly.  It all feels incredibly counter intuitive stuffing thick, wooly jumpers and anoraks into backpacks in the early morning city heat.  
Arriving at the foot of Tochal Mountain in the hot spring sun, the only thing on one’s mind is how to make an A-line to the delicious frozen yogurt shop close to the entrance, but time is of the essence. There is only time to buy a few bottles of chilled water, to catch the bus to the gondola lift, which only runs until 1pm, if one wants to get all the way to the top that is.  
The tickets are cheap and the cable operators incredibly friendly, sporting weather-beaten smiles.  It could be just an impression, but it feels as though they are sharing in the excitement of what’s to come.
It’s a shove and a huddle as the cabin bumps and screeches off.  The gondola pushes away from the city heat and the concrete scenery below, grinding its way to station 2.  Then another push up to station 5, where the scenery changes, there are rolling mountains covered with dry grass and wild red poppy’s randomly sprouting here and there.  
Along the way, at each stop there is radio communication, announcing the arrival of visitors to top, which adds to the anticipation.
Finally, it starts to get chilly.  It’s time to put on the layers as the cabin windows start to fog over.  
As station 7 approaches, the cabin workers are waiting to catch the gondola lift to help it stop, to open cabin doors and to help passengers off.  There is a flurry of snowflakes and condensation hangs on breaths.  It is getting very cold now.  There is snow and lots of it.    Skiers and snow boarders carrying their gear, to return back down.  A chair lift heads to the final destination which is the Tochal Hotel.  With feet dangling from the chair high above, watching the endless snowy mountains and the slopes below, it is hard not to give thanks. The experience is unfathomable. It is a thrill and an absolute delight.
Tochal is not just for skiers but for hikers too and station 7 is also reachable from Hezar-cham climbing path from Station 5.  The most ambitious head to the summit marked by a dome-shaped shelter, although, this is only recommended during good weather.
The gondola lifts operate all year round on Tuesday, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.
On clearer days if lucky, one can catch a glimpse of the mighty Damavand mountain, as a final gift.

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