Swirling Steps, Babak Castle, NW Iran, October 2016
This shot is from the near the top of Babak Castle (Farsi: قلعه بابک), looking down at the stairs below. The light is low, as it’s early evening n Autumn, and the clouds had themselves been swirling around all day. But the tripthe castle almost didn't happen at all.
My tour group took a long day to make it to the town of Kaleybar (Farsi: كليبر), stopping along the way to buy fresh lamb that our guide Ashfin made into wonderful kebabs and a restaurant along the way. I didn't really understand quite how the transaction worked out, but we stopped at a small town on the highway and Ashfin ran into what was essentially a tiny truck stop; it had tables and chairs, as well as the raised platforms covered in Persian rugs that Iranians will often sit and eat on, as though on the floor. The next I knew, Ashfin was cooking in their kitchen, bringing out kebab after kebab of lamb and piles of saffron rice supplied by the restaurant.
In any case, this indulgence made us late to Kaleybar. Though one reason we were going slow was that Ashfin had been told by our eventual mountain guide (i.e. a young guy with a truck) in a phone call that the trail was impassable due to snow. Two hours south on the highway, there was no sign of snow, and the weather was, though not warm, not all that cold. I was skeptical, and said that we should at least try and get to the trail head, and I can decide for myself if there is too much snow. I was committed to seeing this castle. Ashfin agreed we could at least try, and made arrangement for the guide to meet us at the hotel in Kaleybar.
After we arrived at the hotel, the rest of my group went to their rooms. I threw my stuff into the room, grabbed my day pack and camera stuff, and was ready to go out front. The guide showed up in an older, beat up Toyota Forerunner-type vehicle. I was the only one of our group that wanted to go except Ashfin, Aliye—who worked for the company—and her husband Amin. On our way out of town, We stopped in front of a house and waited as someone brought out a small pot of food and some bread for a guide to take up the mountain. And then we were off, tearing—I think everyone tears when they drive in Iran—out of down and up curvy roads.
After a half hour or so, we found ourselves a top high rolling hills above the clouds with twilight fast approaching. During the car ride, Ashfin had given me a cell phone to use in case I got lost or when I got back to the trailhead to get picked up. Of course, all the commands were in Persian, so I suspected it wouldn't work when I deployed it. As we pulled up to the parking area -- really just an open spot on top of the hill -- Ashfin pointed me towards the trail, itslef just a break in the fence.
I took off at a brisk pace as night approached, luckily slower than I expected. In 20 minutes I cam to a few old rooms built into a hill side and an ancient water trough that had been rigged up with a modern pip pouring into it. Thinking this must be the castle, and not at all disappointed, I began snapping photos. Near the back of the site the trail -- itself paved with ancient tones -- took off up the hill to a gap in the rocks. I followed it to the cap and peered off over the valley to the next peak. It's there that I saw the actual castle, built on the top of a mountain, extending it's height by 20 to 30 meters, surrounded by clouds like a scene from Game of Thrones.. My path stretched through the gap, down to ridge, and switch-backed up the peak to the castle. I giddily began nearly running down the path, knowing I was rather short on daylight. My pictures of my first sight of the castle aren't great, but I have included some from the castle itself here.