It’s not just Iran’s topography that varies as you move throughout the country, but it’s also the culture. Kurdistan in particular seems removed from the rest of the country in terms of nature, culture, and language. In fact, the population in this province has more in common with their Kurdish neighbors in Iraq than they do with Persians in Shiraz and Esfahan, a feature which you are sure to pick up on as you discover this region.
Sanandaj, Kurdistan’s capital, roughly divides the province into east and west and can be used as the starting point for your road trip. First up should be the vertical village of Palangan. The houses here have been built into a steep gorge such that the roof of one doubles as the front porch of another, much like the village of Masouleh in Gilan province. With a view of the babbling river and narrow stone bridge, visitors will be completely removed from the modern world and might even decide to stick around until nightfall when the cliffside glows with lights.
Move on to Uraman Takht, another spectacular staircase-like village similar to Palangan. Sirvan River, Kurdish for ‘roaring sea’, flows through the valleys here and is known for its beautiful banks blanketed with walnut, pomegranate, fig, and mulberry trees before it eventually joins the Tigris in Iraq. Ancient fire temples around this village indicate that the inhabitants were Zoroastrian before converting to Islam.
Continue north to discover Lake Zarivar. Located near the city of Marivan, this so-called lost paradise is surrounded by a thick forest and host to a diverse range of flora and fauna. Legend has it that a ruthless tyrant once governed these lands. After a sage pleaded for the mercy of Zoroastrian God Ahura Mazda, underground springs appeared and eventually submerged the city and its wicked leader. The sage is thought to have been laid to rest in the nearby mountains.
As you circle around this province, head towards the rocky limestone Karaftu Cave, believed to have been underwater during the Cretaceous period millions of years ago. Water remains in certain chambers, but this cave is perhaps most notable for the Greek inscription which reads “Herakles resides here, nothing evil may enter.”
Winters are best avoided as they are long and cold with heavy snowfall. Otherwise, Kurdistan has pleasant temperatures making it ideal in the spring and summer when other areas of Iran can get hot. Nowruz is a particularly festive time to visit as you are sure to be included in plenty of dancing and other new year’s celebrations.