Nine people – me, Nane, Mahdi and his parents, and four of the neighbors, we get into an old Nissan Patrol and leave Tabriz only to end the adventure a few kilometers after the city. We get a flat tire, there’s no extra one in the car, and the repair service is in the city. Uncle Rasoul (Mahdi’s father) drives the car back to the city. The family decides to hitch a ride back home, while me and Nane continue our journey. The fun we all anticipated ends with a complete fiasco, leaving everyone sad. But this is Road, and the Road is life. It takes us 3 cars to get to the village of Kandovan. The last car – an old man and his son, drop us off at the checkpoint and return back to the town of Osku where they were headed to initially. We thank them warmly and walk about 500 meters until we finally see the so-called Cappadocia of Iran.
The village of Kandovan with its troglodyte homes carved in the volcanic rocks is located in the Osku County of East Azerbaijan province of Iran. Kandovan derives its name from the cone-shaped homes that resemble wild bee hives (in Persian, کندوی عسل – Kandoo-e Asal, bee hive). Some of the dwellings are around 700 years old, and they are still inhabited. It reminded us of the cave village of Khndzoresk in Armenia, only no one lives there anymore.
Despite the sunny weather, the air is very cold here. The slopes of the mount Sahand surrounding the village are covered with snow. “I imagined it bigger,” says Nane as if reading my mind. We wander around the village, take photographs, and observe the locals, passing by their souvenir shops with handmade bags, spices, herbs, magnets and other colorful items that attract strangers. I was hoping to see a small and quite village where we could spend time talking with people and exploring their daily life. Instead, we came across big groups of tourists walking up and down the muddy alleys. As we will learn later, most of the inhabitants live here only during the summer months, and only few families spend the snowy winters in the village because of cold.
Strolling the narrow streets of Kandovan we come across an old man who waves us with his hand and invites us to go with him. Thinking that it may end with tea and conversations with his family members, I follow him and call Nane to come with me. “What’s happening?” she asks. “I don’t know. He didn’t say much, but looks like he’s inviting us home,” I answer. Turns up, the old man takes up to a storage house he owns, because he thinks there’s the good view from there. Then he asks us to pay him for showing the storage house with the view.
We leave the old man and slowly walk back towards the check point. It starts getting dark. There are only few cars passing by, but we are lucky to hitch a ride all the way to the city of Sahand, from where we take a bus and return to Tabriz. At home, we have a gorgeous dinner prepared by aunt Monireh, Mahdi’s mother. In our turn, we make a Chinese tea ceremony for our host family. We brought the Chinese tea set with us to host a public tea drinking event in the frames of our “Tea with Strangers” project. The neighbors join us as well, and soon there’s a large group of people around us.
After tasting various Chinese teas, we go up to the second floor where the neighbors are already waiting for us. Tea, fruits, sweets, music played on keyboards and Iranian Azerbaijani dances – about 20 people sitting on carpets and enjoying the atmosphere. Our second day in Tabriz ends no different from the first day – we go to bed around 3 AM. Again.
Friday, November 13, 2015. Tired from previous day’s adventures, we sleep until noon, and by the time we finally get out of the room, the breakfast – tea, cheese, butter, eggs, bread and jam – is served and ready for us. During the breakfast, Mahdi’s father explains us how we can get the bus to Kandovan, a troglodyte village located about 60 km south of Tabriz. While me and Nane drink our tea, a lively conversation begins among the family members, and then the next thing we learn is they decided to visit Kandovan together with us. It’s Friday, and everyone is free, so why not to go out for a picnic? And so begins the preparation for the journey.