Hiking Dar Abad, Tehran

Just to the near northwest of Tehran, (drive to the top of Sabari Blvd, turn right, and you are almost there) a re-entrant from the Alborz Mountains (a note from the Iran Geological Survey suggests Dar Abad mountain is created by the major fault line running across northern Tehran) lies Dar Abad. As a walking/hiking and picnic area, and escape from the bustling streets of Tehran, it is to be firmly recommended. For the physically nimble and fit, the mountain named Dar Abad itself rises to a height of 3370m at a place called Toochal Peak.

For the geologically-minded, the Dar Abad re-entrant is formed by two parallel ridges with low ground in between them. The area of low ground itself is the re-entrant, and it is defined by the ridges surrounding it. In this case, the re-entrant is etched into the side of the Alborz Mountains by the water flow, and contains both a small stream – which is presumably quite a torrent during the snow melt in Spring – and loose rocks from eroded rockfall.

The area is, as with most of Tehran vicinity, characterised by brown and beige colouring, a dry and dusty environment, and lined by dusty khaki trees. There is very little low foliage. The Google Earth overview of it describes it perfectly: majority beige, with a spider vein of khaki winding its way between the ridges.

At the base of the hill, the stream emerges from the rift and the rather wide banks of the creek are used primarily for picnicking. I am told to avoid Fridays (the local equivalent of a Sunday) for the masses that pile into the creek bed and picnic. This day, it was calm, with just a few other walkers and a few others picnicking under the azure skies, in the shade of the creek-bed foliage.

ImageAbove the picnic areas, and on the eastern side of the re-entrant, a steep climb to the top of the mountain is provided by a pretty well-maintained track, about 2m wide in most places. While I say mostly well kept, there are a couple of sections that are rough and would not take small children or the infirm.

The trail itself is not for faint of heart, sufferers of poor cardiac health, the nor the hiker with any hint of vertigo in the family. As the track climbs one the ridgeline, it rises on one side and drops on the other. The drop sides of the trail are unprotected (although in many places some seedlings have been dropped in to become, presumably, hand-grabs for those who come tumbling off the path. A fall on the drop-side of the ridge would result in a very steep, rapid descent guaranteed to meet your maker before you hit the creek at the bottom.

If you forget water (and you really, really shouldn’t) after hiking for about 10 minutes from the car-park, there is a quaint cafe built onto the side of the trail. From there it is up, up, up. And it is dry, dry, dry.

For those living in Tehran, it is well worth spending a morning there, although not on a Friday if you can help it. Bring really sturdy shoes and climb to Toochal if you feel very, very fit.

See here for the map: https://maps.google.com/maps?q=dar+abad+tehran&client=firefox-a&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&bav=on.2,or.r_cp.r_qf.&biw=1525&bih=634&bvm=pv.xjs.s.en_US.6PYzwk9faGo.O&um=1&ie=UTF-8&sa=X&ei=tFNJUt_3M8TuswbwxIG4BQ&ved=0CAgQ_AUoAjgU

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Milad Tower, Tehran – 6th Tallest Building in the World

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The 6th tallest building in the world stands erect in the middle of the northwest of Tehran, dominating the landscape. Milad Tower, built between 2000-2007 and opened in 2008, reaches 435m (or about 1400 feet for the pre-metric oldies (PMOs) or non-metrics (NMs) reading this).

Milad Tower is a part of The Tehran International Trade and Convention Centre, which includes the Milad telecommunication tower offering restaurants at the top with panoramic views Tehran, a five-star hotel, a convention centre, a world trade centre, and an IT park.

Interestingly, the project was a pre-revolution design from around 1975 by American urban planner, Jaquelin Taylor Robertson. He was designing “Shahestan Pahlavi”, a 5-million square metre kind of town centre for the then-government. It certainly would have been the tallest building in the world at that time, I suppose.

Anyway, political events overtook the building, and construction of the Shahestan Pahlavi was halted in 1979, Milad Tower being the only part of the initial Robertson-proposed plan subsequently built.

Construction began in 2000, took 7 years to build, and was number 4 in the world when finished. I suspect a few of those Chinese sky-reaching spires have overtaken it. The urban planner, Robertson, is well known (so urban planners tell me) and his other works include Val d’Europe outside Paris. He is one of Architectural Digests top 100 all-time architects.

Middle Class out Shopping in Tehran

This posting is about the shopping wonder that is Hyperstar, a middle class shopping mall built by the French firm, Carrefour, in 2009 in western Tehran. If there was ever a doubt that a middle class of significant size exists in Iran, this puts it to bed. There sure is a middle class, and they have money to spend!

After just a few weeks in Iran, it is clear shopping can get complicated. Being used to one-stop shopping whether it be department store or supermarket, shopping in dozens of small shops, miles apart, can be time-consuming and wearying. Step into the frame, Hyperstar. By reputation at least, this place is owned by a Saudi (yes, you heard it right) businessman. And it is a goldmine for him. Open 0930-2330 everyday of the week including Fridays, the store is always packed.

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Whether it is an esky (a pet love of Aussies), fresh milk, roast chickens, children’s toys, an iPod dock, or , Hyperstar has it.Image

Located in Kooy-e-Eram just off the Bakeri Expressway South (on the western side just below W Ferdos Blvd, but before you reach the Tehran-Karaj Freeway) Hyperstar is immediately recognisable to those familiar with the famous French supermarket brand, Carrefour. The sign looks just like the <C> for Carrefour, but with an ‘H’. You can spot it a mile away…. well, a good hundred yards before you need to exit. When you exit, continue west 100m and you will find dedicated parking.

On entering, you find yourself in a modern little shopping mall with underground parking, food court, a few specialty stores, and an enormous Hyperstar which combines department store and supermarket.

It boasts, inter alia, fresh fish, nuts, meat, bakery, electricals, baby, kitchenware, BBQ and outdoor, car stuff, groceries, AV, stationery, whitegoods (stoves, microwaves, washers, etc). A range of imported products are available (although not like in the bazaar stalls where the primo coffee can be found). I found Dove, Johnson and Johnson, Nivea, Coca Cola, Pepsi, HP, Epson, and more.

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The food court has ice cream (ubiquitous in Tehran), fish and chips (advertising cod, but who knows), Turkish, burgers, kebab, and Iranian food.

Remember, foreign cards do not work anywhere in Tehran, so when you reach the checkout at Hyperstar, and the zeros start being piled on, cash is not just king, cash is the sole occupant. My little outing cost just shy of 4 million Rhials. For those who don’t get the conversion, 100 USD is about 3.3.million Rhials. But I will get into currency questions another day…it is more complicated than it seems.

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Suffice to say for now, this place is a saviour for those needing some western-style shopping rather than tiny corner shops and bazaars, and wanting to find a huge range of things under one roof. And then finish the shopping with a fresh lemonade-mojito (sans alcohol, of course) juice.

Thumbs up, and other such indecencies, in Iran

Ever felt, when you were in a new place and did not speak the language, that hand signals were safer and would perhaps even take you far?

Be very, very careful coming to Iran with that stimulating notion. 🙂

The most common faux pas coming into Iran and trying to get by with gestures is the ‘thumbs up’. A thumbs up, which one might think signals that all is okay, you are happy with the result, or all systems are go, is actually the rough equivalent of ‘the bird’ in the western European gestural lexicon. Indeed, one gets the feeling it is the angriest bird you can imagine, on steroids. If you want to guarantee you get into a fight with even the most placid Iranian? Give them the thumbs up. You have been warned.

But this decidedly innocent but dangerous gesticulative faux pas is not the only one. There are a couple of others worth noting to use, and to avoid, in Iran.

One of the first gestures you will see, perhaps even as soon as the Immigration Counter on arrival at Imam Khomeini International Airport, is one also widely used in the Arab world: the slight rolling upwards of the eyes, combined with a slight lifting of the eyebrow, and sometimes the upward movement of a nod. This means ‘no’. If you are asking for a visa on arrival, and get this response from the Immigration Officer, then you best make your way back to the plane you came in on. If you get this in a supermarket when asking for pine nuts, consider other options for your pesto recipe. In the Arab world, this often comes with the spoken ‘la’. I have not yet seen anything spoken with this in Tehran; it speaks for itself.

If you want to beckon someone towards you, take care how you do it. Fingers (and excluding the thumb) pointed to the ground, not upwards, is the way it is done in Iran. A ‘fingers upwards’ beckoning will not get you far; considered rude, the response will likely be the opposite of ‘come hither’.

And you know how ‘it is rude to point’ in the English tradition, but we do it anyway to point someone out from a distance? It is rude in Iran too, very rude, to point to someone with your index finger. Pointing to something or someone is not done with the index finger at all; it is done with the chin. Slightly lifting your face (chin) in the direction of the object person is the way forward.

So, if you like this post, please don’t give it a solid thumbs up. 🙂

The streetscapes, and just plain streets, of Tehran.

Tehran is a dusty desert, or desert-like, city. As you might expect, the predominating colours are browns and beiges; apartment blocks, mountains, and office blocks alike. All with the odd khaki green tree or small green area (playground or small park, for instance) interspersed.

The city is both ringed and crisscrossed by quite massive, sometimes double-story, motorways with names like the Shirazi or the Sadr Expressways.

You can get from the airport in the far south, to the suburbs of the far north, by the ring motorways. You can get downtown and across-town likewise by these motorways.

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The road network is solid, to be sure. There is not a part of Tehran that cannot be reached on quite modern, quite well-repaired, roads. Motorways are often 4-6 lanes (note my earlier cautionary note that lanes are marked but are more an ideal than a reality; traffic makes its own lanes). For the most part, roads are also well lit. Overall you get a sense that the town planners, who have let construction go ahead with quite some wild abandon, have chosen to put their energies into the road network.

I also feel, but give me a year or so to really test this hypothesis out, that the road network is also far more ‘invested in’ than the public links such as bus, rail, light rail. Having said that, bus stations on major roads have their own lanes, and the subway is expanding to the far north, presumably at considerable expense because of the need to scale the mountainside.

Testimony to the very strong network of major roads, is that the majority of little side-streets manage to stay quiet.

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A quiet side street, as promised (note the blue and yellow ‘cupped hands’ box on the right-hand street corner? Ubiquitous boxes for taking charity donations from passers-by. Sadly, nobody walks anywhere. So one gets the feeling the boxes might mostly be empty. But the spirit that puts them there is a good and charitable one).

The number of cars here in Tehran is truly staggering. Just consider, while sitting idly behind the wheel on a motorway wondering how eight lanes formed in the normal space of three, how many cars are alongside you at any moment, and realise there are at least 6 million more. The bulk of the cars are either locally designed and produced (the Saipa, for example), foreign designed but locally assembled (Peugot 206, for example), Asian-made and imported (Toyota, Kia, Hyundai, Nissan and Mazda all feature highly), the very odd luxury European vehicles (BMW, Mercedes) in the good neighbourhoods, and even a couple of very kitschy, but bloody well maintained, American ‘Shah-era’ American cars like the odd ’67 Chevy or Buick.

The lack of cars from Europe, except the locally-assembled Peugots, is a part of the price the average Farhad pays for sanctions. The winner though, from sanctions that hamper European cars being imported, is the South Koreans and Japanese. You have never seen so many Kia and Hyundai in one place outside their own yards in Seoul and Tokyo. People go with the car-makers who have a dealer here, and genuine spare parts, and solid service. Drivers and their cars do hard yards in Tehran, and need good service to back them up. The lack of legitimate options for a BMW, Mercedes, or Volvo dealer means the East Asian car-makers are making a killing in this enormous car market.

More power to them.

A fishy tale; the fish to eat and not to in Tehran

After a short journey into one of the fish markets in Tehran over the weekend, I wanted to say a few things about buying and eating fish in Iran.

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Fish Market, Downtown Tehran

 

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My starting point is that I had fabulous fish and chips for the first time since arriving in Iran, Home-made. We feasted on excellent saltwater fish, in this case a fish called ‘Hamour’. Hamour is a sub-species of grouper and, in Iran, these come from the Persian Gulf.

Sources and Types of Fish

I make out there to be three main sources of fish in Tehran: the Caspian Sea, the Persian Gulf, and fish farms. I leave out the frozen fish from, for example, Vietnam, as I think they are really pretty lousy. I won’t talk either about farm fish, as I have not had it yet and could not find any studies about fish farm health in Iran. I understand aquaculture is on the increase in Iran, so it might be worth visiting that subject in a later post.

Caspian Sea

The Caspian Sea (both a huge lake and a small sea!) is a popular seaside destination for Iranians, comprising the northern coastline of Iran, and a great deal of fish in Iran comes from this fishery. Kutum (the most popular fish in Iran), Kafal, tench (or Doctor Fish), Caspian salmon (actually a trout), sturgeon, common carp, and sabre carp are among the three most consumed fish from the not-very-saline (about a third of salt levels of most sea-waters) Caspian.

Persian Gulf

The saltwater fish of the Persian Gulf (a particularly salty bit of water, by the way), which comprises the southwest coastline of Iran, of which the king is called Hamour (a Grouper), are consumed widely in Iran and feature in fish markets in Tehran. And they are very good eating. Other popular Persian Gulf fish consumed in Iran include rabbit fish, mackerel, and both black and yellow-fin sea bream.

common carp

Common Carp

hamour

Hamour

kafal

Kafal

kutum

Kutum

Rabbitfish

Rabbit Fish

sabre carp

Sabre Carp

tench

Tench

Health Notes for both Persian Gulf and Caspian Sea fish

Persian Gulf

All four of the main heavy metal levels (cadmium, mercury, copper, and lead) in Persian Gulf fish have been found in several studies to be within permissible levels for consumption. A 2009 study by the School of Pharmacy in Mashhad, Iran, found mercury levels in all fish species tested (anchovy, carp, shark etc) were found to be high, but still below the permissible levels set by the WHO/FAO for mercury intake.

It was noted in one study that the heavy metal content for Pelagic species (those that roam the oceans such as tuna and mackerel) in the Persian Gulf is higher than for those locked into the gulf. Reef fish, for example, from the Persian Gulf seem to be a good eat.

Overall, however, metal levels are still high enough for it to be recommended that Persian Gulf fish be consumed in moderation.

Caspian Sea

Caspian Sea fish are, however, another story.

The level of four heavy metals cadmium (Cd), copper (Cu), lead (Pb) and mercury (Hg) in the flesh of some of the most commonly consumed fish (kutum, carp, tench, and kafal) from the fishery, as well as water samples (90 each), collected from six different sites of southern Caspian Sea were evaluated by several Iranian studies over time.

There were noteworthy findings for those eating fish in Tehran.

The heavy metal levels in the fish most often consumed from the southern Caspian Sea fishery are significantly higher in the fish than in the water (because of bio-accumulation), and they are at unacceptable levels for human consumption. On my reading of the literature, cadmium, lead, and mercury levels are beyond the WHO/FAO permissible limits. Copper levels were at ‘action’ level in 2011.

The studies overall recommend that intake of Caspian Sea fish be extremely limited. In particular, people under 60kg (children, for instance) and pregnant woman, should avoid Caspian Sea fish to militate against the accumulative toxicity of heavy metals.

Conclusion

Eat only saltwater Persian Gulf fish when staying for prolonged periods in Iran. Eat fresh hamour, if you get the chance while in Tehran!

If just visiting, the intake of heavy metals likely not to be an issue, even if plucked from the Caspian Sea.

Some further reading on this:

1. “Levels of some heavy metal concentration in fishes tissue of southern Caspian Sea”, Mehdi Zarei, Asad Asadi, and Shekofeh M. Zarei, Khorramshahr University of Marine Science and Technology, Faculty of Marine Science,Department of Marine Biology, Iran. August, 2011

2. Toxicology and Industrial Health. 2010 Nov 26 (10): 649-56. “Heavy metals (Zn, Pb, Cd and Cr) in fish, water and sediments sampled from Southern Caspian Sea, Iran”. Tabari S, Saravi SS, Bandany GA, Dehghan A, Shokrzadeh M.

3. Toxicological & Environmental Chemistry, Volume 92, Issue 6, 2010 “Exposure assessment for mercury from consumption of marine fish in Iran”, S.A. Moallema, G. Karimia*, M. Hasanzadeh Khayyatb, M. Bozorgia, A. Nili-Ahmadabadia & F. Nazaria.