Visiting Iran’s Kurdistan was high on my list of places to visit during my trip to Iran. I had heard so much good things about it and the fact that not many people go there made me want to visit this region with an interesting history.
Kurdistan is not an actual country, but the Kurds are a proud ethnic group of about 35 million people living in Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran. As ethnic minoritiess they have often faced repression and discrimination and many dream of a Greater Kurdistan where they can be themselves.
Iran’s Kurdistan has a history of discrimination, although less prominent as in neighbouring Iraq or Turkey. That is why their culture is still strong and alive.
The dress code for women seems to be more relaxed. Colourful dresses and headscarves are more visible here and the men wear a traditional costume of baggy pants with a belt. In Tabriz Iranians told me they believed Iran’s Kurdistan to be dangerous. Kurdish people were wild and uncivilized. What I found was quite the contrary.
The bus from Tabriz to Sanandaj took 7 hours, but it was a pleasant journey. We rolled through a mountainous green landscape while the bus assistant kept sharing food and cups of tea with me.
Sanandaj is a small town surrounded by hills and a lively bazaar full of fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs. Not many tourists make it all the way here, therefore people were really curious and friendly. Iran keeps surprising me with its hospitality, but Sanandaj really made it to the top of the friendliest cities.
I found a small place where they served tea and dizi, a lamb stew with chickpeas, potatoes, onions and tomato. It was my first time to eat dizi in Iran and it is eaten in a very particular way. First the broth is poured in a bowl with pieces of bread. Then the rest is mashed together and eaten with the rest of your bread.
Luckily I had read this before in the Lonely Planet otherwise I would probably have made a fool out of myself. Still I was quite the attraction in town. When I entered the restaurant there were just a few other people, but in no time it was full with people watching me eat.
The next day I went out of Sanandaj to a village called Palangan. First I took a bus to Kamyaran where I was lucky to catch the infrequent public bus to Palangan. The local minibus was an experience in itself. Once everyone boarded we actually went back into town.
People needed to do groceries and we spent one hour stuffing bags full with potatoes, onions, garlic and tomatoes untill there was hardly any space left for us to sit. I was adopted by an older lady who kept giving me sweets and sunflower seeds while she was obviously talking about me with the other passengers.
Palangan is a quite popular picknick spot in this region. It was friday and the day off for Iranians. It was quite busy with people from the cities. Unlike Masouleh in Gilan, that is also very popular with local tourists, Palangan still feels very authentic.
The villagers go on with their daily life. Men are herding the sheeps, women do the laundry and children are playing around on the roofs. The stepped village is scenic and an oasis of peace and quietness.
At the end of the village were several places selling fish from the river. I ordered tea and soon several families joined me that wanted to know everything about the Netherlands. Nobody spoke english, but with the help of Google translate we managed to have some kind of conversation.
By the time I wanted to go back,there were no more buses, but one of the villagers immediately offered himself as a taxi driver. Kurdistan is really a beautiful place and and I wish I could have stayed longer.
Hedayat Hotel (400,000 rials for a single room, nice hotel with friendly people and a nice breakfast included, most hotels in the 2012 edition from Lonely Planet no longer exist).
From Tabriz there are frequent local busses to Saqqez (about 4 hours) and from there you can take frequent buses to Sanandaj (another 3 hours). Sanandaj has buses to Kermanshah & Tehran as well.
To get to Palangan it is easiest to hire a taxi or use a combination of taxi and local transport. There are frequent local buses from Sanandaj to Kamyaran and back (1 -2 hours). From Kamyaran you can walk to the taxi/ bus stand to Palangan. There is a local bus to Palangan that is very infrequent and takes a long time. My advice is to hire a taxi from Kamyaran as return transport from Palangan is also rare.
To read more about everything to see and do in Tabriz you can read my post about the best of Tabriz: a warm welcome to Iran.
My next stop was to Kermanshah & Hamedan: history in Central Iran.
Ellis is a travelblogger from the Netherlands with over 20 years of experience as an independent budget traveller in more than 50 countries. She has a Master degree in Cultural Anthropology and Global Health with a specialization in South Asian cultures and the Caucasus.