Iran-Trotter: Navroud

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Javad Gharaei is a young tourist who travels across Iran to explore the country’s most exotic places. In this episode, he visits some villages near the Navroud River in Gilan.

TIME CODE: 00:00_05:00

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Javad Gharaee, Host: “Hi! I’m Javad Ghaaraaee. I’m an Iran-trotter. I’m travelling to the most pristine terrains of my beloved country and uncovering to you its many beauties. This time, I’ve come to Ardabil province, but the purpose of my trip is not to explore Ardabil. I’m going to walk the khalkhal-Asalem or Asalem-Khalkhal road; A beautiful popular hiking trail in the north of Iran. To be clear, I’ll be going from Khalkhal to Asalem. But I won’t be traveling on the same road as all the other tourists and holiday-makers. This is a very old trail used by the people of Talesh for their seasonal movements from the Khalkhal region to the Talesh region of Gilan province….and they’d walk all the way there and back….They’d go from their summer pastures in this region to their winter abodes in Asalem. But unfortunately, thick fog has blanketed this whole area and is preventing us from filming the Khalkhal area altogether. We haven’t even been able to film the Kelee col /kaal/ that’s only around two hundred meters away from where I’m standing. Now we are going to go down to Navroud valley. On our way, we’re going to traverse the summer pastures, very old villages located in this area and along this route before we arrive in the Asalem region….I hope we won’t run into any problems.”

Narration: I leave Ardabil province and after a long walk arrive in the heights of Asaalem in Gilan province. The Keree summer pastures were filled with freshness. The sounds of the herds and the Shepard’s flute filled the air in the area.

Conversation [Persian] Javad Ghaaraaee & Shepherd: “-I loved it. Great job. Who did you learn that from? When did you learn to play it? How old were you when you started playing the flute?

- I was twelve years old. I learned it from my father.

- You learned it from your dad at the age of twelve!

- Yeah, back then.

- As you looked out for the herd.

- As I did my shepherd duties. Yeah. It (the flute) keeps the sheep calm. It’s also pleasant to the human ear.

- You mean it gives you peace of mind?

- Yeah, it does.

- Is it true that when the shepherd plays his flute, the sheep produce more milk, they work up a greater appetite, they drink more water and eat more grass? That it calms them down?

- They especially drink more water.

- Uhuh

- That’s what it does to them. Yeah.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Javad Gharaee, Host: “In the words of the people of Keree, this area that’s now turned into a large pasture, was covered with trees some 40 or 50 years ago. In other words it was an extension of the forests lying in the lowlands of the Talesh area. But as a result of overgrazing for extended periods of time and the increasing numbers of the sheep here, all that forest area turned into a pasture. Even the pastures are on their way out because there are so many herds of sheep grazing here, the earth has become loose, destroying the vegetation in the area altogether. And when the vegetation disappears, there will be no roots to keep the earth in place. Gilan has a wet climate, which means heavy downpours that cause the earth to slide, and in some cases they cause flashfloods in the low-lying areas. And that is one of the biggest problems that Iranians, those living in or near forest areas, especially the hyrcanian forests, are grappling with. I hope these pastures will be restored, I hope new trees will grow on them for the next generation to benefit from them.”

TIME CODE: 05:00_10:00

Conversation [Persian] Host and Rural people:“Please be seated. Please. Hi. How is it going? Hello! How is everything? How are you ladies? What are you doing? What’s that? Wow, look at all those strawberries. Where did you pick them?

- In the forest.

- Yeah, the forest down there.

- These are wild strawberries, right?

- Yes, they’re wild.

- They’re very small but…Man, they smell great.

- They’re many of these down there.

- It’s intoxicating. So you pick these in the forest, bring them here and do what?

- We eat them raw, and we make jelly with them.

- We make strawberry jelly.

- Strawberry jelly?

- Yeah

- Strawberry jelly. Yum yum!”

Narration: I always establish good rapport with the people I meet in my trips around my beloved country. And those relationships help me get to know the customs, the traditions and the cultures of these wonderful people. I learn many things from them. Right at the beginning of my trip to the summer pastures, Hassan, one of the honorable men of Keree, invited me to his beautiful, traditional house. A house made from tree branches like all the other houses built in Gil.

Conversation [Persian] Host and Rural people:“- Please, let’s go inside.

- This is some place to live in. It’s a piece of heaven.

- You are right. We love it here. It is what it is.

- What’s the name of this area? The name of your summer home?

- Keree.

- Keree?

- Yeah. Keree, that’s what it’s called.

- And what do you call that valley? Is this the famous Navroud valley? And it goes all the way to the Upper-Nav and Lower-Nav, right?

- Exactly. It goes all the way to Asalem.

- What a beautiful house you have.

- Quick question.

- Go ahead.

- The route I’m taking to Asalem…

- OK.

- …Um, used to be your nomad trail, right?

- Yeah, it was in the past.

- Yes, it was in the past. I mean that’s what the elders here have told me.

- And we’d travel on horses and mules.

- How far is it from here to Asalem on foot?

- The distance between Khalkhal and Asalem is 70 kilometers.

- OK?

- You’ve already covered 10 kilometers, you have to walk another 10 kilometers to Lakhachee and then another 50 kilometers to Asalem. A total of 70 kilometers. OK?

- And on my way there, are there any villages? What are their names?

- Yes, there are. This is Keree.

- OK.

- The one down the hill from here, we call it Koolaroo.

- Koolaroo.

- You have to walk there. We go there on our horses and mules.

- OK.

- Where does that village begin? [Indistinct]

- OK.

- Yeah. Over there, you’ll arrive at a river…

- Is it an easy trail?

- No, it’s bad. It’s all rocky.

- Uhum.

- OK? Then you go to Upper-Nav and Lower-Nav. The scenery in Lower-Nav is a must-see. It’s very, very old. Very. Also….

- I hear, the Upper and Lower Nav villages are like a thousand years old.

- Yeah.

- That’s what the elders in the area tell me.

- Upper-Nav was washed away by floods. There isn’t much left of it.

- You mean no one lives there?

- One or two households. The floods have destroyed it all. Not much left of it. I mean, how do I put this? It looks terrible at the moment.

- Is that right?

- But Lower-Nav is pretty much there with its inhabitants. It’s been there from the distant past. Like for a hundred, for 40 or 50 years, people have lived there.

- Right.

- And their living conditions have improved compared to the old times.

- Right.

- The youth have left. The old have stayed behind.

- Right.

- OK? They have cows, sheep, horses, mules. They own things like that.

- Mm-hum.

- They live here all year round. I mean they don’t go to Gilan.

- They don’t?

- They don’t.

- They are based here.”

TIME CODE: 10:00_15:30

Narration: My good friend Hassan insists that I spend the day in the village. So I seize the opportunity to walk among the people and learn more about them. Before this land was named Gilan, it had other names. In Avesta, the primary collection of religious texts of Zoroastrianism, this area has been introduced as Varena. The Greek named this region the Cadusii, after an ancient people who lived here before the emergence of the Aryans. Before the advent of Islam, the Gilan region was called Daylaman. Eventually, it was renamed Gilan; a name derived from the climate and the weather in this region. Because of the heavy rain falls in Gilan, the surface of the earth is usually covered with mud and sludge. In the local dialect, mud is referred to as Gil and Gilan is the land of a people who have their feet in Gil or mud, but are always facing the sun, always hopeful and always radiant. Gilan is known as a place where the earth has turned into mud as a result of abundant rainfalls. But when I get there, there isn’t much mud to see. This province and indeed the whole country has witnessed a sharp decrease in precipitations, and that means dried lands, plants and reduced grazing grounds for the livestock in Keree. With enough rain, this region becomes lush with flowers and other plants….brimming with natural freshness….The mountains show off their expansive green sides adorned with beautiful red poppies. Ample rain coming down in the spring season and in the summer, turns the region into a veritable green patch cut outta heaven. But this year’s drought spell hasn’t spared beloved Iran’s wettest province.

The dearth of feed is not the only problem facing the people of Keree. The sharp decline in rainfall, provides the ground for a viral disease to afflict the livestock and inflict heavy losses. The people living here say the disease spreads everywhere during a drought and that the reason behind its rapid spread is the drought and the thirsty plants. When they come down with the virus, the animals get painful mouth ulcers that prevent them from eating properly. As a result, they lose a lot of weight. Eventually, the raw ulcers spread to the animal’s legs and hooves and literally cripple them.

SONG: “O’ merciful God, tell the clouds to send down rain. Tell them to shower the paddy fields, the pastures and plains. Rain to Gilan is like a soul to a body. Without rain, Gilan is no fun. Rain to Gilan is like a soul to a body. Without rain, Gilan is no fun. My heart is dying from sorrow, O’ rain please solve my problem. Look at the spring and tell me what you see, thirst has brought the lady of the house to her knees. Look at the springs and tell me what you see, thirst has brought the lady of the house to her knees. My heart is dying from sorrow…..”

Narration: In the past, the Navroud Valley was a trail that Khalkhal nomads traversed to get to Asalem in Gilan. The Azeris living in this area would take their produce from Asalem to Khalkhal and exchange them with rice, tea and other amenities produced in Gilan. But now there’s a paved road between the mountain and the forest allowing people to travel back and forth in automobiles. The Talesh nomads of Keree don’t migrate using the old trail any more. The people of Keree are livestock herders and are originally Talysh. An unpretentious hard-working people who spend five months each year in higher plateaus like this and in the cold season they move to the forests of Asalem. Talysh is indigenous to a region shared between Azerbaijan and Iran which spans the South Caucasus and the southwestern shore of the Caspian Sea. But unfortunately the signing of the shameful Treaty of Golistan between Imperial Russia and Persia on October 24 1813 during the reign of Fath Ali Shah Qajar, confirmed the ceding and inclusion of what is today Daghestan, Georgia, most of the Republic of Azerbaijan, and parts of northern Armenia from Iran into the Russian Empire. And fourteen years after that, the disgraceful Treaty of Turkmenchay cut the Talysh region in half, separating the indigenous inhabitants from each other. But the Talysh who live in Iran today, have deep ties with each other and their culture. The Talysh of Keree are a self-sufficient people, themselves producing almost all their food.

TIME CODE: 15:30_20:00

Conversation [Persian] Host and Rural man:“- So, I got a question for you. You speak the Talysh language, right?

- That’s right.

- And you’re a Talysh, yes?

- I am, yes.

- But I’ve heard people here speak Azeri or Turkish, too.

- We speak those, too.

- Why is that?

- We just do.

- Because we’re close.

- Because you live close to Khalkhal.

- Exactly. We had to learn their language.

- You have interactions with the people of Khalkhal, is that right?

- That’s right. We learned Turkish in Khalkhal because they would speak with us in Turkish and we had to learn it.

- So you mean when you’d go to Khalkhal to sell your produce and buy what you needed there…

- Yes.

- We had to learn Turkish.

- Yes, we had to speak Turkish.

- You had to speak Turkish.

- Well done. So now you know Farsi, Talyshi and Azeri, three languages and dialects.

- Yes, all three of them.

- That’s amazing.

- I don’t know much Farsi, though.

- People speak less and less Talyshi these days, right?

- That’s right.

- I feel like some of the young people here, and you said so, too, I mean the Talyshi language is dying gradually. Why is that?

- It’s dying because the kids speak Farsi. I don’t know how it happened. Was it the impact of school or something else? Young parents speak with their kids in Farsi the moment their kids are born. But the (older) people living here don’t like that.

- Right.

- They expect them to speak their own language. [Indistinct] over there, they hate it.

- Uhuh. Right.

- They’re supposed to speak their own language.

- Hmm, should speak their own language.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Javad Gharaee, Host: “One of the challenges, in other words one of the problems, one of the cultural problems facing the ethnic Talysh in the Gilan region is that the Talysh language is starting to be forgotten. Because the younger generation, be it for school or television or interacting with communities who don’t speak the same language, intend to speak less and less Talyshi. And that’s a terrible thing, the reason being the Talyshi language is simply dying away once and for all. At the moment, it’s the Talysh elders here who are able to speak the language fluently. Many of the young people who live here right now, can’t speak it very well. They don’t know many of the words. And that means their language is going to face a serious threat in the future.”

Narration: Work is the best hobby for those dwelling in the natural world. But apart from that, there’s another pastime that’s very popular among the nomads here. And that is visiting the kith and kin. Normally, neighbors spend many a night getting together in one of these shacks exchanging pleasantries, taking a trip down memory lane or discussing problems. It is starting to get dark and I am invited to Uncle Parveez’s hut for dinner. Parveez is my good friend Hassan’s father. That evening, I learned peculiar yet interesting things about the culture and beliefs of the Talysh people in the past and present.

Conversation [Persian] Host and Rural People:“- You mean you wouldn’t speak to your wife in front of your kids?

- Not in my dad’s presence.

- Before your dad.

- If my parents were present. I wouldn’t talk to my wife and I wouldn’t even look at my kids.

- But why?

- It was tradition. It was the norm at the time.

- It was tradition. That’s a strange tradition, don’t you think?

- It was. That’s right.

- Haj Parveez here is telling me he wouldn’t speak a word with his wife and kids in his parents’ presence…It was frowned upon.

- We were all like that.

- That’s right. Exactly.

- But what’s wrong with that?

- Nothing.

- On the evening of our weddings, and even on the wedding day, all of us, Parveez, this gentleman or me…

- Right.

- We wouldn’t stay in the village. We would go hide somewhere.

- No kidding.

- I’m not. We all went into hiding. Later, people would….

- Hang on Ali….

- Let me explain it. It was his own wedding, right?

- OK.

- He didn’t stay in the village. He went somewhere else.

- So I went somewhere and hid.

- This is incredible.

- I did that.

- Look! What’s your name again?

- It’s Javad.

- Javad, buddy. So it was my uncle’s wedding. His name’s Jahangir.

- When everybody went to usher his bride home, he went and hid somewhere. Others accompanied the bride to his house.

- OK.

- After the bride’s arrival, he later came out of hiding and showed up at home. I remember it vividly.

- Exactly.

- This is all very strange. I mean it’s unbelievable.

- Absolutely.

- I mean the grooms were so demure, there were so many formalities. back then. Here’s what they did…

- They were brought here on a horse.

- When they brought the groom to the house, the groom had to be out somewhere. He would go hide somewhere in the mountains.

- Yes. That’s what we did.

- And then he’d somehow find out his bride was in the house. That was when he’d sneak into the house, right? Did your husband do the same thing?

-They were all brought here on horses.

- They brought her on a horse but the groom wasn’t around.

- No! Of course not.

- He’d have to hide in the mountains.

- Yes, sir.

- I went and hid somewhere.

- Or they’d go to a relative’s house.

- He’d hide in a relative’s house and then show up when it was time.

- Because the elders of the village were in the wedding…

- Uhuh

- They were all too shy to come out.

- For a whole week….

- I lived with my father in law for thirty years, and I never sat down to a meal with him.

- You didn’t sit down to a meal with your father in law for thirty years?

- For thirty years.

- Javad buddy, listen here…

- We’d do this! We’d hold our scarf like this and eat.”

TIME CODE: 20:00_25:00

Conversation [Persian] Host and Rural People:- She did that for thirty years.

- Do I have your attention Javad?

- Yes, yes. You do.

- Now get this.

- Go ahead.

-When someone’s dad brought the bride home, when he brought her home in the afternoon, he would hide the bride here.

- Yeah, they’d hang up a curtain…

- We’d hang up a curtain like this and the bride had to stay behind it.

- That’s incredible.

- The bride could just see through the curtain. [laughs]

- Yeah, one night…

-Look here…

- And if he so much as looked at the spot where the bride was, the elders would frown at him and say, “What business do you have looking at that spot?”

- “You mustn’t be looking.”

- Yes.

- The bride would have to stay behind the curtain for like 24 or 48 hours.

- Wonders never cease.

- I swear to God.

- Is this working?”

Narration: I’m going to head down to the bottom of Navroud valley tomorrow, and walk the length of the old Khalkhal-Asalem nomad trail. But unfortunately, I wasn’t able to leave the hut for two days.

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Javad Gharaee, Host: “It’s around 43 to 44 degrees now in the middle of, well it’s not even mid-summer, it’s almost the beginning of the summer, the final days of spring. It’s very hot and dry in the capital city Tehran. Here we are in a village on the Khalkhal to Asalem route. And the heavy rain won’t allow us to enter intobtheNavroud Valley where we can walk to the ancient nomadic trail that linksKhalkhal to Asalem. I hope this very wet and cold weather will let up tomorrow so we can move on. I hope so.”

Conversation [Persian] Host and Rural People:“- So do you pour tea and bring it out on a trey to the suitor?

- If my memory serves me right, we didn’t do that in our time. But it’s common now.

- It’s happening now. But not in the past. How about you? When they came to ask for your hand in marriage, did you serve them tea?

- No!

- Not the old generation.

- They didn’t.

- No, sir.

- Because in the past, girls wouldn’t sit down with a mixed gathering.

- No! No! No!

- No, they wouldn’t. We are talking about twenty years ago.

- I’m sorry! Parveez is like an older brother to me, and he is my cousin….

- Right.

- When my father wanted to ask her dad about us getting married, when he was talking to his cousin about marriage and stuff…

- Right.

- I said, “Dad, what are you talking about?” He said, “Shut up! It’s none of your business.” She and I were the ones going to get married. And he was going to get me my aunt’s daughter. But he said, “What business is that of yours?” “None of your beeswax.”

- “It’s none of your business.”

- They considered it rude.

- You mean it was likely that the groom-to-be wouldn’t see the girl he was marrying?

- It was. He might not. That’s what it was like.

- You mean the guy wouldn’t see the girl at all before they got married. They would see each other after it was all over?

- He would see her actually.

- He would. But there was no talking. He wasn’t allowed to talk to her.

- They had no right to talk to each other.

- The fathers had the last say.

- The fathers wouldn’t let them talk to each other.

- They weren’t allowed to talk to each other.

- They’d say, “You want to get married?” “We’re going to get you so-and-so’s daughter.” You weren’t allowed to talk to her.

- What if the guy came out and said, “Dad, I don’t want her.” What would have happened?

- He would never do that. It didn’t work like that.

- Let me break it down for you….

- So it was an imposed decision.

- It wasn’t exactly imposed on us, but

- Javad, buddy…

-But that’s exactly what happened!

- Javad sir, you want to know how they met? For example….

- It was imposed. When you didn’t get to make the decision.It was imposed.

- There, she’s saying you didn’t have a choice.

- Hang on a minute. Look! Let me explain. For instance, my own sister…

- Yes.

- When my father wanted to get me my wife, I asked my sister to tell the girl to sneak to a quiet spot sometime in the evening, because I wanted to have a word with her and find out if she really wanted to marry me. That’s how it worked. Yeah, but during the day, I’d never have been able to go see her. Yeah.

- You don’t say.

- They would see each other one evening.

- Yes, they would see each other.

- But very rarely.

- Most of us are related. We are all relatives of each other.

- Right.

- There wasn’t much compelling involved.

- Because we are all related to each other.

- OK, but I just heard this lady here say “Yes, sometimes we really didn’t have a choice.”

- Yes. It really was like that.

- That’s her own personal opinion.

- Listen. Listen! Look! Look here Javad…

- You’ve all given me your side of the story. Let hear her side, too.

- So she married her own cousin?

- Yes.

- Was she happy?

- I don’t know.

- Apparently not.

- Apparently not.

- She regrets it, Javad buddy. She’s changed her mind.

- How about back then? Where you OK with it back then?

- No!

- No, she wasn’t OK with it.

- She didn’t want to marry him. And you knew about it.

- I did. I knew she didn’t want to marry him.

- Still you let her go ahead and marry him.”

Narration: On the third day, I say goodbye to the kind people of Keree and set out on the rest of my journey in relatively good weather. Behind me, I see a beautiful view of the summer pastures. But deforestation in the highlands in the years passed and overgrazing in the same period have taken their toll on the environment. With the growth in our populations on earth and with the change in lifestyles that demand more and more comfort, we humans have begun to over-use the limited natural resources afforded us by our planet, and in doing so we are violating the laws of nature. Unfortunately, most of us humans have grown accustomed to watching the degradation of nature, and overtime we’ve become indifferent to what’s becoming of the environment.

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Javad Gharaee, Host: “This is where Navroud Valley begins and the spring that you see down there is where Navroudriver begins and flows all the way down to Asalem.

Whoa! It’s so slippery! Because of all the rain recently. This is the season when the wild fruits in the Ilkhani forests ripen. The most important fruit in the Alborz forests is the delicious sour plums. They are pesticide-free and fertilizer-free. They are as organic as they can get. Umm…They’re perfect.

Wow! Look over here! This is so beautiful. Look how God has created a natural vase in the trunk of this tree…with so many beautiful and different little plants. It’s just gorgeous.”

Narration: I have a long way ahead of me. I had a great feeling walking along the same trail as the nomads inhabiting this region. My head was buzzing with the voices of the men and women of the nomadic tribes. The laughter of children riding on horses accompanying their parents in the transhumance. The folks in this region had their own very unique set of beliefs in the past. Beliefs that would be out of place in today’s world. But the symbol of one of those beliefs was still standing tall on my way.

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Javad Gharaee, Host: “This is it. I’m smack in the middle of the nomadic trail that begins in the Keree summer pastures and stretches all the way down to Asalem. I was told by the people of Keree that halfway on the trail, I’d come across a tree with lots of stones on it. Well, these stones didn’t go up there on their own. During the practice of moving livestock in a seasonal cycle, they’d pick up a stone and throw it into that hollow on the trunk of this tree. If the stone stayed up there, the lady who’d thrown it, would become pregnant that year. That of course was a belief held by the ancient people. So if the stone fell down to the ground, they probably wouldn’t get pregnant and would continue down the path with a heavy heart. So interesting.

The horse can’t continue on the old trail because this bit is impassable. So we’ll have to take a detour. We’re going to walk along the river for now and get back to the old trail a little bit further down.”

TIME CODE: 25:00_30:00

Narration: On my way, I walked passed tell-tail signs of floods and landslides caused by the human destruction of the forests in the highlands. I have already walked half of the trail when rain clouds start to accumulate in the sky above and torrential rain comes pelting everything.

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Javad Gharaee, Host: “Wow! Just take a look at how beautiful this is. My goodness! This fella is a spruce sawyer that lives in the Hyrcanian forests. It’s very long antennae are almost three times its body length. This is one of the most beautiful insects you can see in the Hyrcanian forests. “God must have taken His time creating you! It’s really beautiful. I better let it go so it can get on with his life in the forest. Off you go buddy!””

Narration: Luckily enough, the filming crew and I stumble onto a deserted village a few hundred meters from where we are standing and take shelter in one of the houses before we get soaking wet. I can feel the spirits of the many and varied memories of very simple human beings wandering about in these deserted homes. When the rainfinally stops falling, I leave that very beautiful hamlet and continue my journey. Before long, it’s starts to rain cats and dogs once again. I have no choice but to keep walking, because I have to cross the river and get out of the valley before the floods come.

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Javad Gharaee, Host: “This is also what’s great about the environment. It’s full of freshness and joy. This rain has made us all wet to the bone and prevented us from continuing our walk, of course only for now. Still, we are enjoying every moment and are thankful to God for sending down rain after such a long time. It hadn’t rained here for two or three months. Fortunately, in the past six or seven days since we came to this region, we’ve been getting great rainfalls.”

TIME CODE: 30:00_35:00

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Javad Gharaee, Host: “I hope it’ll rain again. Even if that means we can’t film. Thank you God! Finally, after a long walk, I’ve arrived in the Upper-Nav village. Unfortunately, not much is left of it and no one lives here anymore. No families, nothing….because, uh, floods and landslides have destroyed the houses that used to be here. I can only see a couple of houses that are still standing….though no body lives in them anymore. I’m going to have to head out right away and get to the Lower-Naav village. This is no place to stay in.

Narration: I went through Upper-Nav that had almost been wiped off by floods and landslides in previous years and eventually, after spending hours walking under the sun and in the rain, I arrived in the Lower-Nav village. It was a quiet little hamlet and it seemed like there weren’t many people living in it. Moments after I arrived, one of the kind men of the village, invited me to his house.

Conversation [Persian] Host and Rural People:“-Hi. How is it going? I hope all’s well. Nice to meet you.

- I’m fine thank you. You, too.

- So this is the famous Lower-Nav, right?

-Correct. It’s right here.

- So this is it. That’s great.

- Where are you coming from?

- I’m coming from somewhere near Khalkhal…From the Kereemountain pass. I walked through the summer pastures, Upper-Nav and here I am now.

- Ok! You are invited to my place for the evening.

- Thank you but we’ll find someplace to stay.

- Noway. I insist. Spend the night at my place.

- Are you sure that’s not a problem.

- Not at all. I’d be delighted.

- Seriously? So it’s OK if we spend the evening at your place?

- We’ll be more than happy to have you over.

- Thank you so much. We’d love to. See you soon.”

Narration: Moments after I stepped into Lower-Nav, one of the kind men of the village, invited me to his house….a house that radiated beauty, serenity and a spirit of life. It was home to a simple family whose members lived together with hope and hard work, and with a distain for extravagance and pretention.

Conversation [Persian] Host and Rural People:“- You mean your forefathers told you that people have been living here for thousands of years.

-Yes. This is a very old village. Very.

-How interesting.

-Yes.

-So all the houses in the village were built many years ago, right?

-Yes.

- No one has come and built a modern house. Although you have electricity now, your houses have remained as they have always been.

- They’re all traditional.

- Would you like these old houses to be preserved?

- Yeah.

- Never to be ruined? Or do you prefer them to be replaced with buildings made of concrete, steel, bricks and so on?

-No. Those are good for nothing.

- Way to go.

- They are nothing like these houses. All it takes to warm this place up is one heater.

- Right.

-You can easily keep it warm.

- Right.

- But houses made of stone and mortar….They won’t be warm even if you have two heaters on all night.

- I hear you. But wooden and Cobb houses, trap the heat in them.

- Yes, exactly.

-And in the summer when it warms up, this place continues to be cool.

- It continues to be cool.

- I think it doesn’t get warm around here in the summer, does it?

- No! It’s still cold.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Javad Gharaee, Host: “Yusuf has let me use the best and most beautiful room in his house to rest in tonight. I really envy the people living here for living in such a house. This one is around 150 years old….with their wooden beams, wooden ceilings, with walls made of cobb, all these walls….those recesses they’ve created into the walls… These hand-woven kilims and jajim rugs covering the floors…So colorful, so beautiful, so exotic. Being here just fills you with energy. These houses are full of positive energy. They give you so much peace.”

TIME CODE: 40:00_45:00

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Javad Gharaee, Host: “Apart from that and all these aesthetic delights, these people themselves are such pure souls, so amiable, and so hospitable. They make you feel so at home, so welcome. I feel like this is my own house. I really don’t wanna leave this house. I think tomorrow is going to be a beautiful day because I’m going to visit many other houses like this one, old houses that are fortunately still standing. I’m going to feast my eyes on them. Good night for now. Man, I love the vibes I’m receiving from this house. I have so much peace here.”

Narration: Next morning, I wake up to the voices of the people and the sounds of the livestock in the village.

Conversation [Persian] Host and Rural People:“- Do you spend winters here, too?

- No, we go to other side.

- You go to Kishlak in the winter? This is your Yaylag, right?

- Yes.

- Actually, we move there two weeks before the summer comes to an end.

- You go there.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Javad Gharaee, Host: “It’s so interesting. This place is sorta considered as the Kishlak for the people of Keree, who are in their Yeylag as we speak. But to the people of Nav, this is Yaylag. Their Kishlak is near Asalem, in fact. It’s very cool here. But it snows a lot here and is very cold in the winter.”

Lower-Navis a special village. The traditional architecture of all the houses has been preserved. Fortunately, there are no new buildings with urban architectural designs. The houses of the people of Talysh who live in the forest, are made from wood, stones and cobb. Houses that are perfectly compatible and harmonious with the natural environment. Houses that don’t harm the traditional and historical design of the village. Constructions that harbor a lot of positive energy.

The people of Lower-Nav are using a water turbine planted on the path of Nav River to produce electricity. That means electricity in every house here. But if electricity reaches some village somewhere, it spells be the beginning of the end for that village in terms of its culture and traditions. Despite having electricity and a clinic, the people here have preserved all their old customs. The architecture of the houses here is traditional and absolutely beautiful. None of the buildings here is new. Every house has followed the architectural design endemic to this region. They’ve all preserved the traditional architectural design. This is one of those villages that I think our country’s Cultural Heritage Organization, should try and keep in its current condition…It should help the inhabitants here protect and preserve these houses and their architecture that goes back many years, so that traces of the customs, of the culture and traditions of the people of Gilan are passed on the next generations. Villages like this are rare. Villages that have survived to this day and look like this. They have to be preserved.”

Narration: In the middle of the village, I run into families painting the exterior of their houses in their own traditional way. And they do so with great skill and collaboration. But they don’t use paint. They do it in a different way every year. It is a custom observed by the people of the village. The mud fills in the cracks in the walls, keeping these houses warm in the winter and cool in the hot season. The spirit of these old traditional houses are the reason behind the calm and tranquility among the people of the village. Apart from them, the presence of these unpretentious pure souls in the village, make these houses even more valuable. Humans are influenced to a great extent by the environment they live in….That’s how their souls and attitude towards the things around them are formed. There are many things around us humans. Things that are beautiful and things that are ugly. Good people with pure souls and people whose internal flame has flickered out. We humans grow up to look like the people and environment around us. We humans grow up to look like what we think we will. We can grow up to be beautiful with good and beautiful thoughts or be un-attractive because of our dreadful negative thoughts. The people of Navaren’t exempt from that rule. They are born in the pristine natural environment afforded them by forests and are influenced greatly by the beauties of nature. They grow up in the company of trees, rivers and mountains…..of people nurtured by Mother Nature herself….Nature that’s a manifestation of the creator of life.

Let me take your picture for keepsake. I’ll definitely bring it along if I come here again. One! Two! Three! May God protect you. Thank you so much. You have such a beautiful house. I hope it’ll continue to be standing like this forever.

May you live a long life. Thank you so much. Pleasure meeting you.

Conversation [Persian] Host and Rural People:“- We used to be neighbors.

- Do you still do farming or not?

- No! Not anymore.

- So you don’t farm anymore. You don’t keep many bees.

- Yes. That’s right.

- You don’t do gardening. All because of the children.

- Yes, yes, that’s correct. All because of the children. Yes.

- What a pity.

-You see, I can’t work anymore, and they aren’t here.

- Your children don’t help you.

- And why don’t they help you?

- Well, they say they’d like to work in Gilan. You know what I’m saying?

- But you’ve spent a lifetime raising them.

- Yes, I worked very hard for them but…

- You’ve provided them with everything….All those walnut trees, all these bees, all that livestock…

- All this land, those three and so on are all mine…

- Why don’t they come to help you? What else do they want from you?

-They don’t want to work here.”

Narration: An increasing number of the young people in the village continue to take an interest in moving to a city and living there for a more comfortable life, but without a doubt, they don’t know the price they will have to pay for it. The price for a higher income and for more facilities available in cities, is peace and frugality….is breaking their bond with the natural world and its beauties….abandoning the strong bonds with family members and relatives. Getting stuck in the rat race, the hustle and bustle of city life and the day-to-day monotony. A fact that the old bee-keeper knows all too well. But in the words of Fat-hullah, the children of today, don’t comprehend that easily because they have little life experience. Living in a village and in the natural world involves its own difficulties. The village of Nav enjoys a big spring with ample water at its southern end. But the households in the village do not have piped water.

Conversation [Persian] Host and Rural People:“-There’s no pluming.

- OK.

- They said they were going to erect a water tower up there and another one down there.

- The other end of the village.

- You are telling me you don’t have water here. But there’s so much of it. How come you are saying that?

- We don’t have water towers and we don’t have pluming.

- So you have water but not a water tower.

- We come here six times a day, to take home water. About a kilometer away.”

Narration: In the words of the locals, provincial officials promised ten years ago to supply every household here with piped drinking water. Ten years later, that is yet to happen. The ageing population of the village still have to walk a long way to the spring every day to fill up their vessels with water, or to wash their dishes, and laundry, AND return home carrying a heavy load.

They don’t expect the dirt road that led to the village to be paved because they knew very well that a paved road meant the most extensive destruction of the natural environment in the area, and a replacement of Nav’s traditional culture and old houses with a new culture and with modern buildings. But despite the absence of piped water, the people of Nav live a beautiful life: They have the water from the river Nav and other drinking water springs;They have orchards and farm lands; they have clean air in a tranquil environment; topped off with precious beautiful houses. These people earn a living from farming, keeping bees and livestock. Living and working in such an environment contributes to the physical and mental well-being of these people. A hard-working community who earns an honest living doing manual labor. Nature is these people’s home and their children’s playmate.

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Javad Gharaee, Host: “If they kids here want to play, they come to the river and make each other wet. And they make no exceptions.”

Narration: The happiness and energy of these village children really touched me. In addition to all the beauties of that village, my visit to the ruins of one particular house also stuck with me; The Khan’s old house.

TIME CODE: 45:0.0_48:08

Conversation [Persian] Host and Rural People:“- Hello there. Do you live here?

How old is this house?

- 150.

- It’s 150 years old?”

Narration: Unfortunately, there was no one around to rescue this unique and beautiful house. This house along with all the other buildings in Nav, have great cultural value for Gilan province and Iran proper. The houses here are falling into ruin one after another and the residents, are emigrating to cities one family at a time.

Narration: This is the day when I bid farewell to the kind people of Nav. I have to resume my journey to the shores of the Caspian Sea in Gilan Province. I still had a long way to go on the nomadic trail. The beauties that lay on the way, kept fatigue and exhaustion at bay. As I resume my journey, I wish for the Hyrcanian forests in this region to be preserved; from the summer pastures to the Caspian Sea coastline in Asalem. I wish for the natural environment in Gilan to be preserved. I wish for the preservation and registration of the architecture and culture of the people in Nav village. I wish for the people of Nav to have piped drinking water in their homes. I also wish the dirt trail that links the ancient villages in this region would never be paved with asphalt so this pristine natural environment is be preserved for our future generations.

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Javad Gharaee, Host: “Whoa…hahahaha…Cut guys. I almost fell off….Let’s do it over.”

   

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