Monday, October 25, 2010

Ramsar and the Caspian Sea

When we were kids, our general knowledge tests always carried a question on the Caspian Sea as the largest enclosed body of water of the world. Then my interest in philately introduced me to Ramsar as it was here the first meeting of the once vibrant RCD (Regional Cooperation for Development) organization was held (RCD had three members then: Pakistan, Turkey and Iran). And the for the third time Ramsar entered in my life or so to say I entered in Ramsar when I went for a yearlong study course in Iran.

My neighbour in Tehran was a PhD in cosmetics and had a vacation villa at Ramsar right on the Caspian Sea. One day he invited me to his villa and I readily accepted the gracious offer, as my dream of seeing two places that I heard of long time back, was about to be realized. On a long weekend, I packed up and drove to Ramsar with my family. We skirted the Karaj Dam with its deep blue waters, Tajrish and then through the Kandovan Tunnel – a one way tunnel under completely snow capped mountain top. We then went along the coast of Caspian Sea a little ahead of Slaman Shahr and passed through Tonekaban before reaching Ramsar. Along the coast, we came across small villages and we stopped at one of these, have photographs with a villager and his family. So very simple and friendly people they were.

Located in the north of Iran, Ramsar is lush green, densely wooded mountainous city, resting on the beautiful beaches of the Caspian. The city attracts tourists both from Tehran for its clean and pollution free environment. Its wooded hills gradually roll down to the beach, while the majestic Alborz Mountain forms its background. During Shah of Iran’s time, Ramsar was the official hill resort of the late king, who had built a beautiful palace (Kakh-e-Shah) on the hills overlooking Ramsar with a spectacular view of the Caspian. The palace has now been converted into a museum. There was a famous Casino in Ramsar which was burnt during the struggle for an Islamic revolution. When we visited Ramsar, the building still stood, charred and blackened. Now I hear a hotel has been built in the same building after modifications and renovation.

The villa of my neighbour was a three floored structure. And we would sit on the terrace facing the Caspian and see its vast stretches for hours together. One day he asked a friend of his to get us a sturgeon fish. Fishing of sturgeon, famous for its world quality caviar, is strictly prohibited in Iran, but our host wanted us to be served with the best of the best. So we sat in his living room where the fireplace was alight with woods. He himself prepared the fish, put the pieces on the skewers and placed near the fireplace to roast, and we waited as the aroma of the fish meat spread in the room. And when I ate the fish, I was spellbound. I had never tasted such a beautiful fish meat before. We all really thanked our host for the fish; we would have never eaten in our life time otherwise.

We also went boating in the Caspian Sea one day. The sea was very rough as it was too windy that day and the motor boat swayed laterally as it tried to wade through the noisy waves of the sea.

In the evenings, we would go to the bazaars of Ramsar, which were beautifully lit and decorated (my younger son at one of the shops of Ramsar – top left). There were two beautiful hotels at that time in Ramsar, beside small roadside motels and restaurants. One of the hotels was rather an old fashioned, which looked more like a museum than a hotel. Even its name “Hotel-e-Qadeem (Old Hotel)” vindicates its appearance and architecture (above bottom left).

There are natural springs at the foot of the Ramsar hills which had sulpher in their water. People from adjoining areas would come to these springs to bathe as they considered the water to cure many diseases. We went near the springs where the entire environ was sulpher smelly. We did not go inside though. Due to these hot springs, Ramsar has the highest level of natural radioactivity in the world. As per Wikipedia, the peak dose of radiation received by a person living in Ramsar for one year can be in excess of 260 mSv.

Ramsar is also famous for The Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar, Iran, 1971) -called the "Ramsar Convention" - an intergovernmental treaty that embodies the commitments of its member countries to maintain the ecological character of their Wetlands of International Importance and to plan for the "wise use", or sustainable use, of all of the wetlands in their territories. Unlike the other global environmental conventions, Ramsar is not affiliated with the United Nations system of Multilateral Environmental Agreements, but it works very closely with the other MEAs and is a full partner among the "biodiversity-related cluster" of treaties and agreements.

Despite all these years since I went to Ramsar, the memories are still fresh in my mind. If I go to Iran again, I will definitely re-visit Ramsar.


Asghar Javed said...

We have Ramsar sites here in Pakistan. Have a look at this:

Nice post.