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Howraman

Caught at the intersection of powerful empires, the Kurds had their homes destroyed so regularly in medieval history that, by the XVIII century, a sizable part of society had foregone villages altogether and resorted to nomadism and brigandry. An important exception, thanks to its impenetrable mountain-hemmed position, was the Howraman (Ommanat) valley. This remains one of Iran's least known and most spectacular areas. In colder months you will still see Howraman men wearing kolobal, brown-felt jackets with distinctive shoulder 'horns'. There is plenty of age-old stone terracing and the villages are stacked Masuleh-style, one house's roof forming the next one's yard. The Hurami Kurdish language is quite distinct from Sorani Kurdish, which replaced it in Sanandaj, though Hurami was once the dialect of choice for regional Kurdish poets. Knowing even a few words will flabbergast and delight locals you meet. 'Fere-washa' and 'zarif' mean 'beautiful', 'wazhmaze' means 'delicious', 'deset wazhbu' (literally 'hand good') means 'thank you' to which one replies 'sarat wazhbu' ('head good' ie 'you are welcome').

From Biyakara, 17km east of Marivan, an asphalted road leads up through a narrow canyon, transits the extensive village of Dezli, and climbs a high pass where it divides. Two roads from here lead to Paveh, both breathtakingly beautiful. What appears to be the smaller branch wiggles along the Iraqi border at Dalani (don't take photos there), bypasses Nodesheh and continues via Nosud. This is now asphalted and is so much easier than the alternative, but classic, route via picturesque Kamala (basic kabab shops) and austere Howraman-at-Takht (Oruman-Takht) where the asphalt ends. Howraman-at-Takht is a particularly impressive and steep array of rock-and-mud bungalows viewed most photogenically from the diminutive Pir Shaliar shrine, 600m beyond. Although there is now a green-domed Muslim prayer-room here, that shrine's real interest lies in the animistic rocks and trees, behind, which are draped with votive rag-strips Buddhist-style. A Mithraic midwinter festival is reportedly still held here on the Friday nearest to 4 February. Some suggest that this is a cultural relic from preZoroastrian 'angel' worship, albeit with an Islamic overlay.

The slippery mud road from Howraman-at-Takht to Paveh (72km, 4.5 hours) is 90% hairpins: marvellously scenic but spine-jarringly exhausting, and impossible if wet or snowy (ie most of the winter). The most appealing villages en-route are Belbar, cupped in a deep mountain hollow, and Selin where brightly attired women sit at the roadside crocheting classic Howraman slippers (giveh). The best views are around Hawasawa (visible but inaccessible from the 'road') with grandeur reminiscent of the Karakoram Highway. Asphalt returns at Ura, 21km northwest of Paveh.

Getting There & Away
Snow allowing, Howraman-at-Takht makes a relatively easy taxi day-trip from Marivan (or even Sanandaj). There are also shared 4WDs between Biyakara and Howraman-at-Takht (1.45 hours, 50km), but you can't be sure of finding a ride back again the same day. A great idea is to engage a taxi or 4WD at Biyakara or Marivan and continue all the way to Paveh. Sharing a ride, prices will vary enormously according to vehicle, driver and what other co-passengers you can find for intermediate points.

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