A Stroll in the Shirpala Area
For this one you need to put on your hiking boots! Get those restaurants you usually go to out of your head. Leave your car at home and get to Tajrish Square, at the foot of the Alborz Mountain Range. In the northern corner, taxis are lined to take you up to Sar-e-band Square, where the statue of the mountain climber looks down the city. There you have two choices: either go up the stony steps of Shirdareh and directly get into the steep slopes of the chairlift path, or go through the path that strings Darband cafés beading the landscape, amid the swarm of dry-fruit sellers, up to the point where, in Pasqal’e, you’ll get into another path. Your target would be the Osun/Shirpala fork, where two signposts show the way. The higher you climb the less the number of cafés, the more beautiful the scenery, and the less visible signs of tourist havoc (plastic, potato chip, and snack bags or bottles).
Along the way you can rest your breath and have a fresh fruit juice in one of the stalls along the path. Don’t stay for too long, you are almost there. When you reach two sets of curving stony steps, the signposts for the Osun/Shirpala parting appears. A 100 meters up you’ll come across the Abdollahrish Cottage. Its name may not be that appetizing but it’s been there for a long time and has a history of its own.
Abdollah Abshari was a Mountain Climbing Federation guide nearly 60 years ago. He was known to be bold and adventurous, would climb any rock, feared no snow, wind or blizzard. He had a house in Darband Village, but could pick anywhere in the area to rest and have the sky as his ceiling. In 1972 the Federation established its first climbing station in the area and Abdollah started offering tea to occasional hikers near it, next to a rock under the numerous trees that studded the landscape at that time. Because of his thick beard people grew the habit of calling him Abdollahrish (Abdollah the Beard).
Around the Darband Valley, there were cafés that welcomed those fleeing to the outskirts of the city in the hot season. Tehranis were running away from the summer heat to the banks of the Darband River, enjoying the soothing breeze of Towchal Heights coupled with the ever-present kebab and barbeque corn. Although his stall was so high up that rarely these people would reach, his hospitality soon became known in the area. In those times, hiking was still not a pastime among Tehranis. Few would go climbing and Abdollah was mostly a guide for foreigners. As time passed and the population grew people came to him more often, so much so that Abdollah would have to get down to Darband Valley several time a week to get the things he needed for playing host to visitors. Soon afterwards, next to that very rock, he built a makeshift structure from which the steam of the kettle was always rising up. Now anyone who claimed to be a hiker knew his name. His popularity and the arrival of electricity in 1981 brought other villagers around making business next to Abdollahrish’s.
Nowadays all over the mountain, from Darband to Shirdarre to Pasqal’e and Twin Falls, all sorts of cafés welcome visitors and hikers. Those who are looking for leisure stay down there leaning on cushions and beds awaiting hobble-bubble and Kebab to be served while the more serious ones try their own stamina by passing each of these stalls.
The Abdollahrish Cottage still remain where it was, although it has become harder to recognize among all those cafés around it, unless you step inside to see his picture on the walls and realize that your hostess is a young lady. Marziyeh Abshari is Abdollah’s daughter, one of the 5 daughters of a total of six children, and the only one of them who accepted to take over the responsibility of the café when her father couldn’t get around anymore.
Marziyeh resembles Gordafarid of The Book of Kings fame. Being witty, no one can escape the sting of her tongue. Her mother helps out sometimes but in running the Cottage she has control, and doesn’t need anybody’s help anyways. Marziyeh’s cottage has some regular customers that have been coming around since Abdollah’s hospitality obliged them to do so and some new ones that rest there from time to time. By all those gifts hung on the walls one can conclude how customers respect the cottage and its new manager. Marziyeh is a capable person in satisfying and handling customers. She faces everyone in a friendly manner from the beginning and soon they start talking to her and among themselves with ease.
The menu of Abdollahrish is clear and has no specific features that other cafés don’t share: lentil dish (called adasi), fried eggs (Sunnyside up, scrambled), kebabs and meat stew (abgusht). Head and trotters dish is 2,500 Tomans. She can also warm some bull milk for you if you ask. Marziyeh, with that street accent of hers, would tell you that “apartment kids” cannot stomach Real Milk, “they’ve been fed so much rubbish that real milk upsets their system.”
The Abdollahrish Cottage is now one of hundreds of stations that invite hikers to take a minute rest. But there was time when it was the only café around. Passage of time has changed a lot of things, including its manager, who now faces a lot of competition.