Everyone has heard of the fairy chimneys of Cappadocia in Turkey. But have you ever wondered whether the strange geological formations that produced the fairy chimneys are unique to Turkey? The answer is that they are not; similar formations can be found all over this part of the world, and often, in similar circumstances to Cappadocia, they’ve been converted into living quarters. Kandovan, in northwestern Iran, is one such place.
It’s thought that people first crept into the caves of Kandovan while hiding from Genghis Khan’s Mongolian army in the 13th Century CE.
If this is the case, then the original inhabitants of Kandovan must have found an upside to life amongst the fairy chimneys, because they decided to stick it out after the Mongolian hordes had retreated. And they’ve been modifying the natural caves, turning them into ever larger, ever more extensive homes, ever since.
Tourism in Kandovan is in its most nascent stages. There is a hotel, it’s a cave hotel, but it’s separate from the town. The hotel is newly built, it’s expensive, and the rooms appear sleek and modern and not at all sympathetic to the cave surroundings. Apart from the lack of natural light there’s little, if any, reminder of your hotel room’s subterranean setting. What then, I ask, is the point of staying there?
Tourists are permitted to walk around Kandovan as they like – or so we were told by the staff at the Tourism Information Office in Tabriz – however, Ami and I felt distinctly unwelcome during our brief exploration of the town’s narrow backstreets.
Residents, upon spying us from their tiny windows, would march out their front doors and stare at us with stern, conspicuously surly expressions. Greetings would go unreturned (Iranian tourists fared noticeably better than we did).
I don’t blame the locals for their behaviour. In fact I sympathise with their desire to be left alone. If I lived in Kandovan, I wouldn’t want tourists traipsing about my town either. But I fear they are fighting a losing battle. Kandovan is being promoted as a tourist destination – the main street already has a few souvenir shops and restaurants – and it is only a matter of time before there are more tourists in town than locals.
One of the main complaints about Cappadocia, Turkey, is that it’s too touristy. If you want to see the other end of the spectrum, then Kandovan, Iran, might be for you. But you better get there quick.
Kandovan is situated in East Azerbaijan Province in northwestern Iran. The nearest major city is Tabriz, which is approximately 50 km away, or about an hour’s drive. The easiest way to get to Kandovan is to hire a car for a half-day. If you wish to reduce costs then it is possible to catch a local bus to Osku (it’s about half-way), and from there get a taxi.