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OFF the BEATEN TRACK
 
Ali Sadr Caves

If you reckon seeing another mosque, archaeological site or museum will have you retching, take a detour to these remarkable caves, about 100km (62mi) north of Hamadan in western Iran. The caves, discovered only 40 years ago by a local shepherd looking for a lost goat, are up to 40m (130ft) high, and contain several huge, deep lakes. Nothing lives in the clear water - bats don't even hang around here - and there are no signs of any previous inhabitants. Frequent minibuses travel between Ali Sadr village and Hamadan, which is in turn accessible by bus from Tehran, 336km (208mi) to the north-east.

 
Chogha Zambil

Alongside the Dez River, the remarkably well-preserved ziggurat of Chogha Zambil is the best surviving example of Elamite architecture anywhere, and it has now been registered with UNESCO. Originally it had five concentric storeys but only three remain, reaching a total height of some 25m (82ft). It's hard to believe that such an imposing landmark was lost to the world for more than 2500 years, which it was until being accidentally spotted in 1935 during an oil company's aerial survey.Chogha Zambil is in southern Iran, near the Iraqi border, 45km (28mi) east of Shush, which is accessible by train and bus from Tehran. Because Chogha Zambil is way off the beaten track, you should consider chartering a taxi or getting a bus to drop you off at the main highway turnoff and then hitching.

 
Gombad-é Kavus

Gombad-é Kavus is a spectacular tomb tower, a stunning memorial to the remarkable Ghabus (of which 'Kavus' is a corruption), a prince, poet, scholar, general and patron of the arts. He ruled the surrounding region at the turn of the 11th century and decided to build a monument to last forever. The 55m (180ft) tower was completed in 1006, six years before Ghabus was slain by an assassin.Gombad is 93km (58mi) north-east from Gorgan, a sizeable town in northern Iran near the Caspian Sea. Minibuses leave about every hour from the special Gombad terminal. There's also a daily bus from Tehran, 470km (290mi) south-east of Gombad.

 
Masulé

Of all the traditional and unspoiled mountain villages in the Caspian Province of Gilan, Masulé rates as the most breathtakingly beautiful. It's a cool 1050m (3444ft) above sea level and, formed by several irregular levels of terraced cream houses, appears to have grown out of its surroundings. So steep is the slope that there isn't even a network of alleys - instead the flat roofs of many houses form a pathway for the level above.There are few facilities here (just one hotel and restaurant, although you may be able to get a room in a local home), but Masulé's inspired setting makes it worth the effort to get here. Masulé is 56km (35mi) from Rasht, which is six hours north-west by bus from Tehran. From Rasht, take a succession of shared taxis or charter your own.


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