Sunday, January 24, 2010

Damavand

(Picture courtesy of mused.pixelflake.com)

Mount Damavand is a dormant volcano and the highest peak in Iran. Located in the middle Alborz Range, and at 5,671 meters, it is the highest point in the Middle East and the highest volcano in all of Asia. Though not volcanically active, there are fumaroles near the summit crater that deposit sulfur. The mountain is located near the southern coast of the Caspian Sea, in Amol county, Mazandaran, 66 kilometers northeast of Tehran.


The volcano itself is fairly regular but not symmetrical. It is a small volcanic structure at its base (only 400 square kilometers). The base of the volcano rests unevenly on a very folded geological substratum of compacted sediments, clays, and often unstable schists and limestone. Its extreme elevation is due to an underlying foundation rising as high as 2,400 meters and an additional 1,400 meters higher because of the northern lava flows.


At present volcanic activity is manifested only in the presence of warm and thermal springs with therapeutic qualities which have formed travertine deposits and remain very popular. These mineral hot springs are mainly located on the volcano's flanks and at the base, giving evidence of volcanic heat comparatively near the surface of the earth. While no historic eruptions have been recorded, hot springs at the base and on the flanks, and fumaroles and solfatara near the summit, indicate a hot or cooling magma body still present beneath the volcano, so that Damavand is a potentially active volcano. The most important of these hot springs are located in Larijan village in the district of Larijan in Lar Valley. The water from this spring is useful in the treatment of chronic wounds and skin diseases. Near these springs there are public baths with small pools for public use.


The oldest known name of this peak dates back to the Sassanid era where it was known as Donbavand (meaning mountain of many faces). After several intermediate names (including Donyavand in the spoken dialect) the name Damavand was established by Ferdosi, who abandoned the root donb for the root dama, meaning snowstorm.


Damavand has, as any cursory reading of Persian literature will indicate, a special place in the Persian mythology and folklore. The popular traditions of the villages around the mountain are filled with legends and superstitions of which traces can be found in place names, as in the upper valley of the Lar, where a small ravine sprinkled with marshes, warm springs, and geysers is named Div Asiab (the devil’s mill).


Damavand is the symbol of Iranian resistance against foreign rule in Persian poetry and literature. In Zoroastrian texts and mythology, the three-headed dragon Azi Dahaka was chained within Mount Damavand, there to remain until the end of the world. In a later version of the same legend, the tyrant Zahhak was also chained in a cave somewhere in mount Damavand after being defeated by Kaveh and Fereydoon. The mountain was also the scene of an episode in the story of Rostam and Esfandiar. Damavand is also significant to the Iranian legend of the heroic Iranian archer Arash Kamangir and a suspected root for Tiregan Festival.

There are at least 16 known routes to the summit which have different difficulties. Some of them are very dangerous and need rock climbing. The most popular route is the Southern Route which has step stamps and also a camp at 4,220 meters. The longest route is the Northeastern and it takes two whole days to reach the summit starting from downhill village of Nandal and a night stay at Takht’e Fereydoun (elevation 4300 m), a two-story shelter. The western route is famous for its sunset view. Simorgh shelter in this route at 4,100 meters is a newly constructed shelter with two stories. There is a frozen waterfall/icefall about 12 meters tall and the elevation of 5,100 meters is the highest fall in Iran and Middle East.

A proposal had been made by a group of Iranian mountaineers to register the highest peak in the Middle East, Mount Damavand, as a national heritage site. There were also talks of renaming Tiregan Festival after Mount Damavand. While Mount Damavand Day did not officially replace Tiregan, however, the two holidays have been celebrated within a few days of one another.

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