As an Iranian living in the UK, I am torn between two countries. London has become my home where I live with my husband and two young children. My extended family, my past, my story though belong to Iran where I was born and grew up. My dad took me to the mountains when I was only five. I grew up learning the mountain rules; Dad’s way. Walk slow and steady. Don’t keep asking how far the summit is. Do not overtake the guide or the leader. Don’t eat up all your chocolate on the way, keep some for later! Patience, respect, teamwork, determination and ambition were the things I learnt from those days spent in the mountains of Iran with my Dad. I was only nine when I climbed Azad kooh at 4400m and a twelve year old when I climbed Iran’s third highest peak, Sabalan at 4800m. I learnt to love, to dream, to take risks and to live for what I believe in.
At the age of fifteen and the same year that Dad and I had planned to climb Iran’s highest mountain, Damavand (5671m); he underwent heart bypass surgery. That was the end of my climbing. Back then, there were not a lot of climbing clubs and especially as a young girl with no brother, cousin or Dad to climb with, I could not continue. The Everest posters came off the walls, the mountaineering books slowly disappeared to the back of the shelves. A new passion was found. Horse riding! Posters and pictures of dressage horses and show jumpers went up on the walls. Five years of obsession and survival in a male dominant sport finally came to an end with an accident and a broken shoulder. That was it. By then I had the university and the undergrad course to focus on and life went on.
In 2003 I met my husband Joydeep, a lover of the mountains and a frequent visitor of Himalayas. I never forget the feeling when I first saw Kanchenjunga from Darjeeling! We got married and I moved to Vienna where I finally went back to the mountains. The beautiful eastern Alps captured my imagination. Many weekends were spent hiking the hills and mountains of Austria. After six years of settling in as a family and having had two lovely little boys, my mind wandered off again to the mountains of Iran and a new dream was born! I wanted to go back and climb the mountain of my childhood dreams, Damavand. At 5671m Damavand is Iran’s and the Middle East’s highest peak. I had just had my second boy, so life became a balancing act between family and training time. I started running, went for walks with my toddler on my back and started indoor rock climbing in the evenings once the boys were in bed. Finally in 2012 I went back and successfully climbed Damavand with my husband. My Dad and his old mountain friend waited for me at basecamp! A dream came true. An obsession was reborn. This time I would not stop!
Since then I have spent all my free time reading mountaineering books and thinking and dreaming of future climbs! I was not satisfied with just being an English teacher so I went to work at a Mountain Sports Shop in the heart of London and joined the Alpine Club. I went rock climbing regularly and started ice climbing. In 2013 I had my first true Alpine climbing experience and went back to Iran and climbed Iran’s second and third highest peaks. In 2014 I visited the western Alps for the first time and fell in love with the place. I set myself various physical challenges to keep fit for the week or ten days I go off in the summers to the mountains.
I have now lived abroad for over 13 years and have met many people of various nationalities. What amuses me most is how little people know of Iran and especially of its mountains. As an Iranian living in London who visits Iran regularly and is in touch with the climbing communities in both countries, I saw myself in a great position to bridge the gap between Iran and the west. I dreamed of a job that could combine the two worlds through the love of mountains. Hence Persian Pursuits was born."
Shirin Shabestari - founder and director of Persian Pursuits.