Our last week in Iran was spent in the fabulous mud built city of Yazd, the tranquil desert oasis of Garmeh, and the holy city of Mashhad. Yazd was voted by many of our group to be their favorite city in Iran, and a few more of our fellow travelers succumbed and finally bought their Iranian carpets here. We enjoyed our walking tour of the old mud city of Yazd, especially standing beneath the badgirs (windtowers) that the city is so famous for – natural air-conditioning at its finest! From Yazd, we drove north to the deserted mud city of Kharanaq to see its 17th century shaking minaret. Try as we might, the minaret did not shake despite our best efforts but it was a cool village to explore nevertheless. From Kharanaq, we pulled up to the super cool desert oasis village of Garmeh, where we stayed at the excellent Ateshooni guesthouse. The front yard had camels and goats and fat, contented bunny rabbits. The back yard had an oasis which led us to a spring where carnivorous fish dive bombed our toes and ripped excess dead skin in a painful pedicure treatment. It was brilliant. From Garmeh, we drove through the Tabas Desert to see the crash site of the ill fated rescue mission of US hostages (on 24 April 1980 during Operation Eagle Claw, one of Delta Force’s first missions). The doomed mission was largely attributed to President Carter losing the 1980 Presidential election. After checking out the Tabas Desert crash site and then immediately driving through a mini sandstorm ourselves, we can easily empathize with the doomed operators of the rescue mission…the weather in that region of Iran is pretty crap. Our last city in Iran was Mashhad, which is considered its holiest city because of the phenomenal Imam Reza Holy Shrine. It is a major Shia Muslim pilgrimage site with over 20 million pilgrims making the journey annually. We felt lucky to be allowed to visit the shrine as non-Muslims. Mashhad was also our last chance to stock up on yummy sohan, so we picked up several containers to last us a few more weeks of our journey. That stuff is super addictive and who knows when we’ll be able to taste sohan again? Next up will be Turkmenistan, our first new country on the overland adventure. We are looking forward to it!
30 May – After breakfast, a group of 9 of us decided to do the Yazd walking tour together. We managed to pile into 2 taxis (5 in ours with Becky sitting on top of Dya’s lap, and 4 in the other) and got dropped off at the Amir Chakhmaq complex which was the start of our tour. Here in the square (much to the amusement of the locals), Gill taught us how to do the police tactical move “trudge and wedge” to prevent future queue cutters. Very effective move!
Old Yazd is famous for its picturesque badgirs (wind towers) built all over the mud brick city. Our walking tour started at the Vali Traditional Hotel where we got to see a badgir and qanat (underground water channel) in action. The water was quite cold to the touch, showcasing how effective the badgirs are at cooling things down. Its the perfect natural air-conditioning! A brief visit to the Hazireh Mosque, the Clock Tower and Jameh Mosque, followed by a stroll past Alexander’s Prison and the Tomb of the 12 Imams rounded out our walking tour. Gill ended up buying a carpet, and we later found out that Lars, Ichi and Kyle succumbed to the beautiful carpets of Yazd as well. Robby tried Yazdi fallodeh (ice cream noodles) which were OK…surprisingly considering they are supposed to be a Yazd specialty. We split briefly from the group to check out the Kushknoo water mill (OK but not worth the pricey entrance ticket). The highlight was checking out the Yazd skyline from the rooftop of an art gallery/cafe. Dya had a slight mishap when she attempted to take a photo of two ceramic birds and ended up crashing through the wooden bench! Anthony was keen on buying some artwork and Kate needed to do cook group shopping so we hung out for a while to get 4 of us willing to catch a taxi back to the hotel. Everyone else wanted to hang out in Yazd to check out the bazaar so we went our separate ways. Dinner was based on Anthony’s recommendation of a burger house. It was fantastic! Massive beef burger and a healthy portion of fries…yum! The rest of the group wanted some night shots of Yazd but since we had seen it the previous night, we decided to give it a miss and hang out at the hostel instead.
31 May – Goodbye Yazd. The friendly hotel owner came onto the truck to take video of all of us and he was extremely sad to see us go. This morning we drove to the mud built village of Kharanaq, which is a deserted ghost town. It has a 17th century shaking minaret which didn’t shake as its name advertised. We had to be careful clambering around on the rooftops as it was obvious the rain had washed out some of the mud roofs and we could easily picture ourselves plummeting through the structures. After Kharanaq, we drove to Garmeh’s Ateshooni Guesthouse. What a fabulous desert oasis! Camels, goats, and bunny rabbits greeted our arrival, and we had any available guestroom to choose from. The highlight of Garmeh was undoubtedly the vicious fish that tore the dead skin off your feet at a nearby oasis spring. Talk about the original fish pedicure…those suckers actually started to hurt after a while. Dinner was a delicious meal of plov and salad, and we were supposed to have musical entertainment at the nearby Café Boneh but after an hour there, we quickly surmised that it was not going to materialize. Back at Ateshooni guesthouse, we met the owner who informed us that in peak season, his place is fully booked out for months on end. With his success, he has helped to establish several other guesthouses in the region to share the wealth throughout the community.
01 Jun – Goodbye Ateshooni Guesthouse! Thanks for showing us the wonders of the Oasis. The big highlight today: a dance off on the truck between Mark and Helen! Those crazy kids. Late morning brought us to the Tabas Desert, where we got to see the crash site of the ill fated US hostage rescue mission (24 April 1980). The downed aircraft have been cordoned off so we weren’t able to climb all around them but it was an interesting stop nevertheless. Immediately after leaving the crash site, we experienced a sand storm of our own and visibility was nil. It was easy to visualize the disorienting effect that the sand would have had on the rescue personnel back in 1980. Cook group had to go shopping for food, so we took the opportunity to grab a lunch of lamb kebabs and giving Ichiyo and Lars our leftovers since they were pulling truck guard. Today was an abnormal day since we got stopped by the police 3 times. Lars was especially scrutinized about his entry/exit dates for Iran as well as his visa validity. In the late afternoon, we bush camped near Bardaskan. Everyone set up their tents in a dry riverbed, but several locals came by on motorbike to warn us to move out because they anticipated a heavy rainstorm later tonight. After the third concerned local warned us, we finally decided to heed their advice and move onto higher elevation in a nearby field. A fierce wind kicked up during dinner and anyone who didn’t stake their tents down got them blown away. Robby had to help a frantic Gunji find his tent. Despite the constant threat of rain, it remained hot and dry all night long.
02 Jun – This section of Iran takes their security seriously as we were stopped and pulled over by the police several times today. At a checkpoint in Torbat-e Heydarieh, Kate got felt up by a guard who grabbed her breasts and buttocks. This put all the other women in the group on edge once we heard about how she got violated. The women were called into a room with the offending guard one by one and all our cell phones and photos were inspected. When the door happened to shut while Dya was alone with the pervert guard, Robby went mental and demanded that Hossein step in and tell them how inappropriate that situation was. Hossein was not willing to get involved and we were frustrated because we’ve never had a male guard conduct a female body inspection and especially not in a conservative Muslim country like Iran. By mid afternoon, we arrived in Mashhad and checked into the posh 4 star Iran Hotel. Whoohoo! After a quick shower to cool down, we decided to visit what Mashhad is famous for, the Haram Complex of Imam Reza’s Holy Shrine. Becky had to borrow a chador from reception in order to visit the shrine. Imam Reza Shrine is a major pilgrimage site for over 20 million Shia Muslims annually. Of course certain sections of the shrine were off limits to non-Muslims but we were amazed that we were allowed to witness such a religious spectacle. We did have to wait for a volunteer guide to show us around, and we did get a bit of Islam indoctrination, but it was well worth it to wander around the massive complex. Interestingly, cameras are not allowed inside the complex (neither are bags), but cell phones are OK and we were allowed to take photos with them. We met the rest of the group at 7 pm for Mark’s goodbye dinner. It was hard to believe his time with us came to an end already! Godspeed and safe travels Mark…we enjoyed meeting and traveling with you.
03 Jun – Since we had seen Mashhad’s major highlight yesterday, we decided to have a lie in this morning in our comfortable air-conditioned room. At 11:30 am, we finally decided to head out for a bit and returned to see the Holy Shrine in daylight hours. Rather than suffering through another excruciatingly long lecture on Islam, we decided to take photos from the perimeter of the Shrine. Becky was told off a few times by the religious police for not wearing a chador but technically that isn’t necessary unless actually entering the complex. Mashhad was our last chance to stock up on more sohan so we bought several containers of it to last a while. Becky also scored some Iranian PJ pants…super comfortable and a bargain at $3. By 3 pm, we were ready to leave Mashhad for our final bush camp of Iran. A torrential rain storm hit, and the weather finally cooled down a bit. Kate and Kyle found a bush camp about 20 km from the Bajgiran border in a gorgeous hilly area, and the ladies counted down the hours until we no longer had to wear head scarves.
04 Jun – Kate had us up and ready to go an hour before the border crossing opened. On the Iranian side, we managed to change the last of our Rial into Turkmenistan Manat, and also changed some US dollars since we could get a decent black market rate here. Getting stamped out of Iran was super simple and before we knew it, boom, new country on our overland tour…Turkmenistan here we come!