Backpacking Iran: Kashan and Tehran

We only stayed one night in Kashan, so it was a flying visit. We managed to get a taxi driver to take us to some of the highlights of the city. We had already been out in the old city the previous night and were keen to see some of the surrounds

Looking out at the desert early morning

So, early in the morning we set out. Our driver was really good value and knew exactly how to entertain us. He also stopped to picked up two watermelons. He put on his bangers as we were cruising on the way out to the desert.  Once it was finished, he would ask “one more?” and throw it on repeat. Our first stop was the Namak salt lake, just out of town.

On the salt flats
I’m not sure how, but we were talked into this one.

After the desert we went to the Maranjab desert, it was pretty cool walking around the dunes as we were the only people around. It was still early enough to be cool (which is still 30+ degrees!).

Sand dunes
Thank goodness it wasn’t too hot

We thought that buying two watermelons might have been a bit much, but our driver knew a lot more than we did. When we got back from the dunes some camels had come over to say hi and we were able to feed them the water melon. Its hard to describe how much fun this was. They were incredibly shy, but also pretty keen on the watermelon which made for a few laughs. They were very gentle with their teeth which was a nice surprise.

“Hello?”
Loving it

After this treat, we continued on to the Nushaband underground city. This was neat. It was ‘found’ in the 1920s after being lost for a few centuries. Its thought that the city was built to hide from aggressive raiders, or to protect its citizens from the extreme temperatures outside. Either way it was fun to scurry around underground, the passages had old sites of booby traps and rolling stones. Very Indiana Jones.

Old entrance chamber
Exploring the city
Going down further

We went to Aran Va Bigol mosque after this which was very colorful. From here we finished our tour at Jalali castle which has an interesting history of sieges, battles and earthquakes. After this we jumped on our last bus in Iran to Tehran. All of which were incredibly comfortable, with reclining leather seats, TVs and snacks provided

Aran Va Bigol Mosque (borrowed photo)
Jalali Castle
In the watch tower, hot at this point.

We had a few days in Tehran we spent a fair bit of time just walking around and taking in the city. It’s a pretty sizable city, 24th biggest in world and home to 16 million or so people. It is crazy busy however, and traffic is daunting. The local advice for crossing roads was ‘close your eyes’ and ‘walk, don’t run’, both of which are impossible. The metro system is impressively full too. It was the busiest one we went on in our trip, maybe rivalled by Mexico city only.

Not even rush hour.

We spent a bit of time following a self guided walking tour around some of the older parts of town, where the Qajar and the current government have their administrative buildings, and the baazar . We also checked out the art history museum which had some really cool stuff, highlighting the different dynasties styles.

Then we went up to the mountains behind the city. These are over 5000m high and apparently have great skiing in the winter, which we will be returning for one day. The tochal chairlift to get us halfway up from the city took 45 minutes. It looked like it had been in use every single day since 1956, the café at the top had a great view. Their were some local donkeys hanging out there too.

Looking down at Tehran from Tochal
One of the cable cars

At this point we had had some pretty tasty dishes in Iran, but we found a restaurant close to our hostel which would become our favourite. We went four times in 3 days. It was so good.

We also checked out Golestan palace, which is where the last Shah was residing before the turbulent 50’s. This place is stunning and well preserved. It was interesting to reflect on our all the different palaces of the dynasties that we had stood in over the trip.

In the main hall
Outside Golestan
The throne. Complete with puppet
Tusks
Meteorite
Tourists
Lots of Mirrors. The effect with sunlight is amazing

On our last day we checked out two final places. The National museum to the Iran-Iraq war. This was a high tech and immersive museum, and was an interesting and intense way to learn about the war. One particular hall was a simulation of getting bombed by a fighter jet. Complete with shaking floors and incredibly loud noises. Outside the museums the exhibits showed all of Iran’s rocket developments, and all the cars of physicists who have been assassinated since 1979. (very morbid)

As it looks.

Our last stop was the Den of Espionage, FKA the US embassy. This was where the events depicted in Argo took place. This has since been turned into the home of anti us propaganda. It was an entertaining and interesting reading through the documents that were displayed.

Back at work
No.1
No.2 (apparently this is the most major concern with the sanctions for people)

We left for the airport that evening, after one last MesMes meal, and flew to Hungary via Istanbul.  

Post MesMes glow

Backpacking Iran: Yadz

We arrived at 6.30am on our bus from Shiraz and our kind bus driver helped our half asleep selves to get a taxi taking us to hostel in old quarter to our hostel. The hostel we stayed in was another absolute jackpot- it was beautiful with the rooms situated around a main courtyard, and we got a private room for only $10 USD including a buffet persian breakfast every morning, including carrot jam (I have no self control around buffet breakfasts, I was in heaven). After breakfast we went on a walking tour organised by a local hotel which showed us around the old quarter of the city and gave us some insight into Yadz.

Yazd is a city of the desert with its old quarter being a labyrinth of winding lanes, mud-brick houses all joined at their roofs to make it possible for a quick get-away from an enemy.

Yadz is recognised by UNESCO as one of the oldest towns on earth originally settled 5000 years ago, and was once an important stop on the Silk Road- Marco Polo once stopped in Yadz around 1270AD called it “good and noble city”. Remnants of its past as a silk road stop can be seen in multiple features of the city, for example, in the minarets adjoining the mosques where they used to light fires in the large balconies to guide travellers towards them for food and shelter.

We explored a beautiful local mosque in the late afternoon, after sheltering from the 45 degree midday sun in our hostel (in front of the air conditioner!).

Our next day, after another buffet breakfast, we sluggishly headed out to one of the top tripadvisor sights for Yadz- the water museum. It sounds like a strange place to go to but we could not work out how this city in the middle of the desert survived for 5000 years with no nearby river or lakes. I won’t go into all the details but in summary it involved a complex underground aquaduct system moving water from mountains afar to the city which they think were first built 2000 years ago (now modern water systems are in place). We learnt that now Yadz is running out of water, the rivers that once supplied that city have gone almost dry and the city is having to get water from far away cities to supply its population.

Another amazing sight in Yadz, you can see the minarets in the back and the balconies at the top were they would light the fires to guide silk road travellers

We walked (foolishly) in the midday heat to a Zoroastrian fire temple about 3 km from the centre of town. The brick temple contains a fire that has burned for more than 1,500 years. The ancient flame has been kept alive since and relocations, and continues to burn today. The fire was first lit in 470 and has had two other cities as its home before settling where it is today.

About the Zoroastrian symbol
Chris and the very old fire (kept behind glass inside the temple)

We just about passed out from the heat on the way back only to be saved by copious water and the humble soft serve ice cream sold to us by a nice man on the street. We probably could have called it a day then but we had one more sight in Yadz we had to see- The Towers of Silence.

The towers of silence are the two building you can see on the hills in the background

The Towers of Silence, built more than a millenia ago, is the old Zoroastrian cemetery where until 1960s the bodies of the deceased were transported to their final resting place and left to the vultures. In the Zoroastrian belief contaminating the elements (Earth, Air, Fire and Water) with decaying matter such as a corpse is considered sacrilege. Sky burial is considered a clean death because it prevents putrefaction—bodies are exposed to the sun and birds of prey such as vultures can eat a body down to the bones in just a few hours. To me it sounds like a gruesome way to go having grown up in a different belief system, however I can see how it fits in within the Zoroastrian religion. Information at the sight also stated that this way of handling the deceased helped for sanitation “it is said that in case of spreading diseases such as cholera, typhoid, plague, or when large wars broke out, a large number of people were killed in one day and burying the corpses were a big challenge so they used sky burial to prevent disease from spreading.

Since it was disused as a burial site (less than 50 years ago) it has become a local and international tourist spot.

Inside the tower
I did not like being in the towers, I just got a yuck feeling and I left pretty quickly out of them
View from the hill one of the towers is on of Yadz, the towers used to be far out of town but now with the expanding city it is much closer

That evening we had dinner above the city in one of the rooftop restaurants with an amazing view.

The next day we did a tour to Kharanaq, Chak Chak, and Meybod.

We first visited the crumbling mud-brick village of Kharanaq. The site has been occupied for approximately 4,000 years, while the rundown adobe buildings that draw foreigners from around the world date back around 1,000 years.  

The village of Chak Chak, also known as Pir’e Sabz, consists of a Zoroastrian Fire Temple perched beneath a towering cliff face in the desert out of Yadz.

We were a little disappointed at the tea lights supposed to be the fire shire in the temple after slogging up the hill in 40 degree heat

Finally we hit Meybod village where we saw an old castle ruin, a caravanserai dating back to the silk road, and the ice house which was definiately the best part. The ice house is a domed, thick wall structure where ice was stored during the winter months and enjoyed during the hot summers, basically it was a massive freezer.

empty pool outside the ice house, in winter these were filled every day with water and then the ice from the frozen pool was cut up and stored inside the ice house for summer
in the ice house

That afternoon we took a 5 hour bus north to our next destination- Isfahan…

Highlights of Yadz:

  • Free walking tour
  • Walking through the old quarter
  • The beautiful mosques
  • The water museum
  • Zoroastrian fire temple
  • Temple of Silence
  • Meybod Ice house

Backpacking Iran: Shiraz

Iran… wow, where to start?

We heard from other travellers that it was an amazing, hospitable country that was unrivaled for backpacking. After doing a bit of research we were sold and added it our travel itinerary. A week before we were due to fly to Iran seized a UK oil tanker, as well as this the US/the president was talking about Iran in a way we were nervous they might start something- we were pretty concerned and actually discussed not going in case the US bombed Iran etc. In the end we decided we would go, and I would make that decision ten times over.

There were a surprising amount of european backpackers (and even a few aussies) that we met whilst staying at hostels. We learnt whilst we were in Iran that it was forbidden for US, UK, and canadian nationals to travel through Iran unless they were on a government approved group tour.

Our route through Iran over 14 days

Iran was our favourite country of our trip, iranian people were some of our favourite people we have met, iranian food was some of the most delicious and surprising we have had. I can not recommend it enough, the only downside was the visa cost (150 euros each!).

Shiraz

We flew from Almaty via a 5 hour layover in Sharjah airport to arrive in Shiraz, Iran. We checked into our beautiful hostel ( Taha Hostel) with a courtyard, couches and chairs, and a koi pond in the middle of it at around 2pm, and after scoffing down some falafel we walked around the nearby area which was buzzing with people.

Shiraz is one of the oldest Iranian cities, with a vibrant culture of art and craftsmanship and a rich history, both of which are on spectacular display at the Nasir al-Mulk Mosque, one of the most beautiful mosques in Iran.

Outside the mosque doesn’t look like anything special but once inside it’s so lovely. With stunning stained glass, painted tiles covering the ceiling and Persian rugs covering the floor, this place of worship is a gorgeous rainbow of color in every direction, like stepping into a kaleidoscope. It became known as the pink mosque because of a large number of pink tiles around the courtyard area, however it is most well-known for the interior of the mosque- when the sun hits the stained glass windows and illuminates the walls and floors with a rainbow of colours. The trick is to go first thing in the morning to catch the morning light.

As we were walking along the road to the next mosque we wanted to see we were approached by a lovely guy in his 20’s who asked where we were from and what we were doing in Shiraz. He told us he normally worked as a teacher and was on school holidays, and asked us if we wanted to hang out and he could show us around. Chris and I are SUPER suspicious of people talking to us now given that every short conversation seems to be a way to get us to go to someone’s shop or buy a tour or go to this guesthouse etc etc. This would be our first of many experience with genuinely friendly, interested locals wanting to chat and show us around! He was super nice, and he went with us to our next spot which was the Shāh-é-Chérāgh Mosque and shrine.

To enter this mosque complex I had to wear a chador (a chador is a body-length outer garment, usually black in colour, but mine was white covered in flowers provided by the mosque). We were shown around by a volunteer tour guide, he normally worked as an engineer but told us he loves meeting tourists and showing him the complex so volunteers once a week. . There was fantastic architecture in this holy mosque with very beautiful crystal mirrors ceiling. It has a dreamy atmosphere and it is easy to forget where you are or what you are looking at. 

We then headed out to Persepolis and Necropolis.

Persepolis is among the world’s greatest archaeological sites according to UNESCO. The city’s immense terrace was begun about 518 BC by Darius the Great (the first), the Achaemenid (Persia) Empire’s king to become the new capital of Persia. On this terrace, successive kings erected a series of architecturally stunning palatial buildings, among them the massive Apadana palace and the Throne Hall (“Hundred-Column Hall”). Unfortunately the city was invaded by Alexander the Great in 330 BC and they plundered the city and burnt down a significant area of it.

The gate into Persepolis

Naqsh-e Rostam (aka Necropolis) is a necropolis of the Achaemenid dynasty including Darius the Great used from approx 550–330 BC with four large tombs cut high into the cliff face. Well below the Achaemenid tombs, near ground level, are rock carvings with large figures of Sassanian kings, some meeting gods, others in combat.

On our way back into the city we stopped for a photo

The next day we went to the Citadel from the Zang dynasty which was constructed in the 18th century, it was ok but after seeing the mosques yesterday we were a little underwhelmed.

We exchanged some more money, nearby to the mosque to find that the exchange rate was completely different to the one we saw when we looked on currency websites. Don’t worry it was good for us! The exchange rate meant we got about 3 times more than we were expecting exchanging the US dollars we brought over. The small downside was that we had old US notes which meant they gave a slightly lower rate but what can you do!

In the early evening we walked to the tomb of Hafez which is the resting place of one of the famous persian poet- Hafez. The tomb is set in a small park complex which was full of couples enjoying what was a surprising romantic setting for a park set around a tomb but I guess it’s the soft lighting and all the poetry that did it.

We finished the day with an ice cream. Ice Cream is super popular in Iran and the streets of Shiraz (and all of Iran) were crammed with shops selling ice cream (usually soft serve). We discovered a local specialty with help from our teacher friend from yesterday’s recommendation. It’s basically a persian take on a spider. Freshly squeezed carrot juice and vanilla soft serve ice cream. I know how it sounds but actually it was pretty tasty! We ended up having more than one!

where to eat in shiraz food guide
image of carrot juice and ice cream borrowed from https://thecitylane.com/where-to-eat-in-shiraz-food-guide/, because I FORGOT TO TAKE A PHOTO!

Later the night we took an overnight bus leaving at midnight to Yadz and the adventure continues!

On another note- the hole in Chris’ shoe is getting bigger- he can no longer walk on wet ground without getting a soggy sock. He refuses to wear his runners, send help.

Highlights of Shiraz:

  • Nasir al-Mulk Mosque
  • Shāh-é-Chérāgh
  • Persepolis and Necropolis
  • Citadel
  • Hafez tomb
  • Carrot ice cream (local specialty)