A look back at Iran

As we cross borders from Iran to Turkmenistan, I wanted to write a brief post on our general experiences in Iran.  Initially I was a little apprehensive and unsure about visiting Iran, largely due to the current political tensions, media portrayal of the country and consequently the deep concerns from others.  We had previously met a few travellers who had been there, and reported great things and after much research we decided to go ahead with our plans.

Having been there I feel almost embarrassed about how naive I was about travelling the country.  While there are still some political unknowns, Iran itself as a country is amazing. It is extensive in its ancient Persian (and even recent) history, but most of all the people are extremely kind and friendly.  Perhaps the reason for this is that there are not many tourists in the country, resulting in less scams and other undesirables.  People approached us on the street merely out of curiosity, to have a chat, introduce themselves, practice English and to find out what the world’s perception of their country is.  There were no hidden agendas and as a result it was one of our most relaxing periods of travel.

Gorgan, Iran, past the Caspian Sea

From Dizin we decided to continue the scenic drive (Chalus Road) to Chalus.  A friendly Iranian driver heading the same way offered to give us a lift at the suggestion of the traffic police (we were happy to wait for the next bus…), so we ended up going with him. He dropped us off in Chalus and we took a shuttle taxi (who refused to take our payment for the ride) to the nearby town of Noshahr along the coast of the Caspian Sea. We had planned to stay there one night but instead decided to head straight to Gorgan. We headed to seaside to view the rather unimpressive Caspian before catching a six hour bus ride to Gorgan. By the time we arrived it was about ten in the evening.

Gorgan is a small town in northern Iran. It is near the border to Turkmenistan so the area is quite ethnically diverse.  We first decided to purchase overnight bus tickets to Mashhad, and walked over to the bus station. On the way back we visited the Imamzadeh Abdollah mosque and the tiny Gorgon museum. We then decided to hire a taxi to visit the Nahar Khoran forest about fifteen kilometres from the city centre, and a small town called Ziyarat.

Goats and sheep being herded through Nahar Khoran forest
Goats and sheep being herded through Nahar Khoran forest
Goats in Nahar Koran forest
A baby goat in-between the heard
Goats and sheep being herded through Nahar Khoran forest
A sheep dog herding goats and sheep
Lush green forest of Nahar Khoran
Lush green forest of Nahar Khoran
Lush green forest of Nahar Khoran
Sonya and Travis at Nahar Khoran

Nahar Khoran

Nahar Khoran was unexpectedly amazing.  We wandered around the area, a picturesque forest of bright leafy green trees on the hillside.  Ziyarat was a quaint little town perched on the side of a hill, we had a wonder through the town with its wooden houses and cobbled paths.

By then we had befriended the taxi driver, Saeid, and his lovely wife (Shabnam) and daughter (Mahdiyeh) who kindly invited us to their house in Gorgan for chai (tea). We accepted and spent some time swapping information about each other and our cultures while trying to overcome language barriers as they didn’t speak English and our Farsi is limited to a few words!

Sonya and our taxi drivers family
Invitation for tea at our taxi drivers home

That evening we had ghorme sabzi (diced meat , beans, vegetables and rice) at a local restaurant and caught our overnight bus to Mashhad.

Buying a Persian carpet

Iran is famous for its handmade Persian carpets, and so prior to departing for Iran we decided we would pick up a carpet as a momentum.

We learnt a lot through visiting various shops where we were shown dozens of carpets, some were amazing, large and intricate in design (taking more than a years work to make and worth thousands of dollars) and even some nomadic carpets known as Gelim. We were informed that in general older carpets were worth more than those that were newer, and as such many people consider Persian rugs an investment.

After initially looking at many colours and designs, we decided we liked the pale cream coloured carpets with blue designs, which happened to be a common design made in Nain. Nain is located on the edge of the western desert and the pale cream colours represent the sandy deserts, and the blues the skies.

The base of a carpet can be cotton, wool or silk, with the price increasing in that order, silk carpets are much finer (number of knots per square centimetre) in comparison to wool carpets, resulting in more detailed designs and costlier carpets.

Nain carpets, these carpets have a cotton base, unlike the Isfahan carpets which are generally made with a silk base. In the end, we chose a wool/silk blend carpet, which is predominantly wool and with its intricate designs in white silk, a common approach in Nain carpets.

Nain carpets also use the common Persian Shah Abbas design, which is very similar to the mosaic floral designs on mosques of the Safavid dynasty.

After staring at three very similar Nain designs side-by-side (the shop keeper even mentioned side-by-side is a difficult choice, but at home individually they would all look good), we chose a beautiful 150 by 100 centimetres carpet. It cost us $310 USD which we were both very happy with, we shipped it to Australia for an additional $80 USD.

We recommend Ariana Carpet, Mr Asadi who was extremely informative and helpful.

Sonya and the carpet seller
The three Nian carpets

Yazd, Iran

Yazd is a city located roughly in the centre of Iran, surrounded by mostly deserts, producing hot dry summers. Due to this hot climate, Yadz is made up of distinctly Persian architecture, which includes Qanats (underground water systems),  windcatchers (protruding vents from buildings to catch and circulate air), Yakhchals (ancient evaporative coolers) and Adobe (the building material which included straw providing insulation).

We stayed at the centre of Yazd’s Old City, so everything was walking distance. Some of the highlights and experiences included;

Amir Chakhmaq square – featuring a beautiful Takieh (used during the commemoration ceremonies of the death of Imam Hussein) a three tiered facade with double minarets, best experienced at sunset.

Nakhl – usually at the site of the Takieh and used in conjunction with the commemoration ceremonies, the large wooden structure is carried by men on the first day of the ceremony.

Jameh Mosque – Yazd’s Congregational Mosque (Grand Mosque), amazing blue mosaics and has the highest minarets in Iran,  worth a visit at night when the minarets are alight.

Bogheh-ye Sayyed Roknaddin – a building housing the tomb of Sayyed Roknaddin Mohammed Qazi, a beautiful blue on beige mosaic dome, again must be seen at night when alight with blue.

Towers of Silence (Dakhma) – a Zoroastrian site where the dead were placed to allow vultures to eat the flesh, this prevented the decomposing body to pollute the environment.

Persian architecture – Yazd really does look like what one would imagine a Persian city to look like, the sandy coloured mud-brick walls, narrow alleys and bazaars, flat rooftops and abundant use of natural light.

Haj Khalifeh Ali Rahbar and Partners  (a Yazd sweet shop) – recommended by Morteza as we passed it while driving into Yazd from Shiraz, we purchased an assortment box for 140,000 Riyals ($7.50 USD). I have never tasted anything more extraordinary, each sweet had a distinctly different use of spices and flavours and a different texture, they were amazing.

Yazd clock towerHzyrh Mosque (Mohammadi Shrine)One of the halls inside the Hzyrh Mosque
One of the many bazaar alleysPersian metal-working, making a copper dishPale green door
One of the outer courtyard halls of the Jameh MosqueBlue honeycomb tiles, confused insects and kept them away from the prayersWooden door displaying the two different knockers used depending on gender
One of the many alleys in the old cityA Persian windcatcher (badgir)Machine used for carpet weaving
Water reservoir (Ab-anbar) with windcatchers used to cool the waterOne of the many alleys in the old cityLooking over Yazd old city, Jameh Mosque minarets stick out
Looking over Yazd old city, windcatchers protrudingTravis and Sonya with a large wooden doorOne of the two towers of Silence (Dakhma)
One of the two towers of Silence (Dakhma) Amir Chakhmaq Amir Chakhmaq square
Jameh Mosque at nightDome of Bogheh-ye Sayyed Roknaddin at nightSweets from Haj Khalifeh Ali Rahbar and Partners sweet shop

Yazd Walking Tour

  1. Amir Chakhmaq Complex
  2. Amir Chakhmaq Mosque
  3. Yazd Water Museum
  4. Hazireh Mosque
  5. Bogheh-ye Sayyed Roknaddin
  6. Orient Hotel
  7. Jameh Mosque
  8. water reservoir
  9. Heidarzadeh Coin Museum
  10. Khan-e Lari
  11. Alexander’s Prison
  12. Tomb of the 12 Imams
  13. tourist information office
  14. Hosseinieh
  15. takieh