Travel Blog Khuzestan, Iran | Pyala Travel

Meet the Gulf Arabs and Bakhtiari nomads in Khuzestan, Iran. Travel stories from Pyala Travel

Travel Blog Khuzestan, Iran

Here you can find the picturs of this tour
Meet the Gulf Arabs and the Bakhtiari Nomads

It is remarkably cold when I land in Ahvaz, the capital of Khuzestan. This southwestern province of Iran is known for its heat, with temperatures up to 50 degrees in the summer months. That's why I decided to come in winter,with 20-25 degrees on average. However, it is 2 degrees when I arrive, nobody I will speak to in the coming days has ever experienced such a cold period.
This is one of the least visited regions of Iran, it is located in a remote corner, it is hot and there are few tourist attractions. It is best known for the oil and gas industry, once set up here by the British. And this was the battlefield during the war with Iraq. Most of Sadam Hussein's bombs fell in the south of Khuzestan. None of this sounds attractive, but Khuzestan is also a region with a strong Arab culture, the winter residence of the Bakhtiari nomads and the World Heritage Sites of Shush, Shustar and Choqa Zanbil.
High time to explore this Khuzestan!

In the evening I walk through the streets in the center of Ahvaz. I walk over the vegetable and fish market, where I am addressed friendly everywhere and the Arab salesmen (all dressed with the keffiyeh scarf) ask me to take a picture of them and their catch of the day. I stroll through the bazaar and drive along the banks of the Karun river.  Normally people come there in the evening to stroll, have a picnic or eat in one of the restaurants. Because of the cold it is very quiet now. All in all, Ahvaz is not really a city to stay for long.
Boat Trip in the Shadegan Lagoon

Up early in the morning on the way to the Shadegan lagoon. This is a protected nature reserve, an extensive system of waterways, small islands and villages. Many Arabs live here, similar to the culture of the marsh Arabs in nearby Iraq, described in Wilfred Thesiger's famous book. I once visited that country, a disappearing culture, under the regime of Sadam Hussein. This culture is also disappearing here in Iran. There are still many Arabs living in Khuzestan, who must have had a remarkable position during the Iraq-Iran war, wedged between two cultures. However, the traditional way of life is also disappearing here. The Shadegan lagoon is threatened by modern development and is drying up more and more. Many inhabitants have already left.
I get on a boat in a small village near Darkhovin. Mostly fishermen live there. We sail through the lagoon, many water birds, small creeks through the reed and everywhere we have to navigate through fishing nets. It's not very special, especially interesting for bird lovers. There is a small mozif in the village.
Welcome in the Mozif

The mozif occupies an important position within the culture of the Arabs.  It is a guesthouse, made of reed with a characteristic round shape. Guests may stay here for a minimum of three days at the host's expense.  They were often used as a kind of caravanserai for travellers. The mozifs are also a kind of community houses, where the elders of the village gathered to discuss important matters. The mozifs have no door, everyone is welcome. Through a low entrance you can enter, so you always have to bend over and show respect. The rituals of coffee and tea gifts in the mozif are central. Unfortunately, most of the mozifs have disappeared.  There are now a few mozifs that were built to receive 'new' guests, i.e. tourists. Because of this, the culture is not completely lost and travellers can experience what it is like to sleep in a mozif. There is such a place in Bardiye, just outside Ahvaz. There is such a place on the island of Minoo, near Abadan. That's where I'm going now. The beauty of the island of Minoo is very disappointing. Once it was beautiful here, says the owner of the mozifs. An island full of date palms located on the banks of the Shat-al Arab river. However, the island was bombed completely during the war. The mozifs however are beautiful. We are warmly welcomed, experience the coffee and tea ceremony and are offered delicious Arabic sweets. A nice and surprising place to spend the night, unfortunately the place is located in a remote corner of the country. Especially nice if you want to start or end your trip in Abadan or if you are looking for a completely different way to spend the night.
The history of Khuzestan

Most travellers who visit Khuzestan do so for the Elamite and Aechemian monuments at Susa, Choga Zanbil and Shustar. All on the Unesco World Heritage List. Due to lack of time I have to skip Susa (Shush), but the sunset at the impressive ziggurat of Choga Zanbil is beautiful.  It is one of the few remaining ziggurats, built in the 13th century BC. The town of Shushtar is teeming with monuments, most of them related to the famous irrigation system that was built here in the 5th century B.C. and expanded and refined over the centuries. Most impressive is the hydraulic system, where water mills are driven to grind grain and rice.
Meeting with the Bakhtiari nomads

Khuzestan is also the winter residence of the Bakhtiari nomads. Last year I visited them in their summer residence in the Koohrang mountains. They kindly invited me when the Bakhtiari are, to visit them in the winter as well. Here I am. They live in the green hills between Lali and Majed-e Soleimani. A surprisingly beautiful area, everywhere whimsical rock formations, green grasslands and in the background the snowy peaks of the Zagrio Mountains.... Unlike in the summer months, they don't live in the characteristic tents now, but in stone houses in small villages, Twenty years ago, everyone was still living in tents, but that way of life has disappeared. People are more settled, the children go to school here. In the spring a number of families go to the high pastures near Chelgerd, in the summer months almost everyone goes there. But also here in their houses it is definitely worthwhile to meet the Bakhtiari and learn more about their culture.

I am shown around by the head of one of the Bakthiari clans, a rich man with a big house in Lali. That town has a kind of Wild West feeling. Everywhere you see Bakthiari men in their characteristic white-black striped coats. We make a trip through the area and visit several families where we are warmly welcomed everywhere. We get tea, cheese and yoghurt. The men proudly show their old hunting rifles, the women dress in their party clothes, which are used to dance at weddings. And in the evening we eat delicious Bakhtiari kebab, that alone is worth it to travel to Lali.