Travel Blog Desert Trip Iran | Pyala Travel

Travel stories from an exploration trip through the Iranian desert

Travel Blog Desert Trip Iran

I am on my way to Iran, one of the countries that once stole my heart, to conclude a year-long journey through Asia, now 20 years ago. That journey took me to beautiful cities like Bam, Kerman, Yazd, Shiraz, Isfahan, Tehran, Tabriz and the Caspian Sea coast. Most of what has remained is the warm welcome of the Iranians everywhere. Everywhere people were ready to help me.
Years later I made another fantastic journey in search of the many nomadic peoples of Iran. What many people don't know is that Iran is one of the countries with the most nomads in the world. An adventurous trip took me to the Shah Sahvan, the Talesh, the Kurds, the Loeren, the Ghasga'i and the Bakhtiari. A journey with again warm receptions, through a beautiful, rugged nature. Now it's time to explore another part of Iran. I want to travel into the two big deserts of Iran, the Dasht e Kavir (the big salt desert), and the Lut desert. A short flight should take me to another part of Iran, Kurdistan. Everywhere I want to look for traditional villages, from mud desert villages to Kurdish mountain villages.  I also want to see what is possible with homestays, new routes etc etc. On the way enjoy the hopefully beautiful landscapes.  First destination is the valley of Bavanat. I fly to Shiraz and tomorrow morning straight on to Bavanat, where many nomads seem to put up their tents. I am curious and looking forward to it!

Here you can see the pictures of this trip.
Magical Place

Together with Abbas I'm sitting at the bong, in his atmospheric guesthouse in the village of Bazm, in the valley of Bavanat. The enthusiastic owner has transformed his farm into a kind of mini-village with all different styles, from traditional rooms where you sleep on the ground in mud houses, to comfortable rooms with modern facilities. Or would you prefer to sleep in a nomadic time? No problem! All of this surrounded by a beautiful garden, full of poultry chattering around. Just delicious vegetarian food (unique in Iran's kebab culture), all organic from his own garden, and deliciously prepared by his wife. The place is, as Abbas keeps repeating, 'magical'.
At sunset he took us to a higher valley where the Khamseh nomads set up their tents from May to October. Characteristic black tents of goat hair. This goat hair ensures that when it reigns (which is rare here) the water is absorbed and it always stays dry in the tent. The nomads are in fact semi-nomads, because they have two permanent residences, this one and in winter near the Persian Gulf. There is also a house and a school here, which makes it a bit of a nomadendorop. We are kindly welcomed and get tea from self-picked herbs. A few more weeks and then they move, the richer families load their household goods on a truck, the poorer ones head south with their herds in 25 days. The starry sky above the valley was also magical.
Dasht-e Lut

On a rope bed, under an overwhelming starry sky, nothing else. I'm in a 'millions of star hotel', near the oasis village of Deh Seyf in the Dasht e Kalut desert. This is together with the Dasht e Kavir desert, one of the two large deserts of Iran. Both are therefore also among the largest deserts in the world. However, hardly anyone visits the desert in Iran, while the desert in countries like Morocco and Egypt is one of the major attractions. But is the desert worthwhile here? After all, one desert is not another! High time to explore the deserts of Iran.

My long travel day started this morning with a delicious breakfast full of fresh products in Bavanat. I left quickly, on a barely travelled route through a desolate landscape. After about two hours of driving we arrive in Meymand. One of the most characteristic villages of Iran. In a mountain side there are several hundred cave houses, an ancient city with a mosque, zoroastrian temple and many houses, which are still partly inhabited. Now the city is quite deserted, except for a few elderly people. Most people work and live elsewhere in the summer and come to live here again in the winter. An enthusiastic architect shows us the village. He is involved in heritage architecture and tries to restore the dilapidated houses as much as possible in a traditional way. Some of the cave houses can accommodate overnight stays, a simple, but particularly atmospheric night.

Then we drive on in the direction of Kerman, but just before the city we turn off in the direction of Mahan. In this pleasant town I pay a short visit to the impressive Aramgah-e Shah Ne'matollah Vali mausoleum, dedicated to a famous Sufi saint. The imposing building is a classic example of the famous Iranian architecture with its imposing minarets, domes and portraits full of overwhelming, turquoise tiles. Iran is also famous for its gardens, especially among the people themselves. The land is largely so dry and arid that a garden is seen as a true paradise. They are popular places to look for the coolness, to have a picnic or to take a walk with your loved one. One of the best examples is the Bagh-e Shahzde, in the middle of a barren plain on the edge of Mahan. For us, however, no time to relax for long, we have to cross the Kuh Paye mountain range, via the town of Sirch, on our way to the Dasht-e Lut desert.

At sunset we arrive at the 'most famous' attraction of this desert: the kaluts. An area full of impressive, whimsical eroded rocks, sometimes as high as blocks of flats. An incredibly beautiful sight at sunset. I enjoy the landscape and am the only one walking through a natural phenomenon that would attract thousands of tourists a day in other countries. For the time being hardly anyone here. There are no hotels in the surrounding area (the nearest one in Kerman, about two hours away). You can sleep in a very simple homestay in the village of Deh Seyf or a little further on in a 'desert camp'. I have chosen the latter and am getting ready for a night under the stars.
Desert Villages

Got up early this morning, around 5:00. Because I don't want to miss the sunrise over the kaluts either. The light is even more beautiful now, the landscape even more impressive. I walk around for an hour and then we have breakfast in the homestay in Deh Seyf. I walk around this beautiful desert village. Loamy houses, a qanat (irrigation canal) around the village, and a beautiful, dilapidated caravanserai. The latter is for sale, a beautiful project to turn it into a hotel. But you have to be able to withstand the heat, in the morning at 08.00 it's already 35 degrees Celsius. Can you imagine the temperatures in the summer, which seem to rise to 65 degrees in the desert? Via Shahdad we drive back, a long trip on the busy highway from Kerman to Yazd. We stop for lunch at the popular caravanserai of Zein-o Din. This round caravanserai is now one of the most popular hotels in Iran. It is very atmospheric inside, although I find the location, near a highway, rather disappointing.
We drive on to the village of Saryazd. Also a charming village full of mud houses and an impressive castle on the outskirts of the village. Next stop is Fahraj, another desert town. Here is one of the oldest mosques in Iran. This is another town where life only starts in the evening. During the day it is too hot to be on the street and people are mostly inside, cool behind the thick mud walls. The badgirs, wind towers, ensure that cool air blows into the house, an ancient form of air conditioning.
The final stop is Yazd, a city where I was last seen twenty years ago. In my memory, this is also a mud desert town. It still has one of the most beautiful inner cities in Iran, but around it the city has expanded considerably. On the outskirts of the city I visit the 'Towers of Silence'. These two towers, built on hills, are a reminder of the old religion of Iran, the zoroastrianism. These followers of Zarathustra put the deceased in these 'Towers of Silence', which then lay in the middle of the desert. Now they lie on the edge of a suburb of Yazd. But still a magical place, especially with the setting sun over the nearby mountains. To stay in a zoroastrian atmosphere I quickly visit the Ateshkhadeh, the Fire Temple, where a fire has been burning for centuries according to tradition. Yazd is still the centre of Zarathustra's followers.
Finally I reach my hotel, a wonderfully cozy hotel, built around a pool, around which they all sit comfortably at the water pipe. I am sliding along nicely.

Dasht-e Kavir

Time to visit the next desert. But first wander through the old town of Yazd, still a beautiful place and lovely to get lost in this labyrinth of alleys. Not for nothing is this one of the nicest places in Iran to stay. Not only is the city centre very attractive, there are also many traditional houses converted into hotels, restaurants, cafes and shops. No matter how cozy, I'm going to look for the loneliness of the desert.
First a visit to Meybod, a kind of small version of Yazd, with a mud town centre, an old castle, a caravanserai and an ice cream house, typical for this region. Later in the day I will meet several of them. They were very handy at one time or another, these ice stores, in these immensely hot temperatures.
We take the desert highway from Yazd to Tabas and on to Mashad. Striking how many trucks drive here, on this road that goes straight through the Dasht-e Kavir. All of them trade from the borders around Mashad, Afghanistan and Central Asia to Iran and bring their goods to cities like Yazd, Shiraz and Isfahan. The landscape is of impressive beauty, fierce loneliness and pure desolation. And the landscape is constantly changing, making it a beautiful ride. 
I stop at the town of Kharanaq, the most beautiful desert town until then in the vicinity of Yazd. The old, loamy city centre is completely dilapidated, but very atmospheric, with the surrounding desert and the rugged mountains around it. There is also a beautiful caravanserai where you can sleep, a wonderful place to spend the night.
We drive further into the desert, deeper and deeper into the Dasht-e Kavir and take the exit to Garmeh. The traffic is gone and we drive through an ever more impressive landscape. On the way we see the village of Bayaziyeh. Ever heard of it? Probably not, hardly to be found on the map, not described in a travel guide. But here too it's true, beautiful. A kasbah-like village, where people go en masse to in Morocco. It is completely dilapidated here, the environment is completely desolate, whether you are in the middle of the moon, but an undiscovered treasure for desert lovers.
We have lunch in Garmeh. Here the characteristic owner has made a cozy guesthouse of his house. Such a typical place where overlanders linger much longer than they planned, a 'home away from home'. But unfortunately I don't have that time and I drive on to Mesr. Again by an enchantingly desolate landscape, which only becomes more beautiful with the light of the setting sun. Around Mesr a desert like a desert, with rolling sand dunes. I take a walk over the ridges of the high sand dunes, enjoy the view over the desert, the silence and the setting sun. We drive a little further to the small desert village of Farahzad. To my surprise there is a very attractive hotel, just new. We are warmly welcomed and decide to spend the night here. I had set myself up for a very simple overnight stay somewhere, but I enjoy a hot shower to rinse off all the desert sand. It's wonderfully quiet here, an ideal place to recover from the long travel days.

Got up early again to enjoy the silence of the desert, and the cool climate in the early morning. The landscape remains breathtaking. A small village, where you can walk around in a minute, surrounded by sand dunes. The next village even seems to have only one inhabitant. I make a camel trip through the sand dunes, not yet a fake tourist attraction here, but enjoy the beauty of the desert while swaying. Longer trips are possible, but I have to move on.
Another long ride that takes me to Nain on a desolate desert road. On the way we visit the desert town of Anarak, whose houses are built against a hill. In Nain a short visit to the old town with its Friday mosque and then on to Kashan. This is also one of the more popular cities to stay in. Just like Yazd a city on the edge of the desert with an old town, of which many traditional houses have been transformed into hotels and/or restaurants. I stroll through the city, visit some old trading houses, some even more beautiful than others, and enjoy the Fin gardens in the teahouse.  
Trendy and Traditional Iran

A day full of contrasts. I interrupt my journey through Iran with a stopover in Tehran. On the way to Tehran I visit the city of Qom, one of the holiest cities in the country. Here is the Hazret-Masumeh, the shrine to Fatemeh, Imam Reza's sister. This makes it one of the most important places of pilgrimage for Shi'ites. This is also the training place for mullahs. And as soon as I step out of the immense underground parking garage on top of the square in front of the mausoleum, I'm in a different world. Hundreds of mullahs, only women in chador and pilgrims from Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Central Asia, Shi'ite Arabs from the Gulf region. A beautiful sight, I am in the middle of the religious heart of Shi'ite Islam. An absolutely deeply conservative and religious event, but I, as the only Westerner, don't feel unsafe anywhere. My Iranian travel partner, a hip woman from Tehran, is clearly underdressed and, as soon as I'm away from her neighborhood, mullahs regularly address her in a friendly way that she really has to wear a chador.
I walk into the shrine myself and this is even more overwhelming than walking on the square. It is a huge complex with thousands of mullahs and pilgrims. The centre is the mausoleum of Fatemeh himself, which is touched by everyone. It is surrounded by mirrored walls. For the rest, the whole complex exudes a great sense of tranquillity.
A few hours later I stroll with my Iranian friends through a modern shopping mall in the north of Tehran. What a contrast. Luxury shops, only trendy youngsters, where the women all look like models, with just a piece of scarf hanging on the back of the head. While we're at Darband, at the foot of the Alborz Mountains, drinking tea on the cool mountainside, my friends tell us more about the life of the modern generation in Teheran. This is the place where people escape from Tehran. Everywhere I see couples and groups of friends, where the headscarves are quickly taken off, as soon as they have found a place.
In the evening I eat at my friends' house in a hip apartment, with satellite TV (officially forbidden), a large supply of drinks (idem ditto) and we talk about life in Tehran. The life they, and many with them, lead is in stark contrast to the image that is often sketched about Iran in Western media. They live just like us, although officially not allowed, but they are never really harassed. They also feel completely at ease with their western lifestyle. Iran is a country of great contrasts; waking up in small oases in the desert, driving on via the arch-conservative Qom and in the evening having a drink in Tehran, before I get ready to dive into the mountains of Kurdistan.