When the rainy season came to Uganda and surrounding countries in the end of March, I decided to leave equatorial Africa. Initially, the idea was to visit Southern African countries, like Mozambique, Zambia or Madagascar, where monsoon time was coming to an end making the national parks accessible and the beaches enjoyable again. Another idea was to pay a visit to Iran where spring was due to come. Truth be told, I couldn’t get the nice places in Iran shown by Zahra and Alireza, who I met during their stay at Domi’s and Mick’s place in Kampala, out of my head. Snow capped mountains, green valleys, inhospitable deserts with incredible rock formations and plenty of historic places dating back thousands of years.
So I opted for a change of environment and culture and took a plane to Shiraz in Southern Iran. I thought about flying to the United Arab Emirates and taking a ferry to the Iranian city of Bandar-e Lengeh which would have given me the opportunity to travel along the shore of the Persian Gulf with its different cultures and landscape. But, contrary to arrival by plane and a hassle-free a visa, if you arrive by ferry, you have to arrange your visa in advance. However, considering the average processing time of such a visa (they seem to send everything to Tehran!) and that I was staying in Kyangwali at that time, five hours away from the Iranian embassy in Kampala, I had to scrap that idea 🙁
Coming from Kampala to Shiraz was a big contrast in many aspects. I got so used to the bustling and overcrowded capital of Uganda that Shiraz felt a bit sleepy. But it was quite relaxing to stroll through the old town and the bazaar not having to continuously sidestep people, even though Shiraz is one of the top tourist destinations in Iran. Most tourists seemed to be Iranians, many were escaping the smog and noise of the 17-million people megalopolis Tehran. Shirazi people have a reputation of being particularly welcoming and hospitable and I can definitely confirm that. During two days, I has been invited to three homes for lunch or dinner 🙂 To those who know me: no worries, I didn’t leave a trail of empty fridges behind, there was always much more food than I was able to eat 😉 On my way to the tomb of Saadi, who was a famous Iranian poet, I ran into a film crew shooting a TV series on one of their seemingly endless breaks 😉 Unfortunately, hanging out with the crew came to a sudden end when the producer showed up and started shouting. I quickly changed contact details with a few guys and took to my heels. In the evening, strolling through the bazaar, I was reminded of the saying that you always meet twice when I heard someone calling my name. Arman, who was engaged by the film crew to ride his sport motorbike, appeared out of the crowd. When I asked him about public transportation to Persepolis, the famous 2500 years old ruins in the capital of the Achaemenid Empire, he offered me a ride with his car next morning…it could not have been better! 🙂 However, Arman turned out to be a fan of Modern Talking 😮 To his defence, I have to mention that Modern Talking is hugely popular all over Iran. I guess Iran keeps this musical mean of torture alive to remind the West of their past human rights abuses 😉
Portraits of religious leaders and martyrs, most of them soldiers who lost their live in the Iran-Iraq war in 1980’s, are present almost everywhere
A traditional house in the old town of Shiraz is being reconstructed by the company of my host Ehsan
One of the few bakeries using a traditional oven with small hot stones heated by a fire to bake bread. The bread was so much better than the thin and uniform one from modern bakeries. Before eating check if any small stones are stuck on the bread!
The mausoleum of Hafez, one of the most famous Persian poets
I wasn’t impressed by the famous Eram garden, probably because I spent the last three months in evergreen Uganda
Contrary to Sunni Islam, important deceased religious leaders, known as imams, play an important role in Shia Islam. Impressive shrines like this are build for their commemoration.
The first family who invited me for lunch. Unfortunately, I lost their names and contact when a week later Telegram messenger was blocked completely in Iran and I uninstalled the app 🙁
The tomb of Saadi, another famous Persian poet
The gate to Persepolis, also called the Gate of All Nations
Faravahar, one of the main symbols of Zoroastrianism, which was the primary religion in Persia until the Arab invasion in the seventh century
A grave hewn into the rock reminded me of Petra in Jordan. Arman, who drove me here, was hiding from rain, which I found surprising as usually Iranians call rain „good weather“ 🙂
The necropolis of Naqsh-e Rostam is located a few kilometers away from Persepolis
There are many theories about the purpose of the Ka’ba-ye Zartosht which means the „Cube of Zoroaster“
After our visit to Persepolis, Arman invited me for tee to his home. As you can see, a cup of tee turned into ample lunch with the whole family 🙂
The typical architecture of Jameh mosque with its huge courtyard allows to accommodate the crowds during the Friday prayer
A Tower of Silence was build by Zoroastrians to expose the bodies of their deceased to carrion birds such as vultures
After the vultures finished their job and bones were bleached by the sun, they were collected in the pit in the middle of the tower and covered with lime to slowly disintegrate. The reason for this kind of burial stems from the fact that fire and earth were considered sacred by Zoroastrians and contact with them had to be avoided.
The Zoroastrian fire temple in Yazd enshrines an eternal fire called „Atash Behram“, the highest grade of fire, which is dated to 470AD
The village is said to have been inhabited since 2 000 BC while the oldest houses are approx. 1000 years old
From Shiraz I took a bus to Yazd, an old city in the desert, well known for its architecture that makes the climate bearable for human beings. So called windcatchers are used in different ways as natural ventilators or as refrigerating devices in connection with qanats and ab anbars. Without qanats, underground channels that transport water from elevated water wells, places like Yazd that have no natural water source would be inhabitable in the pre-industrial era. It’s almost beyond my grasp that already 2 700 years ago the channels that run for 70km and more than 200m under the surface were constructed. Digging these channels can be seen as a sacrifice of the workers to the society considering the working conditions. Not only are the channels narrow and low and people could only move in them crouching but many of the builders died due to the collapse of the ceiling or suffocation.
Captivated by pictures of the stark beauty of the Lut desert, I followed Marco Polo’s footsteps and continued further east to the city of Kerman. In contrast to Marco Polo, who needed seven days for the journey, it took me five hours in a modern and comfortable bus to reach the big city on the edge of the desert. Btw, Iran has by far the best long distance bus network that I’ve seen, featuring modern, shiny stations and mostly new buses for affordable prices. After numerous phone calls, I finally found Nemat, a guide with a proper 4WD car who offered a tour through the Lut desert including an overnight stay. To make the trip affordable, I shared the car with two easy-going French guys, Florian and Nicolas. After a one hour drive over and through a mountain range, we stopped in the last village on the fringes of the desert to briefly take a look at the historic water system that is still in use today and enables human inhabitation and planting of date palms. After topping up the fuel tank and the cool box with water, we set off to the desert. Rightfully, we did not start the trip before afternoon when temperatures dropped to a bearable level again. According to satellite measurements, the part of the Lut desert covered with dark lava was found to be the hottest place on earth with 70.7°C surface temperature. Fortunately, it was May and not July, which gave us good chances of survival 😉 However, it didn’t take long until nature demonstrated how weak we were in this desolate and hostile environment. We got stuck on the downward slope of the first big ridge that we crossed. As much as we tried to pull, push and dig, the tons of steel didn’t move even a millimetre. The fine sand disappeared in the air when the engine accelerated and tried to move the useless wheels. Luckily, after an hour, a group of three cars appeared and the strongest one was able to pull our stranded whale of steel out of the dune. It was just in time for Nemat to find a nice spot on a hill to enjoy the sunset over the dunes. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the best night for stargazing due to haze and dust in the air and an early moonrise. After watching the sunrise from a nearby ridge, Nemat raced along the valley until we came a bit too close to the edge of a dune and two wheels gave in to gravity and sunk deep into the sand again. This time, I thought, our situation didn’t look that hopeless and I suggested pushing the car down the dune where a stretch of compressed sand would lead us out of the trap. One hour later, without any car in sight, the desperation outweighed the worry of overturning the car and Nemat gave it a try. A rush of relief washed over him after we successfully freed his car.
The shrine of Shah Nematollah Vali, a renowned Sufi master and poet
A water powered mill for grain in the town of Shahdad, situated on the fringes of the Lut desert. It is placed underground so that the water falling down from ground level gains enough power to drive the mill.
If you’re not afraid of sand in your underwear, sunset dune jumping can be the right thing for you 😉
Crossing the Lut desert on foot
Back in Kerman, I shared some pictures of the desert with Mick, at whose place I stayed in Kampala for several months. Not knowing that a 4WD brought me into the desert and back he started asking about how did I manage to take enough water for crossing the desert etc. This misunderstanding put the idea in my head to actually cross the Lut desert on foot. I would start in the same place as we did with the 4WD, but I planned to cross a bigger share of the desert by going deeper into it. Starting in the afternoon, I estimated that I would be able to finish the 30-35km crossing before noon the next day. Equipped with 6.5l of water, food, tent, camera and of course my drone, I left the taxi at 2.15pm, earlier than planned as finding a reasonably priced taxi wasn’t an issue. The sun was burning relentlessly and no breeze was easing the heat. I was melting under my backpack like a chocolate Santa Clause in the Finnish sauna. I continued slowly, leaving behind the 4WD tracks, the last sign of civilisation. When I stopped, total silence surrounded me. There was no sign of life. Sure, if there was any life, it would be wiser than me and hide from the midday sun. At dusk, the silence became oppressive. I turned around several times, but there was nothing, apart from the dangling straps of my backpack. Night fell and the desert turned pitch black. My eyes scanned the sand in front that was illuminated by my headlight. The longer I walked through the darkness, the more afraid of snakes and scorpions I became. But there was nothing else than sand. I decided to pitch my tent and continue after moonrise. Estimating that I still had more than half a way to go, I set the alarm to 2.30am. My goal was to arrive at the road well ahead noon to ensure I’m not barbecued while waiting for a lift. The temperature didn’t drop much below 30°C at night, but that was enough to allow me to go at a normal pace. The first sunrays on the horizon elevated my mood considerably. I was pretty lucky to have reached some of the most striking formations just before sunrise. At 8.45am, after 18.5 solitary hours in the desert, I reached the road. Though there wasn’t much traffic, I didn’t have to wait long. After 20 minutes, the second car stopped and I was offered a lift by a friendly Balutchi family. They did not have much space left in the car, but insisted on taking me to Kerman. After the driver repacked the trunk and his father moved to the back, I was offered the front seat. It was embarrassing to me that the grandfather was squeezed in the back, but I was given no choice. Sometimes people are too hospitable.
The Rageh valley, the small „craters“ on the left side are most likely entrances to the vertical access shafts of a qanat
On the way to the beautifully arranged Shahzadeh garden in the town of Mahan, near Kerman, I noticed an impressive mountain that featured several peaks with snow on the slopes. I was told it’s 4135m high Seshakh mountain which means „Three Horns“ and though it looked very steep, but should be doable without a rope and crampons. However, as finding the right way is said to be difficult, I decided to take a guide. Nemat connected me with Sajad who climbed Seshakh more than 10 times. We hiked for three hours to a shelter located on 2600m. My rusty climbing skills were tested on the way when we had to climb a 50m high, almost vertical, section with grade 1 to 2. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I opened the door of the shelter and I looked into the eyes of more than a dozen people whose mattresses and sleeping bags were covering the whole space on the ground. Without hesitation, they made space for the two of us and offered us to use their stove warm up our dinner. When we left the shelter at 5am we could see a thunderstorm illuminated by lightning in the valley some 20km away. Although it was not a good sign, we decided to continue as the thunderstorm was still far away. Minutes later, halfway to the steep slope of the mountain, we were shocked when lightning hit a rock just 200m ahead of us. Definitely, I’ve never seen lightning that close and I didn’t want to have it closer. I took to my heels and ran back to the shelter, closely followed by Sajad who had lost his courage too. For the rest of the morning, thick rain clouds were coming and going and thunder could be heard every hour. We tried to use a rain break for hiking down but were nevertheless hit by rain. The next day, Sajad took me to Rageh valley, another natural wonder.
As some of you noticed, my blog has a multi-month backlog already. The time needed to prepare the pictures, videos and text with the quality I aspire to costs much more time than I have on my hands. Anyway, I’ll continue to share my travel experiences with you though they are not “latest news”.