A Mirage In The Desert

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December 31st 2018
Published: January 27th 2019
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Badgirs, YazdBadgirs, YazdBadgirs, Yazd

The square towers that dot the Yazd skyline act as an old school air-conditioning system for the buildings that have them.
It was supposed to be so easy. Have the hostel book me a taxi to the bus station, buy a ticket to Yazd at the station, get on the bus.
The first part went according to plan apart from my driver not being able to change a 500,000 rial note, so he asked some fellow taxi drivers if they could help him. One guy with very light eyes and who could easily have passed for being Spanish or Greek was able to give my driver change. He asks me where I am going.
“Yazd”, I tell him.
He then tells me in very broken English that I was at the wrong station and that there wouldn’t be a bus leaving from here to Yazd for another three hours. He says I can get a bus leaving in just one hour at the other bus station. I didn’t know whether to trust this guy but I have found Iranians to be pretty honest so I hesitantly agreed to let him drive me to the other station for just 2€. On the way, he then tried to sell me the idea of taking a taxi all the way to Yazd but I decline.
Tunnel AlleyTunnel AlleyTunnel Alley

Atmospheric, covered walkways such as this really added to Yazd's allure.
This is when I realise I was probably being taken for a ride (literally) and that I should’ve checked at the bus station for departures to Yazd myself rather than just taking the word of a taxi driver, the most untrustworthy people on the planet. Frustrated with myself, we get to the other station and he takes me to the ticket counter where I am then told the next bus doesn’t leave for another three hours anyway!
“But you told me different!” I yell at the taxi driver.
He then says that for just 5€ I can take a taxi all the way to Yazd. “Fine” I say, and I follow him back to the pack of taxi drivers out front. They then tell me it’s 5€ per person and that they’d need to pick up three more passengers for me to get that price. Otherwise I’d have to fork out the entire 20€ myself. Remember, that this was all being done with very little English and trying to ask questions and get my point across was infuriating, especially given I was getting mucked around. I go back to the ticket desk, taxi driver in tow, and they confirm that
Amir Chakmaq Mosque ComplexAmir Chakmaq Mosque ComplexAmir Chakmaq Mosque Complex

The most outstanding landmark of Yazd's 'new' city.
the next bus isn’t for another three hours. I’d been led to believe that there were buses leaving all the time to Yazd, so I was surprised by the infrequency of them. The ticket clerks tell me it is because everything was full today. But they then make some calls and apparently I could catch up a bus already on its way to Yazd - I just needed a taxi to catch it up. So guess who offered.
We catch it up in the end - the bus actually waited for me at the side of the road - and after giving my light-eyed friend an extra euro on top of the 2€ agreed earlier, I get on the bus which takes me to Yazd for just another 2€ and is about 3/4 full. "Full", my arse. Throughout this wild goose chase, I didn’t know who, if anyone, was telling the truth, but for an extra 3€ I probably didn’t need to spend and some extra stress I probably didn't need to go through, I had in the end got what I wanted. In less honest countries and if I was still backpacking, I probably wouldn’t have trusted the driver’s
Desert View From Chak ChakDesert View From Chak ChakDesert View From Chak Chak

A fittingly dramatic location for one of the most sacred sites in Zoroastrianism.
word but it is funny how your thinking changes knowing that an extra euro or two isn’t a big deal. No-one likes being ripped off however, no matter how small the amount, so I was still pissed off at having to pay that extra 3€. It was supposed to be so easy...

Passing through the rural towns and the arid countryside, it brought to mind the dusty towns of the Middle East that are always shown on the news - pictures brought to Western screens usually and unfortunately, because of some conflict taking place in the region. The towns also reminded me a lot of the rural towns I saw in India.
Thankfully when I arrived in Yazd, I didn’t have to go through the chore of negotiating again with a taxi driver - there was a prepay booth at the bus terminal that ensured you got a fair price.

If the Iranian countryside looked like something from the TV screen, then Yazd’s old town looked like something from the movie screen, as I had my initial walk through it. The mud brick walls, the fantastical arches, the romantic alleyways - it was as if I had suddenly
Masjed-e JamehMasjed-e JamehMasjed-e Jameh

Yazd's main mosque is stunningly lit up at night.
wound up on the set of Aladdin, Ali Baba or some other Arabian Nights tale, whisked here by magic carpet. I was enchanted, awed.

I was walking through town because I was on my way to meet two travellers I had initially met at the hostel in Tehran and then again in Esfahan. The tourist trail in Iran is very distinct so it was almost inevitable that you kept bumping into the same people in every place. Since myself, Niccolo from Italy and Salih from Bulgaria were pretty much tracking each other from north to south, we thought we might as well keep in touch and keep each other company. Joining us for dinner was local girl Shiva, who Salih had arranged to meet through Couchsurfing. It’s not just about getting a free place to stay - Couchsurfing is also a great way for locals and foreigners anywhere to connect and exchange knowledge and experiences.
Shiva took us to a rooftop restaurant overlooking the Masjed-e Jameh which was spectacularly lit up in blue.
In terms of food I went with mirza ghasemi which is basically the Iranian version of babaganoush. I then couldn't resist having a helping of saffron

The abandoned mud brick city of Kharanaq, 70km north of Yazd.
ice cream for dessert - I’ve absolutely fallen in love with saffron on this trip.

Rather than explore the town on my first day, I decided to join Niccolo and Salih on a desert tour around Yazd that took us to three different places of interest.
First off, we stopped at the abandoned mud-brick village of Kharanaq which is now a ghost town. There is always something intriguing about abandoned places and my imagination ran wild trying to picture what the town was like when it was alive. The mosque has been restored and has a “shaking minaret” but everything else is crumbling and it was quite fun scrambling around the ruins. The highlight of the visit is the spectacular view looking out to the plains and mountains.
The second stop was at one of the most sacred sites in Zoroastrianism; Chak Chak. Zoro-what, you ask? Zoroastrianism is the world’s oldest monotheistic religion still being practiced; these guys have been believing in one god since the 5th century BC, well before Christianity and Islam. Legend has it that in the 7th century AD, the Sassanian and Zoroastrian princess Nikbanuh fled the Arab invasion to Chak Chak and desperate for
Covered Arcade, YazdCovered Arcade, YazdCovered Arcade, Yazd

This alley is like a one-lane bazaar, albeit a very pretty and done-up one.
water, threw her staff at the cliff. Water then miraculously started to flow - and still does to this day. Chak chak literally translates to 'drip, drip'. You have to climb over 200 steps to get to the temple here housing an eternal flame but the views over the arid valley below are quite magnificent.
The third stop was at the town of Meybod. Unlike Khanaraq, this mud-brick town is very much alive and has been so supposedly since 4000BC. It was once the capital of the Persian Empire but its heyday has well and truly passed. There isn’t too much to see here these days apart from a caravanserai and two giant icehouses. There is also a historic castle but I didn’t get the opportunity to visit it as I was too busy trying to un-jam my camera lens! Thankfully I managed to do it in the end!

Joining us for dinner that evening was Kristina, who was also part of the original crew who had met in Tehran. It was pretty cool for all of us to have kept in touch and get together again. Salih in particular is hilarious; the guy just never seemed to get
Tower Of SiienceTower Of SiienceTower Of Siience

The bodies of Zoroastrians used to be taken up to the top of these towers on the outskirts of Yazd for ritual feeding to vultures.
any jokes, was obsessed with food, never knew what he was doing from one day to the next and always unwittingly found himself in illegal situations such as being invited to an underground Iranian rave and bribing a security guard to climb a minaret at the Masjed-e Shah in Esfahan.

The next morning, Kristina and I along with another German David, took a cab to the Towers of Silence.
These temple like structures have been built atop two hills seemingly in the middle of the desert on the outskirts of town and were once where the bodies of Zoroastrians were taken up to be ritually fed to vultures. There are several buildings at the base of the hills where bodies were prepared before their final ascent up the hills. The modern Zoroastrian cemetery is right next to the ticket office and when we asked if we could have a look around it, we ended up getting a free guided tour.
I knew nothing about Zoroastrianism before arriving in Iran so it was really cool to be told about the religion's beliefs, its rituals and its traditions. Like most religions, Zoroastrianism encourages good thoughts and good deeds and the guy
Traditional Iranian Gym, YazdTraditional Iranian Gym, YazdTraditional Iranian Gym, Yazd

David holds up the massive wooden clubs that burly Iranian men used to build up their muscles.
giving us the tour was enthusiastic about spreading knowledge of his religion. He must've spent about half an hour with us and told us not just of Zoroastrianism but also about the realities of living in the Islamic Republic as a religious minority. He was a such a good guy and what he had to say was super interesting and informative. I learned a lot!

The old city of Yazd is relatively small but urban sprawl has spread out like a rash all around it and the centre of this new city of over a million residents is the Amir Chakhmaq Mosque Complex. In front of the complex's main facade is a square and right next to the square is an old reservoir that has been turned into a traditional Iranian gym. Inside, big, burly men work on their strength and stature by swinging around a pair of heavy wooden clubs. As well as improving their physical attributes, the whole exercise also acts as a form of performing arts.
Over the road from the square is the city's acclaimed Water Museum which teaches you about the desert city's ancient irrigation system. Basically, underneath the city runs a network of
Kristina & The Badgirs, YazdKristina & The Badgirs, YazdKristina & The Badgirs, Yazd

Almost the name of an 80s rock band. Sort of.
qanats - aqueducts, some of which still function - which has maintained life in the middle of the desert for 2,000 years. The museum itself unfortunately was a bit disappointing - it struggled to match the wonderment of the ancient qanats it was presenting.
Next, we went inside the Masjed-e Jameh although to be quite honest, this was now the fifth or sixth big mosque that I had visited in Iran and they were starting to get a little old by this stage.

The best way to enjoy Yazd however, is simply to walk its maze of lanes and alleys. It very much reminded me of Marrakesh although the terracotta-coloured mud brick buildings also brought a sense of Tatooine to Yazd as well.
While walking through the old town, we were invited to peruse the Fahadan Museum Hotel by the hotel's flamboyant, mustachioed owner. Luxuriously decorated, the owner let us check out the hotel's fully-functioning qanat before demonstrating one of the hotel's badgirs, or wind towers, to us. I first came across these when I was in Dubai and they act as an old-style air-conditioning system. These towers somehow suck in cold air, while pushing out warm air -
View Of YazdView Of YazdView Of Yazd

From the top of the Fahadan Museum Hotel.
although in the middle of winter, this wasn't particularly helpful. But standing underneath the tower, you could really feel the thing at work.
Yazd's skyline is dotted with badgirs and the best place to get a view of them was on the rooftop of the Art House teahouse, where I enjoyed a heavenly cup of hot saffron milk with honey - I'm definitely gonna make few cups of those when I get back to Berlin! The view was even better than the milk though, the best rooftop view I had seen throughout my stay in Yazd. It really made Yazd feel like the medieval Persian city of your dreams.

It was actually New Year's Eve that night but given all the comically bad New Year's Eves that I've had in the past, I wasn't out to make a big night of it; in fact you couldn't - not in the traditional Western way anyway - because in the Islamic Republic, there is not a drop of alcohol to be found (not legally anyway, just ask Salih). We did encounter a girl however who seem hell-bent on celebrating the night.
Earlier in the day, we had caught up again with
Ceiling Of The Masjed-e Jameh, YazdCeiling Of The Masjed-e Jameh, YazdCeiling Of The Masjed-e Jameh, Yazd

Note the honeycomb-carved patterns.
Salih in front of the Amir Chakmaq who was in conversation with a couple of Romanian girls. One of them seemed to want to to talk to every single foreigner that was walking by, as if on some mad recruitment drive to gather a foreign posse for NYE. Almost immediately after introducing ourselves, she was already after all of our WhatsApp numbers so that she could keep track of us later that night. After asking us for our plans, we tell her that we might hit the Marco Polo Restaurant, which was advertising a NYE "party" on flyers dotted all over the old town.
Almost the whole crew were staying at the same traditional mud-brick hotel, so myself, Kristina, David, Salih, Jirawat - a Thai guy who had stayed at all the same hostels and hotels I had stayed at from Tehran to Yazd - and then eventually, Julie, the French girl I met in Esfahan, all ended up having dinner that night at the same restaurant I went to on my first night.
Soon, we get a WhatsApp message from the Romanian girl asking where we are; apparently the Marco Polo party was a bit of a dud and
New Year's Eve In YazdNew Year's Eve In YazdNew Year's Eve In Yazd

One of the Romanian girls had a Polaroid camera that captured our foreign legion celebrating New Year's Eve. Very meta.
was just a bunch of locals having dinner. She and her friend soon arrive but they were not alone - they had brought along their latest recruit, Konstantinos from Greece.
"I have another few people coming - is that OK?" she says.
We had been having a bit of trouble with the waitress at the restaurant and I could see our bill being a bit of a nightmare to sort out at the end so I wasn't willing to make things more complicated than they already were; that was when a Russian couple and local couple showed up to join the party. After they had all ordered some (non-alcoholic) drinks, a pair of Slovenian girls then showed up to complete our set.
I might sound like I am complaining but to be honest, it was actually quite a funny night - fourteen foreigners all having randomly met, celebrating NYE completely sober in the middle of the Iranian desert. A New Zealander, two Germans, two Slovenians, two Russians, two Iranians, two Romanians, a Bulgarian, a Frenchwoman and a Thai walking into an Iranian restaurant sounds like the opening line of a joke!
But how things have changed though; while midnight on
Bogheh-ye Sayyed Roknaddin, YazdBogheh-ye Sayyed Roknaddin, YazdBogheh-ye Sayyed Roknaddin, Yazd

The beautiful turquoise dome of the tomb of Sayyed Roknaddin Mohammed Qazi, a local notable person.
NYE used to be the cue for wild night of drinking and partying, here we were all tired and cranky, counting down the seconds 'til midnight just so we could GTFO there and get to sleep. When we did eventually do the final countdown and cheered in the new year, the other locals in the restaurant all shot us puzzled looks, wondering what the hell was going on. They run on a different calendar apparently and for them the night was just a normal Tuesday night.
But for me the best thing about that night was hanging out with five other solo travellers - Kristina, Salih, David, Julie and Jirawat, all a long way from home, in a country many consider an intrepid place to visit, during the Christmas holidays, away from our families. It takes a certain type of person to do what we were all doing so we all very much had a common bond. I had got a lot of raised eyebrows and weird looks when I told people what I was doing for Christmas, but hanging out with these guys and contemplating everything I had experienced in Iran up to that point, I felt oddly vindicated
Zoroastrian Cemetry, YazdZoroastrian Cemetry, YazdZoroastrian Cemetry, Yazd

Note the photos on the graves and the winged symbol of Zoroastrianism next to them.
in what I was doing.

And in all honesty, I think that solo travelling has become much more of a common occurrence among the current generation; indeed doing anything alone is becoming more and more common and is now far more socially acceptable than it used to be.
From a social aspect, smartphones, mobile internet and social media have made it so easy to stay in touch with friends and to make new ones, that people are far less afraid to venture out anywhere alone. I used to hate eating at restaurants alone but now that I have my smartphone to keep me company while I wait for my food, I'm no longer embarrassed to be seen eating by myself.
From a travelling perspective, the digital revolution coupled with the massive increase in the popularity of hostels since I first started travelling, also makes it much less daunting to travel alone than it used to be. Cheaper flights, digital nomads and the preference of millennials to spend their money on travel and experiences over consumer goods, mean that there are very few places in the world worth going to now that has not received tourists and does not have
Sunset Over YazdSunset Over YazdSunset Over Yazd

A silhouette of Yazd's skyline against the sunset.
at least basic tourist infrastructure in place; all of this has certainly has made travelling alone much easier. I have to say that I have been surprised by how easy it has been to essentially backpack Iran.

With all of this in mind, let's hope that I have an easier time of it getting to the last stop of my Iranian tour than I did getting here to Yazd; feeling fresh for once on New Year's Day, it will be time to head to Shiraz.

زود میبینمت (zood mibinamet),

Additional photos below
Photos: 26, Displayed: 26


Streets Of KharanaqStreets Of Kharanaq
Streets Of Kharanaq

Walking through the abandoned mud brick city of Kharanaq.
Streets Of YazdStreets Of Yazd
Streets Of Yazd

Wonderfully peaceful and atmospheric, especially at night.
Inside The Fahadan Museum HotelInside The Fahadan Museum Hotel
Inside The Fahadan Museum Hotel

One of many traditional hotels in Yazd.
Qanat, YazdQanat, Yazd
Qanat, Yazd

Flowing underground aqueduct in the basement of the Fahadan Museum Hotel.
Dinner In YazdDinner In Yazd
Dinner In Yazd

With me, Niccolo, Shiva and Salih.
Avin' A Laugh, YazdAvin' A Laugh, Yazd
Avin' A Laugh, Yazd

Kristina, the flamboyant, mustachioed owner of the Fahadan Museum Hotel and David.
Carrot & Ice Cream Milkshake In YazdCarrot & Ice Cream Milkshake In Yazd
Carrot & Ice Cream Milkshake In Yazd

Who knew it would taste so good?
Chak ChakChak Chak
Chak Chak

Inside the Zoroastrian fire temple of Chak Chak. The eternal flame in the background is in a niche carved out of the mould-covered rock. The mould is due to the famous water that drips down the cliff face.

An old ice house in a town more than 1,800 years old.

27th January 2019
Chak Chak

Are adherants tolerated in Islamic Iran, Derek. I came upon Zoroastrianism in Tajikistan and their god was an interesting fellow indeed.
29th January 2019
Chak Chak

Yes, they are, as are Armenian Christians. According to a follower we talked to however, they don't too many favours as a religious minority unfortunately...
27th January 2019

A mud city is a place to behold...oozing history and tales of the old. Great pic. I've posted this in 'Streetscapes' thread in the Photography Forum. Check it out.

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