Through the Iranian Desert

619km, altitude gain of 2,659km (3,753km and 29.872 m altitude gain in total)
619km, altitude gain of 2,659km (3,753km and 29.872 m altitude gain in total)

25 October – 5 November, 2015 – We were ready to leave before 8am after a bad night’s sleep with noisy neighbors when two men from the local newspaper approached us for an interview without even asking if it was OK for us. Thirty minutes and many questions and photos later we left the mosque with a bag full of raisins and walnuts – a gift from the journalists. They filmed us while we were leaving the city and wished us good luck for our next part of the trip through the desert.

We were now looking forward to quiet roads and starry nights. The first night we camped behind some abandoned stables off the highway and while cooking dinner we were approached by a man in a car.  For minutes he talked in Farsi to us. When he finally noticed that we didn’t understand a word, he left again. We wondered for a while how he found us as we had followed a small track and thought nobody could see us here.

This is our daily bread - not that you are mistaking this for new scarves
This is our daily bread, best eaten fresh from the bakery as it feels like chewing on cardboard after a few hours – not that you are mistaking this for new scarves
Photo session at the mosque
Photo session at the mosque
One of the reporters
Reporter 1 and photographer…
...and reporter 2, the English teacher, asking all the questions.
…and reporter 2, the English teacher, asking all the questions and with our bag full of raisins and walnuts..

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Finally an empty road
Finally an empty road
There is still some life in the desert
There is still some life in the desert
Who's the camel?
Who’s the camel?
Wonderful camping in the middle of nowhere
Wonderful camping in the middle of nowhere
Preparing breakfast...
Preparing breakfast…
Breakfast at a what we thought well-hidden place
…eating breakfast!
A typical desert village
A typical desert village

During the day temperatures still climbed well beyond 30 degrees and the cloudless sky and treeless desert left us with nowhere to shelter from the heat. Every once in a while people would stop to give us food or just ask if we were OK or needed anything. In the early afternoon we reached a small desert town and were stopped by a police car. By the time I caught up with Johan, he was surrounded by four men – three policemen and an English teacher. I got a little worried only to learn later, that the police had seen us earlier and as they didn’t speak English they had picked up the English teacher to welcome us. They wanted to make sure we would find a good place to sleep and food for the evening. I was overwhelmed when the English teacher asked us to tell our friends and families at home that Iranians are good people. That was not the first time we were asked that. Iranians feel pretty misunderstood by the Western world and they are extremely keen on being seen as hospitable and kind. Often we would be asked if we also thought that all Iranians are terrorists, as this is – according to their understanding – what BBC and CNN would broadcast.

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Another village
Another village

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Relaxing at the guesthouse
Lunch break
Outfit, headwind and heat make for hard desert cycling
Outfit, headwind and heat make for hard desert cycling

After three days of difficult cycling through undulating barren landscapes and daily headwinds we reached the desert town Tabas from where we took the train to Yazd. Iran is four times the size of Germany or three times the size of France which made it impossible for us to cycle every single stretch. Trains in Iran are pretty cool, but leave at pretty uncool times, which again makes them very cool, as they are empty and a lot of train staff takes care of a few passengers. Our train left at 2am in the morning and we got our own comfortable sleeping compartment and our bikes got their own next to us. In fact, we were the only passengers in our carriage. In the morning we had breakfast in the train restaurant and we felt a bit like sitting in the famous Orient-Express.

Change of scenery
Change of scenery
Sand dunes
Sand dunes
Power nap at almost 40 degrees Celsius
Power nap at almost 40 degrees Celsius

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At the mosque in Tabas
At the mosque in Tabas
The gardens of Tabas
The gardens of Tabas
In the mosque
In the mosque
And the mosque at night
And the mosque at night
Leaving Tabas by train
Leaving Tabas by train
Sleeping in the train...
Sleeping in the train…
...and breakfast with the train staff
…and breakfast with the train staff.

In Yazd we checked into a far too expensive hotel for a shabby room and filthy shared bathrooms only to change the next day to a traditional hotel at the same price with our own clean bathroom. Yazd is one of the highlights in Iran with its forests of windtowers, the so-called badgirs and winding lanes through the mud-brick old town. We cycled through a labyrinth of small alleys, got lost in the huge covered bazaar and chilled with good coffee and food in one of the many rooftop restaurants while enjoying a fabulous vista of old Yazd.

Impressions of Yazd: 

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The famous badgirs (wind towers) of Yazd – formerly used as air-conditioning
Cycling through the narrow alleys
Cycling through the narrow alleys
The view from the roof top cafe at our hotel
The view from the roof top cafe at our hotel
Sweets shop
Sweets shop
The dome of a mosque
The dome of a mosque
Imam Hossein celebrations
Imam Hossein celebrations

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Praying
Praying

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At the Zoroastrian Fire Temple where it is believed that a flame has been burning for over 1,500 years
At the Zoroastrian Fire Temple where it is believed that a flame has been burning for over 1,500 years
At the bazaar
At the bazaar

From Yazd we continued once more North in the direction of famous Esfahan. Unfortunately the wind had changed and instead of coming from the South it now blew straight into our faces. Cranky we continued anyway. Wind is the most unfair cycling condition and without doubt the most hated by cyclists. As our cycling friend Annika from Tasting Travels nicely put it in one of her blog posts: Mountains are fair as you know that after a long climb a downhill will follow. However, you cannot expect that a headwind turns into a tailwind the next day. Nonetheless we pedaled on and gave up at around lunchtime to visit an old castle from 4000 BC and the beautiful and much less touristy mud-brick town Meybod.

Roadside billboards
A typical roadside billboard…
...and another one!
…and another one!
At the Maybod castle
At the Meybod citadel
Always searching for the perfect shot :-)
Always searching for the perfect shot 🙂
The castle in its full glory or what's left from it
The citadel in its full glory or what’s left from it
Johan successfully hiding his new and far too short haircut. In fact, I wasn't allowed to take his picture for the coming three weeks!!!
Johan successfully hiding his new and far too short haircut. In fact, I wasn’t allowed to take his picture for the coming three weeks!!!

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Meybod
Meybod

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Shopping
Shopping

Even though we were still cycling through the desert it was clearly getting winter. The evenings and nights were cold with temperatures close to or below 0 degrees Celsius and during the day the quicksilver seldom climbed over 20 degrees anymore. On our way to Esfahan we camped two more times, once for free behind a what we thought abandoned caravanserai. We had just finished our abundant dinner of two hard boiled eggs each and were ready to crawl into our sleeping bags, when a car passed. It seemed that there were still people living at the caravanserai, but they either hadn’t seen us or weren’t interested, they left us alone all night. The second night we camped for very little money in a hotel garden.

At a police checkpoint. They would always exhibit terribly damaged cars to promote safe driving
At a police checkpoint. They would always show terribly damaged cars to promote safe driving

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Another quiet campspot behind a caravanserai
Another quiet camp spot behind a caravanserai

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Selfie with a 'roadworker'
Selfie with a ‘roadworker’
What is he doing there?
What is he doing there?
The truck drivers love their Macks
The truck drivers love their Macks

Thanks to the headwind we made very little progress and needed four full days to reach Esfahan. The scenery was relatively boring compared to what we had seen before and on top we were cycling on busy roads without shoulders and often had to leave the road to avoid collisions with passing trucks. The last 40 kilometers into Esfahan were absolutely dreadful with extreme heavy truck traffic. We must have breathed in tons of diesel exhaust and cycling didn’t feel very healthy anymore. Additionally we were cycling through a vast industrial area with mainly steel and petrochemical plants. That day I thought to myself that this might be the first day we wouldn’t get anything from passing people. But also this time I was wrong. Right at the entrance of Esfahan we were handed over two pomegranates, 500 meters further we got a rice-dish – perfect for us as it was lunchtime. In the middle of the busy traffic in the city center a man stuck his hand out of his open car window with a bucket full of a yummy rice-and-saffron dessert. Iranians treated us once again very well!

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We had just finished our second breakfast when this man came over to give us more food. He couldn't stop and each time we accepted something, he would get more out of his car :-)
We had just finished our second breakfast when this man came over to give us more food. He couldn’t stop and each time we accepted something, he would get more out of his car 🙂
An old caravanserai along the silk road which can be found every 30 km to 40 km
An old caravanserai along the silk road which can be found every 30 km to 40 km

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To avoid the worst
To avoid the worst

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And now me?
And now me?
Enjoying our lunch we just got from another nice Iranian next to the busy road
Enjoying our lunch we just got from another nice Iranian next to the busy road

3 thoughts on “Through the Iranian Desert

  1. Love your photographs, your journey, your strength and sense of adventure and openness to people. Just before coming across this post i had been thinking about Iran as a destination. Have heard about the hospitality and enthusiasm of the people to connect with people from other countries.

    Like

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