There’s a well trodden tourist track around Iran, and Yazd the city in the desert, is definitely on it. Located about four hours by comfortable bus from Isfahan, it’s a must see.
Five thousand year old Yazd has a population of 1.1 million, but it’s the UNESCO listed Old City that warrants the attention. We stayed in the Jungle Hostel which offered interesting views of mud brick buildings from the rooftop. This crumbling 400 year old building in the photo below is right next door, its owners left town, quite possibly a couple of centuries ago.
The staff at our hostel worked tirelessly to look after their guests, serving up hospitality by the bucketload.
Yazd is a place where you walk slowly – the heat and the narrow, twisting laneways don’t allow anyone to hurry. Along the way, there’s much to see: tea houses as well as traditional houses now earning incomes as hotels, shops and family guest homes.
Naturally, in this strong Islamic country, mosques dominate, especially Masjed-e Jameh and Amir Chakmaq.
Yazd has numerous rooftop cafes where the views are stunning and the coffee is decent.
The most interesting part of our visit was finding out how Iranians are able to survive in this desert area where temperatures in summer reach over 50 degrees and water is scarce. Badgir wind towers are a common sight on the horizon and this centuries’ old way to capture the wind and divert it down into the houses over cool pools of water means temperatures can drop by 20 degrees.
The way people in the Iranian desert use water is most interesting. Underground water is plentiful thanks to melting snow from the surrounding mountains. A system of underground aqueducts built by clever hands, allows the water to move along. The engineering method of 2000 years ago was extremely precise. It gave just enough of a downward angle to keep the water flowing. Each household was allocated a 15-20 minute share of water and during this time they gathered enough water in sunken holes to tide them over until it was their turn again. It’s amazing stuff and the Water Museum explains it much better than me!
While the majority of people in this region are Muslim, ten percent are Zoroastrian. These people are followers of a religion older than Islam and its faithful pray in the direction of light, especially light from fires, which is a form of light they can control. The Zoroastrian Museum pictured below was very informative.
Zoroastrians oppose burial and cremation on the grounds that they pollute the environment, so they built Towers of Silence where the dead are exposed to the elements and to the vultures who pick clean their bones.
Outside Yazd are some interesting sights. Kharanaq is a deserted 1000 year old mud brick village which you can walk around at your leisure. The views over the valley are beautiful. Access to electricity as well as indoor plumbing saw villagers leave and move to a newer, nearby village about 50 years ago.
Chak Chak which means ‘drip drip’ is a sacred site for Zoroastrians. There’s a legend attached to Chak Chak and it is this: when the Arabs invaded in AD 637, the Sassanian princess fled here, threw her staff at the tree and water began to flow. There’s a fire temple at the top of 230 steps, which we climbed, albeit a bit slowly, and checked out the tree, the eternal flame and of course the views from the top.
Meybod is a 1800 year old mud brick village with an ancient fortress and a most interesting icing pond. These icing ponds have lots of little channels and the water freezes in them in winter. The ice is collected from the channels and stored in these icing ponds for use in summer.
Iranians love their ice cream and the country boasts many ice cream shops. Saffron is fast becoming a firm favourite for us.
We enjoyed some tasty Iranian food.
The friendly welcome to foreigners was well and truly maintained here in Yazd. I was stopped in the street by these young soldiers who wanted me to take their photo. They were off duty, enjoying some down time and went out of their way to spread some Iranian good cheer to visitors.
We enjoyed our four days here. Now we’re headed to Shiraz.