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Kavir Desert & Barbecue Site

Caravanserai every few dozen miles across the desert

But not much to eat

Yazd to Esfahan. Our first taste of the desert was a day’s drive out from Yazd to Kharanagh, a 1000 yr old mud-brick village with a shaking minaret and an even older citadel at Meybod – perhaps the oldest such structure in Iran at >1800 years.

Afshin had suggested a bbq in the desert (no 5-star restaurants for us) so we had collected provisions, raided the hotel kitchen for skewers.

But where to cook?

Just outside Kharanagh, deep in the desert but under the slopes of some serious mountains, we stumbled (!) on a picnic area complete with a clay fire pit bbq!
As the boys competed to start the fire – we had charcoal but had forgotten kindling and paper (it’s a desert !) so we used the passport copies that we had been urged to bring but were NEVER asked for.

Then it began to rain – in the desert – and a mullah hiked past.

Then it started to snow.

A strange day but fab chicken kebaps.

Boys & bbq's - the same everywhere

We don't travel 1st class but we do travel well!

The next day we set off the 430km drive to our lodge in the heart of the desert.

A word on Iranian driving. Mr Musk – It seems they’ve already perfected self-drive cars in Iran. Afshin wasn’t alone in ignoring mirrors, indicators, road signs or pretty much anything else that was occurring around the car – intent instead on eating seeds, clapping and singing to some (quite lovely) Iranian folk music and telling us stories which included his first love, broken hearts and also instructing us about “fabric friends” – the Iranian term for “living over the brush”.

At huge speed.

A 1000-yr-old mud-brick village in the very middle of a desert. Why could it have been abandoned?

We were stopped by the police 3 times that day – obvious curiosity at his passengers saved Afshin from bigger “fines” – one policeman armed with a pistol and well-worn ak47 described the illustrious British passport as a notebook with bird pictures!

Lunch today was a picnic next to a natural spring (ok, oasis) in the desert which was populated with flesh-eating fish…. a real fish spa…. rather nice actually.

A real foot spa in the desert

5-star dining when we arrived

And it wasn't a good photo anyway

When we finally got near to our lodge, tired but with perfect pedicures we saw some camels being herded in the twilight across the sands – an eerie image that we had to capture – mistake!

The car bogged down. After trying to dig ourselves out for an age, surrounded by grunting camels, we persuaded the sullen herder to go for help on his motorbike – and never saw him again.

Another half hour, now pitch black and moonless, we decided to strike out for some distant lights twinkling a mile or two away across the dunes.
We guessed right and walked into a gorgeous rustic lodge with a log-fire was burning in the courtyard, keeping tea and dinner ready for our arrival. Fittingly it was camel meat and dates.

We slept superbly in one of our more unusual lodgings.
In the morning we realised that we’d strayed only about 10m from a solid road -ah well – onwards to Esfahan – “Half the World”

Flashy hotel, eh?

We parked here somewhere


... but, sometimes.... the breakfast room in our tiny, inexpensive guest house

The guest house owner, an architect and historian

We had exchanged the (required) standard group tour, complete with stays in fabulous hotels, for a private tour but with cheaper guest-house accommodation.

However, the tiny historic house that was our lodging in Esfahan was competition for most palaces – restored by father and son using traditional techniques, hand-painted murals and, of course, mosaics to die for.

Naqsh-e Jahan Square aka "Half the World"

The first evening we just wandered around Naqsh-e-Jahan square – second in size to Tianamen – with Unesco “exhibits” making up each side – two mosques whose decoration, scale and design are incomparable – an imperial palace (in the throes of renovation) – the final side consisted of an immense portal leading to a fabulous bazaar. The remainder of each side is a double row of arched shop fronts – as they have always been since its C16th construction. – it has always been a major point on trade routes. The central courtyard also doubled as a polo field!

Photographs won’t really do justice to the exquisite mosques.

The beautiful, delicate Lotfullah (ladies’) mosque and the immense Shah mosque which itself contains a huge square wherein we chatted to the “duty mullah” – chosen for his handsome looks and wriggly answers – we quizzed him about wine, pork and women singing and dancing – but were unsuccessful in the debates.

Lotfullah Mosque

John debating with the Mullah in the immense Friday mosque - He lost

Iran does wonderful ceilings


And quite glorious tea-houses.

Rather nicer than a Wetherspoons, perhaps?

Too many gorgeous sights to include all here (ask in the shop!)

Many surprises in Esfahan – including a bacon sandwich in the Armenian quarter (quite close to the Jewish quarter!)

And our timing was excellent

After 8 months of drought and a totally dry river, on our second day in Esfahan, the dam was opened, the river filled and by evening it seemed that much of the city’s population congregated to promenade by the river and especially on, and under the three most spectacular bridges.


We joined them and were feted, chai’ed and sisha’ed like celebrities – there really weren’t any other foreigners around.

Constant questions as to what we thought of Iran (they are fully aware how they’re portrayed overseas and are superbly informed, educated and interested) – what we liked and where we’re from – surprisingly many knew where the Isle of Wight is!

Work & Treasures

The next day, wandering away from the tourist areas, we did finally track down the artisans’ area – amongst all the jaw-dropping sights we had been keeping our eyes open for special treasures for Drift. The tiny streets away from the main square were fascinating but entirely empty of any tourists from any country.

As usual we were the only ones stepping outside the tourist trail – it’s always interesting and, after the initial quizzical looks, really welcome and warm.

We didn't bring any of his lovely pots back (see shipping issue)

However, the khatam maker we tracked down in Esfahan had some beautiful pieces …..
but categorically would NOT have his or their picture taken.

But we did bring back a few of his utterly superb, intricate chess boards.

See our “Treasures” post….

…and the next stage of our travels up to Tehran, The Caspian and Tabriz