The drive to Yazd was hot and dry, with the landscape becoming dustier and more empty as we got further from Kashan. The desert wind swirled the dust into mini tornadoes, travelling across the plains. Walled mud brick villages punctuated the harsh landscape, the glittering domes of their mosques catching the bright sunlight. I was excited to see the warning signs that we had become so accustomed to change from the silhouette of a cow to a camel. Sadly though, the only such creature we saw was oh so very dead on the side of the road, presumably having got on the wrong side of a lorry.
We managed to find a scrap of shade on the side of the road, so stopped for a rest and to drink some water. Sure enough, after a few minutes we were joined by an Iranian family who had stopped for a picnic. They spoke a little English, so we got talking and they quickly offered to share their lunch with us. Despite our insistence that we did not have far to go, we were handed heaped plates of delicious home cooked food. This kindness is so typical in Iran, but we still feel genuinely touched when we experience it.
We arrived in the city as the sun was starting to go down. As we cruised along the main road, Oli's sunglasses (which have been on death's door since Greece) fell into the road. We pulled over and he hopped off the bike to retrieve them, hoping that they would be okay. A traffic policeman had already fished them out of the road, but unfortunately not before they had been run over. Not to be deterred, Oli has bent them back in to something resembling their original shape and insists that they will go on with a little Araldite, despite my counter-insistence that they are toast.
Finding the hotel was not easy for the uninitiated, but a local man gestured that he knew where to go, and waved for us to follow him on his motorbike. We chased through the narrow back streets, and I spotted a sign which we merrily rode past. The man stopped and asked a local something, and continued along. At this point I spotted another sign which we also rode past. We quickly came to the conclusion that he didn't have a clue, and tried to ditch him with a U-turn. We found the hotel easily after this, but our friend re-appeared as we got to the door. He was a little strange, but after us thanking him several times he eventually left.
Looking forward to much needed showers and relaxing in our room, we discovered that the hotel had lost our booking. They offered us beds in the dormitory, which we didn't fancy, but then told us that somebody would be checking out that evening, and that we would have a room after 9.pm. Oli the Yorkshireman asked for a discount, and we actually ended up getting a very good price. We spent the wait relaxing in the beautiful courtyard, and eating delicious and cheap food. We didn't actually get our room until half ten, but hey ho, who cares?
The next day we got up typically late and ate a leisurely breakfast. The hotel offers limitless tea, so we sat in the courtyard drinking cup after cup from the samovar. Whilst we could easily have done this all day, we thought we should probably go out and see something, so set off for a wander around the streets.
This was how we stumbled across a large and lavishly tiled mosque. The style of these buildings is completely different in Iran when compared to Turkey. Iranian mosques are often more modern (presumably a lot were built post-revolution), and are usually covered with colourful and patterned tiles. Thankfully there was no need for me to cover with the chador for this one, and we wandered around the interior and marvelled at the colourful glass and varied decoration.
Being a desert town, Yazd essentially shuts down in the middle of the day, re-opening in the early evening. As most businesses were closed when we left the mosque, we bought some fruit and decided to go back to our hotel to drink yet more tea in the courtyard. It turned out to be an excellent decision, although we were slightly worried that the hotel would start to regret providing tea at no cost.
When the heat of the day had died down, Oli decided to pop to the sarrafi (exchange), as we were running low. It was Thursday, and we were conscious that no exchange offices would be open on Friday. He set off optimistically, only to find that they had closed early, and would not be re-opening until Saturday morning. Fortunately, the hotel staff were kind and understanding, and lent us money to tide us over.
We took a stroll in the evening sun, marvelling at the colour of the walls and buildings in the lower light. I kept telling Oli it looked just like Agrabah, the fictional home town of Disney's Aladdin, but this did not excite him nearly as much as it did me. The maze like narrow streets of the old town were a real highlight for us, and well worth exploring.
One of the main reasons we had chosen our hotel was the fact that they allow you up on to the flat roof to watch the sunset. We took advantage of this, and were pleasantly surprised to find that we were the only people up there. The sunset over the unusual city skyline was amazing, the kind of moment that makes us so glad we decided to travel. As the light started to fade and the colour of the sky softened to pastel hues, the sound of the call to prayer floated gently from the mosque. I usually hate when travel writing over describes things like this as it can seem a little contrived, but it honestly was a truly magical experience.
The relaxing atmosphere of our hotel was obviously having an affect on us. Although we had planned to get up early, by the time we were up and running, finished with breakfast and chatting to other guests, it was late morning. Our destination was the dramatically named Towers of Silence (Dakhmeh), an historic Zoroastrian site. The towers themselves sit on two peaks, and were used in the past as resting places for the dead. The bodies would be placed inside and exposed to the sunlight and scavenging birds, and the tradition continued in isolated places up until the 1970s, when it was banned by law in Iran. As well as the imposing towers, there is also a scattering of abandoned ruins, some of which appear to be undergoing restoration. We were too lazy to climb up to the towers in the midday heat, but were happy to explore the ruins and admire the hill tops from afar.
Our original plan had been to ride to an abandoned village around 60 km away, but the day was hot and we were enjoying our chill out so went back to the hotel for a midday rest. After lounging around and further abusing the free tea supply, we decided to visit to the Jameh mosque. The mosque itself has stood for almost 1000 years, and is visually dazzling with its brightly tiled surface. We spent quite some time walking around the courtyard, and absorbing the exquisite details.
Not wanting to exert ourselves too much, we walked back to the hotel slowly. The soft evening light on the old streets and high walls provided ample photo opportunities, which we were all too keen to take advantage of. We arrived back at the hotel just before sunset, so decided to make the most of it and watch from the roof for a second night. We were joined this time by an interesting guy who was originally from Belarus, living in New York, but currently taking a year out to travel the world.
The next day we rose early, with the intention of going to the sarrafi so we would have money to pay our hotel bill. All was going well until we arrived at the door to discover that it would not actually open until 11 a.m. We couldn't wait this long as we needed to get to Toudeshk in time to see the desert, so were a little annoyed. Thankfully, our hotel saved the day and allowed us to pay in Euros. They had forgotten to add some of the food and drinks we'd had, and also the extra money we had borrowed the day before. Grateful that we reminded them, we got an excellent euro rate in return.
Toudeshk is a small village on the main route from Yazd to Esfahan. We had spotted a poster for a homestay in our Yazd hotel, and on closer inspection realised that Oli knew the people in the photographs. He had travelled with George and Morgan as far as Turkey when they made their trip in 2009. This sealed the deal, and we decided that we should go check it out.
We arrived in time for a delicious lunch and had a short rest. The owner Mohammed gave us directions to the sand dunes, around 70km away, so we hopped back on the unloaded bike and were on our way. They were easy to find, but as soon as we arrived Oli had a problem. His stomach was a little dodgy from the night before, and the only thing to be done was to resolve the issue behind a dune whilst I waited with the bike. Imagine his horror as we heard the noise of an engine slowly approaching and getting louder. Eventually Oli reappeared, and confirmed that the deed was done, the evidence frantically buried, and dignity preserved just as a quad bike rider crested the hill he had been crouching behind. Phew.
As we had a while until sunset, Oli decided to have a play with the bike on the dunes. Apparently riding in sand is a lot harder than it looks, but all was going well until he slowed down at a crucial point. The back tyre dug into the very soft surface, and there was no way it was going to budge. We quickly established that I had neither the weight or the strength to give Oli the push he needed. A struggle ensued, as we attempted various techniques to shift 225kg of metal enough to get it moving again. Sweating and exhausted, we finally had to accept that we needed help. This is the issue with being a medium sized couple on an over sized bike.
In a glorious moment of serendipity, a car appeared down the gravel track leading the sand dunes, and headed towards where we were stranded. An Iranian family poured out, ready for a picnic of course. I ran down to ask them for help, and were quickly assisted by the father and his teenage son. By getting behind the bike and giving it a healthy shove, the issue was resolved. Oli parked the bike firmly on the gravel track, and the family insisted on giving us cold water. We now confidently believe that wherever you are in Iran, in your hour of need, you can be rescued by a picnicking family.
It was now not long until sunset, so we scrambled up the highest dune to get a good view. Climbing a sand dune is not as easy as it looks, as the soft, dry sand slides back down the hill. I ended up having to do the last steep section on my hands and feet, at one point accidentally treading on the trailing ends of my headscarf and losing patience with the bastard thing. Despite this, it was a lot of fun and completely worth it once we reached the top. We were rewarded for our efforts by incredible views, made even more beautiful by the golden evening light. On one side of the dune was a huge plain, punctuated with scrubby plants. To the other side, undulating sand hills stretched to the horizon. It was the first time both of us had seen this kind of landscape, and we couldn't tear our gaze from it.
As the sun slowly sank, a motorbike appeared on the plain in the distance. The rider was herding his three camels, a desert scene if ever we saw one. From our high sand dune perch, we watched the sun disappear unhurriedly over the horizon, colouring the sky in bright colours and causing the sand dunes to throw dramatic shadows over the landscape. We were left with the soft pastel light of early evening, and thought it was high time to get back to the bike and on to the main road before the dark set in. Oli decided the best way to get down the towering, steep slope was to roll. He tumbled down and assured me that although almost every orifice was now full of sand, it was enormous fun. I took the more conventional, if slower, route down.
The road back to Toudeshk goes through largely unpopulated areas, so there was almost no light pollution at all. We pulled the bike over on to the side of the road, switched the headlights off and spent a while staring at the stars. The dark, cloudless sky was peppered with bright lights, and we were amazed at how much we could see. Despite the getting stuck incident, our desert excursion had been an incredible experience, and was so very worth the detour.