Asia / Iran / Middle East

Yazd. Around and about.

We are head over heels for Yazd. It’s a fact. We could happily stay in the city doing nothing for a week or two but, let’s be honest, lazying around is not so cool if you then have to sweat out a good and engaging post, so before you ditch this page let me show you all the amazing sights around Yazd!

Around and about Yazd. Through abandoned ruins, following the last Zoroastrians, admiring beautiful architecture being surrounded only by a handful of fellow travelers…  

Itinerary what? As usual, we don’t have a plan as such. In our ultimately fave spot Cafe de Paris, next to Masjid-e-Jame mosque, we meet a young French girl Sophie. We share a drink or two and decide to go on a short trip around Yazd together. You don’t need any special prep beforehand. Every taxi driver could take you there for peanuts.

Masoud is actually a real guide speaking decent English. He takes us to Kharanaq. The city of ghosts. Potential for hyperbolic filled gushing-travel-writer-esque post? Off the freaking scale. Chances in this post? Zero. Yet it’s still an amazing place to visit!I will keep it short. With at least  1000 years of architectural history on show, the site of Kharanaq has been occupied in some form for around 4000 years. Now it’s pretty much abandoned and very much un-restored. No one knows what happened here and why its people left for good.

The only thing I know it’s that this place is raw, authentic, and in a state of beautiful decay. The mud brick roof tops are crumbling into the valley. One foolish step and you may become one of Kharanaq’s ghosts. (Reports are that at least one tourist has fallen though  a roof so no, you aren’t gonna be the first one.)

Our guide navigates a safe pathway to the highlights. The ancient ruins speak and its Masoud’s voice. Coming here with him was definitely a good move.

The crumbling ruins.

Our next stop is Chak-Chak. The road out takes us through some of the most delightful scenery we have seen so far in Iran. Legend has it that Sassanid princess Nikbanou was cornered here by the invading Arab army in 640 CE. Fearing capture she prayed and the mountain opened up so she could disappeared inside, but she wasn’t able to come back and started crying. Hence the name Chak Chak meaning “Drip Drip” in Persian, referring to the constant dripping around the walls and ceiling.  The whole floor inside the grotto is covered in water.

Once you reach the actual temple of Chak Chak there is a man-made grotto sheltered by two large bronze doors.
Fire is seen as the supreme symbol of purity. No Zoroastrian ritual or ceremony is performed without the presence of a sacred fire.
 These fires represent the light of God (Ahura Mazda) as well as the illuminated mind, and are never extinguished.

The best is yet to come – when we leave the temple we meet a Persian family having a picnic. They invite us to join them which, in practice, means taking hundreds of selfies and following each other on instagram. 🙂 Did I tell you how much I love people in Iran? Well, I love them loads!

They are Zoroastrians so we talk about different religions. They ask us about our faith. I tell them I’m a Christian (rather by default) and Mario is an atheist. Suddenly all the hubbub is gone and I see their eyes looking at me with fear and concern. But how? – they ask with disbelieve. YOU DON’T BELIEVE IN ANY GOD?? Mind you, dear reader some things are more sacred than others in Iran. Being an atheist is, let’s say, NOT AN OPTION. (Since that day we stick to saying we are pious Catholics.) 

Picnic with our new Iranian friends!

Meybod. Several sites of interest are dotted around the town centre, chief of which is the town’s ancient fortress but it’s so hot the laziness takes over and we keep it simple. A short walk around and a brief visit to one of the Pigeon Towers. Despite first impressions, this beautifully restored tower was not military in purpose but dedicated to something altogether more prosaic: it is a pigeon house, a giant roost for the collection of guano.

Inside Meybod’s Pigeon Tower.

Back in Yazd we decide to visit one more place – Zoroastrian Towers of Silence. Azadeh, our Iranian friends, joins us.

In the Zoroastrian tradition, once a body ceases to live, it can immediately be contaminated by demons and made impure. To prevent this infiltration, Zoroastrians purified the dead body by exposing it to the elements and local fowl on top of flat-topped towers in the desert called dakhmas. According to a tradition dating back over 3,000 years, bodies were arranged on the towers in three concentric circles. Men were placed in the outer circle, women in the middle, and children in the inner-most ring. Bodies were then left until their bones were bleached by the elements and stripped by the vultures.

Until 40 years ago, corpses could still be found on top of the Towers of Silence. It was the Shah who ended up with this incredibly interesting tradition and, as a result, to the extinction of the vultures.

Zoroastrian Towers of Silence.
Zoroastrian dakhma.
Vultures waiting to be fed.
With Azadeh and Sophie.

Zoroastrianism is world’s oldest religions that remains active. If you have time and money spend a whole day learning about its secrets. Go to one of Zoroastrian villages, if you are lucky you might come during Chaharshanbe Soori – festival of fire. It must be incredible. A good excuse to visit Iran again. If anyone would need one…

In the meantime stay tuned as we are on the way to “the most beautiful” of all beautiful cities. Next post will take you to Esfahan!