Leaving Isfahan behind a few kilo’s heavier than we when arrived we took the 2pm bus to Yazd, arrivng at the bus terminal around 6pm. It was the final day of the Nowruz holiday and tradition sees people all over the country take to the outdoors for picnics, BBQ’s and celebrations. As we passed cardboard cutouts of police cars designed to fool oncoming traffic we spotted carpets and blankets thrown in fields, parks and any available green space (even median strips aren’t out of bounds) and families coming together under the sunshine to eat, drink (non-alcoholic beverages) and be merry. A portable gas stove and a teapot are a necessity and occasionally swings for children were created from a rope slung between trees.
We’re greeted in Yazd by a large dust storm. The locals have gone into hiding and the only people on the streets are the blood sucking taxi drivers and the tourists not smart enough to have headed back to their hotels. Luckily the storm had passed by the morning and the following four days were spent beneath blue skies wandering around and getting lost in this fantastic old Zoroastrian city. The best way to see the city is to do just that, but here are a couple of things you should try to find while you’re here.
Brush up on your Zoroastrian knowledge
The cities history dates back over 5,000 years and during this time it was a centre of Zoroastrianism. What the hell is Zoroastrianism you may ask. It’s one of the oldest relgions in the world and is believed to be the basis for the world big three these days (Judaism, Christianity and Islam). Their symbol is cool and their Supreme Being is Ahura Mazda, a deity of wisdom who advises that all human beings are born with free will and must therefore accept the consequences of their actions, both good and bad.
The main mantra of the religion is
Humata, Hukhta, Huvarshta – Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds.
On the outskirts of town you can visit the impressive Towers of Silence where followers of the religion used to leave their dead to be picked apart by vultures, believing burial would pollute the earth. You can climb to the top of both towers and walk inside if you can stomach the sites creepy past.
On Atashkadeh you can find a Zoroastrian Fire Temple, known as Yazd Atash Behram. The site houses a fire known as Atash Behram (Victorious Fire) that’s been burning in some place or other since 470AD. Zoroastrianism has been practiced in Iran since 400BC but this is the only sacred fire still found in the country, the remaining eight are all found in India where the religion is still praticed by the large Parsi community in the north of the country. Originally from Iran the Parsi’s escaped to India between the 8th and 10th centuries following the Muslim conquest and subsequent persecution of the Zoroastrian community. They’re known as one of the wealthiest of India’s population however numbers are declining as intermarriage and conversion to Zoroastrianism is not allowed. While on the subject, turns out Freddie Mercury of Queen fame is of Parsi descent, incase you were wondering.
Stay in an old traditional house
Fortunately when we arrived the worn and tried traveller favourite Silk Road was full so we ended up at Kohan Hotel instead. In stark contrast to the dingy old courtyard at Silk Road Kohan’s centers around a calming blue pool surrounded by bougainvillea which just happened to be blooming in bright fuchsia pink. Breakfast is included with dorm and private room rates (boiled eggs, tomato, cucumber, flat bread, cheese, jam, tea, coffee), you can visit the rooftop to view the surrounding wind towers and also take the steps to the underground qanat or water canal. For dinner the eggplant and curd or smoky mirza will please vegetarians. We loved it here so much we extended our stay by two days.
You can also stay at or visit other traditional houses around town and a lot of the hotels will let you visit their courtyard for photos and a look around. If you’re not staying at Kohan Hotel you can still visit as attested by the numerous locals dropping by during the day asking for a photo with us. Check out Malek-o Tojjar Hotel, Hamame Bath Restaurant (traditional food in an old bathhouse) and Moshir Caravanserai.
Find a flying carpet
Of all the cities and towns we visited during our four weeks in Iran we found Yazd the best for shopping. While the town is small you can find plenty of little souvenir shops tucked away, some with great handmade and unique items. There seemed to be quite a few young people working in small creative boutique shops with works made by themselves and their friends. We also found carpet shopping here very relaxed, so much so that we bought two. Fazeli Carpets on Masjed Jame’ Street have a fantastic selection and room after room of kilims and carpets ranging from rough thick woolen nomadic styles to extremely fine knot silk work (you’ll find it hard to resist stroking these shimmering masterpieces). The store has passed through three proud generations of family and is a favourite among embassies in Iran.
They have so many colours, styles and sizes yet after just a couple of minutes Enayat, our young salesman, was able to judge our taste and presented only carpets we were mildly interested in. An outdoor courtyard has a selection of old and new tiles and enamel work and a back room hides a stash of antiques and jewellery worth checking out. Enayat also managed to track down a handful of large rings Matt was looking for and gave us an excellent price (under USD$10). We paid half cash on the spot half bank transfer to Sweden and our flying carpets arrived by airmail less than a week later. Highly recommended!
Another shop worth checking out is a small family run carpet, tile and souvenir shop on the corner behind the Yazd Kourosh Hotel. The outdoor courtyard walls are lined with old painted wooden doors, the tile selection is pretty good and again the experience is very relaxed in an open garden space. Plus they had the happiest little baby girl we’d ever seen.
Eat a camel burger or kebab
The first thing on the menu at Kohan Hotel was camel kebab, how can you resist the chance to try something so exotic sounding? The verdict was pretty damn tasty yet the meat isn’t so distinguishable from other red meat when in minced meat kebab format. Unfortunately every time we tried to visit the nearby fast food store serving up camel burgers wasn’t open but if you’re lucky give it a try, we didn’t see it on the menu anywhere else in Iran (you can find it in the LP).
Hit the rooftops
Arriving in town during a howling dust storm we could easily see where Yazd gets it’s nickname Windcatcher City. Four sided towers dominate the cities skyline, designed to catch the desert winds, direct them to a pool of water and disperse to cool the houses below. The best place to view the unique architecture is from the rooftops.
Kohan Hotel allows you to visit theirs as does Fazeli Carpet but the best place in our view is to spend the afternoon, dusk or sunset at Art House Cafe. If you’re eating or drinking here entry to the rooftop is free otherwise they charge a small fee. There’s an excellent shop downstairs with unique pieces we didn’t see anywhere else in Iran and at reasonable prices. If it’s closed ask the cafe staff who may open it for you.
Ditch the map
Wandering the alley’s, finding hidden corners, passing the locals at work, discovering unique windtower views, Yazd is truly a place to get lost and enjoy it. The towering minarets of Jame Mosque will always guide you back to the centre and if not the locals will. One day we discovered a huge water reservoir where a small tour group were being let in and we were beckoned by the old caretaker to join them. He showed us inside and told us there used to be a girls school behind who would occasionally kick their football over the fence. If he found an apple left behind it was from the girls to let him know to look for their ball and throw it back.
Another day we stumbled across a worked digging down to clear out a qanat and wandering the bazaar the following day we were invited into a tailors shop to watch him at work and have a go ourselves. These small unexpected experiences in a city pulled right out of Disney’s Aladdin helped make Yazd our favourite city in Iran.
Thanks for reading, if you’d like to see more pics of Iran and our international travels check out our Flickr page!
Tips for Yazd
- A dorm bed in the 10 bed dorm at Kohan Hosue cost USD$10. Buffet breakfast was included (boiled eggs, cucumber, tomato, cheese, bread,jam, tea and coffee) and free tea was available all day. You can also access the roof for viewd of town and visit the underground water channel (qanat) on site. The new Hotel Alexander jut up the road also had cheap doubles for USD$25 however the courtyard trees were young and therefore there was no midday shade, something you’ll want if visiting the city in the warmer months.
- Yazd bus terminal is about 10kms out of town, a taxi should cost around IRR100,000 from the official stand.
- Bring body moisturiser! The water in this part of Iran is super chlorinated and you’ll feel like you’ve been for a swim after every shower. It’ll also turn your skin into sandpaper.
- VIP rooms at the Malek-o Tojjar Antique Hotel cost from IRR8,60o,000 a night. Well out of our price range but seems our fancy camera got us a sneak peek and encouragement to take photos.