After a five hour bus ride from Yazd we arrived in stinking hot Kerman tired and hungry, the worst combination for a travelling couple. The mood went downhill significantly when our taxi driver dropped us at a shabby hotel with no sign in English, claimed it was the same Omid Inn the LP map showed as being a further 3km towards the centre of town, unloaded our bags and drove off. So we took our bags and walked off. A long hot sweaty walk across town. With no hotel at the end of it. Seems it’s either been torn down or just disappeared. So we did what we thought was best. We sat outside a corner store and drank a nice cold alcohol free Efes beer.
Hotel take two we walked right past Hotel Reza (again no English sign) and were about to walk even further when a smiley old chap who spoke no English called out to us and walked us back a hundred metres. Turns out he’s the man and within minutes we’re checked in and tea is on the stove. Erash soon whipped out his battered old Farsi/English translation book and along with Fatima, his helper, tried to practice some English. We eventually managed to understand
“Are you enjoying yourself?”
Walking the main street of Kerman the first thing we noticed is things seemed to have become a little more conservative. More woman were covered head to toe (including socks and sandals, a top look), Matts dreads drew a lot more stares and a few chador clad mothers seemed to drag their chador clad daughters away by the hand to stop them staring too long and perhaps being corrupted by our heathenness. The second thing we noticed was the many painted walls and murals all around town, some of them very artistic. And thirdly, you can get rose flavoured soft serve ice cream!
We’d come to Kerman in order to visit the nearby Dasht-e Lut desert and the Kalut formations, a little reminiscent of America’s Monument Valley, but the town itself had a couple of sights worth a look if you have the time. Check out the National Library’s interior (note the boys studying on one side, girls on the other) then just around the corner you’ll find an 18 metre high ancient yakhchal or ice store. The bazaar is a real locals bazaar which lacks the atmosphere of others in the country (you can pick up compact face powder made with real pieces of snail though) but the couple of dollars for entry and a cup of chai at Vakil Tea-house, located once again in an old converted bathhouse, is worth it especially if there’s traditional live music at the time.
Some locals had told us previously that this region of Iran has a reputation for being stingy with their money and it turns out it’s kind of true. Approached at the cities Jame Mosque (which has a cool clock tower instead of minarets) by a tour guide offering a day trip to the desert his starting price of USD$150 is quickly slashed when we laugh and tell him our budget is much much lower. We end up making a deal and he walks with us through the bazaar where we pick up some local street food of fried dough triangles stuffed with mashed potato for IRR10,000 each. Returning the next day without our local friend old mate tries to charge us IRR20,000 each and we have to ask four times for our change. When we visited the tea-house we left a small tip for the musician, the only small change we had, and were thanked for our contribution with
“This is small money in Iran!”
He’s lucky we didn’t take it back. The stinginess continued when we visited the Moshtagh Alishah Tomb. Free to enter the old caretaker rushed to drag us a couple of seats in the garden by a fish pond where we really didn’t want to sit, before taking us on a tour of the tiny shrine pointing out all of the obvious things to take photos of before pulling out a stack of cash from his pocket and waving it in our face demanding a ‘donation’.
The following morning our guide Mohsen arrives at 8am as promised and we dump our bags in the back of an old battered 4WD and hit the road. Leaving Kerman we start to climb into the nearby mountains and our guide points out the place where a 2003 plane crash claimed the lives of 275 people. The tale became more interesting when we’re told it was a military plane carrying members of the Islamic Revolution Guard on an unknown mission and that the death toll was unusually high for such a plane (which typically carries less than 200 people). Commence conspiracy theories.
After passing through a long tunnel and emerging to the desert on the other side we take an unexpected turn to the left down a dirt track to nowhere. Turns out our driver Mustafa knows about a hidden river in a small valley which isn’t visible from the road. In fact it looks like the only thing ahead of us is desert. Dropping down we’re greeted by flowing water, green reeds and flowering pink shrubs.
A quick snack of fruit and we’re back to the desert and the closer we get to the Kalots the higher the temperature soars. We make another quick stop at a yet to be completed underground restaurant, where works have been ongoing for years but approval permits are apparently still lacking. It’s a cool escape from the heat above and water flows through the middle by way of an old canat. Light filters from above and we can see this place has potential to draw the tourist crowds. If and when they can finally get it finished.
After passing through the small town of Shahdad we stop to load the truck with date palm firewood and back on the road we pass weird mounds rising from the desert floor. Our guide informs us the trees actually create these mounds, rising a few centimeters each year until eventually they cannot get enough water and die, basically committing tree suicide. Turning off the main road Mustafa jumps out to lock the hubs and we’re into 4WD mode. We spend the next couple of hours roaming the sand deserts, stopping for photos and being invited to sit on the rooftop as we bump along. At one point Matt takes the wheel and Sarah, Mohsen and even our driver Mustafa enjoy the rootop views.
While the sunset may not have been very inspiring feeling the breeze on your face as you bounce through the desert on the roof of a 4WD without another person in sight, laughing while Matt tries three times to drive up a sandbank and stopping to drink tea in the middle of nowhere in the company of a couple of really decent local guys was pretty special. It also turns out our driver’s had a pretty interesting life. After studying Islam for over 10 years in Qom he had a change of heart and threw it all in. He’s since been a parachutist during in the Iran/Iraq war, climbed many of the peaks surrounding Kerman, is scuba certified and has embarked on many multiday trips into the desert on foot. An all-round action many he’s found his passion in all things outdoors and is keen to put his knowledge and enthusiasm to good use by developing eco-tours in the area.
Mohsen’s English is perfect and between the two of them they can offer personalised trips in the area, even camping in the desert overnight. Having told them we weren’t too keen on seeing another canat, old mill or carpet shop our final stop before being dropped at the bus station back in Kerman was an unexpected delight. Concerned they would be dropping us for the overnight trip without any dinner, we pull in at the local bakery where we’re taken to the back door, handed a pair of plastic white sandals and escorted around to the various different ovens. The bakers are more than happy to see us, taking turns to pose for photos and show off their latest doughy creations. The biggest highlight was getting an up close view of the oven full of small stones where the sangak bread is baked. ‘Sang’ is Farsi for ‘stone’ and ‘sangak’ means little stone. We’re bundled out with arms full of bread fresh out of the oven trying to work out how exactly we’re going to get it all onto the overnight bus to Shiraz.
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Tips for Kerman
- The bus from Yazd cost IRR175,000 each and takes about five hours.
- A private twin at Hotel Reza cost IRR500,000 with shared squat toilets. Hot water was always on the boil for tea or coffee (BYO).
- Contact Mohsen Tajeddini if you’re interested in doing a 4WD trip to the Kaluts, his English is great – email: Kermantourguide@gmail.com phone: +989133870492. Our driver Mustafa is trying to grow his business in Eco Tourism and really knows his stuff.
- If you’re taking the overnight bus from Kerman to Shiraz it’s recommended to buy your tickets the day before. You can get them at the Asia Safar Fars office in town (asiasafarfars.ir)