Iran – Isfahan to Yazd by Desert

Isfahan

Four hundred and something kilometres later, a bloke and his bike rolled into Isfahan – which was smaller then expected. And much, much windier then expected too. Parking anywhere on the side of the road was proving hazardous to the blokes bike known as Trumpet. Secretly, a man hoped the wind wouldn’t be causing havoc from Isfahan to Yazd.
The last two hours had been spent loudly abusing the wind, which blew Trumpet and I around like a dirty tumbleweed. It hadn’t done anything to dull our spirits though – the craggy mountains outside of Isfahan looked proudly jurassic. Old temples stood atop hills, staring down the incoming storm like Gandalf did agaisnt the balrog.

Whipping up a storm outside Isfahan

Walking into the crappy hostel room, bags were dumped, clothes were changed and an evening stroll had begun. A suttle hint from Anni (a resourceful german contact) pushed me towards the Sheikh Lotfollah mosque and a full moon (no, not the usual kind I commit to). The air was very cool, cooler then I’d expected, especially since I’d moved 400 km south of Tehran.

Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, Isfahan

Naqsh-e-Jahan square was quiet enough for a calm wander under the moonlight. Fantastic domes of Iranian mosques peeped over the tops of the high arched architecture, lit gently by small spotlights. Rainments of coloured blue tiles shone in the evening lights, dark ocean blues to bright turqouise – a characteristic trait of Iranian architecture.

Shah Mosque lit up at night by Naqsh-e-Jahan square, Isfahan

Isfahan to Chelgerd

I hadn’t completely fed my itch of riding (well, when do we ever?) and after a chat with a local guide, picked a route to the mountains surrounding the Poshtkue forests 180km away. A quick bit of chain lube and a ‘throw everything else off the bike’, Trumpet and I were on our way to the minuses.
Usually, I’ll judge a road by two things – the curvature of the road or the scenery. We were definetly on a scenery run. Mountains of green to faint purple lined the long and boring road. They really looked like a pack of oversized Stegosaurus’ taking a lazy nap by the road.

The colours begin to change to powdery white in the mountains east of Isfahan

Gradually climbing up to the higher altitudes, the broad range of mountain colours were exchanged for a very different powdery white – as was the cultural dress. Women were covered in all black chadors, and the men wore long, flared pantaloons. Within the first hour, it felt like I had crossed some invisible border to another land.

I still haven’t tired of the snow just yet

A half hour later, the final shades of green behind us, we leapt along the snow surrounded asphalt. Everything was powdery white, including the children throwing snowballs at each other at the occasional village we passed by. Any driver that passed by gave off a beep and wave, or even just a lazy flash of the headlights to say g’day.

Snow for everyone up at Chelgerd

The wind at speed was slowly eating away at my fingers and getting started on my toes. By the time we’d reached Chelgerd, it was a few minuses too cold for me. It didn’t take much convincing to head back to the relative “warmth” of Isfahan, so with an about turn, we headed back the way we had come.

Views weren’t too shabby in the mirrors!

Finally, some travelling company!

Leo the lion – as you can see, he needs to work on his aim somewhat

One rider and three renegade backpackers took their smelly socks off and let the warm waft of feet mix in with the dusty air of our uncirculated room. The windows were taped/screwed shut and opening the door did was invite the nippy cold back in. Leo from England, Fiora of Luxembourg and I whiled away the night by playing Durak and listening to Leo’s obscure rants. Well, at least the falafel was good – and cheap! The fake beer maybe not so much, but it was nice pretending it was real with Anni.

Leo, Fiora, Anni and I inside Sheikh Lotfollah

The blue dome of Sheikh Lotfollah mosque shined proudly at the four of us the next day. Naksh-e Jahan square was flooded with people, much different to my visit at night! Anni bargained down tickets for the group (see, she is quite resourceful) and we wandered inside the colourfully adorned mosque.

Sheikh Lotfollah mosque

Blues of every shade twinkled off the small lights in the interior of the mosque. Sun rays shone through the arched windows casting small patches of sunlight on the impressively tiled walls. Decorative pillars of smooth turquoise spun into the curved dome and disappeared into more colourful art. It was worth every bit of the $4 entry.

The exterior honeycombed walls of Sheikh Lotfollah

Anni left that afternoon to catch her bus to Yazd, while Leo, Fiora and I wandered down the dry riverbed of Isfahan, past the old bridges. Making a brief stop at Khaju bridge, there was many a singer sitting under the bridge surrounded by crowds of people. Each song would bring handshakes and applause from the listeners.

Fiora of Luxembourg looking at bugger all!

The desert

 Leaving Isfahan late, as per usual, Trumpet and I got to the sand dunes surrounding the salt lake of Batlaq-e-Gavkhuni that following afternoon. We wandered through the small mud and straw village of Khara by accident, to the most curious looks of the locals. Riding along the clay road, we finally got onto the dusty, dry road leading up to the salt lake. Making good tack, all of a sudden sand drifts had started appearing as larger and larger obstacles on the dirt packed road.
“Ok Dutch, throttle steady, and when in doubt, throttle out”
Sure enough and without much effort, Trumpet ended up making warm love to the sand within a few minutes.

As usual, doing Trumpet proud by parking her in all kinds of new positions

“Well that didn’t take long did it, you dickhead” I laughed to myself.
After picking the old girl up and putting the panniers back on the bike, we were on our way again, although a little more gingerly. The towering yellow sand dunes gradually shrunk and then changed into the low dirty brown salt deposits.

Batlaq-e-Ghavkuni (the salt lake)

 All of a sudden, I’d passed through a strange looking gate in the middle of nowhere and a shouting man came running out after me from a small house. The bloke only spoke farsi, but after some miming and a handshake, he gave me the route for a run around the salt lake. (Well, all he did was point and make a circular motion, but that was the best I could have hoped for anyway).

Onto the Salt lake 😁

Crunching salt beneath my tires, we zipped along into the dirty white salt lake. On the way in, I passed small hills of salt that was being mined, surrounded by clear blue pools, and then… I was in the middle of nowhere… well it felt moreso then usual anyway. Kilometres of salt stretched out in all directions, while large mountains looked at us, miniscule on the horizon.
Leaving the salt lake of Batlaq-e-Ghavkuni proved much less hazardous on the way out.

Varzaneh

 I had wanted to camp that night on the salt lake, but was lacking two things – food and tent pegs (I’d left them back in Greece by accident). So, with a recommendation I found a cheeky Mohammed inside the Yasna guest house… along with Fiora who had been travelling along the same route. With the sun down by five o’clock, Fiora and I whiled away the night playing more Durak and Speed, after dinner of spiced eggplant with bread and fruit.

The Iranian standard 125cc

A morning walk through town took Fiora and I down to the river cutting through Varzaneh. One thing that was clearly apparent was how clean the town was. Even the demolition and ‘refurbishment’ was well maintained, seemingly above the standard of other Iranian sites I’d bypassed. Without achieving much in Varzaneh (the pigeon tower was closed, and the bridge unspectacular) we hopped on Trumpet and rode off to Ghortan citadel instead.

The doorway of Varzanehs venerable old mosque

Ghortan

The old citadel of Ghortan

Within a few seconds of pulling up, an animated gentleman came over and drew out directions of Ghortan in the dirt. I asked if I could park my ‘motociclet’ at his open air garage, next to the gas pump. Hand over his heart and eyebrows raised in excitement, he gestured I park at his garage.
“Merci, merci”
“Cool bananas, weeeeeeew” I thought.
Wandering through the winding sandy streets of the citadel, it was clearly apparent that only a few families were left living inside. The occasional person I did catch sight of, were opening mysterious doors under old clay archways which led to who knows where. The only other presence of people passing through the citadel were a few 125 motorcycles, one with a hay bale so large I gave him a small push through a tight archway so he could fit!

A tight squeeze – nothing that a shove couldn’t fix

Ghortan was basically a huge wall surrounding a bunch of mismatched houses, some built partly of brick, straw, mud and clay. Some houses were tucked low into the sand so all you could see was the domed roofs. Passing by the occasional chicken cluck, Fiora and I headed back to Trumpet.

Citadel of Ghortan

My excited garage owner was trying his best to blow all the dust off Trumpet with an air hose. I didn’t realise how much dust had been caught in the radiator! Shaking hands with the gentlemen who had stood (or rather sat) guard over Trumpet for the last hour, they offered us food, tea and even a bed! Thanking them profusely, I turned down the best voluteer security bike team I’ve never had – I wanted to go back to the desert road before sunset.

The best security open air garage team I’ve ever had 🏍

Crossing the desert

Morning arrived, and with it came darkening skies and annoyingly strong winds. A late getaway at 12pm meant my time to cross the desert road had been cut to half a day. Oh well, what could go wrong eh?
The first sixty kilometres was crappy potholed asphalt, and usually that’s a sign for me that exciting things lie ahead. Running out of asphalt the road changed to packed sand with a bit of rock, and the ride really began. On the horizon a maroon caravanasary loomed, my sandy road leading directly to it.

Desert mountains somewhere between Varzaneh and Yazd

About fifty metres away from the caravansary I ran into some lovely deep sand mixed with gravel. Keeping the throttle on we almost got to the end of it – and then Trumpet started making out with the ground again.
“@#&%’s sake Dutch, learn how to ride a bike would ya?”

The desert job

 Looking around, I saw my left pannier 15 metres up the sandy bank, grips torn off with a nice dent over the locking mechanism to the frame. Well, I suppose it was due time to break that pannier, I’d already smashed up the right side pannier in Georgia (link here). The tank bag had torn off it’s straps and was hanging on by the yoke strap. Exciting stuff!

Despite my misfortunes, the road was still beautiful!

With a groan, I picked up Trumpet and set her straight, checked for any damage and found a twisted gear lever.
“Well that’s wonderful” I mused to myself.
Still, it seemed to work well enough to get me out of the desert. Pulling out a bag of my “oh shit” tie down straps, I began the process of tieing that stupid metal pannier to my frame. I promised myself that I would get rid of these panniers at the first oppurtunity – everytime I dropped the bike they would break or break something. What an utter pain in the bum.
Four tie down straps later, the pannier box was holding on well enough for me. The gear shifter was annoyingly twisted, so I had to stick my foot under the engine when I wanted to gear up. Once all was well, I went for a quick bo peep at the abandoned caravansary before heading east.

Looking forwards, always to the mountains! Desert road, Varzaneh to Yazd

The only bloke besides me

 Two minutes into the ride, I felt a clunk and Trumpet began heavily leaning to the left.
“What the bloody hell?!”
A pannier box won’t stay on your frame if you choose not to lock it on. Well my bumot panniers anyway. 200 metres away I saw my right side pannier face down in the sand. Coming the other way was an fierce old Mercedes truck.
He saw the pannier before I got there, and he waved at me to stay there, he was going to bring it up in his green tanker truck. What a nice bloke. Roaring up the sandy road, he handed me back the pannier and I locked it onto the frame. I gave my thanks and posed for a selfie with him – and then he gave me a fizzy flower drink as well. He was the only bloke I since leaving Varzaneh.

The only bloke I saw on the desert road. Very helpful chap though!

Onto Yazd

Forty or so kilometres later, I found tarmac again and some rather impressive mountains too. My tires felt like glue after sliding about in the desert sand for the last hour. Being one of very few on this road, I was able to soak in the desertedness of the area while not having to worry about sand banks for a while.

A dusty day in the desert – Varzaneh to Yazd asphalt section

The roads were so very straight – if it hadn’t been for the beauty in the shape of prehistoric mountains around me, I might have just nodded off. With light fading over the yellow sands, and the shadows growing large we rode into Yazd just as the blue sky had swapped shifts with the dark night. Into the old straw and mud city we rode, locating our $5 a night hostel. Finally, some time to lick our wounds.

Yazd

Gems like this can be found all over old Yazd

“Well isn’t this just awesome” I thought as I parked Trumpet in the foyer of the hostel. She’d been sitting on the street for the last two hours and the hostel owner was kind enough to give her a warm room for the night. That night I managed to sleep for a good 10 hours for the first time in months.

Yet another beautiful piece of art in Yazd

A free breakfast later I was exploring the old beauty of Yazd. Really, I could have spent days walking through the old city. Straw and mud facades covered old brick, and sand coloured tunnels were seemingly endless and everywhere… as were the many numbered army of 125cc motorcycle riders.

The reknowned blue art of Iran

Behind the sandy silk road walls stood beautifully adorned mosques in every colour blues. Towering minarets watched from above, golden chambers resting on top glinting in the sun. Yellow and blue domes decorated with artistic tiles were easy to find and hard to miss – and from the roof of another hostel it was a scene to be remembered!

Overlooking the historic quarter of Yazd

Getting lost in the bazaar didn’t take long, but the streets of the bazaar did always seem to lead somewhere, as opposed to Morocco’s confusing medinas. Most of the shops were closed for a siesta, so I had the run of the bazaar to myself. Secretive little doors opened onto greater things like quaint little mosques and water reservoirs. Last but not least, windcatchers in all kinds of different shapes and sizes were strewn all over the city!

Windcatchers for everyone!

Now it’s off to Tehran for christmas with my Austrian and Iranian friends! See you next week!