We wave goodbye to fascinating Ashgabat and head to the border of Iran. Our first destination here is Mashhad, the second most visited pilgrim city in the Islamic world (besides Mecca). The holy city, meaning The Place of Martyrdom in Arabic is said to have over 20 million pilgrims a year visiting the Imam Reza shrine. We explore the stunning Iranian architecture and monuments of religious significance.
Leaving Masshad, we venture into the dust and heat, the beautiful but stark Dasht e Kavir Desert. Driving through the sandy scenes is incredible but can be challenging, so a stopover at the wonderful Garmeh Oasis provides welcome relief. We relax under the date palms and cool our feet in the streams, or hike the surrounding hills if needed to stretch our legs. On the way we'll pretend to be Nomads and visit an old Caravanserai, an ancient stopping point for camel trains travelling the old Silk Road.
Continuing south we travel to Yazd and are able to find out about Zoroastrian history and culture by visiting the Towers of Silence. With its mudbrick old town and winding lanes, Yazd is one of Iran’s highlights. The city has a very relaxed atmosphere.
Leaving Yazd our next desination is Shiraz; once famous for its vineyards; Shiraz portrays a certain sophistication. Whether you visit the exquisite mosques and mausoleums or just soak up the atmosphere in the tranquil gardens, we are sure to enjoy our time here. It’s also a great place to try typical Iranian food or get a fast food fix! Near Shiraz we follow in Alexander the Great’s footsteps, with the opportunity to visit Persepolis. This ruined city was formerly the capital of the Achaemenid Empire, and dates back to the fifth century BC, with some well-preserved relics and buildings to be found. Some compare this magnificent site to other ancient constructions such as Angkor Wat or the Great Pyramids.
We next move on to Esfahan, for many the jewel in Iran's crown. Esfahan was once one of the largest cities in the world and served as the capital of Persia in the 16th Century. We have the option of a guided city tour to take in the majestic Imam Square, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, that is home to the famous blue mosaic tiled Imam Mosque, the Mosque of Sheikh Lotfollah and the Ali Qapu Palace. Other highlights are the historic bridges on the Zayandeh River and the old Shah Carvanserai that used to be the port of call for caravans on the ancient Silk Road. Esfahan is a great city to wander around, while away the day in local tea houses, converse with the incredibly hospitable and friendly Iranians, watch artists at work in bazaars and marvel at the silk Persian rugs in the carpet emporiums.
A long drive day north brings us to Iran's capital, Tehran, a cosmopolitan and frenetic city in the shadow of another mountain range - the Alborz. We discover the numerous mosques, museums and pay a visit to the former US Embassy and the fascinating painted murals close by.
As we continue northwest our last stop in Iran is Tabriz, a large city and important trading post between Iran, the Caucasus and Turkey on the Silk Road. The city’s most famous sites is the Blue Mosque, known for the ornate calligraphy displayed on the tiles that cover the building. Another highlight is the labyrinthine bazaar, the largest covered bazaar in the world and a great way to spend our last few Iranian Rials before we leave Iran and enter the next country on our Asian adventure.