Since the Zagros adventures life has been more subdued but still very interesting. A long car journey took us East to an even drier landscape and towards the edge of the desert where the contrast between aridity outside the walls, and cool green within, was quite stark.
The partially restored old castle in Rayen was both a demonstration of how such a large complex could be built almost entirely using mud bricks and attain a sophisticated level of living. Within the Governor’s quarters, we walked through a small passage to a courtyard to be assailed by the fragrance of roses even before we saw them.
In Mahan we enjoyed another of the serene courtyard gardens often associated with mosques and shrines. Still reflecting pools, shading trees, and only sometimes flowers, create a cool atmosphere which invites you to linger and comtemplate.
Nearby, we visited one of the most famous gardens in Iran, built as part of a pleasure palace. Designed to excite rather than calm, it was an oasis of tall trees, running water and abundant flowers in the middle of an otherwise arid countryside.
The desire for such lushness was further emphasised when we went out to the edge of the Dasht-e Lut, one of great Iranian deserts. Here, the wind erodes the soft rock into fantastical brown shapes rising out of a grey gravel plain which turn pink at sunset. We decided not to wait around for the full effect as we had by then seen our proposed accommodation for the night at an oasis village and decided that we needed another night back in a comfortable hotel. The hosts were charming but the bed was to be hard and the bathroom remote from our room – “ours”, assuming we were not to share it again!
The following day we left for Yazd, reputedly the longest inhabited city on earth. We arrived during a desert dust storm and quickly hurried down a covered lane to our hotel in an old merchant house. There, after being shown to two unsatisfactory rooms, we managed to score the VIP room which was richly decorated, double height and had beautiful stained glass windows opening to the central courtyard. The only catch was the very steep winding staircase down to the bathroom beneath which was a definite hazard in the middle of the night.
Yazd is famous for its mud brick construction and the ingenious wind towers which catch the wind and funnel it down to pools of water where it’s cooled. Sitting around such a pool you can feel the cool breeze pass as it circulates to other rooms. The skyline of old Yazd is dominated by these badgirs and mud rooves, along with the usual domes and minarets.
While in Yazd, we went to see the Towers of Silence. Circles of stone on a rocky peak, these were used by Zoroastrians until the procedure was banned about 70 years ago. Dead bodies were taken up to these remote towers where vultures reduced the bodies to bones after which they were placed in rock caskets and buried. Zoroastrianism, notable for being one of the earliest monotheistic religions, teaches that cremation or burial of bodies pollutes sacred elements. Now, bodies are placed in sealed concrete coffins before burial. The Parsees of India are Zoroastrians.
En route to Yazd, we made a couple of stops. First was the cave village of Meymand. Continuously inhabited for at least 3000 years, about 400 rooms are dug into the rocky slope. Rough rock and old wooden doors but off to the side electricity meters to support a few modern conveniences.They’re quite basic but their remoteness has given them some protection from outside invaders.
We also enjoyed a stop at a well restored caravanserai which now offers almost authentic accommodation. It gave us a good idea of how the caravanserai were organised and was also notable for an excellent collection of tribal rugs which were scattered about and very much in use.