The dessert city of Yazd was during the time of the silk road one important stop for the traders and the carawans. Today, the city has a rather sleepy character even though the city has more than half a million inhabitants. The efforts for more tourism are clearly visible.
The bus ride from Shiraz was smooth, with the only disadvantage being that I still don’t sleep well in buses. Once I had fallen asleep, all the lights in bus were switched on and everybody had to get off. For me it was the middle of the night when we arrived in Yazd at 5am. Now it was definitely true that I would have preferred the day bus had there been seats available.
The taxis are organized in a similar manner as in Shiraz, with the difference being that the passenger not only gets a ticket, but also a number, which is called when it is one’s turn. The number has to be returned to the ticket office before getting in the taxi. Clever solution. Since there was almost no traffic in Yazd at 5am, we were flying through the city and only my sleepy state kept me from hitting my passenger side breaks. Finally I was dropped off in front of the Silk Road Hotel at 5:30am.
My sleep was just short enough, that I still got a breakfast, when I got up. A first walk around the city followed. The city was almost dead, since it was Friday morning and Yazd is quite a conservative city. The activity in the city was low throughout the day. Even though many shops usually still open on a Friday, there were very few opening in Yazd. Fortunately I was still able to get all my shopping done. Additionally I checked for the available of seats on the train to Mashhad the following day. I was again fortunate, since a seat had just been liberated. I definitely prefer the 15 hour train ride over 12 hours on the overnight bus any time.
With the camera in my hand, I started exploring the city to at least to take pictures of all the sights from the outside. Due to the heat and the fact that I was still a little bit tired, I headed back to the hotel, where I rested for a while. Sitting in the common room of the hotel, I started talking to one of the employees who is a student at the university in Esfahan and will shortly complete his Bachelor studies in material sciences. He is now trying to enter a Masters program in Germany or Switzerland. Luckily I still have a contact in the field from my diploma thesis, who is in the meantime professor at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. He had done his Ph.D. in Germany and thus knows the programs around these two countries. I am curious whether this will lead to something…
When temperatures were a bit lower in the late afternoon, I started a second round through the city intending to take a few nice pictures in the warm light of the afternoon. It is very interesting to be greeted by so many people. Unfortunately the discussions only very rarely lead to more than “Hello”, “How are you”, “Where are you from”. Occasionally however interesting discussions ensue, requiring one is not running away like a scared tourist.
After my second tour around the city, I sat back down at the hotel in the common room, next to Mehmet. Mehmet is Kurdish and lives in Dogubayazit in Eastern Turkey. We discussed his business, which includes tours to Mt. Ararat, and his other activities in Turkey and Iran.
Once Mehmet said goodbye to do something else, an older man sat down next to me. He is a local elementary school teacher and one of the subjects is English. He regularly goes to the Silk Road Hotel to meet native speakers to improve his English. Since I am no native speaker of English, I am of no interest to him and he leaves. The older teacher was followed by a young fellow who is looking for tourists speaking French. He is a computer repairman and taught himself French at home. He further wants to improve his French abilities, which already are very good, to work as a translator in the future, since he is not happy with his current job.
Later on, the locals were all gone and the hotel guests gathered at one table. Mehmet is now responsible for the entertainment of the group telling stories about how he helped some friends of his by travelling up and down Central Asia and into China without a visa. The story was quite spectacular, I wonder how much of it really happened…
For Saturday, I had planned to visit the city again, this time with open shops and a lively bazaar. But once again, things turned out differently. This time it was Hadi from the Silk Road Hotel who asked me, whether I wanted to go to an excursion to the desert. A Chinese fellow from Beijing already had booked the tour and the cost was going to be split by the participants. Georg, a German from Dresden on his way to India for an exchange semester, joined us as well, such that the car was full and the price for each one minimized.
Hadi let us know that a visit to Yazd was not comlete without a visit to the desert. This was additional motivation to go on the tour. In return I helped him with his prospective studies in Europe in the future. I only hope he is aware of what is expecting him, once he leaves his well known surroundings and starts a new life in a foreign country.
The trip to the desert led from Yazd first to Meybod through a landscape with lots of rocks and the occasional scrub.In Meybod we visited the Narein castle, a mud brick castle of almost 2000 years of age. From the castle it was only a hundred meters to the carawanserei and the adjacent post office. Across the street there was a larger cooling room. During winter ice was taken inside the large cone shaped building to cool the room during the rest of the year. An additional cooling system are the baghirs, large towers which serve to evaporate water to cool the building. The old town of Meybod gave a very nice impression of what oasis towns used to look like in this area. There are only cities in this region where there is also water.
From Meybod we continued to Chak Chak. Since we had just jumped on the bandwagon of the desert tour, we had no idea, where we were heading. Therefore the two other travelers grabbed their LonelyPlanets to catch up on some reading. Chak Chak is a very important pilgrimage site for people of the Zoroastrian faith, maybe best known for its founders name, Zarathustra.
The last stop of our desert tour took place in Kharanaq, another small historic settlement. Here as well in some of the other sites, things don’t look good for the historic buildings. Money seems to be missing to create a museum and protect the buildings. Now, the buildings just stand there and everybody is using them to their likes, which means trash and animal excrements litter the place. This is to bad, then in the settlement, the eye of a traveling hobby archeologist finds kitchens, sleeping rooms and the likes.
After another hour of driving, we arrived around 3pm back at the hotel in Yazd. I did some more investigation to help Hadi with his Master program, before I had to catch a taxi to the train station. At 5:00pm, the train left Yazd for Mashhad for a 15 hour train ride, during which I would share a compartment with two ladies and a gentlemen.
Contrary to me, the three had something to eat in their bags. They offered me food which I tried to decline, since I had ordered dinner from the dining car. The Iranian culture does not allow no for an answer and thus I had to eat a little bit of their food. The rest I just had to leave on my plate in order not to receive more and more. The discussion was quite limited, since neither of us spoke the others languages. At least we could help each other out with some small things, like I could find the switch for the light in the compartments, whereas they told me when it was time to prepare the tiket for the conductor.
At 8:30am, I arrived in the second largest city in Iran, in Mashhad. I had the day to disover the city, since I had to leave the next day to meet my guide for Turkmenistan two days later…