My next stop after Tehran was Yazd in the desert on a 7h train ride. Choo choo, City of Windcatchers we’re coming for you!
I’ve always had a fascination with trains, there’s something old fashioned and traditional to them that I can’t help but be excited about. I hopped onto the train for about 10USD from central Tehran. Each cabin had 2 benches facing each other and were convertible into 3 bunk beds on either side. I plunked down and immediately glued my nose to the window to watch scenes of the Dasht e Kavir desert flashing by, and the sun setting over the horizon. There’s a carriage serving tea and snacks, a cozy spot to chat with locals if you need a break from the small booth. Our train left at 3pm so we arrived in Yazd around 10pm and hit the hay right away.
The next morning we set out to explore the city (the first time I didn’t forget to put my head scarf on!).
The first stop was the Zoroastrian Fire temple (Yazd Atash Behram, 1 of only 9 in the world), containing the Victorious Fire behind a glass wall, which is said to have been burning since 470 AD. Seeing as Yazd is home to the highest population of Zoroastrians in Iran (2.6 million worldwide but mostly concentrated in Iran and India), it’s an interesting place to learn about the religion of all 3 Persian empires, until Islam was introduced in the 7th century by the Arab invasion.
We then continued on to the impressive Jameh Friday mosque. It stands tall and proud at the end of a long street, the bright blue towers peeking over mud brick roofs. The dazzling entrance portal to the Jameh mosque still blows my mind… how is this real?! The mosque was built in the 12th century, and to this day it’s minarets are still the tallest in Iran. Can you believe that someone used to have to run up those towers 3 times a day to issue the call to prayer?
Afterwards, we headed towards the old town where you can wander through tiny mud brick lanes. From time to time, look up to see the badgirs (wind towers) which are used as natural air ventilators for the mud buildings below. The wind catchers dotting the skyline are what earned Yazd it’s moniker as the City of Windcatchers. You have to keep cool in the desert somehow!
Our noisy stomachs guided us in search of our next meal (realistically this is what I plan my whole day around). Walk through all the winding lanes, and ask for directions towards Hamam e Khan. The entrance is a dark little staircase going down down down… then suddenly opens up into a bright cavernous restaurant inside a restored hammam (bathhouse) with a large pool. The dizi (chickpea stew with mutton or chicken, brought to the table and mixed in front of you) and meatballs were both delicious. If you’re interested in shopping while strolling through the bazaar before or after, don’t forget that all bazaars are closed from 2pm until about 5pm.
Directly across the street from the bazaar, we found the Haj Kalifeh Ali Rahbar to satisfy my sweet tooth. It’s a well known pastry shop located in the central square… always chock full of customers but worth a visit. You can grab a box and find a spot to dig in, which leads me to my favourite part of Yazd… evidently it includes a vu!
There are countless hidden staircases that lead up to the rooftops. We chose one in the bazaar and scrambled up to the top for breathtaking views of the spiraling blue minarets popping up over an endless sea of mud brick. You can sit up here for hours, especially if you brought snacks, I smacked myself on my forehead when I realized I didn’t bring a cup of tea to go with the pastries!
As the sun set, we meandered through the bazaar again while it slowly came back to life. The fountain in the main square gets lit up at night, and the small shops around the perimeter are perfect for sipping on pomegranate juice (someone sign me up for Pomegranates Anonymous) and people watching.
For dinner we went to a locally recommended restaurant and feasted on a typical Iranian dish of chicken topped pomegranate walnut sauce. It was on the fancier side and the food didn’t disappoint but I can no longer find the name or location!
Another place I crammed into my visit were the Towers of Silence. Although it may seem bizarre to us, Zoroastrians traditionally don’t bury their dead. Instead, they construct towers on hills in the desert and leave the bodies on top for carrion birds to feed on. This is due to their belief that the sacred elements must remain pure, therefore by burying or burning their dead they might tarnish earth and fire. The use of these towers was discontinued in the 20th century as Yazd grew in size and the city refused to allow birds and exposed bodies near residential areas. The zoroastrians now cremate their dead, but the towers make for an interesting visit (not at all morbid). There are two towers and you can climb up both hills for a nice view.
I only spent a day and a half in Yazd, which was enough to rush through but I could have easily stayed there for at least another day to wander around a bit more and obviously eat my way through all their restaurants. The city deserves at least a full day, and is a convenient stop while heading towards southern Iran.