Born and raised in Shiraz, Iran with relatives in Dezful and Tehran, I had never experienced a desert in Iran until a trip to Yazd in 2017. I accepted the invitation to accompany a friend who planned to take a three-day tour of Yazd by bus. I anticipated visiting the water museum, walking through the World Heritage city-center and definitely entering the historic zurkhāne. I also assumed a night’s stay at the Zein-o-din Caravanserai, but our travel guides had other plans.
The night our trip was to start, the advertised 30-person trip became a 60 person adventure filling two buses: one for the men and one for the women. As we left Shiraz behind, my companions drew their window curtains shut. Next a thick curtain was drawn separating the driver and guides from the women on board and popular music started playing full blast accompanied by clapping and quite a bit of dancing in the aisles. Our bus became a narrow dance hall on wheels, a chance to take a breather from everyone’s daily blues. The volume didn’t lower until the next morning. Once we neared the Yazd city check-point, the music was turned off and the curtains drawn again to show what a law-abiding group we were.
The tour had advertised we’d be staying at a hotel in Yazd city, but our buses drove to the outskirts of Mehriz and parked in front of two small guest houses (mehmānkhāne) that would be our lodgings for three nights: one house for the men and another for the women. Laying out our bedding each night mattress to mattress was kind of fun, but sharing a single bathroom with 29 other women was an incredible and unforgettable challenge.
The next day instead of heading to the Yazd city-center as I imagined, we took a short trip to the beautiful Pahlavānpour gardens.
By lunchtime we had arrived to the main destination of our day: a desert nearby Kooh Rig. While our guides were generally helpful and had prepared for an incredible meal, I could not understand why we were spending the rest of the day in the desert instead of checking out all the historic sites Yazd city had to offer. This was not a tour to “appreciate nature in the desert” either. Then I understood: it was another spot people could breathe, sing and dance to their heart’s content. There was not a camel in sight, but 4x4s were available to rent for people seeking rougher adventure in desert driving.
The guide’s promised me that we would indeed experience the city as well and true to their words, the next day we received an awesome tour of the Zorastrian fire temple, Amir Chakhmaq Complex and the historic city-center with its bāzār and adobe constructions.
Unfortunately we were not shown the zurkhāne, so I am hoping to return to Yazd one day – this time most definitely on a private trip. In hindsight though, I am grateful for finally having experienced the desert. Now when people in the United States or Mexico ask me: so what is the desert like in Iran, I can answer. Of course I must still let them down: I have never ridden a camel. I finally saw a camel though… a few years ago we paid for a short camel ride for my two-year-old and her older cousin during a New Year’s handicraft festival for tourists.