DAYS 36 – 49: IRAN
Waving goodbye to the fascinating city of Ashgabat, you cross the border into Iran. Your first destination in Iran 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. You have time to explore the stunning Iranian architecture and monuments of religious significance.
You then travel west, visiting an old caravanserai, an ancient stopping point for camel trains travelling the old Silk Road. Tonight you camp out under the stars, away from all the hustle and bustle of the cities, in the Dasht e Kavir Desert. You might even be lucky enough to see one of the rare and endangered Asiatic Cheetahs!
Yazd is next on the list and with its mudbrick old town and winding lanes, it’s one of Iran’s highlights. The city has a very relaxed atmosphere and you have a free day to explore. From here you get the chance to brush up on Zoroastrian history, visiting the Fire Temple and the Towers of Silence.
Your next stop will be 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, you are sure to enjoy your time here. It’s also a great place to try typical Iranian food or get a fast food fix!
Journeying north you follow in Alexander the Great’s footsteps, with the opportunity to visit Persepolis. Some compare this magnificent site to other ancient constructions such as Angkor Wat or the Great Pyramids!
Your overland tour continues north to Esfahan, the jewel in Iran’s crown! This was once one of the largest cities in the world and served as the capital of Persia in the 16th Century. You 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.
Next is Iran’s capital, Tehran, a a cosmopolitan city in the shadow of another mountain range – the Alborz. You have a free day here to discover the numerous mosques, museums and pay a visit to the former US Embassy and the fascinating painted murals close by.
Road conditions allowing, you will then try to make your way to the stunning scenery surrounding one of the ruins of the famous Assassins’ Castles of Alamut, en-route to Qazvin where you will find some of Iran’s best preserved, impressive domed Cisterns, which once stored and cooled the city’s water. Why not relax in one of the subterranean bathhouses?