Day 71 (1): Crumbling desert cities

Kharanaq Travel Blog

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Desert road
Thanks to the people I met here and/or travelled with: Michael (Australia), Gisela (Spain), Lorian (Iran)

There are several small villages around Yazd which can be visited on a single day trip. After our previous positive experience with hiring a private car and driver Michael and I decided to do the same again for this trip. Gisela gladly joined us so the three of us set out to find a decent driver in Yazd. As soon as the idiot working at the Silk Road Hotel found out we were trying to organise something on our own, he tried to convince us to join a tour organised by the hotel. We soon learned that this 'tour' was no more than a car+driver, just as we were trying to organise ourselves, but they had only two people interested so far, and they wanted to have four people in their car.
The restored water storage at Astrabad
Since we were with three he tried to convince Michael and me to ditch Gisela and come on their tour instead.
Now what kind of crap is that? Seriously, in my entire stay in Iran I have only met two true ass-holes and it is such a pity that one of them happens to work at the best hotel in the country.  

We found a great driver listed in the Lonely Planet, Lorian, who happily offered the tour at the same price per person as the Silk Road Hotel charged (note that we were only three and the Silk Road Hotel wanted four people per car paying this price).

He picked us up from the Jameh Mosque in the morning and we set out into the desert to the town of Kharanaq. On the way to Kharanaq we stopped at a little ghost town where some crumbling mud-brick buildings stood.
Astrabad ghost town
The town of Astrabad was abandoned when a nearby stream dried up and the people moved elsewhere to find arable land.
The mud-brick buildings in the town were left to crumble in the desert, though recently some effort has been put into restoring some of the more interesting buildings.

I asked Lorian when the town was abandoned. “I don't know, somewhere in the 1960s of 1970s” he replied. Wait, that is only 50 years ago? The town ruins look as if they have been abandoned for hundreds of years. This is saying something about the quality of the mud brick buildings. I can understand now why they are having so much trouble keeping the old town centres of Yazd and Kashan intact.

We continued to Kharanaq, another abandoned mud brick town, though here the people simply moved to a new (concrete and steel) town less than two kilometres away.
Kharanaq
Some buildings in Kharanaq are believed to be at least 1000 years old, and people have been living in the small desert oasis for at least 4000 years.

Lorian dropped us off about 500 metres from the old town, as it would be a nice walk. No sooner had he left us or a few soldiers from a nearby post beckoned us to come over. This was another classic case of the Iranian army coming across foreigners for the first time and not knowing what to do with them. They asked us where we were from and demanded our passports. In Iran it is mandatory to leave a passport at the hotel you are staying at, so we didn't have these with us. It resulted in a very unpleasant discussion where they wanted to register us (though they didn't have any official books or anything, so they just wrote our names on a piece of scrap paper) and the fact that they didn't speak English (and we didn't speak Farsi) did not improve things.
Gisela and I in Kharanaq

It was not that they were unfriendly, but it was more that they didn't know what to do with us and they refused to let us leave. For all they knew we could be spies, after all, that is what they keep hearing on TV, foreign spies posing as tourists to learn the secrets of crumbling mud buildings.
Fortunately we were saved by Lorian, who came to look for us when we didn't show up at the other side of town.

The ruins of Kharanaq were quite interesting to visit. Some bits and bobs had been restored, among which a minaret (what else) and a caravansary which is sometimes used as expensive accommodation for tourists. What was mainly interesting is that people still live amongst the ruins. Although a nice new town has been built for the villagers, instead some (mainly elderly) people choose to stay in the old houses that have been in their families for generations.

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Desert road
Desert road
The restored water storage at Astr…
The restored water storage at Ast…
Astrabad ghost town
Astrabad ghost town
Kharanaq
Kharanaq
Gisela and I in Kharanaq
Gisela and I in Kharanaq
The desert
The desert
On the desert road to Kharanaq
On the desert road to Kharanaq
The restored caravanserai at Khara…
The restored caravanserai at Khar…
Kharanaq
Kharanaq
Ruins of Kharanaq
Ruins of Kharanaq
Kharanaq
Kharanaq
Ancient bridge in the valley beyon…
Ancient bridge in the valley beyo…
Local farmer at Kharanaq
Local farmer at Kharanaq
Caravanserai at Kharanaq
Caravanserai at Kharanaq
Caravanserai at Kharanaq
Caravanserai at Kharanaq
Kharanaq
photo by: Biedjee