In the center of Iran is a large plain burnt by the sun, composed of sand, dust and arid mountains. We’re getting ready to leave Ispahan mosques for a two days road-trip through that desertic world. We’ll reach Yazd with a stop for a camping night in Varzaneh desert and to discover the mud walls of Varzaneh historic village…
A tiny white car is waiting for us, parked on the side of a tunnel-road passing under Isfahan city. Strange place for a meeting point with a guide. The first question that comes to our mind is “How are the 5 of us gonna fit in that with our backpacks and the food for tonight’s bivouac ?”. The young guide we met just the day before has a large smile on his face. He knows he’ll manage a way to make all that stuff fit in his boot. Indeed, after a moment playing with the bags like in a Tetris game, we’re all in the car, and the key kicks the noisy little engine on. Here we are, ready to drive to the desert and to Yazd in two days… Inch Allah !
Varzaneh desert : camping in the dunes
Approximately a hundred kilometers away from Isfahan and two hundred from Yazd, Varzaneh (ورزنه) is known for its wonderful sand dunes. The place is (not so much) frequented by tourists who are seeking the peace of a night spent in a desert and the warmth of an evening around a camp fire sitting with Iranians on a Persian carpet under the stars.
The stars. This is exactly what brings us in Varzaneh. Our friend Emilie always dreamed about spending a night looking at the stars in the silence of a desert. Our trip isn’t really planned (seriously do we have a face of all-organized-travelers?) so when it was time to leave Isfahan to move to Yazd we chose to have a little trip to Varzaneh.
After the usual and formal presentations that must happen when you meet someone new, we quickly discover the personality of our young guide: he’s quick to make doubtful and dirty jokes. Too many, and bad ones… And he absoluty wants to make us listen to the last hip-hop/techno fashion songs he likes so much at max volume on his crappy auto-radio. We all gave each other a worried look: “Two days… Fucking hell, it’s gonna be long!”.
As soon as we leave the town center, he pushes down the accelerator, wheel on one hand, mobile phone on the other. The car is moving dangerously on the road from one lane to the other, in the middle of the numerous holes in the bitumen. “No worries, everybody drives like that here”. Hum… OK. We’ve got an appointment in the little town of Varzaneh with a friend of him who knows the desert pretty well. And we need to buy some chicken “to make the best kababs in all Iran” he promised us! That sounds better!
While waiting for his friends we take some time to discover the old bridge of Varzaneh. Here some of the women wears a white chador. They are Zoroastrians, believers of the holy fire, a religion which is one of the base of Persian culture. Then we’re driving again towards the desert. But the more we drive in the direction of the dunes, the more the weather gets bad. Winds get up, moving large clouds of sand whipping fiercely the windows of the car. And the sky… The poor sky quickly covers itself with dark clouds. Our night under the sky looks really compromised.
At least we’ve got a moment at sunset to enjoy the beautiful soft lights on the dunes before we set up our camp for the night. What a view! From the top of a dune a little bit higher than others we’ve got view on a sea of sand as far as we can see. The son of our guide’s friend is guiding us. He’s probably no older than 5 or 6 but he already has the look of a desert prince!
Nearly two hours. That’s the time we needed to set up our camp. We spotted a place protected from the wind with roots in the sand to pitch the pegs. Coz we didn’t think about it before but our friends Adrien and Emilie’s tent is not auto-supported! Try to pitch a tent in soft sand! Good luck! During the action one of the poles of their tent broke, adding a bit of complexity to the already anoying challenge. Adrien is going nuts…
Finally, the wind calms down while twilight is pulling up the dark curtain of the night. We can a last enjoy some fresh air and a good Iranian tea. Fire is cracking and kababs make the air smelling of spices and grilled meat. A young Australian lady passing by joins us for the night. Ahhh, how good are those nights in good company in the simplicity of a small bivouac? Unfortunately, the sky will stay hidden behind the clouds for the rest of the night, but the amazing kababs will make us forget about the stars! Our guide was right: his kababs are incredibly good! He’s as good a cook as he has a bad sense of humor.
Kharanaq, abandonned traditional village
The morning following our night in Varzaneh desert, our young guide drives us at Chak Chak (چك چك), a mountainous village where a zoroastrian temple has been settled in a holy cave. If the road to get there was wonderful, the village itself and the cave was of small interest but historical. So you’ll understand that after 2 hours on the road under 40°C and the disappointment of Chak Chak, we’re a bit worried when he proposes us to go to another place called Kharanaq. We nearly ask him to take us straight to Yazd, but we finally let go. And what a mistake it would have been to miss it dear friends! Absolutely dramatic!
Sitting 75km outside of Yazd, Kharanaq (خرانق) is on the flanks of a large greenish valley in which flows a little river, passing first under an old stone bridge, and then a the foot of an old mosque with a bright turquoise blue dome. Kharanaq is a 1000 years old historical village made of dry mud, and nearly abandoned today. The ruins and the view on the valley make this place a perfect field for photographers even with the hard and bright light of the afternoon! We spent nearly two hours inside the labyrinth of the streets and tunnels, climbing on the roofs, and thinking about a prosperous past time that is gone now since the water became rarer.
Our guide suddenly puts an end to our wanderings, it’s time to reach Yazd before the night, especially since we don’t know where we’ll sleep tonight. We could have spent another few hours in Kharanaq! We didn’t even visit the wonderful caravanserai freshly restored to host visitors with the hope of developing tourism in the village. What a pity!