Off through the desert

The last kilometres on the bike are coming up and it's off through the desert! A touch of 1001 Nights accompanies us and makes this last section a very special experience.


We have not yet discovered the Iran of the Arabian Nights, as one might imagine the country to be. That is about to change. After the ups and downs in Kurdistan, we head for flatter terrain via bus. But before we get  back on the saddles, we visit the famous city of Isfahan.

If you know a bit about Iran, you can't avoid Isfahan, one of the most beautiful cities in the country, as they say, and it is also called "half of the world". Like most people, we start our visit at Naqsh-e Jahan Square, which is considered one of the largest squares in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The magnificent buildings are adorned with colourful tiles and mosaics that are hard to get enough of. The different construction and design is fascinating and reflects the former splendour of the Persian Empire.

The next few days we stroll through the tangled aisles of the huge bazaar, watch craftsmen at their filigree work, drink coffee in modern coffee shops, visit the Armenian quarter and the churches there, and observe the hustle and bustle on the streets. If you think you will be approached less in a tourist metropolis, you are mistaken. Here, too, we are often asked about our origins, selfies are taken, we are asked about our opinion of the country and given a friendly welcome to Iran. Those who imagine a completely overcrowded tourist city like Paris for example are taught better. Although this city is one of the most visited, there is hardly any sign of it outside the famous square. In particular, international tourism seems to be very limited, according to our subjective impression.

After a few days in the city hustle and bustle, we are now looking forward to nature and being on the road again. The desert is calling. A large part of Iran is desert and we don't want to miss the experience of travelling through this region by bike. Before the really hot summer arrives, we seize the opportunity and cycle towards Yazd, a real desert metropolis. It hasn't been this flat for a long time and we make good progress, even though the landscape is not very attractive and the traffic is rather heavy. But the longer we are on the road, the deeper we dive into the desert and, despite the desolation, we keep discovering something. The first pigeon towers (towers made of mud bricks, where pigeon droppings used to be collected as fertiliser) appear on the horizon, typical mud buildings, crumbling caravanserais and now and then the colourful top of a mosque provide some variety. In Varzaneh, an old mill is well preserved and you can watch the camel drive the millstone under singing guidance. In this village we notice for the first time the many women wearing the chador (a large, mostly dark cloth as a cloak around the head and body, which only leaves the face or parts of the face free). Until now, this was rather the exception, but here, practically all of them are wearing this completely body-covering clothing. In the course of the journey, we learn how the implementation of dress norms varies greatly. While in some villages practically all women are wrapped in the chador, in other villages the headscarves are more symbolically hanging just above the back of the head.

The desert seems boring at first, but at the same time it fascinates us. We cycle straight stretches through the plain, where the settlement increasingly disappears. The monotonous landscape fascinates and we marvel at the vastness, the changing ground structure, the shimmering mirages and the sand dunes in the distance. There is even a salt lake along the way. The wind is a constant companion these days, fortunately on our side for once, which is a welcome support naturally. On the other hand, shade is a rare commodity and the sun burns incessantly, we have to improvise for the lunch break. Luckily, we have two bikes over which the picnic blanket can be stretched, so that we at least have shade for lunch. We are also grateful for the nice gentlemen who give us watermelon, a real highlight on such a day. Towards evening we reach our destination for the day, a slowly crumbling caravanserai somewhere in the desert. Here we pitch our tent and are extremely pleased when suddenly another cyclist appears. The Frenchman is travelling in the opposite direction and so we spend a cosy evening with good conversation and stargazing in the caravanserai. Around eleven we lie down in our tents, and then things really get going. Gone are the peaceful times somewhere in nature. Several cars full of party-loving Iranians stop at the caravanserai. Almost until 4 a.m. it is hullabaloo, hardly any sleep is to be thought of. Just in time for their bedtime, we crawl out of our tents again, because the early cool morning hours want to be taken advantage off.

We say goodbye to our cycling companion and start pedalling, motivated by the low morning temperatures and the beautiful light. The day flies by, with frequent stops to take photos of the beautiful landscape, drink tea with the construction workers and replenish our supplies. A short digression on supplies. Most of the time, there is a shop in these villages where mainly chips, biscuits and hygiene products are sold. In addition, the taste of these chips is often not the same as ours. For example, you can find ketchup chips or similar. Therefore, it is not so easy for us to cook delicious meals or to go shopping for extensive picnics, but we manage to get by. In Nodoushan, a small desert town, we spend the night in a castle, where we are the only guests. Price/performance almost blows us away (in a positive sense) and we enjoy this beautiful location to the full, because the little town also has charm and is a first foretaste of what is to come in Yazd. Nodoushan, definitely an insider tip if you are travelling in this region.

The next day is also our last one on the bikes, but the day remains a lasting memory. We can't quite believe that these are the last kilometres on the steel horses, but even thesese have to be ridden as well. After about 10km, slightly downhill and with a tailwind, we reach the salt terraces of Nodoushan. A little Pamukkale like in Turkey, only without tourists but with water. Various pools in different shades of yellow adorn the landscape and invite us to discover them. It is always a pleasure when such detours are directly on the way.

Many kilometres of winding roads follow through flat, stony, monotonous desert on a wide asphalt road in scorching heat. The only places of shade are petrol stations and bus stops. A gruelling stretch, were it not for the tailwind. It pushes us forward at record-breaking speed, so that we manage this stretch anyway. At a petrol station about 10km before Yazd, we are once again sitting in the shade when a german camper bus pulls up with two bicycles on the roof. Two fellow cyclists from the french-speaking part of Switzerland have decided to hitchhike because the wind was coming from the side and almost blew them out of their saddles. We exchange numbers and will meet again later in Yazd. So we complete the last kilometres of our bicycle journey and reach the desert city of Yazd. We are not really euphoric, rather the joy that we can now cool off in an air-conditioned hotel room prevails. In the midst of our daily cycling routine, we don't really have time to realise that this chapter is now closed.

Yazd offers exactly what we need now. A hotel room with air-conditioning and a shower, nice cafés and restaurants to relax in and an extremely pretty old town. This city is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the old core is accordingly well maintained and preserved. Narrow alleys between clay buildings, wind towers and cisterns, magnificent mosques and a bazaar are waiting to be discovered. The wind towers served to cool the dwellings through an ingenious system of cisterns and can be found throughout the city. We spend the hot afternoon hours in the hip cafés and discover a hidden student café where the whole bar sings Iranian songs to the sound of the piano. A nice end to our cycling trip, but not yet the end of our trip in Iran.