My first trip to Kerman goes back to over five years ago. As much I was thrilled by it (mostly because of great company), when I heard of Kerman again I didn’t seem to have a significant memory. What I remembered was that it was in no way modern (in terms of facilities), there weren’t a lot of good restaurants and the city would shut down pretty early. So when I found out that kerman was on the itinerary I was a bit meh about it. Specially because it’s way down south and it was going to take a full day to drive to there from Shiraz.
Nevertheless I took the plunge.
To my surprise the city had transformed dramatically. I had either been too mingled with my friends to notice my surroundings at the time or things had improved significantly in the last 5 years. Today the main streets of Kerman are packed with modern shops claiming to sell high street western brands (originals or not, your call!) and I had dinner in some pretty decent restaurants offering not just great food, but great service with impressive interior designs.
Apart from the long journey getting to Kerman (incase you’re not flying), most of the main highlights are located in the outskirts, but only six main attractions were enough to convince me that Kerman was worth every mile and every minute driving.
#1 Rayen Citadel
Since Arg-e-Bam, the largest adobe building in the world was destroyed after a devastating earthquake in 2003 and is currently closed to public due to restorations, the well preserved Arg-e Rayen was quickly brought to spotlight to replace the experience of a medieval Persian town for tourists. Going up and down the stairs, getting on rooftops, passing through where once used to be the bazaar and peeking into the governor’s house can seem like you’ve stepped back in time by a few centuries. Not to forget the rooftops of the fortress make for some pretty insane photo backdrops.
#2 Shahzadeh Garden
Just as you approach the garden, the word oasis suddenly makes sense to the fullest. One second you’re in a barren desert and next you’re in garden tended with ample water flowing down in cascading series. Right in the middle of nowhere, somewhere in the village of Mahan where vegetation is poor, you’re struck with a walled piece of land from where numerous trees are peeking out creating a huge contrast to its surrounding.
Once you enter and find your way to the gates, you’re greeted by the numerous local families that flock in to promenade around the perimeter.
Take the steps right up to the fountain source and there’s a small Qajar palace (currently a souvenir shop) waiting to be discovered. A traditional tea house and restaurant are also available. The food was fine but I’d definitely recommend sipping on a cup of tea here. The garden is just too good to leave early.
#3 Mausoleum of Shah Nematollah vali
The shrine was constructed in honour of Shah Nematollah Vali, a sufi master and poet and completed by various rulers over the centuries. Today it’s a complex including several courtyards, a shrine and a mosque with two minarets adorned with tile-work from top to bottom.
There’s a calming atmosphere inside, reflecting the spirits of Shah Nematollah himself. We easily spent a good one hour exploring the site. There are also a few shops in the main courtyard where you can buy books or souvenirs.
#4 Ganjali khan complex
Built by Ganjali Khan the governor of Kerman under Safavid rule, Ganjali Khan square is flanked by a caravanserai, a mosque, a bathhouse and a madrasah on all sides. It’s also commonly used as a gathering point for special ceremonies.
The bathhouse is known to be one of the most famous in Iran and a perfect example of Iranian bathhouse architecture. It’s huge and holds a lot of history in its heart. The mosque is small but a gorgeous dome is carried by squinches and the adorned ceiling is nothing short of ethereal.
The bazaar is a bustling area where anything from fabrics, clothing, footwear and kitchenware is sold. My personal favourite? The copper section for a copper lover. 😉
#5 The Jameh Mosque of Kerman
I’ve seen my fair share of mosques in Iran and around the world. The jameh mosque of Kerman is nothing unique and definitely not as glorious as its similar ones in other cities. But our evening here turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip this time around. We arrived at the mosque right before the evening prayers and upon our first minutes the sensational call of prayer was to be heard leaving us stumped for words. The combination of a full moon on top of the main ivan and the call of prayers made for a heavenly atmosphere. We were all left there for almost an hour just standing still and watching men and women form the lines for a joint prayer.
As a tourist you will visit a lot of mosques during your visit in Iran and it’s almost always during visiting hours when there’s no one around. I couldn’t urge you more to visit a mosque during praying hour, specially the evening prayers. Appreciating the beauty of architecture is one thing, but experiencing an actual prayer leaves a lasting impression that is unique to this part of the world.
#6 Shahdad desert
We didn’t get the chance to visit the desert this time around. It was summer and we would have probably melted under the fierce sunshine. However this is one of the few places that have the power to beguile any type of traveller. The scenery is as surreal as it can get. It’s hard to not be staggered by its vastness and beauty. The numerous yardangs formed by sand storms over time make this place different to all the deserts you’ve seen elsewhere.
Getting here can be a bit dangerous and tours are always arranged escorted, so don’t just go off on your own. But if you head over to Iran in the cold season and want to get a glimpse of the desert this place is my top recommendation. Its accessibility is a bit more difficult than the other deserts of the country but I assure you, it’s absolutely worth it!
Two full days in Kerman would allow you to visit all these places despite them being distant from one another and you’ll need another day if you made the great decision of visit the desert. Taking a flight to here and then continuing your journey to other cities is also a good idea. If your timetable allows you to spend two days here apart from your incoming journey then I would definitely say it’s worth it but if you’re tight on the schedule, it’s always better to get a full experience of one city instead of just hopping into a few.