Desert adventures have been trending around the world for a couple of years now and Iran is no exception. With two humongous deserts stretching from north-east to south there’s way too many places to choose from. While deserts might not be the ideal family or couple destination, they are one of the most incredible places to go with a group of friends. My Maranjab desert trip is from quite a while back but it’s been truly one of the most exceptional trips of my life. Not only because we got to stay the night at a 350 year old caravansary, explore salt lakes and lie under a sky full of stars but also because of some of the greatest companions and the amazing people I met along the journey.
Having lived in Iran most of my life, ‘surprisingly’ I had never made it to the desert or even seen a camel in real life. ‘Surprisingly’ because most of the world assumes Iran is all deserts and sand dunes. It’s Not!
As mountain hiking and skiing is only an hour or two from the capital you can imagine why most people don’t opt for the desert. So the whole idea of trying something new was absolutely thrilling.
Maranjab desert is located in the province of Isfahan, just an hour from Kashan. The best way to get there is either with a bus tour or with your own vehicle as there is no public transportation passing this area. It took us quite a while to get to the desert and it was dark by the time we got to the caravansary. The caravansary of Maranjab desert is a popular accommodation for those heading to the region. It was built during the Safavid era for caravans passing Iran’s part of the Silk road. There are a few of these caravansaries scattered across the country which are now converted to some luxurious hotels. This one however is a bit different! While the chambers are available for rent, they are not exactly turned to anything else then what they were. So your accommodation is probably the same as what someone would get 300 years ago apart from a few electricity cables. This means you’ll need your own sleeping bag and basically anything but a roof on your head. The restrooms were outside the whole structure around 20-30 meters into the desert which meant we would go there in groups at night time and try to forget about their existence at midnight. The tap water was so salty that it was impossible to even wash your toothbrush with it. This might not come to everyones taste and it certainly was a challenge but it made things even more interesting and we had a good laugh surviving it all.
Just after we settled down and left our luggage in the rooms we headed off to the desert to see the famous heavenly desert sky. We went far enough until it was pitch dark. We were obviously with a guide who knew how to find our way back by the location of the stars, if not I assume it was probably impossible for us to find a way back as there was nothing to be seen but darkness and the sand.
It was freezing cold so we made a huge fire and sat around it for a few hours playing games, reading poetry and just having a chat. Just before heading back, as the last flickering flames were going out and the wood was smouldering, we turned off all the torches and laid down on the sand gazing at the sky without anyone saying a word. …this was it! The moment we were all waiting for. There was nothing to be heard and nothing to be seen. It was us and a magical starry sky which almost seemed white.
We had a late night chatting outside the chambers while having tea and filling our stomachs with junk food and sweets. We slept through the night shivering in our sleeping bags as there was no heating system in the rooms and temperatures had dropped dramatically.
The next day we woke up early to get a glimpse of the sunrise from the roof top of the caravansary. Just after breakfast we headed to the sand dunes. It would have been possible to go sandboarding however we didn’t have any boards with us. Later on we took off for the salt lake which was like nothing I had ever seen. The salt itself had naturally come to form some sort of tile work. It was rough and thick and it seemed there was no ending to it.
Later that day we visited an underground city and a Yakhchal (ice chamber or ice house), an ancient structure built and used in Persia prior to the invention of refrigerators which was meant as a cooler, mostly for storing ice and sometimes food. These ice chambers are likely to be found near deserts in Iran and many are still standing tall, although not in use. You can read more about them here and you’ll be surprised of how genius the architecture is. The one we visited was actually turned into a traditional tea house where they would serve tea made in a samovar. It was such an amazing respite from the afternoon heat of the desert and it was capped off with two of our fellow travelers playing traditional Iranian music for us. We listened with rapture as the sound echoed through the chambers.
The trip was short but it was probably one of the most offbeat destinations I had visited. Years before I would have not even imagined going to a desert, let alone sleeping in a caravansary. But I did and it was awesome!
If you’re in Iran during the cold months (specially autumn) then a desert trip has got to be a part of your itinerary. There are many places to choose from but a day trip from Esfahan to Maranjab desert could be a great option if you’re short on time.