Into the Dasht-e-Kavir
11.05.2007 - 12.05.2007 45 °C
Having heard several reports of a great homestay in the tiny oasis village of Garmeh, we decided to stop there on the way to Mashhad. The Tehrani artist Maziar (whom we didn't meet since his wife was having a baby in the city) returned to his 400-year old family home in a small village deep in the salt deserts of central Iran to escape the pollution and commotion of Tehran and to set up a charming travellers' lodge. Only 250 people or so call Garmeh home but from walking around the oasis I would have put the number closer to 20 - a very, very quiet place. The house was built in the traditional desert style, with mud bricks, low ceilings and many vents to let the air circulate. The atmosphere was extremely liberal here (by Iranian standards) - no headscarves for the women and we didn't have to get fully dressed just to have a shower in the morning! The food was delicious here, although it was still too early for local produce (although noon temperatures averaged around 35C in the shade); and everyone slept on the floor.
Having explored the village (which involved avoiding the local rabid dog, and almost losing my shoe in the road which had melted into a very sticky paste) we hopped into what might have been the most clapped-out Paykan in Iran and headed to the salt flats. Here, the desolation was absolute - not a plant or animal for miles around, as you can see in the pictures. Somehow, there was water underneath the compacted salt, and we're not too sure from where it came. Keeping Anton and I company were a group of three French tourists (one of whom had come along the Silk Road from China...) and a couple of dead camels. After an uneventful sunset we headed back to Garmeh for some delicious fruity rice, salad and yoghurt but not after being stopped by the police - presumably because they were curious as to how a piece of scrap metal could move so fast.
The following day we explored a mountain village (made more atmospheric by some Iranians making animal noises in the distance) and after lunch and a siesta we left for the sand dunes and had a go at riding some camels. I would suggest that if anyone ever considers riding a camel they should think again. And again. The camels were uncomfortable, very smelly and had a bad temper...it's no wonder that in the days of the Silk Road traders would always walk alongside their camels.
Having returned to the hotel we met an Australian journalist who had authored most of the Lonely Planet travel guide we have been using in Iran. Apart from learning about the whole guide-writing process and other aspects of Iranian culture, we were asked to write a short report of our upcoming border crossing into Turkmenistan. Perhaps a tentative step into a future career?