A visit to the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Muscat certainly set the tone for our Persian Caravan journey. Although built quite recently, the sheer beauty and size of this is completely captivating. And a stroll through the Grand Bazaar was a fascinating place to people watch and soak up the culture.
My favourite night in Oman was without doubt, the night we spent at the desert camp. A beautiful, secluded haven, surrounded by endless sand dunes. After a delicious meal and comfortable sleep, a few of us woke up at 430am to climb to the top of the sand dunes to watch the sunrise. Standing there, with nothing but desert in every direction and watching the sun slowly rise was well worth the early start.
Our drive towards Nizwa started with a stop at Wadi Bani Khalid. This place looked exactly the way I had pictured a desert oasis to look. A beautiful swimming hole with palm trees everywhere. This place was gorgeous and it was my first real glimpse at the beauty and friendliness of the local people. So many warm smiles and hellos. Totally heart-warming. We then continued our drive to Nizwa where we cooled off in the hotel pool before heading to the Souk to explore. The following day we stopped at Misfat Al Abriyeen which is a beautiful village located high in the Jebel Shams mountains. Walking along the steep and winding shaded paths, you pass authentic mud houses, beautiful gardens and terraces. Hundreds of date palms filled the village. The trees were all full of fruit and we were able to watch them being harvested. It was a very tranquil and picturesque place to spend a couple of hours.
Dubai is an absolute contrast from where we had come from - A big crazy city which literally assaulted my senses after being in Oman.
From the moment we stepped on to the ferry that was taking us across the Persian Gulf from Dubai to Iran, I just knew I was going to love Iran. In no time at all, the locals on board were smiling at us, asking for photos with us and even wanting to become Instagram friends. We felt so incredibly welcome.
Our accommodation in Shiraz was a gorgeous, traditional style hotel in a quiet neighbourhood and just a short stroll from the wonderful Vakil Bazaar which was a great place to wonder around in. I had been so looking forward to seeing Nasir-ol-Molk mosque (the pink mosque) and I wasn’t disappointed. Words truly can’t describe how incredible it is. Standing inside with the sun streaming through that wall of stained glass is something I will never forget. Naranjestan Palace, the gardens and Mausoleums of Hafez, Karim Khan citadel – so much beauty and history.
After 2 nights in Shiraz, we drove north east towards Yazd, stopping along the way to visit Persepolis and Naghsh-e-rostam. It was fascinating hearing the history behind these places and so hard to comprehend how long ago they were created.
Two nights in Yazd allowed us to learn about the Zoroastrian faith with visits to the Fire Temple and the Tower of Silence. The stunning gardens and impressive architecture continued with one of my favourites being the beautiful Jame Mosque. The blue and turquoise tiles against the mostly desert background was just exquisite. Some other highlights from Yazd were watching a local Zurkhane class, which is a traditional sport in Iran. It involves the men performing various strength exercises to live music. It felt very special to be able to witness this. We were also invited along to a family’s home for dinner where we learnt about the local food and even assisted with the cooking of the meal.
Our next stop was Isfahan. Naqsh e Janan square is the most fabulous place. Our first visit to the square was during the evening. Persian rugs filled the square with groups of families and friends enjoying a picnic for dinner. The atmosphere was amazing. We spent time getting lost in the bazaar there, relishing the chance to buy some of the beautiful handicrafts and chat with the friendly store owners. Another magical experience that will remain a special memory for a long time to come is walking under the Si-o-se pol bridge. Besides being visually beautiful, most evenings you will find locals gathered underneath playing music and singing. It felt pretty amazing to witness this kind of uninhibited joy. There is so much to see and do in Isfahan and I could easily have spent much longer here. The numerous mosques, each as stunning as the next, Ali Qapu Palace with its’ incredible Music Hall and Chehel Sotun with its’ magnificent painted ceiling which I could have stared at for hours.
And I haven’t even mentioned the food yet. Every meal was delicious. In Oman, the dips and flat breads were my favourites along with the mouth watering fresh juices that are available everywhere. In Iran, we feasted on vegetable stews, meat kebabs, fresh salads and saffron rice. The sweet Faloodeh (a cold dessert made with rice noodles and a rose water sorbet) was super sweet but delicious and I couldn’t get enough of the local nougat.
It is hard to decide what was more impressive. The incredible mosques, palaces, mausoleums and gardens, or the incomparable friendliness of the local people. In all my travels, I have never met locals who seem more genuinely welcoming. All day, every day, from the older generations right down to children, we constantly had beautiful, kind and friendly locals all wanting to simply say hello and to welcome us to Iran.