If Yazd city wasn’t already amazing enough, the desert surrounding this small-ish Iranian city boasts a handful of incredible towns just a short drive away.
If you’ve never heard of Kharanaq, Chak Chak or Meybod I won’t hold it against you – these little towns scattered in central Iran are definitely a little bit more on the side of obscure; but be prepared, they may just end up on your Iran bucket list by the time you get to the end of this post!
Kharanaq lies about 70km North of the Yazd city centre. Though it was once a bustling town (with occupancy dating back as far as 4,000 years ago) all that still remain are buildings made from mud in various states of ruin and disrepair.
While such a place may not sound all that appealing, it actually ended up being a little slice of paradise for this snap-happy traveller!
However, I feel obliged to tell you that I visited Kharanaq in early February (the end of winter in Iran) and the weather was still fairly warm. Apparently in the summer months the mercury can rise to above 50 degrees centigrade – so if you happen to be Iran during the summer, I would probably give this trip a miss.
Walking through the myriad streets, tunnels and buildings was something really special – especially when you find out that many of these buildings are around 1,000 years old… and they are made from MUD!
Some structures still looked almost new…
…while others had definitely succumbed to the elements and to time.
Kharanaq is split into two parts.
In the ‘new town’ a few hundred people still live and reside, but the long abandoned ‘old town’ is what I had really come to see.
Inside the old town there are a few note-worthy buildings, one of which is the ‘shaking minaret’ which you can see in the next few photographs.
This 15 metre high minaret is named as such due to it being seen shaking or vibrating on a semi regular basis; and despite a fair bit of research the cause of this unusual phenomenon still eludes me.
Unfortunately, it didn’t want to get its groove on while I was there – but that in no way detracted from its beauty.
After I was satisfied that I had taken about 200 photos of the minaret itself (I admit it, I have a problem), it was time to do a little bit of climbing in order to get an incredible view overlooking the entire Old Town.
Nestled where the valley ends and the mountains begin is a small but striking blue domed mosque. It appeared a rather pale colour on this extremely sunny day, but something tells me that with the right lighting this little dome has a lot more vibrancy than meets the eye.
To the right of the mosque is the Bridge of Kharanaq, which is supposedly over a thousand years old – it looks in pretty good shape considering!
This next photo is one of my favourites from the day. I just love how jagged and desolate the mountains look!
After a while it was time to explore a little bit more of the labyrinth that is the Old Town itself. Now, if you do ever visit Kharanaq, I highly recommend going with a local guide, and this is for three good reasons.
Firstly, a lot of these buildings are quite far from what one would call ‘structurally sound’ and as such, if you plan to do any climbing and clambering (and let’s face it, why wouldn’t you?) it is really only safe to do so if you are with someone who knows which dodgy areas to avoid plonking your feet.
Secondly, when I refer to the Old Town as a labyrinth, I do so for very good reason! The town is a veritable maze, and getting lost would be incredibly easy to do.
Lastly, there is so much incredible history to learn about Kharanaq, I would have had no idea what I was really exploring had I not been with a guide.
After Kharanaq, it was time to drive 40km West to Chak Chak.
Chak Chak is the name given to a shrine jutting out from a mountain. It is another incredibly important pilgrimage site for those of the Zoroastrian faith.
As the legend goes, in 640 BC the second daughter of Yazdegerd III (one of the last Persian rulers of the Sassanid empire) sought refuge in these mountains during an attack by the invading Arab army. While climbing up the mountain away from those chasing her, she prayed to her God ‘Ahura Mazda’ for protection and after doing so, the mountain miraculously opened up and provided her with shelter and protection.
This man made shrine is eerily beautiful, and oddly, is perpetually wet! There is a natural spring located somewhere in the mountain, and as water runs down from said spring, it drips and collects on the floor of this shrine. Supposedly, this is the mountain weeping in memory of the Persian daughter it once saved.
The temple is stunning, but it is the views from this vantage point across the arid and mountainous valley that are really beyond words.
After leaving Chak Chak, I asked (or politely demanded as it may have been) our lovely and all too obliging driver to stop in the middle of a valley. Those I was sharing the car with didn’t really know what I was on about at this point, but this chica knows a good photo op when she sees one, and I just had to get out and photograph this beautiful stretch of road.
So stunning, and not another car in sight – does it really get much better?
A good 10 minutes and a bunch of failed ‘jump shots’ later and we were off to our final stop of the day – Meybod.
Located around 57km South-West of Chak Chak, Meybod (also written as Maybod) is another ancient city dating back to a good few thousand years ago.
The main drawcard of Meybod is its 2000 year old fort made of mud bricks.
The official name of this fort/castle is Narin Qal’eh, and given its old age, it is still looking pretty damn good! In a more rainy environment, such structures would never have survived so long, but the exceedingly dry climate of Central Iran has supported only a very slow disintegration of these mud brick buildings.
You are able to wander through and around the fort, and from the top of it, you can see all of Meybod city sprawled out below you.
This next little bunch of photos was all taken from various spots around the tiny fort.
Just a short walk from Meybod is another building that we visited on this day trip. I know what the building was was explained to me, but I was a little bit too preoccupied with taking pictures and as a result, where this explanation should be in my brain is instead just some white noise. Whoops!
Seriously though, can you honestly blame me for being distracted?!
After a long (but amazing) day of exploring, it was time to drive back to Yazd and hit the hay for a well earned nights sleep.
This day tour was organised through the Silk Road Hotel. The cost for our private driver/tour guide was 2,000,000 rials (approx $80 AUD) in total, but split between the four of us that shared the car, it worked out to only $20 AUD each, which is an absolute bargain.
Getting to Yazd: Yazd is well connected to Esfahan, Tehran and Shiraz via local bus
Orient Hotel: A cheap hotel with a few mixed dorms, expect to pay around $15/night
Day Tour: $20 for the day is a reasonable price to pay your driver, but make sure you find another three people to share the car with
Camera: Images captured with an Olympus OM-D E-M1 in conjunction with M.Zuiko 12-40mm f2/8 lens
Remember: Think carefully about doing this trip if you are visiting during the summer, if you can’t handle the heat then it may not be a pleasant day of exploring!
34 thoughts on “Kharanaq + Chak Chak | Cities In The Desert”
Wonderful landscape and wonderful pictures!
Thank you so much! It really is a stunning part of the world 🙂
There is so much similarity between these desert cities, and those of the Southwest U.S. Adobe (our term for mud-brick) is still very commonly used in construction, and is one of the major draws of places like Chaco Canyon, NM and Mesa Verde, CO. Iran’s centre looks like it could be a place of fascination, for months on end.
It really could! It is so, so vast and there is so much to see!
awesome pictures! you have such a gift for photography
Thank you so much <3 I love taking pictures so comments like this mean the world to me!
stunning! the photographs are just incredible.
Thank you so much Lalitha <3
You’re right! I had no idea about this place and now feel I have to visit… Incredible to think the buildings are made from mud 🙂
Awesome! I hope you get there one day very soon!
Wow, absolutely stunning!
Thank you so much!
How long were you in Iran for? Was it the right amount of time?
I was there for two weeks, and this was a good amount of time, I possible could have stayed an extra few days, but two weeks as a standard was pretty great.
Kharanaq totally reminds me of Moss Isley in Star Wars. Now you know I am a nerd. Thanks again for the wonderful stories and photos.
Nothing wrong with being a Star Wars nerd at all!
Ugh. Your posts always make me want to go places I’d never normally consider visiting! Now I have to plan another getaway. Poor me 😉
Hahaha it is such a hard life 😉
You managed to capture the essence of the places you visited. Great photos and information. I enjoyed going on your adventure with you.
That is so lovely to hear 🙂 I look forward to bringing you with me on many more adventures!
Thank you 🙂
Yazd Province is perfect to travel, as every where in Iran is.
It definitely is!
You do make Iran look very empty Ellen. It is odd trying to get my head around the country. That scuttling old lady (?) in the second photo does look very peculiar.
According to Wikipedia it thinks that shaking minarets have an internal wooden structure which can be shaken…and something that tourists love to do. I’d be worrying about bringing the whole thing down. They’re not referencing yours though.
Well, you know I like to get away from the crowds! Huh, good to know! I will have to read more about these internal structures.
I love how it looks like nothing there was actually “built” but like it grew out of the ground. Absolutely beautiful.
I didn’t notice that before, but I love that you’ve pointed it out to me!
Amazing images! What an experience that must have been! Thank you for sharing your journey with us.
My pleasure, thanks for coming along on my trip with me!