Cycling in Iran – Yazd to Shiraz – full route description and profile

IMG_0019 This 450km route is an excellent one although it might be best to do it in the reverse direction if the wind is blowing.
It gives you a chance to visit Persepolis and other interesting sites on the way to Shiraz and there is varied accommodation on the way.

Download and print out for your own use. If you have any updates please put them in the comments. There’s a profile and a description for you to use:


Yazd - the oldest city in the world

IMG_4023 We cycled along way across the desert to get to Yazd and it has definitely been worth it. It’s an oasis town in the middle of the desert and breaks up our journey to Persepolis and Shiraz perfectly….plus we’re knackered from riding for 10 days and need a rest and to eat lots.

We’re staying in a fantastic hotel; the Silk Road Hotel with it’s massive buffet breakfasts (ideal for cyclists), and huge internal courtyard and great views of the city from the roof. You can see it in the photo on the right:
The whole city is made out of mud bricks and the only things of any colour are the domed roofs of the mosques and the doorways.

Time is a little different here, everything is open from 8am-1pm, then everyone has a sleep and everything re-opens between 5pm and 10pm.


The only thing that spoils it for us is the number of women in Chadors (translates as Tent) which is absolute insanity in this heat. Men wander around in t-shirts and anything they want to wear, whereas nearly all the women have a black shroud over them. 

We understand that it’s probably easier to wrap it on top of their normal clothes when they go out rather than wear a nice manteau and a very brief head scarf all day, but it just represents the unfairness of this society. 

The women here may well be the most highly educated women in the world with 55% of the university population but they still have to hide behind the daft black sheet.

It is gradually changing but women still live in fear of being persecuted for having too much hair showing, so many just use the chador and avoid the possible risk. Inside the home, clothes are completely normal (to a European or North American mind)

Little boys run around in shorts yet girls are wrapped from head to toe in cloth while the mercury hovers around 35 degrees. We hope it changes soon because these people are so lovely and anybody who thinks that all women must be hidden, obviously has some sort of problem.

The city itself exists behind mud brick walls and under beautiful arches which let in loads of natural light but thanks to the mud brick construction keep out nearly all the heat. It feels positively cool everywhere apart from in the sun.

IMG_4088 There is an elaborate system of towers all over the roof tops which allow hot air to escape and cool air to fall, they’re called Badgirs and some of them are gigantic, upto 20m high with incredible structures to redirect air flow to keep the inner courtyards and rooms cool. They catch even the slightest wind and create quite strong down draughts of cool air which shoot through the bazaars and houses underneath them.

IMG_3978 The city has been occupied continuously for the last 7000 years and claims to be the oldest inhabited city in the world. Water is collected from the mountains and flows down small (1m x 0.5m) tunnels called Qanats, deep underground, to the city, where it is pumped up to the surface or wells allow access.

The guys who make and service these tunnels have a job for life if they want it and the Water Museum here is an excellent introduction to this incredible world. There are rooms up to 50m below the surface with pools and flowing water where people go on really hot days in the middle of summer.
7000 years of occupation gives people a good chance to make life work and in Yazd it really seems to work well.

The food is interesting too, spaghetti sandwiches, loads of sweet iced puddings, kebabs of every sort and lots of stews (khorosht) with delicious ingredients….we love Fesenjan - the most amazing meatball dish made with a pomegranites and walnuts, it makes you lick your lips just writing about it. Persian food is fantastic and so little known outside the middle east.
Here’s a slideshow of some other views of Yazd:


Cycling in Iran – Crossing the desert from Mashhad to Yazd - 950km

IMG_3796-1 We would thoroughly recommend to anyone who fancies a bit of a challenge to cycle the 950km route between Mashhad and Yazd through the desert which crosses 6 ranges of mountains with large salty desert plains separating them, and climbs in total about 7000m over the 9-12 days that it takes to complete the journey.

We heard about it from the Travelling Two’s website and have made a couple of guides to help anyone who wants to ride it. Click on the links below to see them and download them:
Route Profile – 1 side of A4 paper
Route Guide – 3 sides of A4
It’s not easy, and heat, wind and the lack of water for long distances makes it hard work but the scenery is spectacular and camping is easy. If you like a regular shower then you probably shouldn’t bother unless you can make do with a 1.5 litre plastic water bottle special!

Here’s a short slideshow that should give you an idea of what to expect:


English lessons in Iran – a great travelling experience

IMG_3694In Neyshabur, Masoud asked us to come to his English lesson one night, we weren’t  sure what to expect but in the end had a really good experience.

It was partly about helping the class practice their English but what was really interesting for us was the things they wanted to know about our world compared to theirs……


The teacher was lovely and spoke really good English, as did most of the class, she’s obviously doing a good job:

They started off with the obvious questions:

What do you think of Iran?

Where are you from?

How old are you?

But very quickly the questions became more interesting:

How do boys and girls meet in your country?

Is it true that many people don’t get married?

If you have a party where do you have it and how many people go?

What do you think of our government?

What religion are you? (Devout Atheist went down well)

Where would be the best place to live in the world?

IMG_3695 We stayed about an hour and the questions kept coming and eventually the teacher had to tell everyone to go home.


We had our pictures taken and off we went back to the sports institute for our night in the dormitory.

Another great evening in Iran!




The best cycling shop in Iran – Neyshabur (130km from Mashhad)

IMG_3696 Just over the mountains from Mashhad is the small town of Neyshabur where miraculously there lives a thriving community of cyclists, thanks to one ex-Olympic cyclist who lives there and trains cyclists at the Sports Institute.

There is also a thriving weekend cycling group and a fantastic shop with all the spares that anyone could ever need and an excellent mechanic. They even had Schwalbe tyres and 36 spoke wheels and hubs.

The owner doesn't speak much English but is very helpful and has friends who speak and read English well. You can email him for help at: fix538@yahoo.com IMG_3689

We also managed to stay at the Sport’s Institute in one of their dormitories for free while we got a new rear wheel for Isabelle’s bike – it was the compromise one we bought in Kathmandu to replace my broken wheel rim and the spokes kept breaking. Isabelle is now really happy with her 36 spoke Alex rims.

IMG_3699 Masoud was the cyclist that we were put in touch with by Mahdi in Mashad and he helped us out loads, sorting out our accommodation and even escorting us 20km out of town as we headed into the desert.


Iranian’s are the best!!




A tour of Neyshabur with Masoud and Mohammed, our fantastic hosts

IMG_3659A friend in Mashhad had put is in touch with Masoud, a cyclist in Neyshabur. When our wheel broke again, he came and picked us up and took us into town to sort everything out, found us a room at the Sport’s Institute and then gave us a great tour of the city.

Masoud was very proud of being Iranian and wanted to show us the best that the city had to offer.


Masoud and Mohammed were really great and if Mohammed’s enthusiasm and energy were amazing considering he’d worked all night at a gas station before he met us.

First we visited the museum, where the staff were really friendly and helpful:

IMG_3652 IMG_3653

There was a great collection of a stuffed animals plus a potato shaped like a dog and a gruesome human foetus:

IMG_3655 IMG_3658

Then we visited an old Caravanserai:


Then finally a Mausoleum on the edge of town:

IMG_3665 IMG_3675



The amazing Arbabi and Saeedy families - Iranian hospitality at it’s very best

DSC_0405 A friend on Couch Surfing managed to help us find somewhere to stay in Mashhad. We arrived cold and wet and were greeted by the warmest welcome you could have anywhere in the world.

Sarah and her friend Behnam met us in their car and escorted us back to Azizeh and Ahmad’s house where we were to stay.

The house was beautiful and we were immediately told to get in the shower, then fed and introduced to everyone. It was superb.

IMG_3585 Azizeh spoke excellent English although she hadn’t used it for a while and Sarah was just all smiles and kindness, trying desperately hard to understand.

Behnam on the other hand was very good at English, studying Engineering at Universtity with all tuition in English.



We have been fed constantly and protected from the outrageous Mashhad weather, snow yesterday and rain the rest of the time! Apparently Mashhad is a 4 seasons in 1 day kind of place as we have now discovered. The family helped us mend our pedals which are hardly rotating anymore and we got our bike cleaned.

IMG_3631 IMG_3629

We have spent the rest of our time learning Farsi and just hanging out chatting about life and trying to get our heads around this amazing place, although we have also gone out for two meals – both to really nice and popular burger bars full of interesting people, had a walk in the park to see all the joggers, exercisers and the mountaineering group, had a delicious meal at Sarah’s parent’s house, been round to Sarah’s sister’s house for a meal and been given several music recitals as well as a visit to the great Ferdosi’s Mausoleum.


The best bit has been spending time with Sarah, Behnam and the Arbabi family (Lida the daughter arrived back yesterday from Tehran) seeing Iran through their eyes and learning as much Farsi as we can as well as as much as possible about the way people interact.



Sina, Sarah’s sister’s son was a superb Farsi teacher and was even able to explain the amazing concept of ‘Tarruf’ where everyone tries to be as kind as possible and asks several times if you want more food or want something for free. You just have to keep refusing. Even shop keepers do it and try to give you free food (but you HAVE to pay really) When we went to the Mausoleum even the ticket man tried to give us free tickets (But you HAVE to pay!) It’s a strange concept but makes Iran even more special.

This place is ‘Baah Baah’  They have great music too!



A big thanks to Majid and his father who helped us in Mashhad

IMG_3574 After a night of rain and our bikes getting nearly destroyed by mud we were first helped by these two lovely gentlemen who found us some warmth and a hose to clean our bikes after first giving us a lift over a mountain through another rainstorm.




As we entered Mashhad after 90km of hard wet cycling we were soaked and couldn’t get through to Saeed who we were going to stay with, his mobile number wasn’t working. We stopped on the street and were almost immediately greeted by a smiling man who ushered us into his workshop, sat us around a fire, made us cups of delicious tea and then lent us a mobile phone to ring our few contacts in Mashhad. His son Majid spoke good English and helped us out and we had a great time sitting in the workshop with the employees (one fanatical Manchester United supporter among them!)

We eventually contacted another friend Mohammed, who sorted out some accommodation with his friend Sara. Majid and his father then escorted us on the craziest 20km night time drive from one side of Mashhad to the other to where Sara and her friend Behnam met us. We cycled on motorways, flyovers, huge roundabouts and nearly lost them many times. We had no idea that Mashhad was so big, or so like a normal Western city. When we arrived we hadn’t eaten since breakfast and were exhausted, just running on adrenalin for the last half an hour.


A huge ‘Merci’ or ‘Motejekhuram’ to a lovely family!!!!!



Picnic at the Robat e Sharif Caravanserai in Iran

IMG_3557 About 60km from the Turkmenistan border on the way to Mashhad there is a small detour to an old Caravanserai where people used to rest along the Silk Route. It’s a popular picnic spot for Iranian families on Fridays as we discovered.

The moment we arrived we were immediately invited to join a group of 3 friends and their wives and children.

The Caravanserai was pretty interesting but the best bit about the whole experience was the incredible Iranian hospitality, everyone around the place tried to talk to us, we had our photos taken with people so many times.


A couple of the group could speak a bit of English and we got to practise our Farsi a little and do a bit of miming. At first the language is so different to all the languages we have been used to so far in the trip but after a while we were starting to hear some of the words and to distinguish sounds more easily. We WILL be able to communicate with people, we just need some lessons!

IMG_3536 IMG_3550.CR2

Doesn’t Isabelle look good in her manteau (the black smock/dress thing) and head scarf?

Luckily for Isa, as we were leaving Uzbekistan we met Chris and Rita from Sweden and Switzerland who had just come from Iran and Rita passed on the manteau that she had worn throughout Iran. It was a great experience because it was our first chance to really mix with women, who just interacted with us as normal, unlike in Pakistan where we never even saw women outside the home and they definitely weren’t going to speak to us.




Transiting Turkmenistan in 3 days

IMG_3516We first applied for our Turkmenistan visa on the 22nd March in Tashkent. We queued for 4 hours and handed in our application, explaining that we were cycling and asking nicely for 7 days to allow us to cycle the 600km across the country. We were told to come back in 10 days! No receipt, no smile, just an order!

We then cycled across Uzbekistan to get closer to the Turkmen border, caught the overnight train back and again queued for hours only to discover that they had moved their embassy to the other side of town without telling anyone. We eventually found the right place, queued again for hours and were told that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had checked our application and had approved a ‘3 Day’ visa if we came back at 5pm. We asked politely how could we cycle across the country in 3 days, receiving a blank stare, but felt wary that they often just refuse visas so we had to accept it.

In summary ‘The Turkmen Ministry of Foreign Affairs are a bunch of idiots!’…they give 5 day visas to cars, but 3 days to cyclists…Why?

Do the paranoid fools think we will tell their population how the government is stealing all their money and wasting it on vanity projects in Ashgabat, or on a ridiculous reservoir in the middle of the desert. Do they worry that we’ll tell the people that the history they were taught in school is nonsense or that their government is destroying their environment faster you would have thought humanly possible!!! Or that that the communist self styled 'father’ of their country died with over 3 billion dollars in the family bank account, while the people struggled on a dollar a day!

Whoever thinks that a cyclist can cycle 600 km in 3 days and 2 nights is a moron with a brain the size of most Turkmen’s bank balances.

We did eventually enter the country after loads of forms and declarations and many officials signing bits of paper, yet no-one even showed the slightest interest in our baggage, so all our propaganda leaflets got in safely and we were able to tell the people about their rubbish government.

IMG_3511Once in to the country the people in the villages were delightful, people stopped us often and gave us sweets and one time even forced money on us. How can people be so nice but the government so stupid?

The desert was in flower thanks to the rain that we had suffered in Uzbekistan and despite it’s flat emptiness the place looked good with poppies IMG_3515everywhere and people out collecting mushrooms.

We managed to get a vehicle to drive us for 250km one afternoon so we then raced through the rest of the country in the remaining time on our visa arriving at the border with a couple of hours to spare.

I’d have loved to see more, to spend money in the country, maybe even stay in a hotel, meet more locals, help the local economy etc but in the end we spent $8 on food in total and camped in the desert for 2 nights. We watched rampant corruption everywhere,even the Chinese trucks building the new roads were paying to get past every police check and it wasn’t even subtle, we watched two fat police officers splitting each bribe and putting into their pockets as they shouted at the guys on the street to stop more vehicles. They didn’t even care that we were standing in front of them. The guy who drove us South said that the police are terrible and that on the way back he would have to pay constant bribes to get his car back to Turkmenabat.

What a stupid government!!!IMG_3520




Uzbek fashion show

IMG_3490We wish we’d managed to get more photos, but this gives an example of the way women in Uzbekistan dress. It is a sort of Bath robe / Dressing gown - Haut Couture.

The brighter the better, but there can’t one bit of skin showing and no two items are allowed to match in any way.

I can think of several friends who would love the freedom that this would allow them in a mix and match sort of way.






It was very difficult taking photos so here’s a couple of specials, that Isabelle helped me out with:





Bukhara – a living museum

IMG_3499 We spent the best part of 5 days in Bukhara, although the middle of our time there was interrupted by a crazy train trip back to Tashkent to get our Turkmenistan visas.
We stayed with a family who run a lovely and friendly little guest house called Nazruddin Navruz Hotel.

The city itself is different to Samarkand, it’s been inhabited and famous for much longer and thanks to some enlightened heritage planning it still has people living in the old city and it feels less like a museum than the undoubtedly beautiful Samarkand. On our train journey we shared a carriage with a 35 year old Uzbek who was part of the team working with UNESCO to allow development within the old city but still keep the feel and style the same. From what we could see they’ve done a remarkable job because it’s often hard to see where one finishes and the other starts. They encourage old building techniques and materials, which have stood up to earthquakes for hundreds of years.

The photos below were all taken early in the morning so the place is still waking up. The huge 47m high tower is one of the few buildings in the city that Jenghiz Khan didn’t flatten as he passed through, he was so amazed that it had stood so long that he left it standing. Most of the old town is centred around a square with a large pool in the centre and the buildings you can see are either Medressas, Mosques or Markets.

If you want to find out more about Bukhara you can read more in a Wikipedia Article