After a more or less uncomplicated border crossing from Turkmenistan into Iran we headed straight to Mashhad, the second biggest city in the country. We knew that in a few days time there would be a public holiday – the martyrdom of Iman Reza – and that many would be on a pilgrimage to his shrine in Mashhad, but we thought that the city would still be relatively quiet at that time. We couldn’t have been more wrong. Along the highway to Mashhad ten thousands were walking towards the city and the traffic got worse and worse the closer we got towards the center. We got spat out on the other side of the center and managed to find a camp spot in a park, from where we took a taxi in the evening to the shrine. Margit had to wear a ‘chador’ for visiting, those tent-like robes for women that cover everything. While all Iranian women wear black chador, Margit got one in white, bed-linen style, and we figured that they do this on purpose so that the tourists are clearly recognisable among the masses. It was a fascinating visit with crowds inside and deafening drumming and celebrations outside the shrine.
On our way out of Mashhad there were again thousands of pilgrims and food stalls and we had to give interviews and we were given so much food that it lasted us for days.
Having finally escaped the crowds (or so we thought), we drove towards the eastern part of the Kavir Desert. On the way in a small town we were checked by the police for the first time, in the supermarket (!). Besides our passports they also wanted to see the pictures Margit had on her camera, but were overall very friendly. We were wondering if there is some secret military base in the area…
When we arrived at the sights in the desert near Tabas, there were again crowds of people. Of course, not everybody visits Mashhad on that particular holiday, but many take a week off and travel their country. We visited canyons, abandoned clay villages, dunes, and posed for selfies with many Iranians.