Iran photos

I was in Iran for three weeks in September/October 2013. Here is a small sample of the nearly 1,500 photos I took while there. The entire collection of photos is here.


Caspain Region:



Kerman Province:

Fars Province (Shiraz & Persepolis):


Back from Iran

I returned to the U.S. on Friday afternoon after three weeks in Iran. It’s hard to believe how quickly the time passed. I will admit Iran was nothing like I expected; in fact I was amazed at the genuine warmth and hospitality we received from Iranians as we traveled around the country. Of all the places I have been, Iranians are indeed the friendliest people I’ve encountered (now if only our governments could find common ground). I would urge you to put Iran near the top of your travel wishlist. I of course took tons of photos (nearly 1,700) and will post them once I’m done processing. And eventually I’ll write about it. I still have to finish blogging about my Central Asia trip and I haven’t even started writing about Southeast Asia!

Off to Iran

I had hoped to finish writing about my Central Asia trip before heading off to the airport today, but my to do list was a bit too long. Anyways, I’m headed to Iran now and will be back in three weeks!

Turkmenistan: Konye-Urgench to Ashgabat

October 30, 2012

Cemetery in Khojayli, near the Uzbek-Turkmen border

This morning we bid a farewell to Uzbekistan and crossed the border into Turkmenistan, where we were met by Kalashnikov toting soldiers wearing peaked caps that were about five sizes too large for their heads. The border crossing took a few hours since luggage must be x-rayed or opened on both the Uzbek and Turkmen sides and passports and visas checked and then checked again, and then checked yet again. So it goes.

Our first stop in Turkmenistan was the ancient city of Konye-Urgench, which has its origins in the 5th or 6th centuries AD. Urgench was a major trading center on the Silk Road from the 10th – 14th centuries and the second most populous and well-known city in Central Asia after Bukhara. And, like many other cities in Central Asia, it was razed to the ground by Genghis Khan in 1221. The citizens of Urgench fought valiantly against Genghis Khan, but were ultimately drowned when he ordered his army to divert the Amu-Darya River and flood Urgench. Urgench was rebuilt, only to be destroyed again by Tamerlane in the late 14th century. The destruction of the city, and the change in course of the Amu Darya River led to the city’s complete abandonment.

Mausoleum of Turabeg Khanum, the daughter of Uzbek Khan who converted the area to Islam.

The 11th-century Gutluk-Temir Minaret. At a height of 197 feet, this used to be the tallest brick minaret until the construction of the Minaret of Jam in Afghanistan.

Circling the minaret, touching the minaret, then putting their hands to their face. Not really sure why.

Sultan Tekeş Mausoleum

We drove another two hours to Dashoguz. A city of 210,000, Dashoguz is very Soviet in character, with the typical communist block apartments, monuments, and wide boulevards. We were here only because Dashoguz has an airport, from which we had a late evening flight to Ashgabat. We had some time to kill before our flight left, so we visited the local market.

It was in Dashoguz that we first encountered one of the many Saparmurat Niyazov aka Turkmenbashi monuments that have been erected throughout the country. Niyazov was the first president of Turkmenistan, a position he held from 1990 until his death in 2006. Statues of Niyazov replaced those of former Communist heroes of Marx and Lenin. Towns, airports, schools, and even calendar months were renamed after Turkmenbashi (“Leader of Turkmen”). His autobiography, Ruhnama, became required reading for all students, and job applicants could expect that their knowledge of the Ruhnama would be tested.

When we finally boarded our plane to Ashgabat, we were greeted by portraits of Niyazov and current president Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow (say that three times very quickly!) hung over the entrance to the cockpit.

When we landed in Ashgabat, I could hardly believe how “Las Vegas-ish” the city looked; gleaming white marble buildings lit with multicolored flashing lights and billboards. Quite a change from Bukhara and Khiva! Someone pointed to a giant colored orb sitting atop a hill and asked our guide what its purpose was.

“That, ladies and gentlemen, is your hotel,” he replied.

Wow, seriously? Yes, seriously. This is where we stayed, the Wedding Palace “Bagt Koshgi” (Palace of Happiness).

Muynak, Uzbekistan: Where cotton killed the Aral Sea

October 29, 2012

On our last full day in Uzbekistan we boarded an Uzbekistan Airways flight back to Nukus. Our flying companions were mainly composed of oil and gas engineers searching for black gold in the area around Nukus.

Once we arrived in Nukus we began the long drive to Muynak, a former port on the Aral Sea. I say “former” because the Aral Sea has retreated some 100 miles from Muynak, leaving a vast desert in place of the sea once plied by the pride of the Soviet fishing fleet. As the sea receded, Muynak’s once prosperous industrial fishing and canning industry collapsed and thousands of residents fled the city in search of better lives. The remaining residents suffer from a multitude of illnesses brought about by the toxic laden dust carried by powerful windstorms sweeping across the dried up seabed.

But how did this happen? As part of the Soviet Union’s “Great Plan for the Transformation of Nature”, the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers that fed the Aral Sea would be re-purposed for irrigation. Instead of flowing to the Aral Sea, as they had for thousands of years, the majority of the river water would be diverted to the desert to grow cotton, with just a trickle of water making its way to the Aral Sea. The Soviet plan succeeded, much to the detriment of the sea and people of Muynak, and now Uzbekistan is the world’s 6th largest producer of cotton. The Aral Sea was sacrificed for the “white gold” that has become a mainstay of the Uzbek economy.

But they say a picture is worth a thousand words:

Comparison of the Aral Sea, 1989 vs 2008 via NASA satellite

We arrived in Muynak after a four hour drive from Nukus. The city is very run down, as one might expect after the local economy has been obliterated due to the decision of central planners in Moscow. There is a chance that nearby oil & gas exploration will be successful, but it is doubtful that any of the wealth from those projects would benefit the citizens of Muynak.

We visited the ship graveyard, a collection of old fishing boats stranded in the dunes that now make up the former seabed. It was hard to believe that there was once a sea here; the surrounding landscape reminded me of the desert I grew up in.

This monument marks the former shore of the Aral Sea

Small museum with exhibits about Muynak’s heyday as a fishing port

Our visit to Muynak was short, and we reached Nukus by dinnertime after the long drive back. Our dinner was rather sedate until a raucous birthday party erupted in the main room of the restaurant. Curious, a few of us left our table to check it out and soon found ourselves on the dance floor with a group of friendly Uzbeks, dancing our asses off to Lady Gaga and “Gangnam Style”. Compared to my new Uzbek friends, who were decked out in their finest, I felt quite grungy in my hiking pants and sand filled shoes. Still, we were warmly welcomed and it remains one of my fondest memories of the trip. It was the perfect way to say goodbye to Uzbekistan.