Rising up off the dessert floor, as a man-made pyramid, the ziggurat of Choqa Zanbil have been standing since c. 1250 BC. The ziggurat is a UNESCO World Heritage site was sacked in the sixth century BC and was not discovered until 1935 - being lost in the dessert sand for more than 2500 years. The mountain around which the ziggurat have been build was considered sacred to the Elamite civilization and the reason behind the pyramid. Used as a temple-like structure you can find both sacrificing stones, religious inscriptions and a sundial around the structure. Once you get to the sundial, look out for the footprint of a Elamite child next to it - a footprint that incredibly enough have survived for more than three millennium. Around the ziggurat is also the archaeological site of the city surrounding the Choqa Zanbil called Dur Untash, which includes some royal tombs. Bring water and a hat - temperatures can reach the mid-forties (Celsius) and there is no shade!
An embassy that doesn't even exist any more, how exciting can that be? Well, first there is the history. The embassy got overrunned in 1979 by revolutionary students, when the Shah fled the country and the Ayatollah gained power. 52 US employees was hold hostage and the American attempt to rescue them went terrible wrong. After 444 days the hostages were released. Today are the walls that surrounding the old embassy decorated in anti-American propaganda that has almost become iconic. The grounds are still guarded by the military and some of the soldiers are not that happy about cameras, so this sneaky part can actually turn out to be quite exciting.
Allegedly the hottest place on Earth with a record temperature of 70.7 Celsius (159.3 Fahrenheit) and daytime temperatures reaching well into the 60s, the Dasht-e Lut Desert north of Kerman is beautifully strange (and hot) experience. The desert's landscape is a sight in itself, consisting of cracked salt flats with ridges and furrows rising up to 75 meters into the air, assembly weirdly oversized sandcastles. To experience the heath, it is possible to arrange trips from Kerman, which can include sleepovers under the open sky, including cooling dips in oasis' springs, and visits to century old caravansaries.
Bring your thermometer!
More relaxed, less flashy and free from the bypassing crowds of foreign and domestic visitors alike, Kashan has a vibe and authenticity found neither in Shiraz or Esfahan. A number of countless traditional houses in the city have been opened up to the public. Each made up of a number of interlinked mansions and courtyards, complete with fountains and colorful glass windows. Even more houses have been made into atmospheric traditional hotels and tea-houses making it hard to get up from the tea-beds to anything else but find another for just one more fix of tea, dates and qalyan(waterpipe). Add to that an intriguingly symmetric Agha Borzog mosque an madrasssa and one of Iran's nine UNESCO sited Persian Gardens and Kashan is definitely a place worth to linger, though few do...
The Iranian coast along the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormoz is different than the country inland. Here the ancient Persian culture meets the Arabic world in a diverse and chaotic manner. The women's burkas are also more colourful here (well, not entirely black) and some even wear the region's traditional mask, as a state of fashion. A good place for seeing these oddly attractive masked women is the huge Thursday market in the pleasant town of Minab. People come from all around the region to sell, buy, and browse this big and messy market, where everything from the latest plastic gadget from Arabia to livestock and, well, masks are for sale.
Ayatollah Khomeini's funeral hit the record in 1989 as the largest funeral ever held, with a crowd of 10 millions mourners. Today his tomb is located in the outskirts of Tehran in what seems to be a mausoleum under never ending construction. The huge complex resembles a mosque with tall minarets and gold dome. Everyone can enter and see the caged off shrine and hang around the vast area surrounding it. The mausoleum attracts a diverse range of locals from picnicking families over young couples seeking some privacy to mourners paying respect to His Holiness. It's truly a remarkable weird place.
Palangan is a Kurdish village build half on a steep mountain side in Iranian Kurdistan, half inside the mountain itself. It is a fantastic setting and it becomes an absolutely genuine experience when one begins to climb the steps between the houses greeting Kurds in their traditional baggy trousers and colorful dresses. Even friendlier and more hospitable than the Persian Iranians, the Kurds will give very warm welcome to their provinces. However Palangan's splendor have not been lost on the locals and the village see a lot of local tourists on weekends. To get a (even) more off-the-beaten-track experience seek out other beautiful Kurdish mountain villages like Howraman-at-Takht, Kamala, Dezli and the town of Paweh - all in the Howraman Valley.
One of the best way to partake in Iranian culture is to visit one of the country's numberless tea houses or chaykhaneh as they are called in Farsi. They come in all sizes and forms from the spacious traditional ones, which stands as historical monuments to Persian culture; to the small local ones, resembling alcohol-free dives, full of regulars discussing the latest and full of smoke from qalyan (waterpipes). Some of the most grandiose are found down narrow steps in the country's bazaars, with particularly interesting chaykanehs found in Esfahan, Kerman, and Kashan. Visit either to enjoy dive into to the sweet tea, fruity tobacco and delicious snacks or just to watch a distinctive part of Persian and Middle Eastern (male) culture. While the Iranian women would fell unwelcomed in most tea houses, foreigners are usually approached as 'honorable men' and welcomed with usual Iranian hospitality.
Yazd's old quarters are just one of those fine travel surprises, which you probably hardly have heard about (until now). It's among one of the oldest towns in the world and the beautiful old city is still inhabited. A maze of narrow passageways between the adobe houses will get you lost in no time. Most houses are topped of with a so called windcatcher or badger, that is an ancient air-con system. The city was a major stop on the ancient silk route and Marco Polo passed through at some time.