Iran : 4000 Year Old Deserted & Crumbling Mud Brick Village – Kharanaq
“Yes, get out, BOOM. I know.” I mimed an explosion with my arms. The driver laughed. He was about to fill up his car with gas – gas as in compressed gas, not petrol. The rules at an Iranian gas station, as I understood them – get out of the car, in case of explosion. It wasn’t the first time I’d been given the “get out, boom” speech in Iran.
What is surprising, is that this also isn’t the first time I found myself en-route to a semi-deserted several-thousand-year-old ancient mud brick village. This time, it was Kharanaq. Location – near the city of Yazd, in Central Iran. Age, indeterminate. Beauty, quite indescribable. Potential for hyperbolic filled gushing-travel-writer-esque article? Off the freakin’ scale. Chances in this article? Zero.
With at least 1000 years of architectural history on show, the site of Kharanaq has been occupied in some form for around 4000 years. With an inspired location – sunny rocky outcrop, fertile valley below, in the shadow of a scenic mountain, I had to wonder about the fore-thought of Persian town planners circa 3000 BC.
Kharanaq may appear totally deserted, but it isn’t. I saw one old lady, who asked our driver “where the hell are these people from and what in Alah’s name are they doing creeping around this place – tell them to be careful!” In the center of the village, in the area around the towering Minaret, there are restoration works in progress. It must be said, I add this information just for factual completion – you can see from the photos that Kharanq for all intents, is abandoned, and very much un-restored.
Surprisingly – until recently there was a loan guest-house in Khranaq. Not anymore. My downloaded pirate copy of Lonely Planet Iran circa 2008 mentions the “Silk Road Guesthouse, Kharanaq”. But now, in 2012, my driver for the day chose to use the former hotel gardens to take a leak, and then scoffed when I asked whether, one day, the hotel may reopen.
It is the most incredible village, and I have no doubt that Kharanaq will become a large tourist attraction one day. But for now, Kharanaq is raw, authentic, and in a state of beautiful decay. The mud brick roof tops, which I extensively explored, are cracking, shaky, and really, a bit dangerous. Some of the alleys have collapsed. Reports are that at least one tourist has fallen though a roof. That first step is a doozy, indeed.
Exploring the multi-level hill side maze of Kharanaq has been one of my highlights of visiting Iran.
Getting to the Ancient Village of Kharanaq in Iran
Kharanaq is located near the city of Yazd, in central Iran. The easiest way is to ask your Yazd hotel or guest-house to arrange a taxi. It cost me 500,000 rial – about $14 US for the 160 km round trip. I asked three taxi’s on the streets of Yazd to take me to Kharanaq, none were interested. Typically, it went like this: Kharanaq? Yes, can you take me there?. Kha-ran-aq? Yes. Haha. No. <taxi drives off>
I have a lot of catching up to do with my Iran posts, despite this being my most prolific month since starting Yomadic. I have been working on a “Street Photography in Iran” series – photos of strangers on the mean streets of Iran.
31 thoughts on “Iran : 4000 Year Old Deserted & Crumbling Mud Brick Village – Kharanaq”
Didn’t even know such a place existed and I’m Iranian.
I’ve always wanted to visit Yazd. Been pretty much everywhere else though.
Sad to see all that graffiti on the walls of the bath house.
Must’ve been so cool walking around alone in a city that dates back to thousands of years ago.
Khranaq certaintly was, as I mentioned, one of my high-lights in Iran. Totally cool – it was just me, our driver, Phillipa, and a single old lady. And the old lady seemed to disappear like a ghost shortly after we saw her. There’s a bit of Graffiti, but, in a strange way, it added to the beautiful abandoned feeling.
Another great post about your Iran trip. Very inspiring. And yes i looking forward for you post about day-to-day cost in iran, it will be very useful
Thanks Riyan – I think I will do it, stay tuned. And thanks for the compliments, much appreciated.
Yo, I like the spooky face in pic 5- nice!
I knew there was something in that photo looking back at me, but it took an artist like yourself to point it out. Well done Benny-Boy ;)
Nate… Just simply stunning!! Makes me want to drop everything and book a flight to Tehran and make a trip up to these quarters.
Question – Are these all coming out of an X-pro1?
Cool place isn’t it? Yes, every photo on this blog, for the last several months, has been from the Fuji X-pro1. Not only that, but they are all from the single 18mm fixed lens. It’s an amazing travel camera.
Its a great camera. I am waiting for my X-E1 with the 18-55mm… been a long wait. I think I will also get the 35 and 18mm lenses later. While these cameras are great, they need the hands of a good photographer (like yourself) to bring out the very best. Right location and composition is the icing. You have checked all those boxes. Great job, Nate!
Thanks SD, you’re too kind. Let me know when you get your Fuji, would love to know your opinion of it.
Iran is such a vast, fascinating country. This particular village reminded me somewhat of the old town in Dakhla Oasis, Egypt. An abandoned, mud village.
I wonder why they used mud to build. Does it help with the desert’s inclement weather?
– Maria Alexandra
From what I understand, mud/straw is plentiful and cheap. The only things that can go wrong, are lots of rain (doesn’t happen), or plants taking root. They mix salt into the mud to stop the plants growing. Even so, I have been told that lived-in buildings that have mud roofs, they need to do a new coat every few years. As for the weather, the mud bricks definitely keep the buildings cool inside!
What a wonderful place! And you are a lucky :-) May be sometime I will see it too. Thank you for sharing.
Thanks Victor – yes, you should head to Iran! (and yes, I consider myself both fortunate, and lucky).
Hi Nate, I enjoyed your post very much again. You’re a very good travel writer, and certainly know how to tell a story. Props for that. By the way, pointless fact: in the picture with the empty chairs and table, the writing on the wall is “Whereto in such a hurry?”
Thanks A, nice insight. Glad you’re enjoying the Iran posts, there’s a few more to come.
Hi Nate! My wife and I arrived in Brazil today from this beautiful country. Some pics can be seen on http://www.instagram.com/luisgustavolinhares and http://www.instagram.com/renata_rrm . Kharanaq was one of the highlights of our trip too. Awesome and fascinating country, friendly people. We liked a lot! Thanks for your tips! It was very useful throughout the trip.
I’m glad you found the articles useful Luis! I agree with you, Iran is completely fascinating. But, Brazil is right near the top of my list as well!
It some ways it looks very similar to Chan Chan in Northern Peru, unfortunately not many people ever see it because they only go to Machu Picchu but it’s an incredible site built by a group before the Inca.
Thanks for that Ayngelina… I had planned to head to Peru one of these days, and knew there must be more to see than Machu Picchu. I’ll be hitting you up for more Peru ideas ;)
Ooh, interesting. Must go there when Im in Yazd :D
Any other must sees in Iran? Planning to land in Iran, take train/bus to Yazd, then down to Shiraz and Persepolis and from there work my way up sadly towards Armenia.. sadly only on a VOA.
Hey Simon – if you need to extend your VOA, do it in Shiraz. It’s easy, get there early, don’t line up, go inside to the top floor – they will help you. It takes about 90 minutes all up, including a taxi ride to a bank and back to deposit the fee. If you need to exchange cash, do it on the main street in Shiraz – it’s safe, they will give you the best rate. Forget about trains – buses are easy, fast, and cheap – as are taxis/drivers in certain places. Make sure you see Kharanaq in Yazd, and another tip for Yazd is: you will see the main square, with the large structure. Look for a corner building, with some towers on top (they are ancient “air conditioners”. Just a small building. Around the back, there is a door to go inside to a crazy gym. The building is amazing, it has a deep well inside, and you can access the roof for a great view. More tips: when you go to Persepolis, make sure you see the Necropolis of the kings – it’s about a ten minute drive away from Persepolis. Also on your way through the country, Kashan is worth a stop, nice Bazaar (I have an article on here about it). All the best with your adventure – originally I was going to do the same thing as you – head towards Armenia – but my plans changed. Good luck!
PS, the visa extension I received was for an additional 15 days (I was also on a VOA). It was very cheap to extend.
I’m in Yazd and tomorrow it’s a trip over there and Chak Chak. Thanks for tips ;)
Happy to inform you that hotel it’s back to business and running . Been there today ;)
Incredible! Thanks for the update Aneta, I’m sure you enjoyed Kharanaq!
I’ve enjoyed it a lot ! After wander trough deserted streets of that atmospheric place we have spotted a building which was fitted to your description of a hotel so I’ve went inside , have met a man who told me that ” yes ” hotel it’s running , we are welcome to eat a lunch over there & that he is expecting a group of 6 people very next day . I had a really great time :-)
Today I must leave Yazd and go back to Shiraz however ” wind – tower ” city will remain in my mind as a one of the best experiences in my life :-)
thanks for sharing this with us.
I am working on a masters and would like to choose an abandoned village of iran and work on a possible revitalization.
If you have more information or pictures, could you please contact me?
thanks a lot!!
There is an Iranian movie that was filmed in Kharanagh it is called “The Deserted Station” with the most beautiful Lila Hatami, it is on Netflix. It shows all the beauty of the place and its utter desolation. The locals warn the new comers not to wonder off for they will get lost. One other thing people need to discover about Iran it is its wonderful cinema, nothing like Hollywood or even Bollywood, Thank god, it is more like Italian movies of the 50’s and 60’s
whats the best way to lunch at Kharanaq…i was there last year and the silk road hotel was abandoned. Would you know of anyone there who can cook us a simple hot meal? Or can you recommend a take away place in Yazd. Also, my vegetarian friends keep getting eggplant preparations and barley soup for all meals because there appears to be nothing else on restaurant menu. Could you suggest some iranian veggie dishes please?
Hi Anaheeta – there is a renovated guest house next to the entrance to the old part of Kharanaq, they may be able to arrange food for you – but they’re not always open. You may have some luck looking up the hill, in the newer part of Kharanaq. I think the safest way would be asking your hotel in Yazd, or any restaurant in Yazd, to prepare you a take-away lunch, and take that to Kharanaq when you visit. All of the food I’ve had in Yazd has been great.
The Orient Hotel in Yazd has some not-so-common vegie options, I think it’s due to the owner having some connection to India.
As for veggie meals in general, yes, it can be a little tough in Iran. Lot’s of eggplant dishes, salads, and that sort of thing, but not too much else. The concept of vegetarianism, in general, is not well followed. Good luck!
I loved your trip report. I have been to Kharanaq before closure of Silk Road guest-house. i visited the house and its co-founder, Sebastian Straten.
you are welcome to Iran