We did not expect that the guy collecting our lunch order at the Abbasian Restaurant was actually the travel mogul of Kashan. With a medium height, soft voice, and gentle manner, he came across more as a guy next door rather than a savvy entrepreneur who created the first and most popular Kashan guide. Hossein Moznebi has built a little empire in this desert city, and managed to get his name listed in Lonely Planet Iran. He now owns a travel agency, 2 book shops, and a wide network of affiliates at hotels and restaurants. Even taxi drivers have multiple copies of his Kashan guide in stock, ready to distribute to tourists. But Hossein does not sit in a fancy office all day, contemplating his next move. Instead, he frequents places like the Abbasian Restaurant so that he can meet and talk to customers directly.
We ended up not using Hossein’s service, but thanks to him, we realized that there were more to see in Kashan than its lively bazaar, stunning bathhouse-turned-museum, beautiful traditional houses, and the famous Fin Garden. The large Dasht-e-Kavir desert and the Namak salt lake lay less than 2 hours driving from the city. We had never seen a salt lake before, so we quickly dumped our plan to travel to Yazd, and opted to stay longer in Kashan instead.
We had a great time that afternoon. Driving for hours in the desert was the most liberating experience. We only met a handful of other vehicles that afternoon, most of which (if not all) were army trucks. Dasht-e-Kavir, or the Great Salt Desert, was a tributary of the Silk Road, with well-established caravan routes and imposing caravanserais dotting its barren landscape every 100km or so. Nowadays, it is the practicing ground for the Iranian army. Sand dunes gradually gave way to salt encrusted earth. We entered Namak Lake, one of the top 10 most amazing salt pans in the world. The whole area stretching all the way from northern Alps over Central Europe to the Aral Sea in Central Asia used to be a shallow sea called Paratethys. Five million years ago, the Paratethys started to get drier and shallower. Nowadays, what remains of that sea are a few bodies of water scattering around the region: Black Sea, Caspian Sea, Aral Sea, Urmia Lake, and Namak Lake. The latter is particularly shallow, with the deepest point reaching only about 1m. Most of the water is now gone, leaving a 1,800 km2 flat covered in white salt crystals. The scenery was so surreal.
As the sun descended and the distant horizon turned into a palette of pastel colors, we made our way to a Caravanserai. The imposing fort-like structure was a place where camel caravans could rest and recover after a long day in the desert, protected from natural elements and dangers. Now tourists can also spend a night in a Caravanserai. Rooms are just simple mattresses on the carpet in the original sleeping alcoves of camel traders. Communal bathroom stand outside the main building. After having a cup of tea with the Caravanserai master, we went outside and were treated to a spectacular sunset. The horizon was stained with brilliant yellow and orange hues. High clouds caught the last rays of the day and turned into a magnificent red blanket. Standing right there in the middle of the empty desert, we all felt so small and in awe of Mother Nature.
We drove back in this glorious sunset