We were in the last week of March and yet, at 4 p.m., it was hot.
As I kept on climbing and walking among sand dunes, I felt the harsh Sun was trying to go through my skull, so I was forced to put on one of those local hats made of stalks, one of the very few materials that this dry region can produce.
Finally, I reached the top of that sandy hill but just felt even smaller, as tens and tens of giant mud sculptures were rising above me, as far as my eyes could see.
Welcome to Kalut
The Kalut is a desert, which is part of a bigger one named Lut (or Dash-e Lut), mainly located in Kerman Province, in southeastern Iran, which covers an area of 480 kilometers in length and 320 in width. [Kaluts or yardangs are large areas of soft, poorly consolidated rock and bedrock surfaces that have been extensively grooved, fluted, and pitted by wind erosion.
The Lut Desert is no common desert but here, a NASA satellite once captured the highest temperature ever registered on the Earth’s surface, which was 71ºC, no kidding.
Therefore, this means that if you are afraid of the common desert threats, like scorpions or snakes, don’t worry, as Lut Desert is an abiotic zone, which means that no single plant or creature can survive in such a harsh environment.
Visiting the hottest place in the world might not seem very appealing to the regular traveler but the real reason to come to this kind of a zone is to visit the desert of Kalut, which are some geological formations caused by erosion of the wind over the millennia.
Rising from the sand dunes, these natural and astonishing sculptures are a real blessing to your eyeballs and, while walking among them, you are likely to feel you are wandering around Mars or even better, a Star Wars Hollywood stage.
Watching the sunset and sunrise over these sandcastles is definitely, one of the highlights of any trip to Iran, unless you are extremely unlucky like me, of course, as I came on, perhaps, the only two cloudy days of the year so, for me, there was no real sunset.
The oasis town of Shahdad
Kerman is the capital and main city in the province but, for visiting the Kaluts, Shahdad is like the base town, as it is only 50 kilometers away.
We came to Shahdad from Shiraz, going through hundreds of miles of an ugly and boring desert. I was pretty excited about visiting the kaluts but, to be very honest, I didn’t have high expectations of the village of Shahdad.
However, as soon as I arrived there and saw all those palm trees offering pleasant shade to rest in, I quickly realized that this trip would be more interesting than we expected.
Shahdad is a real oasis town, filled with handicraft shops and lovely guesthouses, whose decorations made me feel I was back in the real Arabia, a place like the Liwa Oasis in Abu Dhabi, and not the Persia I knew about.
Shahdad is a village that was raised right in the middle of the deadliest desert on Earth.
It seemed like a fantasy, but the truth is that, for thousands of years, this region has been inhabited by many civilizations, which can be seen in a few caravanserais and several ancient ruins dating from 5,000 years ago. Absolutely unbelievable.
Moreover, around town, there are many water systems used for piping the water from the ground, something which civilizations have been doing since time immemorial.
You can visit all the historical sites and water systems as part of the same tour, as well as stroll down the local bazaar in Shahdad, in search of local souvenirs and the best dates in the country.
As you know, the Kalut Desert in Iran is one of the hottest places on Earth, so it’s better to avoid it from May to September. However, the climate is extremely dry, which means that, even in summer, the temperature could be relatively pleasant during the evening and early morning.
For visiting the Kaluts, you definitely need to go on a tour, as you have to drive through a very isolated desert.
The town is very small, so you can walk from wherever the taxi or bus drops you off. Moreover, the tour operator you go with can also organize a desert camp for you, which is the preferred option for most travelers.
Kerman is a provincial capital, so you can go there by bus from pretty much everywhere in Iran, the most common and convenient places being Shiraz and Yazd.
Other places of interest
Many people, as part of the same tour, also go to the city of Mahan, located between Kerman and Shahdad. In Mahan, you can visit Shazdeh Garden, which is a lovely garden built by a prince from the Qajar Dynasty, and Shah Nematollah Vali Shrine, a beautiful mosque with an imposing dome where the famous poet is buried.
Source: Against the Compass
* Joan Torres is a travel writer.