15 Day Exploring the Vivid Northeast

Best season: Mar. to Jun. & Sep. to Nov
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Expedition Summary In fifteen days, you’ll explore the vivid Northeast and diverse history, culture and landscapes. To summarize, you will visit:
  • The beautiful view of the magnificent Alborz mountain chain
  • The beautiful Wildlife Refuge to spot the beautiful and rare Persian Fallow Deer
  • A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the tower of Turkmen town
  • The edge of the Golestan National Park, one of the UNESCO Biosphere
  • The magnificent and marvelous buildings and structures in the holy shrine of Imam Reza
  • Ferdowsi tomb, a highly revered Persian poet and the author of the epic of Shahnameh – the Persian “Book of Kings”
  • Khayyam’s mausoleum complex in Neyshabur, which is considered as one of the masterpieces of Persian architecture
  • Touran National Park, Biosphere Reserve and Wildlife Refuge
Itinerary Details:

Day 1. Arrival in Tehran

Upon arrival in Tehran, you will be welcomed at the airport and transferred to your hotel. Depending on the time of your arrival, you can spend the day touring the beautiful and diverse city of Tehran, or spend the evening at a traditional restaurant for a delicious Persian cuisine.

Day 2. Arrival in Sari, the capital of the Mazandaran province

Upon arrival in Sari, you will be welcomed at the airport and transferred to your hotel. If you’ve flown to Sari, you should already be amazed by the beautiful view of the magnificent Alborz mountain chain. Alborz is a major mountain range in northern Iran, 900 km long. It is a bold climatic barrier between the Caspian Sea and the central Iranian plateau. The north side, facing the sea, receives heavy snow and rainfall, and lush forests sweep down to the coastal plain. The south part, in contrast, has few trees, just barren brown wind-swept slopes merging with desert below. The mighty chain includes Iran’s highest peak, Mount Damāvand which you should have had a great view of from your plain’s window. You don’t want to miss the window seat on this flight!
Depending on the time of your arrival, you can spend the day touring the beautiful city of Sari, or spend the evening in a traditional restaurant for a delicious Persian cuisine. If time permits, we will head straight to the beautiful Dasht-e Naz Wildlife Refuge to spot the beautiful and rare Persian Fallow Deer. The Persian Fallow Deer is the largest of the fallow deer in the world, weighing 40 – 100 kg. Their living in Iran is recorded to go back thousands of years. The Sassanian rock carvings at Taq-e Bustan indicate that Persian Fallow Deer was a favorite game animal for royal hunts, and they show the king, Khosrow Parviz, chasing them down. The Pasyrik Carpet, dating back 2,500 years and discovered in Southern Siberia depicts 24 deer, which experts have identified to be Persian Fallow. Unfortunately, this beautiful deer was hunted close to extinction over most of its habitats, with the arrival of modern firearms accelerating this process. However, Dasht-e Naz Wildlife Refuge has done an excellent job in conservation and breeding of this magnificent deer and reintroducing it to different locations in Iran. (L/D).
You’ll stay overnight in your hotel in Sari.

Day 3. Jangal-e Abr, a Wonderland above the Clouds

Today we will drive to a true wonderland in the north of Iran, Jangal-e Abr (cloud forest), which is one of the oldest and most beautiful jungles in Iran with some rare plants and animals. It is called the cloud forest because, in most seasons, it is covered by an ocean of clouds and fog. Two to three hours before sunset when the temperature starts to fall, clouds rush into the forest. They are so thick that it seems you are walking on the clouds, and then you may not be able to see a meter ahead of you. The scenes of this forest are so beautiful and sometimes it seems that trees are over the clouds.
After reaching our destination, we will set up our camp and enjoy the rest of the day wander around the forest and enjoy the picturesque sceneries and lookouts over the hills. Enjoying the sunset with ever changing colors of the sky is something not to be missed. Depending on the weather, we will stay overnight camping and sleeping in our tents, or we’ll drive to a nearby village and stay in a local house. In the evening, we will have a delicious Persian barbecue dinner and call the day, getting ready for another day full of sightseeing tomorrow. (B/L/D)
Total drive for the day: 220 km

Day 4. Gonbad-e Qābus, a masterpiece of the early Muslim design

When we wake up in the morning, we may already have a carpet of clouds under our feet! Let’s hope we are lucky enough to experience this magnificent experience of a lifetime. We’ll have an early morning walk to grasp the extraordinary panoramic beauties of Jangal-e Abr and then head back to our camp to have a nourishing breakfast.
We will then drive to one of ancient Persia’s most strategic region, through the scenic steppes and mountains of northeast of Iran. Our next destination is the Turkmen town of Gonbad-e Qābus. The town is home to the majestic Mil-e Gonbad, the 53 m high Tomb built in 1,006 AD for Qābus Ibn Voshmgir, Ziyarid ruler and literati. The tower is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the only remaining evidence of Jorjan, a former center of arts and science that was destroyed during the Mongols’ invasion in the 14th and 15th centuries. With brilliant geometric forms and structures, it illustrates the development of mathematics and science in the Muslim world at the turn of the first millennium AD.
After our visit, we will drive to our final destination for today, the Turkmen Ecolodge at the edge of the Golestan National Park. Golestan National Park is one of the nine UNESCO Biosphere Reserves in Iran cherishing a variety of habitats, like temperate broad-leaf forests, grasslands, shrubs and rocky areas. The fauna is very rich and consists of leopards, wolves, wild boars, deer, urial, wild goats, and gazelles. We will stay at the Ecolodge for three nights to experience local Turkmen heritage, culture, and cuisine, and enjoy the brilliant landscapes and nature. (B/L/D)

Day 5. Explore the Edge of ancient Persian Civilization

We are now in a region that was of utmost importance to the ancient Sassanid Dynasty around 1,500 years ago. A recent discovery by archeologists from Iran and the Universities of Edinburgh and Durham challenges the traditional Euro-centric world view. According to the findings reported in Science Daily News, at the time when the Western Roman Empire was collapsing, and even the Eastern Roman Empire was under great external pressure, the Sasanian Persian Empire mustered the manpower to build and garrison a monument of greater scale than anything comparable in the West. In the Golestan Mountains region we are exploring, Sassanid engineers built the Great Wall of Gorgan, a barrier of remarkable scale and sophistication, including over 30 military forts, an aqueduct, and water channels along its route. This vast Wall -also known as the ‘Red Snake’ – is more than 1,000 years older than the Great Wall of China, and longer than Hadrian’s Wall and the Antonine Wall put together. Although most of the sections are ruined, we will visit the remnants of one of the fortresses today.
Later, we will drive north to the Khaled Nabi Shrine, towering majestically on a peak overlooking the surrounding sea of green hills, giving you the feeling that you are standing on top of the world. It is thought to house the tomb of Khalid Nabi, a prophet born in Yemen 40 years prior to Prophet Muhammad, who promoted Christianity in several countries in the region, including Iran. To this day, Turkmen women tie ribbons to the branches of a tree near the shrine as a pledge for resolution for their troubles.
We will also visit the mysterious cemetery nearby, where around 600 strange tombstones are scattered across the slope believed to be in the shape of male and female genitals. After our visit, we will head back to the Ecolodge to relax and get prepared for more exploration tomorrow. (B/L/D)
Total drive for the day: 170 km

Day 6. Experience Turkmen Culture and Lifestyle

We will start the day with a refreshing breakfast at the Ecolodge. Today, we are going on a full-day cultural tour to learn more about the Turkmens and their lifestyle. We will learn about how they are assembling their traditional Yurt, experience Turkmen textile weaving and felt making, try and enjoy Turkmen cuisine and learn how they’re cooked, and much more. The tour also gives us a great opportunity to enjoy the awesome natural ecosystem of the Golestan National Park.
We’ll enjoy staying for another night in the Ecolodge tonight before we hit the road again tomorrow. (B/L/D)

Day 7. Bojnurd and the Love Story of Bijan and Manijeh

After checking out for the Ecolodge, we will hit the road again for a three-hour drive, passing through the Golestan National Park to the city of Bojnurd. Bojnurd is the capital of North Khorasan province, with a long history that even has its footprints in Shahnameh (The Book of Kings), the world’s longest epic poetry by the Persian poet, Ferdowsi. We will learn more about Ferdowsi and his masterpiece, Shahnameh, later on when we visit his tomb in Tus.
The name “Bojnurd” literally means “Built by Bijan”. Bijan was the son of Giv, a famous Iranian knight during the reign of Kai Khosrow, the Shah of Iran. Bijan falls in love with Manijeh, the daughter of Afrasiab, the king of Turan and the greatest enemy of Iran. The tale of his suffering and Manijeh’s constancy is wonderfully quoted in Shahname, which you’ll know about and admire by the time we’ll reach Bojnurd.
In Bojnurd, we will visit the Muftakham Mirror House with beautiful Qajar architecture and decorations, and the Besh Qardash mineral springs and park. We’ll stay overnight in a hotel in Bojnurd, to relax and unwind before another trip tomorrow. (B/L/D) If you wish, there is an option to extend your travel to visit Ashgabat, the capital city of Turkmenistan before we continue our expedition in Iran. Ashgabat is accessible by road from the border city of Bajgiran, which is on our way tomorrow to Kalat Nader (should be confirmed before your trip).
Total drive for the day: 190 km

Day 8. Kalat-e Nader, the fortress of Nader Shah

After a refreshing breakfast, we will start exploring the Kalat-e Nader. The name Kalat-e Nader relates the town of Kalat to Nader Shah, who was the founder of the Afsharid dynasty that briefly became one of the most powerful Persian dynasties in Iranian history. In Kalat, we will several of the monuments built during Nader’s era, the most important of which is the Qaṣr-e Ḵoršid (Sun Palace). It comprises a tower about 20 m high and 12 m in diameter (enclosed in a square structure about 7 meters high), it is built with 65 columns of stone arranged in a circular shape around each other. It is believed to have been home to the royal family although it seems unlikely anyone actually lived there prior to Nader Shah’s death. We will also visit the other important monuments like Katibeh Nader (stone carving) and Borj-e Argavan Shah (watch tower).
In the afternoon, we will head to Mashhad, the holy city revered for housing the tomb of Imam Reza. We will stay in Mashhad for the next few days and use it as a base to explore the attractions in the region. After reaching Mashhad, we will check-in to your hotel, and call the day after a delicious dinner in a traditional Persian restaurant. (B/L/D)
Total drive for the day: 505 km

Day 9. Mashhad, the Shi’ite Heartland

Mashhad is the second-biggest city in Iran, and with fascinating insights into the Shi’ite heartland, it has much to offer visitors. Almost everything about Mashhad relates to its role as the holiest city in Iran, even its name, literally meaning “burial place of the martyr”. In the ninth century, the eighth Shi’ite Imam Reza was poisoned by the jealous caliph of the time. Imam Reza was buried in Mashhad, and his shrine became one of the holiest sites to the Shi’ite Muslims after the Holy Kaaba in Saudi Arabia and Karbala in Iraq.
The magnificent and marvelous buildings and structures in the holy shrine of Imam Reza comprises one of the oldest and most beautiful religious and historical monuments in the world. The visitors, travelers, and historians have called this religious complex as “The Glory of the Islamic World”. Every year more than twenty-five million pilgrims visit the holy shrine to pay their respect to Imam.
Today we will visit the holy shrine complex, with its magical clusters of courtyards, domes, minarets, fountains flashing in dazzling blue and pure gold. There is a lot to see, as the grand complex includes nine courtyards (Sahn), twenty-six porches (Riwaq), the Gowhar Shad Mosque, Razavi University, Islamic Research Foundation, Museums, Library, Offices, Hospital, Inn and the buildings for performing ablutions. We will visit the complex several times during our stay in Mashhad at varying times of the day, to fully absorb the moods and glories of this sacred place.
We will have a late lunch in Moein Darbari restaurant, the most famous and one of the best Persian restaurants in Mashhad, serving delicious food for over 130 years.
After lunch, we will head to the Bazaar-e Reza, to learn more about the local craftsmanship and product, especially Saffron. Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world, and Iran accounts for approximately 90% of the world production of it. Harvested from the dried stigmas of the purple saffron crocus, it takes anything from 70,000 to 250,000 flowers to make one pound of Saffron.
We will have dinner in a Hezardastan Traditional Teahouse, one of Iran’s most beautiful teahouse restaurants. After a delicious dinner, we will head back to the hotel to relax and get prepared for another day full of sightseeing tomorrow. (B/L/D)

Day 10. Kang, the Stepped Village of Khorasan

Today, we will head out of Mashhad to explore what natural and cultural wonders Khorasan has to offer. We first drive to the heritage village of Kang, the scenic stepped village with mud-brick homes stacked on top of each other, rising along the slopes of Binalud Mountain. We will stroll through the village stepped lanes with cobbled waterways to grasp and enjoy the culture and lifestyle of this beautiful village. Then, we will drive to Shandiz village. With beautiful rivers and valleys, old Plane Tree forests, Cherry and Sour Cherry farms, it is a holiday destination for people of Mashhad. It is famous for the cozy riverside teahouses and restaurants, serving delicious Persian kebabs. We will try Shishlik, the tender and juicy lamb chops kebab that Shandiz is famous for in the whole country.
After lunch, we will head back to your hotel for an afternoon nap, and then go to Imam Reza’s shrine again in the evening to see it shining in the dazzling spotlights and experience the traditions and prayers of its pilgrims. You’ll stay overnight in your hotel in Mashhad. (B/L/D)
Total drive for the day: 90 km

Day 11. Tus, the birthplace of Shahnameh

It is now time to visit Tus, an ancient city of Iran and one of the capitals of the dating back to Achaemenid dynasty more than 2,500 years ago. It was called “Susia” and was an important city where the Silk Road forked. Tus is famous for one its residents, Ferdowsi, a highly revered Persian poet and the author of the epic of Shahnameh – the Persian “Book of Kings” – which is the world’s longest epic poetry created by a single poet, and the national epic of Iran and the Persian-speaking world. We will visit his mausoleum that is now considered as a national shrine in Iran. The mausoleum is a tomb complex built in early 1,930s, housing Ferdowsi’s tomb and its Persian garden. A unique feature of the design of Ferdowsi’s tomb has been its resemblance to that of Cyrus the Great in Pasargadae, with a rectangular structure seating atop a rectangular, gradually elevating base. The tomb is decorated with beautiful Persian calligraphy and sculptures showing different scenes from Shahnameh.
Tus is also the town where the famous mystic Imam Al-Ghazali was born in 1,058 and died in 1,111. Al-Ghazali has sometimes been referred to by historians as the single most influential Muslim after the Islamic prophet Muhammad. Within Islam, he is considered to be a renewer of the faith, who, according to tradition, appears once every century to restore the faith of the community. For long time, the mausoleum of Al-Ghazali is thought to be situated at the entrance of Gonbad-e Haruniyeh (Haruniyeh Dome), however, recent archaeological searches have found his tomb in another place close to the old Tus mud wall close to Ferdowsi’s tomb. We will visit the newly discovered Imam Al-Ghazali tomb and then head to Gonbad-e Harunyieh. Gonbad-e Harunyieh is a magnificent mausoleum with a huge brick dome, 25 m high and wonderful Islamic architecture.
In the evening, we will drive back to Mashhad, and spend our last night at the hotel before hitting the road again to continue our expedition in Neyshabur. (B/L/D)
Total drive for the day: 70 km

Day 12. Neyshabur, city of Philosophy and Turquoise

After a refreshing breakfast, we will drive to the city of Neyshabur, an ancient capital of Iran during Tahirid Seljuq dynasties. Along with Merv, Herat and Balkh, Neyshabur was one of the four great cities of Greater Khorasan and one of the greatest cities in the middle ages. Hakim Omar-e-Khayyam, the famous Iranian poet, philosopher, mathematician, and astronomer was born in Neyshabur and was buried there after death in the Khayyam Garden at the mausoleum of Imamzadeh Mahruq. He is the author of one of the most important treatises on algebra written before modern times. He also completed Iranian Jalali Calendar, the official calendar that is used in Iran today. Around 1,000 years ago, Khayyam measured the length of the year as 365.24219858156 days! which is outstandingly accurate. He also discovered a geometrical method to solve cubic equations by intersecting a parabola with a circle.
We will visit Khayyam’s mausoleum complex in Neyshabur, which is considered as one of the masterpieces of Persian architecture. We will also visit the mausoleum of Attar, one of the most famous mystic poets of Iran whose works were the inspiration for Rumi and many other poets. Attar died a violent death in the massacre that the Mongols inflicted on Neyshabur in 1,221 AD. This attack was an end to the life of many great scholars as to Neyshabur was the city of knowledge and innovation at the time. Beside Attar’s shrine, we will visit the shrine of Kamal Al Molk, who was a famous Iranian painter and the royal painter of King Nasereddin Shah Qajar at the age of 18. His shrine is another Iranian architectural masterpiece, done by the same architect who built that of Khayyam.
Neyshabur is also famous for its world-best Turquoise, an opaque, blue-to-green mineral that has been prized as a gem and ornamental stone for thousands of years owing to its unique hue. For at least 2,000 years, Iran has remained an important source of turquoise. Called “Pirouzeh” meaning “victory” by Iranians, the blue turquoise was used to cover the domes of the Iranian palaces because its intense blue color was also a symbol of heaven on earth. We will have lunch in a fine traditional restaurant in Neyshabur, and then we will visit a Turquoise cutting and grinding factory to learn more about this majestic gem of Iran.
After our sightseeing in Neyshabur, we’ll hit the road for a four-hour drive to the Qale Bala stepped village in the heart of Touran National Park, land of fabulous Asiatic Cheetah. Tonight, we’ll stay in a traditional rural house of Qale Bala to experience the village life and enjoy the taste of the delicious local cuisine. Sleeping in thatched village houses on needle-worked mattresses and pillows, with a nightingale singing in the background through morning is a relaxing experience that we don’t want to miss. We will explore the village and the adjacent Touran National Park tomorrow. (B/L/D)
Total drive for the day: 470 km

Day 13. Qale Bala, the Green Jewel of Touran

We kick off the day with a delicious breakfast of fresh-baked local bread, sheep cheese and butter, grape syrup, and thyme tea. People of Qale Bala are kind and welcoming, and extend their hospitality to their visitors through offering wonderful local products and cuisine. One of the main products of the village is the textiles and fabrics that depending on the material, are used to produce artifacts, clothes and other everyday products. During our tour of the village, we will experience the way textile weaving is done by the locals to learn more about this famous talent of the locals. We will also taste the important local farming products like pepper, cumin, pomegranate, sesame and wild medicinal herbs.
Qale Bala is built on the foothill of a short mountain, which in conjunction with the colorful and traditional material used in the houses the light gardens and trees on the hills overlooking the semi-arid lowlands is giving the stepped village a distinct and beautiful look that excites every visitor. We will spend the morning wandering around the village and absorb its calm atmosphere and picturesque sceneries of the nearby hills and mountains of the Touran National Park.
We will have launch in the village before we head for a short safari in the Touran National Park, Biosphere Reserve and Wildlife Refuge. Touran is home to one of the largest populations of the critically endangered Asiatic Cheetah in the world, and has the largest population of Persian onager and two species of Gazelles, the Goitered Gazelle and the Indian Gazelle. During our safari, we will spot some of the wildlife of the national park, and if lucky enough, even a Cheetah. In the evening, we will drive to the nearby city of Damghan where we stay overnight. We will call the day after a delicious dinner, and relax to get prepared for another exciting experience tomorrow. (B/L/D)
Total drive for the day: 200 km

Day 14. Badab-e Surt, the wonderful Step Terraced Hot Springs

Our trip today is full of cultural and natural beauties and wonders. Damghan was an ancient capital in Iran and an important city in the Middle Ages. The history of Damghan goes back to 7,000 years ago to Median, Parthians, and Sassanid dynasties, although, unfortunately, few remnants of the time remains to date. One of the city’s most important monuments is Tarikhaneh Mosque, the oldest mosque in Iran belonging to the 1st century after the arrival of Islam which still preserves its original shape. This structure was initially used as a Zoroastrian Fire Temple during the Sassanid period, however, after the fall of the Sassanid Empire it was rebuilt and converted into a mosque. The prefix “Tari”, a Turkish or Mongol term, means God and “Khaneh” is Iranian word for house, so the word means the “House of God”.
We will also visit the amazing Chehel Dokhtaran Vault and Imamzade Jafar brick building, both of which belong to Seljuk period. A Kufi inscription in the edifice says the vault was built in 1,087 AD and has remained intact since then.
After visiting Damghan and having lunch, we will drive to Badab-e Surt, a natural wonder consist of a range of stepped terraces made of travertine, a sedimentary rock formed over thousands of years by deposition of carbonate minerals dissolved in water flowing from mineral hot springs. Over the course of thousands of years the water from the two distinct Badab-e Surt mineral water springs emanating from the mountain range have combined and resulted in a number of orange, red and yellow-colored pools shaped like a naturally formed staircase. The first spring contains very salty water that gathers in a small natural pool; its water is considered to have medicinal properties, especially as a cure for rheumatism and some types of skin diseases and skin conditions. The second spring has a sour taste and is predominately orange, mainly due to the large iron oxide sediments at its outlet.
Stepped travertine terraces are present in several places on earth. Other examples include the Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park, the White Water Terraces and Huanglong in China, and Pamukkale in Turkey. However, unlike these hot spring terraces that are mostly shades of whites and blues, the terraces of Badab-e Surt are bright orange and red.
We will enjoy the view of the terraces in the ever changing colors of the sunset and then drive to the nearby village Orost for overnight in a local house. (B/L/D)
Total drive for the day: 180 km

Day 15. Driving through the Alborz Mountain

Today, we will drive through the waving roads of the southern Alborz Mountain towards Tehran. The drive will give us an excellent opportunity to compare the climate, types and density of vegetation of the northern and southern slopes of the Alborz Mountain and learn about the impact of the mountain acting as a humidity barrier in North of Iran.
We will stop in several cities and villages for tea breaks and lunch. The first place we will stop is the village of Shahmirzad, a popular weekend getaway for the people of Damghan and Semnan, who live in drier areas at the edge of the Iran’s central desert. Shahmirzad is famous for its walnut orchard, which is noted by the UN, Food and Agriculture Organization, as the largest of its kind in the world.
On the road to Firuzkuh, we will pass over the famous Veresk Bridge. Standing 110 m tall and its arch measures 66 m, the bridge is one of the masterpieces of the Danish engineering firm Kampsax, (consisting of mostly German and Austrian engineers) constructed before World War II during the reign of Reza Shah.
We will stop for lunch in Firuzkuh, a cool and windy city in the middle of the Alborz Mountain. We will have Akbar Jujeh for lunch, a famous Mazandarani food, which is a special fried chicken marinated with pomegranate paste served with saffron rice. Akbar Jujeh is named after the award-winning chain restaurants with the same name, which have branches in several countries in the world.
Our last destination for the day is Tehran, the dynamic capital of Iran. It house mind-blowing 14 million people with diverse culture and ethnic backgrounds. Tehran is a relatively old city; as such, it has an architectural tradition unique to itself. Archeological investigations and excavations in Tehran demonstrate that this area was home to civilizations as far back as 6,000 years BC in the village of Rey, which is now incorporated into the city.
On arrival, we’ll head straight for dinner in an amazing traditional teahouse and restaurant called Sofrekhane-ye Azeri. With themes from the Azerbaijan ethnic design with traditional garden restaurant setup from the northwest of Iran, this is one of the best places to try the traditional Persian dish, Dizi.
This is the end of our wonderful expedition in the northeast of Iran. It is now time to say “Bedrood” (goodbye) and “Be Omid-e Didar” (hope to see you again). Depending on your plans for the rest of your trip, we will take you to your hotel or the airport for your departure, and start missing you already! (B/L/D)

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