I am off to Toudeshk, a 500 year old desert village on the way to Estafan. The taxi picked me up in the morning and I arrived at the Tak-Taku guesthouse just after lunch. I was greeted by English-speaking Mohammad, who runs the place with his parents – it is very much a family home as well as a business and his brothers would pop by if they wanted.
Mohammad was very welcoming and made me feel very comfortable. He had a little library and whilst I was waiting for my room to be ready I read about how Tak-Taku guesthouse started. It was quite a touching story actually! From an early age, Mohammad was amazed and curious about cyclists loaded with heavy bags, passing through his village and sometimes called out ‘hello’ to them. When an English teacher came to Toudeshk, he helped Mohammad with some English signs such as: ‘Are you thirsty?’, ‘Are you hungry?’. At 12 years old he would stand by the side of the road holding up those signs. By the time he was 15, the sign had evolved to ‘Do you need a place to stay?’.
The first traveller he hosted was a cyclist from Germany, and in this way Mohammad started his vocation of offering travellers a place to stay at his grandfather’s home in Toudeshk, and showing them the traditional and rural Iranian way of life. By 2008, Lonely Planet’s Andrew Burke had heard about Mohammad and cyclists around the world were encouraged to meet him and stay with him.
After some years, Mohammad decided to buy an unoccupied traditional mud house, wanting to renovate what essentially were ruins as authentically as possible to restore it to its original state. This raised a few eyebrows from his parents who perceive this purchase as a unrealistic and impractical dream. In 2012 Mohammad started to restore the house using traditionally skilled tradesmen, locally and across the country. The restoration took a total of three years. All the hard work was worth it as it is a beautiful place to stay and in 2015 Tak-Taku Guesthouse received official heritage listing from The Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Office in Tehran.
After relaxing for a while with tea and chatting to Mohammad, I went for a little wonder around the village and up the hill to watch the sunset under his recommendation. It was getting a bit chilly by then so I was very happy when dinner was announced after! Mohammad’s mother had cooked a delicious aubergine stew and rice and we all sat on the floor in kitchen with the family as per Iranian custom. I need to mention that Ramadan had started, however it wasn’t an issue for me as I was getting in the habit of having a big breakfast, skipping lunch and having a late dinner instead! Mohammad also had a fairly relaxed approach and in fact he told us that behind closed doors the majority of Iranians don’t follow Ramadan strictly. The general rule is not to eat in front of others out of respect for those who are fasting.
I spent the rest of the evening chatting to Mohammad who told me about the guests he has hosted, his passion for meeting new people and travelling, and also various things about the current situation in Iran.
The following day, I was driven by his brother to the Salt Lake. It is 60km wide, 80km long and 10cm deep and it looks endless in the horizon! The concentration of salt is such that all I could see was kilometres of white. We reached some areas where the salt had been piled up ready for collection and the views were spectacular. I also tasted a Safron ice-cream, very popular here. I didn’t know what to expect but it tasted pretty good!
Following this outing, I decided I wanted to have another experience of sleeping in the desert. I am an expert now! Ali picked me up and Mohammad joined us later with a friend. We watched the sunset and the stars in front of a roaring fire that also heated dinner up. Ali then barbecued the kebabs and it was all delicious and magical in this surrounding. I did keep an eye on the sand though as this desert is known for it scorpions and tarantulas! I was advised to keep away from bushes for that reason. Luckily my tent was hermetically zipped so I didn’t have any unwelcome visitors although I could hear some suspicious noises just outside my tent…. perhaps it was a desert fox?
The following morning I had a traditional Iranian breakfast of bread, cheese, cucumber, tomato and of course lots of tea. After we all had eaten we headed back through the rocky desert and stopped along the way at an old castle surrounded by an oasis. It is incredible to drive through hundreds of kilometres of arid land with essentially no life and suddenly a green and vibrant garden pops up out of nowhere! The owner of the castle is abroad in the US and so it has been taken over by locals who live there and take care of it.
Time to plan my journey to Esfahan! Once back in the guesthouse and showered, a taxi picked me up and it was about an hour and half drive to my next destination. I will tell you all about it soon!