Magic Carpet Ride

A Journey along the Trans-Iranian Railway

All aboard the Trans-Iranian Railway! Beginning in Sari, near the shores of the Caspian Sea, travel all the way to Bandar Imam Khomeni on the Persian Gulf. We start our trip in Mashhad, assisting a local family with the saffron harvest and a visit to the spectacular Imam Reza holy shrine. On this train tour of Iran we will visit the towns of Neyshabur and Damghan, with an opportunity to visit the strange calcium terraces of Badab Soort along the way. Taking a break from the train in the capital Tehran we will visit the so-called ‘Den of Espionage’ and the spectacular Golestan Palace before re-joining the train to the small city of Qom and onto the remote towns of Arak, Ahvaz and IMA, where we will visit an ancient Ziggurat. At the end of our rail journey, we will travel to Shiraz to visit the ‘pink mosque’ and Shapouri Pavilion.

This trip stays in unique accommodation such as eco-lodges and guest houses as well as some locally owned and operated traditional hotels. Marvel at the spectacular scenery out your window as it goes by, with the majority of this trip on the tracks, and savour traditional treats and a slower pace with stops at unique restaurants, coffee shops and for local snacks while sightseeing.


TRIP HIGHLIGHTS

  • Ride the rails of the Trans-Iranian Railway, traversing the ancient lands of Persia from the edge of the Caspian Sea all the way to the shining shores of the Persian Gulf
  • Take a pilgrimage to the holy city of Mashhad to visit the spectacular Imam Reza shrine, one of Islam’s holiest sites outside Saudi Arabia
  • Marvel at an ancient Persian Ziggurat near Andimeshk, visit the Zoroastrian cliff village of Pir-e Sabz and wander the streets of the Silk Road town of Neyshabur
  • Discover the darker side of Tehran with a look at the anti-US propaganda that litters the city, as well as a visit to the former US Embassy now known as the ‘Den of Espionage’
  • Stay in locally run guest houses, eco-lodges and hotels, and spend a night in motion on the train tracks

The Basics

Start: Mashhad

Finish: Shiraz

Trip style: Unique

Max group size: 15

20 Days

MASHHAD – SHIRAZ

$8325 AUD*

Departure date: 5 November 2023

OR CONTACT US for more information

Trip code: MRMS *from

ITINERARY

Arrive in Mashhad and make your own way to the trip hotel. Meet your trip leader and travel companions for a welcome meeting at 17.00 to discuss your train tour of Iran. After the meeting head out into Mashhad to a local restaurant for dinner to get to know your trip leader and travel companions.

Early this morning we will transfer to the regional town of Gonabad to meet a local saffron farming family. On arrival we will have breakfast, before assisting the family with their yearly saffron harvest which occurs between October and November each year. Learn about the world’s most expensive spice and its importance in Iran. For lunch we will sample delicacies containing this delicious spice, including saffron tea and saffron ice cream. Yum!

In the evening we will return to Mashhad and visit the Imam Reza Shrine, the holiest site in Iran. Imam Reza was a descendant of Islam’s holy prophet Mohammed, he was an imam of knowledge and is seen as a major religious figure for many Sunni and Sufi Muslims. Imam Reza was killed by poisoning by the caliph Al-Ma’mun, at which time the city’s name was Khorasan, it was summarily changed to Mashhad after this event, meaning, the ‘place of martyrdom.’

Despite its holy and significant position in the Islamic faith, the shrine is a fairly open place and previous groups have been invited to participate during religious festivals or into the depths of the huge mosque to hear the current imam preach.*

Due to the religious and sensitive nature of this visit, women will be required to don a ‘chador’ – an all-covering garment worn by women of devout Islamic faith. Chador are free to hire at the shrine. Men will be required to wear long pants.

This morning take a trip underground to visit the turquoise mine of Neyshabur, widely considered to be the oldest active turquoise mine in the world. After exploring the mine, make a stop at a local turquoise inlay workshop to see how local artisans craft with the stone.

Take a short afternoon village walk with your local guide, taking in the Shah Abassi Caravanserai, a lodge or hotel that was used in the times of Silk Road traders for storing goods, camels and lodging weary travellers. Visit Neyshabur’s unique wooden mosque, which is situated inside a garden, and afterwards visit the medieval archaeological site of Shadiyakh. Shadiyakh was one of the main palaces, gardens and great neighbourhoods of Neyshabur and was established in the 9th century

There will be some free time this afternoon to explore Neyshabur on your own before we check in to our eco-lodge for the evening.

Early this morning we will transfer to the town of Damghan where we will have some free time for lunch.

After lunch, re-join the group to check out the Shah Abassi Caravanserai, a lodge of sorts used in the days of the Silk Road, followed by Pire Alamdar tower and the Tarikaneh Mosque.

Later this afternoon visit Gonbad Ali, one of Iran’s most ancient monuments, dating to the Daylamite era. Our final stop for the day will be the archaeological site of Hissar Tepe, an ancient city known for its uninterrupted habitation from the 5th to 2nd millenniums BCE.

We are in for a real treat this morning as we visit the enigmatic and remote calcium terraces of Badab Soort. The terraces have been forming over thousands of years as a result of mineral deposits flowing over the hill from two hot springs. The second spring spews out iron oxide which give the terraces their brilliant red colour.

After Badab Soort we will travel to the town of Sari where we will check into our local hotel for the evening.

We start our day by traveling to the Dasht-e Naz Wildlife Refuge area, a mountainous area covered in Caspian Hyrcanian mixed forests. While in the area we hope to spot some wildlife including the jungle cat, red deer, and Ring-necked Pheasant.

In the afternoon we will transfer back to Sari where we will have some free time for lunch before starting our Iran train tour and climbing aboard the Trans-Iranian Railway for the first time. The train will take us onward to the town of Garmsar. Arriving late at night, we will transfer directly to our hotel to check in and get some rest.

In the morning we will head out to visit the Garmsar Salt Caves, vast underground expanses where salt has historically been mined by the local people. Following this, we will visit the ruins of Castle Pada, a mud brick fortress dating to pre-Islamic periods.

Take some time out for lunch in Garmsar before re-joining the trans-Iranian Railway, and arriving in the capital, Tehran in the evening. On arrival at the hotel, dinner will be waiting for us.

This morning we head out into the capital of Iran to explore the city, starting with the opulent Golestan Palace. The Golestan Palace, also known as the ‘Rose Garden Palace’ was built in the Qajar era as part of the city citadel. The building displays intricate geometric designs, elaborate mirror work and frescoes of daily life in the palace. The palace is also home to a vast collection of Iranian crafts and European presents given by royalty and dignitaries in the 18th and 19th centuries.

After we have explored the palace, we will take a walk through Tehran’s Grand Bazaar to peruse the shops and grab some lunch.

In the afternoon we will explore the Carpet Museum of Iran (what’s a trip to Persia without seeing a few rugs?), followed by a look through the National Museum of Iran which contains treasures from Iran’s ancient kingdoms.

Dinner tonight will be in one of Tehran’s most well-known restaurants.

Today we will begin with a visit to the enigmatic Den of Espionage, the former US embassy in Tehran. The embassy now contains an anti-US museum, and the surrounding walls are covered in anti-US graffiti and murals commissioned by Iran’s government.

Later this morning we will stop by the Azadi Tower on the outskirts of Tehran, before we continue on to the town of Karaj to see an attraction known as ‘Little Iran’. The park showcases the architecture, culture and customs of different provinces of Iran and provides a quirky overview of the country.

After our visit to Little Iran, we will head back to the city; the remainder of the day will be yours to explore Tehran.

On the way to the train station, we will pass by many of the confronting, giant anti-US propaganda murals throughout the city which have been commissioned by the government.

Our Iran train tour continues on the short ride to the small city of Qom.

On arrival we will have lunch in one of the city’s restaurants followed by a visit to the Hazrat Masumeh Holy Shrine and the Jamkaran Mosque. Qom is the largest city of Shi’a scholarship in the world and is a significant destination for pilgrimage with around twenty million pilgrims visiting the city every year.

After we have explored the sites, we will check in to our hotel.

This morning we will continue our exploration of the city of Qom, with a visit to the Eshghali Historical Bathroom. A former public bath house, the bathroom is covered in elaborate and colourful tile work and contains beautiful fountains.

Later we will visit Qom Historical Bazaar for some free time for shopping and to grab some lunch.

The remainder of the afternoon is free for you to explore the city of Qom. In the evening, re-join the group to board the train for Arak, arriving later tonight.

In the morning we will begin with a visit to the Anthropology Museum or Arak. Located in a stunning old bath house, a sight in itself, the museum contains items relating to the costumes, culture and customs of Arak. Following the museum, we will take a stroll through Amirkabir Park, a beautiful green space in the centre of the city.

Lunch today will be in one of Arak’s local restaurants so we can try the cuisine of southern Iran. The remainder of the afternoon is free to explore the city on your own; in the evening we will re-join the train for an overnight trip to the town of Andimeshk.

We will spend this evening on the train staying in bunk sleeper carriages, a true local experience.

We will arrive in Andimeshk in the early hours of the morning. We will proceed straight to our local guesthouse and check in so we can freshen up from our overnight journey and have some breakfast.

In the mid-morning we will transfer to the small, peaceful village of Pamanar located on the shores of a tranquil lake. We will have a short tour here with our local host, try some of the local village cuisine for lunch and have some free time to explore and meet the local people. After lunch we will journey back to Andimeshk.

We begin our day with a stroll through Alikaleh Park, before we leave the city behind to visit sights in the surrounding countryside.

Our first stop will be Shush Castle, located within the ancient city of Susa, which was once the capital of the Elamite empire. After we have explored the castle, we will continue on to the Chogha Zanbil Ziggurat. Built in 1250 BCE, the Ziggurat was built to honour the great god Inshushinak and is built almost entirely of mudbrick. It is considered one of the best-preserved Ziggurats in the Middle East.

We will stop for lunch in a local restaurant along the way, followed by a visit to Salasel Castle and the Shushtar Hydraulic System. Located on this island city of Shushtar, the hydraulic system dates back to the Sassanid period.

After our visit to this amazing feat of antique engineering, we will return to Andimeshk for the evening.

Early this morning we will re-board the train for a short journey to Ahvaz.

On arrival in Ahvaz, we will take a short guided walk through the town with our local host before a special lunch at Mapar Historic House.

After lunch we will check in to our hotel, leaving the rest of the day free for you to explore the town of Ahvaz.

Departing Ahvaz in the morning we transfer by road to Bandar Imam Khomeni, and the end of the line for the Trans-Iranian Railway. At present the section of the track from Ahvaz to Bandar Imam Khomeni is used by freight trains going to the Persian Gulf only.

On the way we will visit the Shadegan Wetlands for a spot of bird watching and wildlife spotting, before continuing on to Bandar Imam Khomeni on the shores of the Persian Gulf and checking in to our hotel for the night.

We depart early this morning for the Persian Gulf town of Bandar Bushehr to visit the Maritime Museum of the Persian Gulf which outlines the importance of shipping in this area over the years.

We will have lunch at a coastal restaurant, followed by a visit to the old market of Bushehr.

In the afternoon we will transfer to Bishapur, an ancient settlement which has been continuously inhabited for almost two thousand years. On arrival we will check into our eco-lodge for the night.

This morning we will visit the archaeological site of the ancient city of Bishapur, established in 266 CE by Shapur I, the second Sassanid king. Here, the ruler built a new capital that would stack up to his ambitions after his triple defeat of the Romans led by Gordian III, Valerian and Philip the Arab.

We will visit Shahpour Cave followed by lunch in a small local restaurant nearby.

In the afternoon we will visit the cliff village of Pir-e Sabz for a short, guided walk with our local host before traveling to Shiraz and checking in to our local guest house

We will spend this morning visiting the Nasir al-Mulk Mosque, otherwise known as the ‘pink mosque’ of Shiraz. Built during Qajar rule, the mosque is full of beautiful stained-glass windows which cast their intricate, colourful patterns on the floors and walls of the mosque.

Following the mosque, we will take a wander through the tranquil gardens of the Shapouri Pavilion, before exploring the elaborate Shapouri Mansion built in 1925.

This afternoon, enjoy some free time to explore Shiraz or to have some downtime at the hotel.

This evening, head out into the city for dinner at a traditional restaurant to say farewell to your traveling companions and trip leader.

Your great adventure in Iran comes to an end after breakfast this morning.

Trip Map - Magic Carpet Ride - Train tour of Iran - Trans-Iranian Railway
Trip Map – Magic Carpet Ride

Details

Duration: 20 Days

Trip style: Unique

Group size: Minimum 6 / Maximum 15

Trip code: MRMS

Cost: $8325.00 AUD twin share

Single supplement: $1750.00 AUD

Inclusions

  • 19-nights in locally owned traditional hotels, eco-lodges, guest houses and on the train
  • All train tickets and transport as specified in the itinerary
  • Meals as specified in itinerary (B = Breakfast / L = Lunch / D = Dinner)
  • Services of your Inverted Atlas trip leader and local guides

Trip price does not include

  • International and domestic airfares
  • Arrival and departure transfers
  • Visa for Iran
  • Any expenses associated with COVID-19
  • Meals not included as per trip itinerary including drinks and mini bar
  • Additional accommodation before or after the tour
  • Items of a personal nature including but not limited to laundry, souvenirs, porterage etc.
  • Travel insurance – please note comprehensive travel insurance is a condition of travel with Inverted Atlas

Journey Rating – Quest

This trip travels to Iran, a country not used to travellers but whose inhabitants are welcoming and accommodating. However, many places on this trip are remote and may have very little in the way of tourist infrastructure. There are a few very long travel days where we will be getting up early and arriving at our accommodation quite late, sometimes this accommodation will be an eco-lodge or guest house with basic facilities. We will mostly travel by train on the trans-Iranian railway, including one overnight sleeper carriage with a 4-berth bunk configuration.

This trip involves a strict dress code for women, who should come prepared with either floor length dresses with long sleeves or long trousers with kaftans that reach the knees, along with head scarves. The dress code is not optional, and it is illegal for women to keep their hair uncovered while in Iran. Men are advised to wear long trousers.

Good quality hospitals, pharmacies and other public amenities will be limited to large cities like Tehran, Shiraz and Mashhad and you should be prepared for eastern-style squat toilets in public places.

We recommend that travellers on gluten free, vegetarian and vegan diets bring some supplemental snack food from home as it might be difficult to meet these dietary requirements while in remote parts of Iran.

A note about fitness

This Iran train tour requires a moderate level of physical fitness. You should be able to walk up to 2km, over at times uneven surfaces during sightseeing. In addition, you should be able to use an eastern-style squat toilet if necessary (beware if you have knee issues).

You will need to be able to carry your own luggage to and from the coach and on and off the trains. (Due to OH&S regulations our trip leaders are not able to assist with luggage.) On the sleeper train, you must be able to climb into a top bunk via the use of a ladder, as bottom bunks cannot be guaranteed.

In addition, you should be in good health, with no major chronic conditions requiring frequent medical attention. This trip often travels through remote locations where the availability of a hospital or even phone reception to call an ambulance is limited. While all our trip leaders are required to have a valid first aid certificate, they are far from doctors and any assistance they are able to provide will be limited to basic first aid. For more information please see our booking conditions.

Single supplement

Traveling by yourself? No problem, we love single travellers and don’t believe in penalising them by charging half the trip price again for our single supplement. With us you are only paying the actual cost to have a room all to yourself. If you’re up for making a new friend, you can elect to share with another single traveller of the same sex and only pay the twin-share price. The choice is yours!

Please note on this trip, that the single supplement does not include the nights on the train where you will be sharing with your travel companions or possibly some local travelers.

Trip leader description

Accompanying you along your journey will be your Inverted Atlas trip leader. Your trip leader is a logistics extraordinaire, keeps the trip running smoothly and ensures you have the best time possible on your trip. It is important to know that while your trip leader has the best job in the world, they aren’t actually on holidays, but rather they are there to make sure you have the best time while you are on your holiday! Your trip leader may at times need some time out so that they can complete back of house tasks that ensure everyone continues to enjoy the trip. It is also your trip leaders’ job to handle any issues (heaven forbid!) that come up while you’re on your trip like:

  • If you lose your passport or other travel documents
  • If there is a problem with your room at the booked accommodation – seriously please tell your trip leader don’t wait until you leave
  • If you become unwell and need to find a pharmacy
  • Assisting with restaurant recommendations or additional sightseeing during free time
  • Questions regarding the itinerary

Your trip leader will have some good local knowledge about the destination in which you are traveling, however they are not a ‘local guide’. You’re welcome to ask your trip leader anything about the trip and if they don’t know they will find out and get back to you. Other people you will meet along the way are ‘local guides’ who are generally available to the group in specific towns or at specific sites like national parks, temples or archaeological sites. These people are the local experts and will be able to answer any questions you may have about the history and culture of a specific site.

Itinerary disclaimer

This itinerary for this Iran train tour is correct at the time of upload to our website and we have composed it in good faith. From time to time we may elect to make changes before departure, if we are making a big change we will of course notify you, however if it is a small change this will be reflected in the final trip notes. So, make sure you download these prior to departure. Small changes prior to departure are usually made with the groups best interests in mind and come about due to liaising with our best resources – our past travelers and of course our trip leaders! The ability to change and evolve depending on what our travelers enjoy is what makes us such a great trip operator.

While we strive to operate our trips exactly to the letter of the itinerary, sometimes we may need to make changes on the ground while the group is on the road. This is all part of the adventure of traveling and we would ask that you come on your trip with an open mind and a good sense of humour because as much as we want it to, everything doesn’t always go to plan. In fact, these impromptu situations often make the best stories that you can have a laugh with your friends about later.

Age requirements

Minimum Age: 18 years

Due to the nature of this trip and the region in which it travels children are not permitted for their own safety.

There is no upper age limit for this trip, but you should consider the above fitness requirements prior to booking. If you are 65 years or over, you will be asked to complete our Health Check Form and have your medical practitioner sign it to confirm you are in good health and able to participate safely on this trip.

Travel insurance

Please note that comprehensive travel insurance is a condition of travel with Inverted Atlas. Insurance must include provision for medical situations, emergency medical repatriation to your home country and personal liability at a minimum. Proof of valid travel insurance will be requested by your trip leader on arrival at the pre-departure meeting. Please have this paperwork available for them. If you are unable to provide proof of comprehensive travel insurance, you may not be allowed to join the trip and no refund will be payable.

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