The drive from Iran to Turkmenistan was a long one. From Yazd we drove all the way through the desert. The climate changed from an early-spring sunny 17 degrees to winter temperatures varying from 3 to -3 degrees. First, we visited the holy city Mashhad, the second biggest city in Iran. The reason for this big population was its convenient location far away from the Iraqi border. The population of Mashhad started to rise during this war. Besides being far away from conflict, the second biggest Islamic holy shrine complex is situated here.
The Imam Reza shrine complex contains the mausoleum of Imam Reza. He was the eighth Imam of the Twelver Shiites. These Imams are descendants of the prophet Mohammed and are his spiritual and political successors. They are considered infallible and capable of interpreting the true sharia and esoteric meaning of the Qur’an. Besides the mausoleum, the complex also includes a dining hall for pilgrims, the Razavi University of Islamic Sciences, several prayer halls and other buildings.
When we arrived, we needed to wait for our guide who would also provide my obligatory chador for entering the shrine. There are many guides who consider working for the shrine is an honour. They are volunteers hired to show the meaning of the Islam and the religious complex and are not allowed to take money from tourists.
We visited the Shrine around prayer time and two days after the birthday of Imam Reza. It was a spectacular experience. The shrine was extremely crowded and lots of people from all over the world were praying or walking around. Though cameras are not allowed inside the complex, many pilgrims did take a selfie with us.
We stayed in Mashhad for a few days to prepare for entering Turkmenistan. We needed to get our car cleaned as drivers of a dirty car often get retained by the police. The Turkmenistan banned all black -or dark-coloured cars in Ashgabat. People driving such a car were ordered to repaint their vehicle either silver or white. Also, we needed to get new, slick dollar bills for payments at the border and money exchange throughout the country (read more about crossing the border here).