It has a population of 14,000 sprawling over 23,000km² at an altitude of 1477m above sea level. Like most parts of central Iran, it has a quite dry desert climate. Almost all of the year, it has the same temperature of Isfahan city. The temperature sometimes drops below zero in January and February after midnight. Due to lack of humidity, people feel less steamy and disappointing weather in summer. Since there is much less dust and almost no cloud in sky in summer, it has an ideal area around for stargazing. If you travel in summer, avoid visiting its desert from 11 in the morning until 4 p.m. as the sands are burning hot. In all neighborhood of the town, you will see plenty of Iran desert traditional house and guest houses.
Varzaneh was the last civilization on the Zayanderud river since 5000 years ago. The Zayanderud river ends at Gavkhouni wetland which is 30km east of Varzaneh. Within the lands between wetland and Varzaneh, signs of very ancient civilization are unearthed. Further investigations on some pots that have been discovered, confirms the fact that the district of Varzaneh has been inhabited for 5,000 years.
Varzaneh is famous regionally and all over the world for its spectacular desert, which ranked as one of the most accessible deserts of Iran, in particular for tourists coming to Isfahan city. Many travellers like their desert close to civilization - that way they have food and water easy to reach by car, and access to medical centres in the case of any problem. Although, Varzaneh desert is ranked as one of the safest deserts of Iran, it's only 15km away from its sand dune desert.
Unique to Varzaneh, are the local women's costumes. They wear completely white chadors, while women in the rest of Iran, mostly wear black chadors.
Many local people speak an ancient Pahlavi Sasani dialect, a quite similar dialect to that spoken by the Zoroastrians in Yazd today. According to some of linguists, the word Varzaneh, has a connection to the verb Varzidan (ورزیدن), which means farming in old Persian. The atmosphere is basically a typical desert village of Iran.
From Esfahan, travellers can go to the Jey terminal and take the Varzaneh buses or minibuses, paying IRR35,000 (USD1). Moreover, From Isfahan Shahid Beheshti International Airport, it is only 1 hour by taxi to reach Varzaneh. As for Jey Terminal, you do not need to do a reservation for ticket in advance. You may go directly to Jey Terminal and ask the bus terminal staff where the bus (or minibus) is. Almost once per hour, 07:00-17:00, there is a bus going to Varzaneh. It takes 1h30 to reach there. Plenty of taxis are also available usually in front of Jey Terminal to reach Varzaneh. You would pay about USD13-15 to get there with a taxi.
From Yazd, travelers can take the Yazd-Esfahan (or even Yazd-Tehran, and Yazd-Kashan) buses from Yazd terminal and ask the driver to stop in Naein which costs IRR100,000. Then from Nain, it is 70km to Varzaneh, for which you may take a taxi. The taxis are IRR400,000 IR rial (about 10 Euro). All in all, it is 3 hours from Yazd to Varzaneh.
In Varzaneh, there is a regular bus to Esfahan almost every one an hour until 14:00. Please notice that the last bus to Isfahan, departing from Varzaneh is at 14:00. For departure, just ask local people to reach bus terminal (or according to locals 'autobus' Terminal) from the only bus station in town. Private taxis are available 24 hours a day. To reach Yazd, You would need to take a taxi to Na'in. Then, afterwards is very easy, since all of the buses going to Yazd from Isfahan and Tehran would pass Na'in. So, if you stop at Road Police station around Na'in, you will be finding bus to Yazd within 15min. It takes all in all 3 hours to reach Yazd from Varzaneh.
Very silent Varzaneh sand dunes, close to Varzaneh historic town, are 5-62m high. The average height of sandy dunes is highest between deserts of Iran. So, it makes the landscape spectacular and a great place for meditation, sandboarding, and paragliding in Iran.
More importantly, there is no regular transport from Varzaneh to the desert, which is just 15km away. However, taxis would be quite cheap to take you to desert.
The sand dunes usually do not move considerably, that is to say, you can camp for several nights there, having an easy access to town. However, please note that except for late spring and summer, the temperature often drops below 10°C and to 10 degrees below freezing in January and February), due to the lack of humidity. Thus, you would need sleeping bags if you want to camp there. The desert is about 50km long in diameter. In Summer, just avoid being in desert from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. The rest of the day is as you sweat easily in such dry climates, and it really helps.
Gavkhouni Wetland and Black (Volcanic) Mountain
The magic point of this region is that, close to Varzaneh dry desert, you can find Gavkhouni wetland. Gavkhouni is a preserved ecosystem, which is host of thousands of bird, migrating from north mostly. The number of the birds varies each year, depending on the rainfall of that year. In fact, the majority of wetland is dry each year. Generally, the wetland has a rich wildlife. From geese, storks, flamingos and Iranian zebras and deers to many other reptiles can be found in this area. To reach Gavkhooni, you need to take the Gavkhooni road on the east of Varzaneh for about 25km. As a sign of your arrival to wetland, you would see a completely black mountain, simply called Black Mountain, (Persian Kooh-Siah, کوه سیاه). The stones are very light, having many holes inside. The mountain is indeed the remaining of black magmas.
Varzaneh Salt Lake
Another interesting spot is the salt lake, which in fact was belonging to Gavkhooni ecosystem, being the southwestern part of the wetlands. It is more than 15km² in area and the salt plain stretches to the wetlands. There is a part of that which locals are mining salt from. It is very glorious and attractive for many tourists when they see a blue sky with purely vast white ground. There is a short road to Salt Lake from Varzaneh, which is not asphalt unfortunately. Therefore, people willing to visit the salt lake, take the Shiraz road from Varzaneh for about 40km, reaching to Khara village. Then from Khara, you have about 15 km in a specific road for salt lake. Starting from 10 km in latter road, you will see the signs of a big salty area until 15km afterwards.
Jame Mosque of Varzaneh
The Jame Mosque of Varzaneh was built initially in 1100 AD. But, three centuries later, in the Timurid era, it was extensively renovated. Its splendid Mihrab and all the tile designs at entrance of mosque and around the Mihrab makes the mosque a very special one in this region.
You do not need to pay to visit this 600 years old mosque. However, you should not visit during prayer times, which occur three times a day, if you do not wish to say prayers with the locals. You would be better to wait for some minutes, to let the local people leave the mosque, and then visit the mosque. The door is open from very early morning, until 1 hour after sunset. Though, if there is an occasion, including celebrations, the memorial service of a recently deceased, etc, then the mosque might be a bit occupied for a couple of hours. If there is such a specific occasion, or in the time of call for praying, you would be listening to a quite loud voice from the 20m high minaret of the mosque and audible from almost all of the town. That is actually a function of Jame mosques in Persian post-Islamic age. In particular, on Friday noon, you could listen to the speech of the Imam speaking about religion and recent social, political issues. Like any other religious centre around the world, from churches to temples, to enter such mosque wearing modest clothes is necessary.
The dome and the minaret of the mosque is clear from almost everywhere in town, therefore it is easy to reach. It is in fact located in the very centre of town.
The Old Bridge
The bridge is the last old bridge over Zayanderud river and has 10 arches; 7 of the arches were built about 9 centuries ago during the Seljuq dynasty. While an extension of the three other arches was done by local people about 140 years ago. You would be able to recognize the extension by a small wall. The bridge is 67m long and 6.5m wide. The old bridge connects the old district of town to the new one.
Some boat bike and motorboat tours are organized around the bridge for tourists. You would pay USD1 to take a short tour.
Yusefi traditional house and ethnology museum
Yusefi house is a sample of very beautiful Qajar design traditional big house. In Yusefi house, you would be finding bedrooms, baking room, guestroom, water reservoir, fountain and gardens, wells and windows in traditional kind. The house currently has a function of museum as well, having collection of photo tableaux from local region, a sample of all of agriculture and cuisine appliances and gadgets. The house truely introduce you how people in Varzaneh and villages around were living hundreds of years ago. Yusefi house is located in northern part of old district of town, close to an intersection which is so-called between locals as " Darvazeh-Abbas دروازه عباس", meaning (King) Abbas gate.
Women's costumes in Varzaneh have attracted very much attention in media. In contrary to the rest of Iran, women typically wear white chadors, rather than black ones. There are basically three theories so far to describe the whiteness of women's clothes in Varzaneh. Some believe that this dates back to the Zoroastrianism religion, for which white was a holy colour. As mentioned before, people have kept a lot of traditions, including the dialect they speak, of Zoroastrianism. Others believe that it is because of the abundance of cotton in this region, as people have been cultivating cotton here. While some people simply think white is a comfortable colour due to hot summers.
Varzaneh hand-crafted carpet is very famous in the world. Its design belongs to a general category of Na'in carpet design. Many women are still using natural threads, including silk and wool which makes the carpet of very high quality. It has been attractive for visitors to buy their carpets in Varzaneh, buying them much cheaper that in the markets of other cities.
Weaving tablecloths using very traditional instruments is another item of beauty made by women. In the picture, you can see a picture of woman using such devices. The woman says: if you work hard for a whole day, you can have one table cloth of 1 square metre size at sunset.
1000-year-old Ghoortan Citadel
The ancient Ghoortan old citadel is located 12km west of Varzaneh, and you can reach it directly from Isfahan, being 90km east of Isfahan city. It's located on the bank of the Zayanderud river and has survived natural disasters and many wars for 1000 years. Having very thick walls made of adobe mud brick) made it a protected complex for people living in the region. The thickness of walls varies from 3 to 4m and they are about 9m high. The citadel has an area of 40,000 square meters. Nowadays, only four families are living inside. The citadel is containing four mosques, a pigeon house, a water reservoir, a mill and many houses. It is protected by fourteen round towers and you would enter by two gateways.
Dovecote (Pigeon houses)
In dry regions, like Varzaneh district, the droppings were prized by farmers and collected for fertilizing their arid fields. From Varzaneh to the west, until Ezhieh (a town 25km west of Varzaneh), and also from south to Hassanabad (a town 25km south of Varzaneh) there are plenty of dovecotes or pigeon houses. The dovecotes are also called Kabootarkhaneh in Persian literature, which means simply house of pigeons. There are conflicting information about antiquity of such towers. The estimation is from 1000 to 300 hundreds years old, quite a big gap.
Life in this region is very connected to farming, as more than 70 percent of people's businesses are directly or indirectly connected to agriculture. In below picture, you can see one of pigeon houses of Varzaneh by close view, located on north at Zayanderud bank. It had been the host of 7000 pair of pigeons, having an area of 250 square metres and being 13m high. This structure much probably date backs to 300 years ago, the Safavid era. However, there are a lot of argument about its exact date of establishment. The camel-mill is located next to river. The entrance would be IRR50,000 (USD1.20)
An old system of grinding wheat, has been revived for using male camels. Historically, the last time Iranian were using this system was a century ago. Mr. Mohammadi, the owner and founder of the camel-mill, is using it mostly for tourist purposes, though he grinds wheat occasionally for family and relatives. He sings, while pulling rope of camel, a very nice folklore song. The building is designed in completely traditional manner, as you can see in the pictures. The camel-mill is located off road of cemetery of town. Mr Mohammadi will offer you tea if somebody visits camel-mill. The entrance would be IRR50,000 (USD1.20)
Haj-Ibrahim revived the system from 50 years ago, using a specific race of ox which is so-called between locals as Zaboli race(Zabol is a town in southeast of Iran). In the case of Haj-Ibrahim's ox, it took more than 6 months to prepare the ox, being wild in the beginning. The very astonishing part is that now ox would work only by the song of his owner, in the sense that, the ox would start working and taking water from well, when Haj-Ibrahim starts singing. Plenty of such oxen can be found at southern east of Iran, or in Baluchistan region of Pakistan. The complex is mainly a well, an ox, rope, pulley and bucket. Using this system, water will be pumped to the fields, without making air pollution. For six hour working of an ox per day, the water for 1500 square metres wheat field will be supplied, which is very efficient system. The system was broadly used from 600 years ago, till 5 years ago, when gradually farmers started to use fuel water-pumping machines. Visiting this complex, Haj-Ibrahim will offer you tea. The entrance would be IRR50,000 (USD1.20).
Water reservoirs and Wind-towers (Wind-catchers)
A water reservoirs or āb anbār (Persian: آب انبار) is a traditional reservoir or cistern of drinking water in Persian antiquity. While, a wind-catcher (in Persian, Badgir, بادگیر) is traditional Persian architectural element to create natural ventilation in buildings. In Varzaneh, you can see a water-reservoir employed a windtower to cool down its water. There are seven water reservoirs in Varzaneh in total.
Guria Gowd kaluts and man-made caves
18 km away in the road from Varzaneh on the road to Gavkhooni wetland, there is a small plain of kaluts, formed in the course of history by wind and water flow erosion. Pretty noticeable hole will take you to a man-made cave. This ancient cave is said to be built for shepherds and nomads living nearby for very cold nights. So, they could take their animals inside and wait until weather gets better. There is a water reservoir near to this cave, making the spot a better place to stay over for a longer period. The kaluts themselves are far smaller than kaluts in Kerman, Iran, yet they are unique in their own style.
There is a saying that King Abbas I established 999 caravanserai in the Persian empire to facilitate and promote trade and traveling, one of them is in Varzaneh. You can find this caravansary in eastern exit road of Varzaneh, being about 400 years old.
Other touristic spots
There are many other attractions worth sightseeing, including windmills around river and small waterfalls over Zayanderud river. Shakh-kenar waterfall is a must-see in way going to wetland. There is a hot spring also in the way to the salt lake, closed to Hasan-Abad village, where you can swim all the year for free.
Vartun Hot Spring
Precisely, 12km away from Vartun village, and 90km from Varzaneh town, there is hot spring. The pools are located inside a traditional historical buildings, dating back to Safavid era. Due to the fact that its hot water is rich in many minerals, its medical effects for nervous and joint pains has been verified. The complex is equipped with massage rooms.
Varzaneh Carpet and other handicrafts
Varzaneh carpet is really famous regionally and worldwide. Having many silk parts, and the mixture of colors make the a typical of Varzaneh carpet light and sometimes shiny. You can order them in hotels, guest houses in Varzaneh. As more than 60% of ladies in Varzaneh are still weaving carpet in their homes, you can ask any random local also to show you his/her carpet. The prices may vary from 100 to 2,000 Euro, depending on the size and quality.
Also, there are several houses still weaving tablecloth. You can get many of them directly from local houses, or in guest houses, costing IRR10,000 (2.5 Euro) to IRR400,000 (10 Euro) for different sizes.
Herbal teas and organic alimentary
In addition, buying herbal teas, such as borage, Iranian black tea, Shirazi chamomile, henna and local sweets can be found in herbal tea shops. Local alfalfa honey and also honey from holy plant of manna also can be found, as a few families are involved in beekeeping. As Varzaneh has both farms of alfalfa and many manna in its deserts, honey from these two plants are in good quality. Heidari family have been pioneer for beekeeping, and creating beehives, supporting local agriculture as well.
Varzaneh district has a high reputation of tradition of organic (bio) food. Hereby, a short list of tastiest foods you may try in Varzaneh. Except the possibility to ask local organic food in hotel/hostel dinning sections, you may ask the locals for Gol-Hossein restaurant, as the oldest restaurant of Varzaneh. However, restaurants are mostly concerned about kebab-like foods. You may ask following foods in guest houses:
Getting herbal teas, and drinking some in outdoor is really suggested. In old supermarkets, as they call it Baqali, you can always get some classic herbal teas, such as borage, valerian root, and saffron. Other routine beverages such as dough also can be found all around easily.
Most hostels and hotels are very cheap. Many tourists come to stay for a week or more to enjoy sunlight and silence in desert, as it is in between two other major destinations, Isfahan and Yazd. The prices for accommodation are subject to change starting from 21st March (Persian new year).
031 is a code for Isfahan district, including Varzaneh.
In Varzaneh, there is a regular bus to Isfahan almost every hour until 14:00. Please notice that the last bus to Isfahan departs from Varzaneh at 14:00. But, it does not mean that you cannot go back to Isfahan after 14:00. Experiences of many hitchhikers shows that it is very easy to find a car taking you to Isfahan. Just stop in front of the gas station of Varzaneh. There is yellow big shelter with a bench equipped for people doing auto-stop (hitchhiking). However, you do not save so much money by hitchhiking. Since, Varzaneh-Isfahan bus would cost IRR25,000 (USD 1). Also, since many of the taxi drivers may go frequently to Isfahan, as they may have business, they would not charge much cheaper than normal price. For departure by bus, just ask local people to reach bus terminal (or according to locals, "Autobus" Terminal) from the only bus station in town. Private taxis are available 24 hours a day.