Variously Romanised as Ghayen, Ghaen and Qayen, Qa’en is one of the larger desert towns on the Mashhad–Zahedan corridor. Like Birjand it has a reputation for fine felt, carpets and saffron. Come in September/October to see purple crocuses in the saffron fields and the plains towards Afin blushing red with barberries.
At the southeastern edge of town, rugged, dry mountains are topped by the attractive ruins of Qa’en Castle, fortified by Uzbek occupiers in the 16th-century. The ancient and beautifully restored tomb of 6th-century vizier-philosopher Bozojomahr (Bozorgmehr) overlooks the scene. Time your time descent from the castle to coincide with sunset, when the lights of the tomb are coming on and the muezzin is calling mellifluously to prayer.
Qa’en also has an unusual 9th-century Jameh Mosque (Imam Khomeini St): the hollow, central, summer section is decorated in chequered white-and-sepia detail; the mihrab, added later, was angled to compensate for the discovery that the builders had misaligned the mosque several degrees away from the true direction of Mecca.