With dramatic eroded mesas reminiscent of Monument Valley, towering sand dunes to challenge those of Arabia and a claim to being the world’s hottest desert, it’s not hard to see why the Dasht-e Lut is considered one of Iran’s most exciting adventure destinations.
You can get a good glimpse of the region’s magnificence by driving the Nehbandan–Shahdad road, by taking a day trip excursion from Kerman, or by renting a taxi from Shahdad. But to reach the dunes you’ll need to do a tour with a 4WD and experienced guide. Don’t attempt to visit by day in sum-mer, when midday ground-temperatures can rise to an almost unimaginable 65°C.
An area of around 30 oasis villages – known as the Takhab – stretches a green swathe of date palms around 25km from the large but sleepy town of Shahdad to the twin villages of Shafiabad–Dehseif. Here you’ll find a mud-walled ‘caravanserai’, actually a citadel (Dehseif), with shattered remnants of many former buildings sur-viving within atmospherically crumbling earthen walls. The nearby adobe houses are similarly fascinating for their rustic simplicity.
North of that the desert starts. The most impressive part of the landscape here are five- to 10-storey high yardangs (‘sand castles’) with vertical or stepped sides. They are especially spectacular at dawn and sunset when light and shadows turn the scene into a shimmering canvas of gold and brown.
‘Kaluts’ actually applies more accurately as the general term for a series of different erosion patterns – the most dramatic are fortress-like vertical towers and stepped mesas. The best examples are near a parking area signed ‘Kalout’. Further east are tokhmemorghi (egg-shaped muddy hillocks) and essentially similar merikhi (rounded on one side but sharply cut into verticals on the other).
Amid all the mirages, water really does flow through the desert: at Rud Shur bridge you’ll cross a real, if tiny, meandering stream. Another 30km east, the erosion pattern becomes a series of vertically serrated cliffs.
The desert has a whole palate of other erosion patterns, visible for over 80km along the Birjand–Kalout–Kerman road – a route that’s more satisfying driven east to west so that the Kaluts come as a grand finale. If you’re driving this way Deh Salm (Nehbandan–Shahdad Rd, Km80) oasis village is a delightful discovery, and with a well-organised 4WD tour (and advanced paperwork) you can experience the vast Rigi Yalan sand dunes.
- Kalut Bike & Camel Rides
All day on Thursdays and to sunset on Fridays during the cooler months, freelancers appear at the small area of stable desert known as Kalout proffering five-minute rides on quad bikes, trail bikes or camels to tourists and weekenders. It’s not long enough to get beyond the nearest yardang (‘sand castle’) but there’s a certain exhilaration in the experience.