Whilst Damghan was a stopover ultimately to make Mashhad with good rest and a paced drive, there were still sites to be seen. One such mosque had a lower prayer shrine with acoustics that allowed a preacher or Mullah to fill the hall with his voice. Each section had a acoustic chambers built within each pillar; the guard of the mosque demonstrated this by whispering into the pillar diagonal to where we listened, and his voice could be heard clearly. The Fire Temple Mosque – the first known mosque in Iran was built here – also showed its age with large mud/straw covered pillars of a once much grander outer courtyard. We headed out of Damghan to the first Mongol memorial we had seen on this rally – a large tower built as a tomb, dating to early Mongolian settlement of the area. The site was devoid of any other ruins, a lonely testament to the vast Mongol Empire.
Oli continued the first leg, heading into the northern stretch of the Iranian desert we saw our first warning sign for camels and shortly after, the first herd of camels of the rally – much earlier than we anticipated. We pulled up, secured the car and headed across the rocky and shrub-covered flatland. The shepherd of the camels was quick to spot us, shouting for us to stay clear so as to avoid scaring the herd away from their watering hole.
Lunch was another on-the-road affair from Sehever; the team split up to cove the bakers, green grocers and mini-market simultaneously, returning to the car with a feast including an olive-paste, cheese with walnuts, flat breads and fruit.
Mashhad, Iran’s 2nd largest city (3 million) had a different image, approach, atmosphere to what we were used to from the past week. A pilgrim city for the 2nd most important Islamic site in Iran, people’s priorities were focused elsewhere – on either tending to, or being involved with the mass pilgrimage, unfolding throughout the time we spent there. While locals were still happy to see westerners, there was a sense of focusing on religious belief over curiousness or wining business over from Tourists. This didn’t stop us from working as one team, where a motorbike and driver were found strewn across a highway pass outside the Imam Reza Shrine, we quickly got out and assisted with tidying biker, motorbike and large boxes of kitchen good across to the side of the road, ensuring he was okay and able to continue with his journey.
Finally, after rerouting several times; u-turns and asking locals for guidance, we made it to our hotel – off a side road, it offered secured underground parking and a sizable kitchen, double en-suite setup in the room. Reza, tired from the week decided to call it a night early, and we took our baggage up and saw to any rally-related messages. Oli took interest in a Swiss team’s call for help. Five fools, no mechanic needed to get an Opel Aglia across Turkmenistan and into Uzbekistan, and were happy to offer full legal compliance and expenses paid to any team that could assist. We made contact and over pizza in a nearby restaurant. Five Fools very kindly paid for dinner and wouldn’t accept taxi fare either. We said our goodbyes and thanks, and headed back to the hotel to rest up for a potentially busy day ahead.