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Introducing Mashhad

Mashhad is Iran’s holiest and second-biggest city. Its raison d’être and main sight is the beautiful, massive and ever-growing Haram (shrine complex) commemorating the AD 817 martyrdom of Shia Islam’s eighth Imam, Imam Reza. The pain of Imam Reza’s death is still felt very personally over a millennium later and around 20 million pilgrims converge here each year to pay their respects (and no small amount of money) to the Imam. Witnessing their tears is a moving experience, even if you’re not a Muslim yourself. If you notice a lot of young couples, that’s because the city’s also a haven for honeymooners, who believe sharing it with the Imam will bless their marriage. Away from the Haram Complex, Mashhad is a good place to buy carpets, it’s a natural staging post for travel to Turkmenistan or Afghanistan, and offers many interesting excursions into little-touristed Khorasan.

Be aware that during major pilgrim seasons, almost all accommodation and transport will be booked out months in advance. Contrastingly, at other times Mashhad offers about the best-value accommodation in Iran. Winters can be very cold, with snow on the ground for up to five months a year. Summers are contrastingly hot. April is ideal.