Mashhad to Sarakhs: A Bike Touring Route

Iran Route 4It’s only a short trip by bicycle from the Iranian city of Mashad to the border town of Sarakhs, but there’s a bit to hold your interest, including an old caravanserai and beautiful scenery.

Distance: 190km
Duration: 2-3 days
Terrain: Broadly flat until Mazdavand, where there’s a challenging but short climb to a peak. A long downhill follows, then a few smaller ascents until the terrain flattens out again as you approach Sarakhs.
Accommodation: Wild camping aside from Mashhad and Sarkahs.
Highlights: The scenery after the climb in Mazdavand is great and the Caravanserai near Shurlaq is well worth a stop.
Lowlights: Dull landscape until you reach Mazdavand.
Tips:Stock up on water where you can, it’s in short supply.

dsc_8944Section 1 – Mashhad to Mazdavand (90km)
Leaving Mashhad, you can take a right turn at the roundabout before the shrine, going past the bazaar, then left at the first big roundabout and right at the second major intersection. Continue out of the city, over the railway tracks, until you are on the road for Sarakhs. This avoids the crazy motorways on the edge of Mashhad.

The scenery leaving Mashhad is unremarkable, mostly flat farmland and a string of villages, with the landscape becoming increasingly arid as you get away from the city. It’s sometimes hard to find a good place to camp but about 30km out of Mashhad you’ll see a small farm track leading past a house and up into some hills where there are some rather pretty and hidden spots to put your tent. The track is directly across from a gate with a black sign overhead that looks to be for an Iranian government area. If you see the road sign marking 155km from Sarakhs you’ve gone about 1km too far.

dsc_8930Carrying on, you should pick up water and food when you pass shops as there aren’t so many on this road. The best stocked ones are at Kharzar.

Most cyclists will do this trip in two days so Mazdavand, the halfway point, is a logical place to stop. The town is at the start of a strenuous uphill climb with a couple switchbacks. It’s not long overall, about 3km to the peak, but you may wish to leave the hard work for the start of the second day. If so, you should stop shortly before Mazdavand as once you can see the town there aren’t many options for secluded camping. On the other hand, if you can make it over the peak there are some beautiful places to put your tent, with the road opening up into a green valley filled with rolling hills.

The water is terrible in Mazdavand, smelling strongly of sulphur, so you’ll have to buy bottled water here.

Such a beautiful buildingSection 2 – Mazdavand to Sarakhs (90km)
It’s an easy ride from Mazdavand to Shurlaq and this section has some of the best scenery of the trip. As you come into Shurlaq, signs mark the right turn to Robat-e-Sharaf, a well preserved Caravanserai with detailed engravings and stonework. It’s well worth the 6km detour out to the site and this makes a fine place to stop for lunch. On a Friday, you’re likely to be invited to share a meal with other picnicing Iranian families. A few houses surround the Caravanserai and you can get good water here. Some cyclists have camped here. There’s no charge to have a look around.

Returning to the main road, Gonbadli is the next town about 25km along where you can stock up on supplies. Shortly after Gonbadli there are some nice wild camping spots but around 15km before Sarakhs the flat farmland returns and you’ll be hard pressed to find a hidden place for the night.

Coming into Sarakhs, the road to the border is on your right before you actually enter the town. There’s a hotel right at the corner which other travellers say charges about 170,000 Rials for a double. We camped instead in the fields very near the hotel.

What's this doing here?If you continue straight through the roundabout and into town, you may want to use the hammam for a good scrub up. Go straight until you reach a second major roundabout, when you should turn left and cross to the other side of the street. You’ll now be very near the hammam and locals can direct you. It’s just behind the main street and costs 5,000 Rials for a shower.

There are two internet cafes in Sarakhs, although they’re hard to find on the edge of the town centre. If you’ve succeeded in finding the hammam, turn left as you come out of the alleyway, then left again at the first corner. Cycle up the street a few blocks and look for a large photo shop on the right hand side on a corner. If you turn right here and go to the end of the street you’ll find Paradise Net. Not far away is Mahdi Net but you’ll have to ask directions. If you don’t have any luck, just keep asking. Not everyone in town knows these places exist! We found connection speeds painfully slow so you can probably check your email here but not much else. Cost is 6,000 Rials an hour.