Mashhad, often referred to as "Holy Mashhad" is home to one of the holiest pilgrim sites for Shia Muslims. The city, which draws millions of tourists every year, is a shopper's paradise. Blessed with a rich heritage and old world charm, Mashhad holds the promise of a unique travel experience.
Mashhad, capital of Iran's Khorasan Province and Iran's second largest city, is known for the shrine of Imam Reza (A.S), the Eighth Imam of the Shia Muslims who follow Twelve Imams. Mashhad literally means "burial place of the martyr." The city started out as Sanabad, a stop-over for trade caravans traveling to and from Turkmenistan. It was only after the martyrdom of Imam Reza (A.S) at Tus in 818 and the construction of his shrine here that the city became a pilgrim site. The ruined city of Tus lies about 23 km from Mashhad.
The city of Mashhad has been built around the shrine of Imam Reza (A.S). The holy areas in and around the holy shrine are known as Bast. The Bast forms a perfect circle and there is one circular road around it and four roads between the Bast and the rest of the city. The layout of the city is unique as these four roads point to the compass points in the north east, north west, south east and south west directions.
The complex is a city in itself and visitors are frisked by security at all gates. Women must observe shrine decorum and cover themselves with the chador, without which they will not be permitted to enter the complex. Apart from its religious significance, the complex is an architectural masterpiece decorated with intricate tiles, calligraphy, beautiful courtyards and porches. The complex also houses a museum, library and the very beautiful Masjid-e-Gohar Shaad of the Timurid period. Photography is not permitted within the complex.
The large structure with a blue dome was built to honor one of the apostles of the Prophet Mohammed (S.A.W). One of the most important sites for Muslim tourists it is frequented by pilgrims and local Iranian families and can get quite crowded on public holidays.
The 15th century 72 Martyrs Mosque located just outside the city is one of the many mosques in Mashhad. The Nadir (Nader) Shah Mosque and mausoleum is a monument dedicated to the founder of the Afshar dynasty, who was responsible for the development of Mashhad city and expansion of the Imam Reza Shrine complex. Ferdosi Park and mausoleum and Gombade Sabz mausoleum are some other mosques in the city.
Neishabur, a two hour drive away from Mashhad is a picturesque location dotted with beautiful gardens which are ideal for an evening visit or an overnight camp. The area has complexes that house relics of Imam Reza (A.S).(
Summer resorts at Torogh, Torghabeh, Aklomod, Zoshk and Shandiz are excellent weekend getaways.
Money changers are available on the streets in shopping areas and most jewellery stores around the city. American Dollars, British Pounds, Euros and even Indian Rupees can be exchanged freely. Credit cards, debit cards and travelers checks are not accepted anywhere.
Dry fruits, an assortment of salted nuts, saffron, Iranian sweets like Gez and Sohaan, precious stones like agates, turquoise, intricately designed silver jewellery studded with rubies and emeralds, eighteen carat gold jewellery, perfumes, religious souvenirs, trench coats, scarves, termeh, carpets and rugs are just a few of the delights on offer in the city's shopping areas.
Shargh-Zit Trade Centre, Kuwaiti Bazaar, Proma Trade Centre, Almas-e-Shargh, Zist Khavar and Bazaar-e-bozorgh-e-markazy are other shopping areas that offer both variety and value for money.
Iranian food is light and non-spicy. Travelers to Mashhad should try chello kebab (rice and fried meat balls), chello murgh (rice and chicken) which are specialties of Iranian cuisine and are served in all eating places. An assortment of freshly baked breads at the city's many bakeries is something that is peculiar to Iran, where people like their bread straight out of the oven. Ice-cream and mash melon milkshake are also worth a try.
Black tea sweetened with sugar cubes is a popular drink and those in search of an authentic hot cup of tea must visit Hezardestan Traditional Teahouse, one of Iran's most famous tea houses. Furnished with Iranian antiques and rugs with live music playing in the background, it is the best place to savor the sights and sounds of life in the city.
Spring and summer draw a number of visitors to Mashhad and travelers would do well to book accommodation in advance. Five star accommodations are available at the Pars Hotel (Tel: 0511 868 9201), Pardisan Hotel and Homa Hotel (Tel: 0511 761 1001). Those looking for board and lodging within walking distance of the shrine of Imam Reza (A.S) can be assured of some good options such as Hotel Sharif, Ghadir International and Khayyam Hotel.
The Islamic dress code is strictly enforced in Iran and Mashhad is no exception. Women usually wear trench coats with trousers and cover their heads with head scarves. A chador is a must while entering religious places. Men are not allowed to wear shorts.
Mashhad is well connected by road, rail and air to major cities across the globe and within Iran.
International flights connect Mashhad International Airport with Istanbul, Bahrain, Dubai, Kuwait, Beirut, Jeddah, Doha, Dushanbe and Kabul. There are 2-3 flights everyday to Mashhad from the Iranian cities of Isfahan, Shiraz and Tehran. Kish Air offers a two hour flight to Mashhad from Kish Island.
Gonabad is 260 km from Mashhad while Tehran is 900 km. Buses from other important cities coming in to Mashhad travel by night. There are no international buses arriving at the city.
3 trains offering different fares and facilities travel from Tehran to Mashhad everyday. The duration of the journey by train from Tehran to Mashhad is 10-14 hours. There is one daily train from Sarakhs and other trains from Turkmenistan, Ashgabat and Merv.
Mashhad is served by a comprehensive city bus service and a new metro.
Cool year round temperature is the highlight of the city's weather. Summer nights here can be very cool and travelers to the city must carry light sweaters. The city can be very cold in the winter with the necessity for the appropriate warm clothing.
A tourist city with accommodation options for all budgets, pleasant springs, mild summers, large beautiful parks, sites and summer resorts all make Mashhad a great place to visit.