Chak Chak, Iran – holiest of holy sites for Zoroastrians

Chak Chak, in the deserts of central Iran, is the holiest of holy sites for Zoroastrians.

It’s equivalent is that of Bodhgaya for Buddhists, Amritsar for Sikhs, Mecca for Muslims, Jerusalem for Christians and Jews, Stonehenge for Druids.

Road to Chak Chak, Iran

The road to Chak Chak, Iran. Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

Zoroastrianism may not seem like a powerhouse religion these days, but there was a time – approx. 2,000 years ago – when it was exactly that: the world’s largest and most powerful religion.

Sites like Takht-e Soleyman and the dakhmeh at Yazd speak of the power and influence of Zorostrianism at its peak.

Road to Chak Chak, Iran

Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

So it is perhaps a little strange that Zoroastrianism’s most sacred shrine doesn’t relate to the religion’s foundation or its rise to supremacy, but rather one of its worst setbacks.

The story behind the shrine is this: Princess Nikbanou, daughter of Yazdegerd III (the last pre-Islamic leader of Persia), was fleeing the Arab armies who, presumably, sought to do her harm.

Road to Chak Chak, Iran

Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

She found herself at a dead end, in this very canyon, her back against the cliff.

The princess appealed to Ahura Mazda, the Zoroastrian deity, who used his powers to open the mountain at her back. She slipped within.

And there the legend mysteriously ends.

Chak Chak, Iran

Pilgrims huts below Chak Chak. Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

What is to be made of this story?

Perhaps it has been heavily romanticised to make it safe for children’s ears?

Perhaps you need to read between the lines to get a glimmer of what actually occurred here?

Or perhaps the legend bears no resemblance to the truth at all. But if that is the case, what are we all doing out here in this desert?

The road to Chak Chak

Road to Chak Chak, Iran

Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

A long drive through merciless deserts and desolate plains is required to reach the holiest of Zoroastrian shrines.

Finally you’ll reach the canyon itself, and can begin climbing to the pilgrim’s huts.

Chak Chak, Iran

Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

Above the pilgrim’s huts, set behind steel bars, is the fire temple.

Inside is an eternal flame, and behind that a natural spring whence the shrine gets its name (Chak Chak is Persian for drip drip).

Chak Chak, Iran

Photo credit: Benjamin White

Whether you believe in the legends or not, Chak Chak is a remarkable spot and it’s hard not to be caught up in the otherworldliness of the place.

Here you cannot help but feel the sublime.

Chak Chak, Iran

Photo credit: Benjamin White

Practical information and how to reach Chak Chak:

Chak Chak is 70 km, or one-hour’s drive, from the tourist hub of Yazd. There is no public transport solution. The easiest and quickest way to get to the shrine is to hire a taxi in Yazd or join a tour. More transport info here.

Most tour companies will combine the sites of Kharanaq, Chak Chak, and the historic city of Meybod to make a full-day excursion.

More on Iran:

Naqsh-e Rustam – unearthly cliff tombs of the Achaemenid emperors

Persepolis – capital of the Achaemenids, destroyed by Alexander

Tomb of Cyrus the Great, Pasargadae

Si-o-se-pol and the Safavid Bridges of Esfahan

Dakhmeh-ye Zartoshtiyun, Yazd – Zoroastrian tower of silence

Posts on northern Iran:

Rainbow Mountains – are there rainbows? or is it all a sham?

Babak Castle – windswept mountaintop stronghold of Azeri rebel leader

Takht-e Soleyman – royal Zoroastrian sanctuary and fire temple

Kandovan – it’s Cappadocia minus the tourists

Posts on western Iran:

The Historic Hydraulic System of Shushtar

Bisotun – cliff inscription of Darius the Great

Chogha Zanbil – the original ziggurat

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