Two main deserts, “Dasht-e Kavir” (Kavir-e Namak) and the “Lut” cover the main part of the central plateau. The Lut Desert is known as one of the driest and most undiscovered places in the world, and is full of geological wonders. The midpoint of the “Lut” has an altitude of about 300 meters from the sea level and is one of the hottest places in the world. Dasht-e Kavir Desert also has its own attractions. There are watery salt plates, the water of which evaporate quickly and leave the wide flat mosaic-like plates of salt. The most beautiful of them can be seen in the great salt lake in the western part of Dasht-e Kavir.
The wildlife combination at the central plateau varies according to different habitats from mountainous to desert. The endemic Pleske’s Ground jay
(Podoces pleskei), lives in some parts of this plateau. Other desert birds like Houbara bustard, various Larks and Sand grouses ... are common.
Beautiful Persian Gazelles, Goitred gazelle and Jebeer, live in parts of steppe and desert habitats of the central plateau. The last reminiscence of the Asian Cheetah can still be seen in some places in the deserts. In some parts of the Dasht-e Kavir, considerable populations of The Persian Wild Ass scroll around. In the night, these areas are arena to various Wild Cats, Wolf, Fox and other carnivores. Different places in the central plateau are home to Lizards and Snakes.
Hard-working and enduring people live around the deserts, accepting the harsh conditions of the area. Camel and Sheep breeding and agriculture are the only sources of living to them. The main population-limiting factor in the area is lack of water. For a best use of water, these people have created a complicated well-system known as “Ghanat”. Dating back to thousands of years ago and still working, these “Ghanats” are comparable to the most modern Technologies of water-revenue. Researches say the total length of the Ghanats in Iran is as long as the distance between the Earth and the Moon!
To visit sand dunes, beautiful sunrise and sunset in the desert, walk on polygons, camel riding, camping under the blazing sky and getting familiar with the life style, culture and architecture of these regions are among the many activities to make a wonderful and memorable experience.
The mountains of Iran which are the most beautiful and distinct features of the country, cover more than half of land area. There are two main ranges of "Alborz" with an east-west direction and "Zagros" with a northwest-southeast extension, which cover most of the high mountains in Iran. Many "single" high mountains are also spread in other areas and especially around the central plateau of Iran.
The beautiful Alborz mountain range in the north contains a collection of the highest mounts in Iran. "Damavand", with a 5671-meter altitude, is a volcanic cone. "Alam-kooh", 4850m with forested slopes, has 850 meters of fine rock wall, excellent for rock-climbing. There are also many other peaks over 4000 meters high.
In the Zagros range, most of the mountains are calcareous with deep valleys and meandering rocks.
Famous mountains such as "Dena" with several high peaks, the beautiful peak of "San Bran", with Gahar Lake, "Zardkuh" and many other peaks over 4000m, stand straight under the blue sky. But there are other peaks of over 4000m in other areas as well. Examples are "Taftan" volcanic cone in Baluchestan with volcanic gases still erupting out, and the splendid "Sabalan" peak in Azerbaijan with slopes covered with wild flowers and a beautiful lake in the volcanic pit at its peak frozen nearly all year round.
Wildlife, Flora and Fauna
There are about 10000 species of plants, 517 species of wild birds (almost equal to the number of birds and plants living in Europe), and 194 species of mammals, which undoubtedly should draw the attention of every specialist and animal lover. These species including some precious and rare species like Siberian Crane, Plesk's Ground jay, Houbara Bustard, Falcons, Imperial Eagle, Dalmatian Pelican. Mammals have the same importance and attraction and are good examples of Iran’s great biodiversity. One can see the Persian Fallow deer which was thought to be extinct, Asian Cheetah which is already in danger of extinction, Persian Wild Ass, Asiatic Black Bear, and three species of genus Gazella. In the mountains, Wild sheep, Wild goats and Leopards still exist. Of course all these animals need more protection to survive. It is also worth noting that the Persian Gulf is the habitat of the biggest mammal of the world, Blue Whale while in the terrestrial habitats of Iran the smallest mammal named Pygmy White-toothed Shrew is well living.
Among the numerous marine animals of the Caspian Sea are Sturgeons which are famous for their Caviar eggs. The sturgeon have an ancient heritage and are a very old species. Caviars are also called “the black pearl” all over the world.
In certain locations, the gathering and presence of plant and animal species in a small and isolated area or nearby areas and their inter-related habitats have created precious and unique ecosystems. Nature’s resultant handiwork becomes starkly beautiful in an esthetic sense and important ecosystem in its own right. Some of these areas have been designated Biosphere Reserves and Wildlife Refuges usually according to international standards, but real protection is uneven and spotty.
Persian Gulf Region
In the area between the Persian Gulf and south skirts of Zagross and Macran mounts, there are plains with very specific characteristics. In these regions, in spite of high humidity, the rainfall is very limited.
The natural sceneries are very much similar to South African Savannas, and the plants are very sensitive to climate changes and cold weather. The birds specious are like the ones in India and Africa.
Some islands in the Persian Gulf like Kish and Qeshm are urban, and some others such as Shidvar and Nakhiloo are non residential.
The bird fauna of this region is also influenced by Indian and African elements. Sunbirds, Rollers, Mynah, little green Heron, Grey Hypocolius and the little green bee-eater are a few examples. By the end of spring many sea birds lay their eggs in these regions and create wonderful scenery.
The mammals are similar those of the central plateau; Goitred gazelle and Jebeer gazelles are seen in the flat areas, while there are leopards and wild sheep and wild goat on the hills. One can also see Hyena, Fox, Jackal, Black bear and Mongoose in these plains. People, just like the mammals and plants, are of different races: in the western parts, there are Arabs, while Balooch and Pakistanis are in the East.
These coasts and islands are the best ovipositor places for three species of sea turtles, among which the Hawksbill turtle is the most common. The Marsh Crocodile is one of the important reptiles of the region, which is found in only one river known as “Bahukalat” in the easternmost portion of the southern plains.
The cliffs and coral beaches create wonderful scenery and the coral reefs are the best site for snorkeling and diving. Wind erosions, Mangrove Forest, Namakdan Cave and Valley of Stars in Qeshm and Mud Volcano and geological erosions in Sistan and Baluchistan are considered among wonders of southern regions of Iran.
Iran, with 96 migrating tribes that differentiate into 547 independent sub groups, that constitute a total of over a million people who participate in annual migration; is considered to be on of the most important countries that still support a pastoralist nomadic way of life.
Some of these tribes have very comprehensive and complex organizations, while other small ones are quite simple; each with its own traditions, life style and belief systems.
The main reason for this variety, is the unique geographical distinction of the country which has led to a vast and exceptional cultural and social heritage.
All tribal societies have three major specifications:
1. All tribes migrate between summer and winter quarters to get to fine pastures for their Sheep and Goat herds.
2. The main occupation in all tribes is animal husbandry.
3. All tribes have social classifications within themselves.
Main Tribal Groups:
The Turkmens are one of the main Turkish speaking tribes. They are presently settled in the north eastern region adjacent to the eastern shores of the Caspian. They are divided amongst themselves four main sub tribal groups: the Yomut, the Guklan, the Nokhorli and the Tekké. Social and cultural differences can be observed due to their historical background and different means of subsistence, despite their great similarities. The Yomut consist of two sub tribes - The Atabay and Jafarbay.
Until the beginning of this century the tribe was nomadic but now only a few of them migrate and within a limited area. Turkman Sahra is located in the north east of Iran, south of the Atrak River; sloping gently towards the Caspian Sea. Its climate ranges from a moderate winter to hot and dry summer, which changes into a humid Mediterranean climate around the Caspian Sea.
Shahsavan means "protectors of the king" and refers to the fact that this nomadic tribe guarded one of Iran's most vulnerable frontiers, the North West borders of Iran bordering Russia and Russian influenced territory. There are several groups of Shahsavan nomads scattered throughout the region; the majority of whom live near the city of Ardabil and Dashteh-Moghaan. Other smaller northwestern tribes in this area are the Afshaar-e-Qezelbash, Garahgozloo and various clans of the Khamseh tribe. (all Turkish speakers.) They are scattered within the provinces of East and West Azerbaijan, Hamadan, Ardabil and Zanjaan.
The Lors another nomadic tribe of shepherds live in the Zagros Mountains of central and western Iran. Many believe that they were, in fact, the original inhabitants of Persia. They are primarily located in three provinces of Lorestan, Kermanshah and Koh-kiluyeh & Boyer Ahmad, all of which are in the Zagros Mountain range and smaller groups have settled in the provinces of Fars, and Khuzestan. The valleys within this range have rich pastures that have been used by different nomadic tribes for centuries. Most of the Lors live in this general area, although many of them have moved out and scattered all over the country melding into the general urban population. There are nearly five million Lors in the country, and approximately 70,000 in Iraq.
They speak a dialect, called "Lori," that is very similar to modern Persian. Since they regularly have contacts outside their own communities, they are generally bilingual. From the total Lor population about 300,000 still follow the ancestral nomadic life style, traveling six to eight months a year and living mostly in tents made of black goat-hair. They only live in permanent dwellings for a few months during the winter. From October to April they move to warmer low-lying pastures; then proceed with their annual migration moving their flocks to high mountain pastures. Some of the Lors prefer farming and live in permanent villages all year round, growing mostly wheat and barley.
They are known inside the country for their rich folklore. Their tales glorify the history of each tribal group and describe the adventures of their heroes. They also emphasize such characteristics as loyalty, generosity, and, most importantly, bravery in battle.
The Turkish speaking Qashqaie tribe is the most reputed tribe in southern Iran. The Qashqaie territory extends from Aabaadeh and Shah-reza in Isfahan province to the Persian Gulf coast. The tribe comprises numerous clans. The major ones are Kashkooli, Sheesh Blocki, Khalaj, Farsi Madan, Safi Khani, Rahimi, Bayat, and Darreh Shuyee.
One school of thought maintains that the Qashqaies descended from the ancestors of the Turkish Khalaj clan, who lived Pakistan and Sistan region of Eastern Iran, and then migrated to central and southern Iran. Each clan has a chief, and there was a general tribal leader who was appointed in the old days. The Qashqaie tribe has never played a decisive role in the national political developments, but it has occasionally been the source of short-lived up-rises for the government.
The Bakhtiari consist of clans living in the mountainous regions between Chaarmahaal, Fars, Khuzestan (the Taftoon Field), and Lorestan provinces. It is said that the Arabian and Lor clans have mixed together to form the Bakhtiari tribe. The Bakhtiari tribe is also called the Great Lor. The Bakhtiari tribe, which numbers more than 800,000, inhabits an area of approximately 67,000 sq. km (25,000 sq. mi) that straddles the central Zagros Mountains range. Although only about a third are nomadic, all of the clans embody the Bakhtiari cultural ideals. This region is known for having very high quality wool (similar to Merino Wool) that produces excellent carpets.
The western tribes of Iran, comprising of the Kurds with Kurdish dialect of Kalhor, Sanjabi, Gurkani.... in the provinces of Kermanshah, west Azerbaijan and Kurdestan (also occupying the north of Iraq and south east Turkey.)
The south eastern region of the country is inhabited by the Balooch tribal group who reside in the province of Sistan and Baloochestan. The Balooch are a large group and a considerable portion of Baloochestan is currently in Pakistan.
Central region: The clans of Boyer Ahmad, Doshman Ziyari, Charam, Bavi, Bahmehyi, Tayebi and Mokran reside within the limits of the provinces of Chaharmahal & Bakhtiyari, Khuzestan, Kohkiluyeh and Kerman.