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Into the Eye of the Lut

 

“A confused mass of impassable tangled dunes” was how explorer Alfons Gabriel described the Lut Desert in 1938.

This strip of land that runs across Iran is a place that’s so forbidding, it’s been said to be one of the few places on Earth that resembles the planet Mars. ‘Lut’ means emptiness in Persian. It’s here in 2004 that the world’s hottest temperature of 70.0C was ever recorded. Yet, this combination still didn’t manage to dissuade me or 11 other women from deciding to become the first all-female team to walk across one of the most barren places in the world.

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It all started when Christine Amour- Levar, co-founder of Women on a Mission, a Singapore non-profit organization that supports and empowers women survivors of war around the world threw me a challenge- walk over 200km in 7 days in wildly contrasting temperatures and climates and raise $100,000 for Women for Women International. Of course, I said yes, without hesitation!

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Training began in earnest. Blister packs swept up from all pharmacies. Hiking boots for sandy conditions amassed. And freeze dried camping rations tried and tested.

We were dropped off at the starting point and nothing prepared us for what we saw. It was surreal and daunting to say the least.

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At every turn, I had the wild impulse to whip up my camera and stop to photograph. But I  learnt the hard way as that  meant I had to run after the rest of the team to catch up- not an easy feat when you are carrying over 10kg of supplies on your back and had already trudged and sunk through 30km of sand. And let’s just say the sandy conditions and wind storms were not kind to my gear but that is a whole new post on that!

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During our trek, we did not encounter anyone else and the only signs of life along the trek were the foot prints of a lone fox (which I managed o photograph on an early morning “detour”), snake or camels. We were told about drug smugglers from nearby Afghanistan who used the Southern part of the Lut as a travel route but that did not quite register in my head. Having lost all sense of directions after a tiring day of trekking, I climbed up onto one of the sandy ridges one evening with my headlamp beaming, wanting to photograph the full moon but was promptly shouted at by the guides to drop down low to prevent being seen and SHOT at by the smugglers. Oh well! I survived and the moon was awesome!

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Despite our long, exhausting days, and sand getting into every orifice (and camera), the spectacular landscapes and the group camaraderie kept us going to the finishing line.

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During our travels in the Islamic Republic of Iran, we found folks to be incredible kind and generous. Iranians are known for their legendary hospitality and that was in no short supply as we strolled through bustling bazaars, had tea in atmospheric teahouses and settled down for home cooked meals in the homes of locals. Iran’s rich cultural heritage, history and raw beauty has left such a deep imprint in my heart- can’t wait to return to scale Mount Darmavand (hopefully, my mom does not read this).

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