Guest Posts, Iran, Off the Radar Travel Interviews, Overland Travel to India from UK 5

Overland journey from England to India in 1970 – Part 5

This is the fifth part of an amazing overland adventure journey from England to India and back again in 1970. I am really honoured to be hosting this story by Reverend Stephen Barton on Selims Raasta – off the beaten path travel interviews Have a read of the other parts and how two friends hitchhiked all over Europe, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and now headed to Pakistan…have a read how this incredible journey started!

In his words “The world has changed. Yugoslavia is no more, and I doubt if it’s advisable or even possible to bum a ride over the Khyber Pass these days.”

mashhad to kabul

Thurs 9 July: Mashhad to Iran-Afghan border
[letter to friend] We took a bus from Tehran to Mashhad and the journey was preceded by at least ½ hour’s furious squabbling over who sits where. Al and I just laughed and wondered where they got the energy from! They sat us right at the back with the peasants. It seems that all objectionable types are put as far as poss from the rest.
The bus went north from Tehran, over a pass by Mount Demavand and then eastwards along the shore of the Caspian Sea. It was there somewhere that we stopped for an evening meal.
When bus stopped for evening meal, we found a grotty café and were offered a sort of stew, which came complete with mangler/pounder thingummy. It seems this was for crushing the hard bits (of which there were not a few) into a pulp such as toothless Iranians could eat. Lad who served us had great fun in demonstrating. Although many people we meet are not so pleasant, always after money or something, we always meet one or two who are hospitable. As in Tehran, where two boys hailed us (“excuse me, sir, are you English?”) and one of them bought us a meal (well, to us it was a meal). He’s a devout Moslem and we talked together, but I’m still far from appreciating this religion. Mashhad is very interesting because the people are very religious – very few women in western dress and no non-Moslem allowed into the mosques, though a permit can be obtained to enter the courtyard. The beauty is overwhelming. The magnificent colours of the stones. Terrible pity they are antipathetic towards us, but I suppose they want to maintain their mosques as places of worship rather than of tourism. We also saw a turquoise factory. Beautiful stones and so cheap. So much I’d have loved to buy for you and Mum, but we daren’t on account of tight budget and British customs. “Next time…”

Friday 10 July: Iran-Afghan border to Herat
[letter to friend] Had to go find out about the destination of this bus. Now I know, having just spent the night in it (stationary this time) on the Iranian border. Later it will move on to the Afghan border, which is quite a way.
Last night we feasted on soup, with eggs in, and melon, cos we met 2 Brazilians, also en route to India, and shared our food. I was very hungry and we were all rather shattered. I still haven’t replied properly to your letters and promise I shall, but perhaps not till India when we get a breathing space. Should be there in under a week, with luck. As I said to parents, so much to tell, I cannot write. If only you could be here. But Al says it’s wrong to wish….
Herat is marvellous – meal of rice, bit of meat, tomato and onion and a couple of other unidentified stationary objects and bread and tea for 1s 6d. The people are really great, far cleaner and more pleasant than in Turkey. Shall be in Kabul tomorrow and post this there.

Relic of a previous Afghan war, looking back towards Herat

Relic of a previous Afghan war, looking back towards Herat

Saturday 11 July: Herat towards Kabul, via Kandahar
[letter home] It is Saturday (malaria pills day) and we are in Afghanistan! Herat to be precise. It’s 2.00 pm and I’m sitting in the bust which leaves for Kabul at 4.00 cos it’s fantastically hot anywhere else. So I thought I’d write another letter to dear parents who made this incredible, crazy, fascinating journey possible. Minds can now be quite at rest regarding money. Have so far spent about 50 dollars and should reach Delhi on another ten (absolute maximum!). Therefore cost to India £25! That includes food and the occasional hotel. Not bad, eh? And I’m not even hungry. Apart from writing letters I’ve kept a log of journey to and from, food and sleeping places. Last item is quite entertaining:
• House 4 nights (3 in Gallneukirchen, 1 in Salzburg)
• Park 2 nights (1 in Cologne, 1 in Innsbruck)
• Y.H. 1 night (Wiesbaden, Germany)
• Field 2 nights (Yugoslavia and Turkey)
• Train 3 nights (Yugoslavia and Turkey)
• Lorry 1 night (Greece)
• Peasant home 1 night (Greece)
• Beach 1 night (Greece)
• Hotel roof 3 nights (2 Turkey, 1 Iran)
• Hotel proper 1 night (Tabriz, in open courtyard)
• Bus 3 nights (Iran and Afghanistan)

Food list is not quite as varied, consisting largely of bread (occasional tinned fish) and fruit, mainly melons (to which I am now addicted) and tea (costs 3d for pot containing about 4 glasses here!) Afghanistan is cheapest yet – 1s 6d for rice, meat, salad, bread, tea etc (mainly rice!). Diet from now on: rice, tea and melon (rumours of pineapples and bananas in India!) Still ain’t got the dread sh… you know what. Worst has been odd stomach gnawing cos I forgot to eat and tiredness, both of which I suffer daily in Cambridge! So, all in all, life’s pretty good.

Roadside tea shop

Roadside tea shop

These Afghans are unbeatable. Their splendid long shirts and baggy pants, flowing turbans and general charm have quite overwhelmed us, especially by contrast with Turkey. They are nothing like as curious and not as eager to sell you anything as the Turks were. We had trouble at the border, where we (and many others) waited 8 hours for our passports. All we can do is complain in Kabul. We got the visa with no trouble, though the fellow wanted 3 photos. I found one reasonable one taken in Austria (complete with hair and fag) and one with ridiculous grin. The bloke just laughed and accepted them!
Herat is full of shops, the people are very industrious. They sell even more varieties here than in Istanbul – even soft bog roll! – most unusual in this part of the world. It’s great watching the blacksmiths, cobblers, bakers, tailors etc all at work at the back of the shop, the goods displayed at the front. And there are marvellous bright coloured taxi cabs, drawn by horses with bells. At night they gallop past, a fabulous sight. They have sheep and horses in plenty, but no cows. Even the poor villages we passed on the road are orderly and clean looking. And the smells are more pleasant too. Many roads in Herat are tree-lined – shady and sweet smelling. Have just consumed lovely bunch of grapes, what cost me about 2d. Now I expect we’ll go drink some more tea, buy more grapes and set off. Journey takes 24 hours to Kabul but the roads are good for once. Tehran to Mashad was bad, but the mountains between Tehran and the Caspian are superb.
In Herat – walk to hills, peace and solitude, barrenness not distracting as beauty is – return to town for lunch, doze in bus and more tea and grapes. Ride to Kandahar – Pakistani in sandstorm . Uncomfortable. Al ill.

overland adventures

Part of one of many camel trains we passed on the bus

Overland travel from England to India

Overland travel from England to India

Linked to #MondayEscapes


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  • Rob Taylor says: March 17, 2016 at 3:47 am

    What a fascinating story. I can’t imagine venturing like this and crossing so much land, especially 40 years ago. And interacting with so many people.

  • Linda Bibb says: March 17, 2016 at 3:17 pm

    *Le sigh.* What a wonderful experience.Those were the days, to have the freedom to travel through Iran and Afghanistan without difficulties. Would that I could do the same. And the uber-low prices? They are a hoot.

  • Marta says: March 17, 2016 at 4:56 pm

    What an incredible, fascinating story! It really feels like an adventure from centuries ago and I love how it makes you think of Afghanistan in a light so different from what we are now sadly used to

  • Voyager says: March 19, 2016 at 10:53 am

    What an epic saga, love these kind of accounts, they are so inspiring.

  • Ting at My Travel Monkey says: March 24, 2016 at 4:03 pm

    I just love this series so much. The sights and sounds and the honesty in the post. Love the fact the diet consisted of rice, melon and tea – think I might try that for my spare pounds! Afghanistan seems such a different place to the one you see in the news now. Keep them coming. Thanks for linking up with #MondayEscapes

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