Guest Posts, Off the Radar Travel Interviews, Overland Travel to India from UK 6

Overland journey to India in 1970 – Part 2

This is the second part of an amazing overland journey from England to India and back again. 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 here of the first part and 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.”

Germany to Greece part of the journey

Monday 21 June:  Innsbruck to Salzburg

Slept tolerably well last night and got a lift fairly early (8.00 am) to Salzburg. Sardine and stale bread breakfast was quite good at the time. Then came a lengthy walk through the back of the city towards the autobahn. I passed several other hitchers but my “S” sign soon got me a lift. I think the car was a Citroen. The driver was a textiles dealer and insisted on talking politics and philosophy. Interesting to learn of the fantastic recent increase in the price of wood. I should learn more languages. Everyone should study psychology.

I now am at the house of the people I met here last year. I’ll stay here the night and go on to Gallneukirchen tomorrow. The weather is still absolutely fantastic. It really is great to be here again.  It was lovely to walk up their road and find somebody in. Over tea my host drove me out of my depth in politics in German; I always say more than I mean! Then we drank wine during the terrific thunderstorm and finally went out to a Gasthaus. It was a good place and I enjoyed the wine. Slept very well.

Yesterday I was in Oberammergau, but I’m afraid I passed straight through. The place was packed with tourists. The countryside thereabouts is fantastic. You simply must go in 1980! It is precisely one year since I was with those people in Salzburg and slept in the same garden that I’m now in. I’m slowly remembering my German again which helps to make life easier. Everyone I meet thinks it quite marvellous that I’m going to India, but I still don’t believe it.

Tuesday 23 June: Salzburg to Gallneukirchen

Breakfasted early with my hosts and took a bus to the autobahn, very grateful to them. A fat Mercedes, whose driver had little to say, drove me at 110mph to Linz where I picked up another car into town and visited Verein Servitas, the organisation for whom I had worked in 1969. I walked through Linz to the usual hitching place and got a lift to Galli. That was a really sentimental journey – nothing changed – especially the view of the village as we rounded the last bend. I took the familiar path past Bethanien and arrived at Friedenshort at supper time, stopping only to greet one of the sisters in Jagerhaus. Frau Laimer greeted me, and then the others, and I joined them for doughnuts and cocoa. That too was the same as ever, even Laimer’s glance at the clock and “Naja, mach mal Schluss.”


View of Gallneukirchen

Thursday 25 June:  Gallneukirchen

I had a fabulous time in Gallneukirchen.  Many of the kids had progressed a lot since last year, mainly owing to the patient hard work of John, an English volunteer there. He’s older than most, at least 30, been 12 years in the RAF and has much common sense and determination. His love for those kids is tremendous, far greater than I ever knew.

Friedenshort, the home where I worked in 1969

Friedenshort, the home where I worked in 1969

Friday 26 June:  Gallneukirchen to somewhere between Maribor and Varazdin

We set out at about 6.00 am from Friedenshort and Herr Schiffler gave us a lift at the usual hitching place. I was very glad that he recognised me! We went up to Martinstift to pick up a girl for an operation in Linz – just like 1969! From the hospital we walked right across Linz to the autobahn and picked up a lift in the Salzburg direction. Then we went off the autobahn and were picked up by a young company agent who gave us coffee. He opposed the church on account of its concern with money. Revolution needed. Then one car took us to Graz, which was very nice, a beautiful ride over the Pyrhn Pass, but exceedingly exhausting as I had to converse with the man in German about politics, industry and all sorts of things. We saw the large industrial concerns of Austrian barons in the south.

In Graz we stopped for a beer and then hitched separately and met later in Maribor. I got a student of romance languages from Graz University, who took me right to Maribor. Once there I waited a long time for my friend, had a bite to eat in the park, and met two Cambridge mathematicians.  We’d arranged to meet on each hour so between 7 and 8 I wandered and found a church where mass was being said.  It was splendid as all sung masses are, but sad, devoid of youth, attended almost exclusively by the pious old and a few younger women. One girl in her 20s I remember seeing. I prayed with and for them.

After having my flask filled, to the amusement of some Yugoslav youths, I went to meet my friend at 7.45 at the station and found him waiting. Thus we missed the chance of a lift to Zagreb, which he had been offered. The people who’d given him a lift were going to Zagreb and would have taken me and they’d only just gone!  So we walked out of Maribor by a beautiful sunset and after a wait got a lift towards Varazdin. Crazy driver, horn and lights, gave us a drink of soda wine (alas no food) and dumped us by a petrol station. However, no lift, so we walked and found a place to kip. On the way we passed a floodlit mansion on a hill and an open-air pop concert. Slept in field behind some cottages.  Sleeping under the stars is all very well but (a) I get bunged-up with snot and (b) I can’t see the — things without my specs! The peasants by whose house we slept didn’t seem to mind at all – quite unlike English farmers.

Saturday 27 June:  Somewhere between Maribor and Varazdin to Zagreb and train to Belgrade

From the field we walked a little way: lovely countryside in N. Yugoslavia. Were given a lift by a woman in a baby Fiat and then got another ride into Varazdin. On that road we noticed the peasants and their farming life for the first time. Varazdin seemed to have no excuse for a tourist bureau so we walked straight through, stopping only in the hope of relief at the bus station, but the loo was dreadful. My first encounter with a hole in the floor. We waited again for a lift but eventually a very pleasant man took us out and up to a petrol station, where, after a beer, we got a very slow and uncomfortable lorry into Zagreb. We reached Zagreb by 1.00 pm. It’s now 4.00 pm and there are some French guys hitching before us. I then made one or two trips to the station to enquire about trains and eventually all 6 of us hitchers went to take the late train to Belgrade – 400km for 27/6d! That left at 11.00 pm so we had ages to wait. I was very fed up, because getting correct information proved very difficult, and I was annoyed at our slow pace. Should we go to Skopje, try hitching in the morning, what’ll we do?  We had a snack of cheese and bread (the same as lunch and as breakfast the following day) in the park and discussed where happiness is the goal of mankind and whether men are happy. I hope we have more time to sit and be still. Hitching is all very well but it’s terribly time-wasting and when things go bad, as in Zagreb, I feel it’s not worth it. We met the 2 Cambridge men again in Zagreb and they came on the train. I remember little of the train journey except scanning the Times columns for tripos results.

Sunday 28 June:  Belgrade to Salonica

The train arrived at about 6.00 am and we sat for a few minutes on a bench near the station. We had two lifts of 100, then 50 km.  A Swede gave us a lift first and left us at a petrol station where we washed and ate. Some tiresome females came along and were given lifts, but eventually we got one too. Again we stood at a filling station, in the burning sun.  Then a bloke stopped in a little Skoda and said he’d take one, so my friend went with him and we were to meet in Nis, the next town.

I waited 1½ hours then and eventually decided to wander a bit. I’d gone 100 yds or so when a motorbike came up and I hailed him and got him to understand that he could give me a lift part of the way along his route. So off we went – 35lb rucksack on back (my back!) That was great fun. I then wandered again and found a trans-continental lorry in a parking place and asked the Belgian driver if he was going to Nis. He was – and then to Greece! So I went with him, we stopped in Nis for 5 mins while I quickly saw my friend and arranged to meet him in Salonica. That was real bad cos the bloke who’d given him a lift to Nis was going right to the border, but I didn’t know, so he missed miles of good lift. We must find a better way of travelling apart. We’ve now missed two lifts like that.

I enjoyed the journey through South Yugoslavia in the lorry, which had 26 tons of various goods from 10 countries, USA to Japan. I had some admiration for the driver who was able to drive so far alone. We spoke in German because my French is virtually non-existent and he speaks Dutch at home anyway. He’s been on the road for 10 years and twice a month goes from Ghent in Belgium to Athens, to Sofia, to Istanbul and back. Don’t know how he does it. We came through some lovely countryside, where the peasants worked all day in the blazing sun, with their ox-carts, horse ploughs and mules, wooden saddled and rode side-saddle. Their irrigation system was crude too and their houses simply made of stone walls and thatched roofs. All this and cypress trees reminded me very much of Van Gogh. Another world again.

The Selim Family Raasta

Linked to Monday Escapes

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  • Vicki @ says: January 30, 2016 at 10:48 am

    What a great story – and an epic journey. I agree that you wouldn’t be able to do half of what Stephen did back then. How times have changed. Thank you for sharing.

  • Marc says: January 30, 2016 at 6:30 pm

    Wow, very interesting. Can’t wait to read how you got to India. It seems like a long way to get there. I have been to eastern Europe and done most of the countries which I really loved. Zagreb is one of my favorite cities.

  • Karla (Karla Around The World) says: January 31, 2016 at 3:40 am

    It’s surprising how much places you can see in India! I love traveling to these kind of places as it offers a lot of adventure. It looks like it’s a very serene place. The Gallneukirchen looks so homey!

  • Paula says: January 31, 2016 at 10:17 am

    I am not sure I would have been brave enough to take that journey in the 70s and most certainly not now! What a wonderful memory to have. I hope to visit many of these cities one day.

  • Meg Jerrard says: January 31, 2016 at 11:20 pm

    Wow fascinating journey – I’ll have to jump through and read part one now. So you’re hitching the entire route? What an adventure! I’m hearing more and more about hitchhiking as a genuine method of transport from many travelers, and that it’s surprisingly safe compared to the misconceptions we have in Western Societies.

    Wishing you all the best on your journey

  • Packing my Suitcase says: February 10, 2016 at 9:56 am

    What a journey!!! I’m curious to read until the end! Such a unique experience, I’ve never met someone who did something like this before 😀

    Thank you for linking up with #MondayEscapes

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