Guest Posts, Off the Radar Travel Interviews, Overland Travel to India from UK 8

Overland journey to India in 1970 – Part 3

This is the third 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.”

Monday 29 June: Salonica to somewhere near Kavala.

I must get some sleep some time. Slept 3 hours last night in the lorry (it has bunks) and about 2 hours the night before on a train, about 5 hours on Friday night in a field. Had a meal last night! Roast beef and spaghetti. Back to bread and sardines today. I must go for a swim in the Aegean this morning. Arranged to meet Alan, my friend and travelling companion, at the station at 12.00 midday and on the hour every hour thereafter. He might not come until tomorrow. It’s all very annoying as the station’s at the other end of town. Salonica really is a return to civilisation. It’s much cleaner than the Yugoslav cities.
6.30 am and I’m sitting by the harbour wearing (for the first time, I may say) my shorts and arousing much curiosity. Do you think the colonels would object? No one’s allowed to forget the 21st April – signs and photographs everywhere.
I wandered around the town early yesterday and a kid about 12 I suppose came up to me and gathered that I wanted some water. He showed me a tap in the park and there I breakfasted on bread and sardines (made a change!). He stayed and I had my first lesson in modern Greek – highly amusing. He gathered that I wanted to see the town and took me up a tower from which one had a panoramic view.

At gross expense I treated him to an ice cream and then we parted company cos I went to the station to meet Al. That took me at least an hour, tramping through the dusty streets, everything looking in ruins. Al was at the station – he had two lucky lifts the night before – even got a meal. We hung around town for a bit but then set out for Kavala. We separated again. I got a lift but was kicked out 16 km before Kavala – the driver picked up a mate of his. It really is impossible cos I can’t speak any Greek. I wandered through the town he dumped me in and started hitching again, contemplating the possibility of a ten mile walk. Then someone hailed me from his home. He could speak German and offered me a bed for the night – no charge. So in I went and ate what was at that time a superb meal and drank some wine with him and his comrade who later departed. He was in the NAAFI during the war as a cook. I asked him if the troops appreciated his excellent cooking; he laughed and said they told him they couldn’t eat it. Well, I did! The upstairs room was a filthy hole but it did have a bed (just about standing) and I slept a good 8 hours – first time for a week.

Tuesday 30 June: Somewhere near Kavala to Alexandroupolis
[letter home] I had a coffee with this fellow this morning and then got the bus to Kavala where I met poor Al who’d had bad luck with the hitching, took a long bus ride and slept the night out on concrete! This morning we gorged ourselves on peaches and even had a swim in the fabulous Aegean. That was really great. At last we got a lift out, but not very far and expect we shall travel from here by bus to Istanbul. That way we might make it tonight. I hope things go all right from there – if not we might have to turn back – we’ll see.
We’ve met lots of other hitchers, including a very nice Swiss bloke called Fred who’s going to join us in Teheran. We met him in Kavala and then later that day and he joined us in Alexandroupolis where we slept on the beach and had a superb meal of bread, tunny fish, cucumber, salami and lemon. Quite the best we’d eaten for ages.

Wednesday 1 July: Alexandroupolis to Istanbul
By foot, cart and lorry we crossed the border to Ipsala where we got bus to Istanbul – 200 km for 8s 4d!




Thursday 2 July: Istanbul
[letter home] Alsy and me is having a fabulous time. This city is absolutely fantastic. I’ve taken a few pictures, but they are almost useless. The people are so extraordinary, their smells and sounds, that no record can be made of them. Everyone in Istanbul seems to be engaged in buying or selling, driving taxis, polishing shoes etc etc. Even now at 6.00 am there’s a little fellow waiting to shine your shoes. Al and I spent yesterday wandering around the town, through the bazaar, where we examined carpets and wished we could afford one. Perhaps on the return. We took a disastrous taxi ride. The driver rarely looked ahead and sang and stared at every woman in sight and demanded 10 lire when we got out. We hadn’t reckoned on so much and after a crowd had gathered and we’d argued for about 10 mins we paid 5½ and went away. Poor driver got fed up. I’ve sold some cigarettes which I bought on the bus and must sell some more today. You should see Al – beard, hair and hat. When we wander away from the bums’ quarter everybody stares and we wave and shout and laugh. We’re staying on the stone roof of a hotel (with about 10 others!) and paying 3s 4d a night, but it’s the cheapest there is and we can all use the hotel’s facilities.
There are lots of people selling water in the city. We saw one superb old man, magnificently dressed, with a most elegant water carrier, but he refused to be photographed. Other people jump at you from all sides, asking you to buy their suede/leather jackets. They sell absolutely everything. And so much food. Fruit, bread, rolls, all sorts of things are sold everywhere. And the mosques. On the first evening we got into the Blue Mosque.

[letter home] Istanbul is incredible. Bought some corn on the street and asked the price – 1 lira – I gave him 0.75 and he seemed quite happy! Guess I should have given him 0.50. Finding a place to stay here was very difficult – prices are high – no bargaining! Eventually we paid about 3s to sleep on a roof, but at least we could wash etc. We saw the Blue Mosque last night – and I can’t ever remember being so overawed by a building. Perhaps tonight they’ll let me in again for prayer-time. Today we shall wander round, hope to find some letters for us. We reckon to depart on Saturday. Last night, waiting for the train, we had a splendid view of it from the Asian side. As the sun went down and for at least an hour after the sky was red behind the city, silhouetting the mosques and their minarets. The ferry boats plying across the strait, the fishing boats in the harbour, lanterns shimmering reflected in the water. Al was completely gone – one reason why we didn’t get a seat on the train. One Turkish lad in the Grand Bazaar told us time doesn’t matter in Turkey, but everyone seems to be in a hurry. The noise of the horns in the traffic, the horse carts, the men moving at remarkable pace with large burdens on their shoulders, the tourists, the students lounging in outside cafés. It has to be seen to be believed. How much does a small carpet cost? Roughly the size of the blue one I took to Cambridge. Wool is beautifully patterned. It’s possible we’ll have enough money to get one or two on the return, so if you could write to us in Delhi maybe we’ll know what to haggle for. It would almost be worth coming our specially one vacation to buy such things. In the bazaar, which is under cover, people jump at you from all sides selling absolutely everything. You name it, they got it. From bras to Afghan jackets, from handkerchiefs to those magnificent carpets. Even coat hangers and plastic bags. Once I thought about turning back but since then we’ve been moving on, seeing new country and new people. It’s quite fantastic.


The Selim Family Raasta

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  • Aditi Shukla says: February 13, 2016 at 10:43 am

    Interesting journey highlights! 🙂 #TheWeeklyPostcard

  • Vicki says: February 13, 2016 at 12:28 pm

    This is such a great series! I’ve been following and am enthralled by the journey Reverend Barton went on – its both inspirational and educational at the same time – to hear about travel in the 1970s in a world that is now so different! Thank you for sharing.

  • Charles McCool says: February 13, 2016 at 1:10 pm

    This is so interesting, to read an account of travels from 1970, when I was just a young child. I will have to read the other articles about the overland journey to India. I love to read how it seems everyone is involved doing something, even at 6am. Instanbul is a bustling place.

  • Vlad says: February 14, 2016 at 8:31 pm

    What a wonderful journey, it brought back a lot of memories from Istanbul. The writer described perfectly the spirit of Istanbul 🙂

  • Jolanta | Casual Travelers says: February 15, 2016 at 8:43 pm

    It’s fascinating to read someone’s travel experience from the 1970s. Those were different times. I love the entry “Somewhere near Kavala to Alexandroupolis” Nowadays, with maps on cell phones, it’s so hard not to know where you are at any given point.

  • Melodie K says: February 15, 2016 at 10:06 pm

    Great stories (told with humor!) here, vivid enough to help me picture in my own mind the 12-year old Greek tour guide before I saw his photo . . . wasn’t too far off! Have never hitchhiked, but have wanted to travel to Turkey and this LIVELY account seems one memorable and fun way to do it!

  • Carol Colborn says: February 16, 2016 at 1:24 pm

    Wonderful stories from the time I was in college and not even thinking of travel. Reverend Barton was so ahead of his times! Great storyteller!

  • Wai says: February 24, 2016 at 3:22 am

    Amazing to read someone’s experience from a time when there was still an element of adventure and exploration. I am envious. Great idea posting this.

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