Guest Posts, Off the Radar Travel Interviews, Overland Travel to India from UK 3

Overland journey to India in 1970 – part 4

This is the fourth 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 of the other parts and how two friends hitchhiked all over Europe, Turkey, Iran 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.”
Saturday 4 July: Istanbul to train to Erzerum

[letter home] It’s almost two weeks since you wrote, Mum, but I eventually got the letter in Istanbul. We abandoned the idea of the boat and took this train for reasons of speed and finance, mainly the latter. Almost 1500 m for less than 30/-. That’s 3rd class with student reduction. We were told it’s hell but it’s not quite that bad. Trouble is it takes 39 hours (at least!) and we got no seat. But there are some other English bums on too and we’ll all set out together from Erzerum. The authorities do their level best to keep this train clean but some of the people are so revolting that conditions aren’t great. If we continue to travel we should be in India in a couple of weeks. We reckon to leave it by 21 August. Perhaps you can mail accordingly. Same places (except Austria) on return.

And the train, despite the discomfort, is also great. The hills are wonderful – I guess they are akin to those of the holy land. The train’s stopped again (it’s express – av 30 kph – stops every OTHER station, as opposed to the normal train!) and food’s on sale everywhere. The whole of Turkey seems to be packed with people selling bread, shish-kebab, water, rolls, pancakes, fruit, drinks, water and here comes a guy with yoghurt. Why are the people so filthy? It would be great otherwise. There’s even a little man with medicines! And the most horrible-looking syringes.* And now (later) an old beggar is passing from compartment to compartment, holding out his horribly deformed hand and muttering something about Allah. Were men meant to live to any particular end? If so, what end? Happiness? Then where achieved? Are these people miserable? Perhaps, but little more or less than those at home. I wish I could talk with them. And now (a little later) more people have made room for us in their compartment. Two English girls (on the Kathmandu trail) were here and have gone elsewhere on the train. Every few minutes the door is opened and someone is trying to sell trinkets, lighters, clothes, food. Incredible! Boy, it’s hot on this train! We should arrive tomorrow (Sunday) morning and then shall hitch again. Even if we do wait a bit, it’ll be a great relief to travel by lorry or something reasonably open. Cold shower, swimming pool, ice-cold lager, good food cooked by Mummy – only two weeks away and I can’t wait to be back – in a sense. It’s too hot to do anything – even read.

Sunday 5 July: From train to somewhere south of Erzerum
12.30 pm. Hellish journey almost over. Now we shall hitch again, I hope. Shall write again soon as poss. Have address of missionaries on Nepal/Bhutan border – could be fantastic. Hope you’re enjoying your Sunday dinner.
Hitched a bit and had a good night sleeping out – 2 nights on train and slept perhaps 3 hours! That night we slept in a field, on a hill with woods at the top. I never forget waking in the night to the sound of wolves howling in the woods. In morning as we woke up some little children were there to greet us.


Monday 6 July: somewhere south of Erzerum to Tabriz
Took bus to border and then taxi (!!) to Tabriz. Great luxury and very exciting cos battery was kaput (red light on) and therefore no lights – drove in dark nevertheless. Night in Tabriz in exorbitant hotel – slept on bed in courtyard.

Our view of Mount Ararat

Our view of Mount Ararat

Tuesday 7 July: Tabriz to Tehran
Travelled yesterday to Tehran in bus. Very funny cos I asked the price and was shown 100 note and two 50 notes. I thought the 50s were 20s and that 140 was reasonable! I wrote with finger to make sure and he nodded and on we got. Later they demanded the 200. 200? But you said 140! Oh boy! Luckily they were very nice and charged us 150 each! Good value cos coach was excellent and full of very entertaining students.

Mount Damavand, north of Tehran

Mount Damavand, north of Tehran

Met a very nice bloke last night – strict Muslim. Amazing what these foreigners know about England and its politics, tho I know virtually nothing of Iran. He bought us a meal and guided us through Tehran’s Soho. This place is incredibly westernised.
Wednesday 8 July: Tehran towards Mashhad
[letter home from Tehran] Again I write from a penthouse suite – and this time complete with a bed! Moreover there’s a bog and wash basin up here! Marvellous grotty hotel down dingy ally – guided there by a French junky. The view is mainly of other hotel roofs, also covered in beds.
Today we hope to travel to Mashhad and reach there tomorrow morning. There we’ll get a visa for Afghanistan and so onwards. No doubt now that we’ll make it. Everywhere we meet people who are kind, both locals and other hitchers, but I still don’t trust most people an inch. We visited the Embassy here for post and information and the first thing the bloke said was “Watch your stuff!”
Tehran is fantastically hot – evening temperature of 70 I reckon. The journey today does not promise to be very pleasant, but we are OK as long as we are moving. I don’t know when I’ll ever tell you all that we’ve seen, all the people we’ve met. There’s already so much to tell. I’ll write up a proper log on return, complied from memory and letters. Now it’s too difficult.
I don’t know what more to write except we’re fine, clean (clothes a bit grubby!), healthy and moving on. We think of you all a lot, mainly in the hope that Mummy isn’t too worried. We leave India on Aug 21st we think. Post to Delhi, Calcutta and Istanbul only. Istanbul by 8th Sept – the date we reckon to be there – only approx. We’ll stop at Kabul on the way now, but might not on return. It seems we might have lots of time in India – might even go south to Madras – we’ll see.

Linked to #MondayEscapes


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  • Amanda says: February 29, 2016 at 12:04 pm

    Wow what an incredibly journey this was. I’m going to read the rest of the posts now – I hope one day to see this part of the work and by train would be an amazing experience. Thanks for sharing on #mondayescapes x

  • Cathy (MummyTravels) says: February 29, 2016 at 7:20 pm

    What an incredible adventure – it’s amazing how much has changed in that time, not even two generations. I definitely don’t think you could replicate that journey these days. #mondayescapes

  • Ting at My Travel Monkey says: March 8, 2016 at 11:25 am

    How lovely to read such an incredible journey diaries. It’s the little things like the misunderstanding with money and the characters you meet along the way that add to the adventure but sometimes when time has passed, it’s hard to remember those little things, which are so important! Thanks for linking up with #MondayEscapes

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