A Travellerspoint blog

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Doing It All Again

In the middle of 1966, after sixteen months in London, and with little to show for my efforts to become an actor, it was time to head home to Sydney, where I felt I might make better progress. It was tempting to take the easy option and go by air or sea, but the thirst for adventure was still strong, so Ade and I, intrepid as ever, decided to ‘do it all again’ and go home overland, taking a largely different route from previously.

The plan was to get across Europe to Greece as quickly and as cheaply as possible and then proceed via Turkey to Iran, where we would have some R&R with our friends in Tehran before tackling the long haul through Afghanistan and Pakistan to India. We intended to spend about a month on the sub-continent, covering new territory as much as possible, then head north for the climax of the trip, a trek through the Himalayan foothills in Nepal, from the Indian border to the remote Pokhara Valley. If we survived that experience we would continue on via Southeast Asia to Singapore and then fly home to Sydney from there.

To accomplish the first objective, getting to Greece, we put an ad on a notice board in Earls Court, seeking anyone taking a vehicle in that direction and wanting passengers to share driving and fuel costs. We got a reply from an Australian, Bill Bradley, who said he was putting together a group to do a trip to the Middle East in a long wheel base Land Rover, and would take us as far as Thessaloniki for £12.10.0 each. In the absence of a better offer we accepted, and on 4th July we set off, expecting to be with the Land Rover for the next 9 days.

My journal of the trip home, which took four months in all, was less than complete, but I did write to my family regularly, and these surviving letters fill in the gaps and hopefully give continuity to the narrative. While I am transcribing and editing this material, integrating images and mapping the progress in detail, I will be making the virtual journey via the web, as I did with Shoestring Road, my earlier blog, and will add comment as I feel appropriate.

This trip was quite a different experience from the first one; it was summer; I was 21, still short of cash, but no longer an apprehensive novice of the road. I knew what we were in for and I knew how to handle it – sort of. We were off on another great adventure. We would encounter many more young travellers than we did in 1964, but the Trail was still a trail, and not yet the Hippy Highway it was soon to be. Come with us on the journey.

Ozac 2013

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Posted by Ozac 05:30 Archived in England Comments (0)

Ready, Steady, Go

BARONS COURT, LONDON to THESSALONIKI, GREECE

Saturday 2-7-1966

Today is Saturday, tomorrow Sunday, and on Monday I leave England for home. Two more days - I am starting to get a little excited. All this week we have been wondering whether we would be leaving as planned or not, as we had heard nothing from the people who run the Land Rover which is supposed to be taking us to Greece. We were starting to have suspicions that we had been swindled and that they had absconded with the cash. However, this morning I got a letter saying when and where, so everything is cleared up and we will be off from London late Monday afternoon, all being well. We are having surprisingly warm and sunny weather here at the moment, so I am anticipating even better weather on the Continent, and, as the trip home will take us from the northern to the southern hemisphere, we should have summer for much of the next 9 months.

Monday 4-7-1966

We set off in the Land Rover on schedule at 5 pm and reached Dover about 9.30. After a couple of hours wait there we crossed the Channel on the 12.30 am ferry to Ostende and disembarked at 4.30 on Tuesday morning. I had about three hours sleep aboard the ferry, during the smoothest crossing yet, and was able to stretch out full length on a seat. I felt little or no emotion whatever in leaving London; I could have been taking a weekend trip out into the country. The nine others in the Rover besides us all seemed OK and as time passed there were only a couple I did not particularly take to. And so we were well on our way, even though I half expected Monday night to be back in my bed at Barons Court.

Tuesday 5-7-1966

Having docked in Ostende at 4.30 am, we drove on immediately and passed through Belgium and then right on through Germany, stopping the next night in a town just over the Austrian border. It was soon apparent that at this rate it was going to take us nowhere near 9 days to get to Greece - four countries in the same day! - something of a record for us, though hardly an admirable one. When we finally stopped I was exhausted. It was raining and although about half of the mob decided on a zimmer, some of us found a small cave like space, a walk-through shelter in the corner of a building, and went to sleep there. Austrians kept passing through during the night and almost invariably woke us up with “Gut Nacht!” The police came and went, and all in all I had a rather broken 3 hours sleep. We were up again at 3.45 am Wednesday so as to be away by 4. Then came another 18 hours of almost constant driving - on autobahns all the way.

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We drove on through Austria, which was very beautiful in parts, crossed the border and were in Yugoslavia, our first and only communist country. We slept Wednesday night in a field beside the road somewhere between Zagreb and Belgrade. It rained a little in the early hours, so when I awoke my sleeping bag was quite wet. We were back on the road again from 4.30 am and passed through Belgrade and then on and out of Yugoslavia and into Greece. We reached Thessaloniki Thursday night and were dropped off at a small and cheap (30 Drachma) hotel, and for me the long journey home really began there, three days and two thousand miles out of London, in a drab hotel room not unlike the one we had stayed in at the Salvation Army Hostel in Bombay, nearly two years ago.

I was really glad to get out of that Land Rover; I had not enjoyed the journey in it. I could not stand the hell-for-leather way Bill Bradley was running the thing: 10 minutes stop for this, 20 minutes stop for that, must move on, on all the time. Pity the poor bastards who are going to have it for three weeks. Three days were almost too much for me. Four countries in one day - my God! We had to do what we were told, and were treated like a bunch of school kids on an outing - not my idea of travelling. However, I don’t regret coming in the vehicle, as it fulfilled its original purpose: to get us across the Continent as fast and as cheaply as possible. I had a much needed wash on Thursday night in the room and fell asleep very quickly under a single sheet beside the open door. In the few days since leaving London the temperature has really soared, though we have seen rain at times and it was quite cold up in the Austrian Alps.

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Posted by Ozac 06:04 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

Sunshine and Drachma

Greece

Friday 8-7-1966

Our first real day, and the first in Greece - Thessaloniki. We began the morning by trudging from the hotel to the central bus station to buy a ticket to Athens, and then trudged back in the same way, past the hotel to the railway station, from where the bus was to leave. The temperature outside must have been above the century, as it was 84F in the shade and that felt mighty cool. The bus departed for Athens at 1.45 pm and it was a 7 hour journey. Ade spent most of the time giving a fellow passenger, a Greek naval engineer, an English lesson - a nice chap. The countryside on the way down reminded me very much at times of the burnt grass and parched earth of Australia. The blue Aegean seemed translucent and inviting and there was a magnificent sunset just before we reached Athens. We arrived about 10.30 pm and then trudged what seemed like 10 miles, but was only 2 kms, uphill to find the Youth Hostel, which turned out to be this incredible place - 200 beds, but packed full, and the first night we had to sleep on the roof terrace, which was like an outdoor dormitory. Since it was a very warm night it was really the spot to be and I didn’t have to get into my sleeping bag until about 3 am. There is an open air picture theatre next door, and each night of our stay here the roof and the balconies of the hostel have been crowded with people enjoying a free show - ‘Moll Flanders’, starring Kim Novak. The place seems very lax as regards rules, so it is not at all difficult to live in - a welcome change from our past experience with youth hostels.

Saturday 9-7-1966

We have decided to spend two days in Athens, then take a bus back to Thessaloniki and a train on to Turkey on Monday. We bought the return tickets to Salonica this morning in the city. We have also decided not to visit Delphi and Corinth as the cost of living here is rather high. That is some sacrifice, but I will have to be satisfied to see the major ancient sites of Athens quite fully; that is the best we can hope to do. We saw the central city area this morning, then the national park and the old and new royal palaces, the latter with its fantastically dressed guards. We then walked on to the second class ruins of the Olympeian and up the hill towards the Acropolis. But we did not venture onto the Acropolis today, although most of the afternoon we had it in view; we climbed the hill of the Muses instead, and saw from there what must be one of the best views in the world.

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The Acropolis stood in all its incredible magnificence and beauty, dominating the city and everything for miles around. We sat up there until sunset, drinking it all in. One mishap of the day was when we discovered the film in the camera was not going through, and we had to go back and retake all the photos we thought we had already taken.

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As the light faded we caught the 16 bus back to the Y.H. (Xenon Neotitos) and after washing the dirt off our feet went out for a good dinner in a Greek garden restaurant. The evenings here are really wonderful. The Greeks seem to eat very late and the life goes on in the streets until well after midnight. There are eating places and sidewalk cafes everywhere. It is very pleasant to sit out in the warm evenings eating, drinking and lapping up the atmosphere. I really love Greece, and especially Athens. I have learnt the Greek alphabet already and have been able to make sense of a surprising number of things, signs etc.. I would love to spend a month or so here. I have started to pick up a suntan and am not in the least missing London. Still I have done nothing constructive yet and have simply been feeling ‘on holiday’. I must get going pretty quickly. I have to watch the money closely too, I’m overspending.

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Posted by Ozac 03:55 Archived in Greece Tagged athens Comments (0)

Athens Montage

Sunday 10-7-1966

Today we again skirted the Acropolis , first visiting the the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates, before walking through the Plaka district to the Roman Agora with its Tower of the Winds.

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Ade (lower left corner) finds a spot of shade near the Monument of Lysicrates, below the Acropolis. We were very familiar with
the fine copy of this monument in the Sydney Botanic Gardens at home, and made a point of visiting the original.

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The Roman Agora and The Tower of the Winds

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We walked on to the ancient Greek Agora and the well preserved Theseion. These two are magnificent. The Agora has been excavated extensively over the last several years and the entire centre of ancient Athens has come to light, though mostly all that remains is the ground plan. One stoa, the Stoa of Attalos, has been reconstructed completely and is used as a museum. It is an extremely masterly job.

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The Theseion overlooks the Ancient Agora of Athens

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The Theseion Ambulatory and The reconstructed Stoa of Attalos

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View from the Theseion, across the Agora to the Acropolis

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Finally we walked up the excavated Panathenaic Way and arrived at the entrance to the towering complex. My first impression was of thousands of tourists thronging about like ants, and I was glad that I had already let the Acropolis manifest itself fully for me from all sides and from a distance. Still it was a grand experience to walk up through the Propylaea and then lay eyes on the Parthenon and Erechtheum from close range. Being one of the great monuments that has been before my eyes pictorially for years, I found it quite something to realize that this was not just another image, but the real thing. We spent about three hours up there wandering around, taking photos, admiring the magnificent views and getting the feel of being actually on the Acropolis of Ancient Athens. From every angle the sight was one of incredible perfection. My God, the wonders of the world that I have seen, and this ranks among the highest!

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The Propylaea

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The Erechtheum

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The Parthenon

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The Traveller - 10 July 1966

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Posted by Ozac 04:17 Archived in Greece Tagged greece athens parthenon acropolis Comments (0)

Fez Please

To Istanbul

Monday 11-7-1966

We took the bus back to Thessaloniki and bought a ticket in the railway station to travel to Istanbul the following day. On the return trip I was again struck by the parched brown beauty of the Greek countryside and its close similarity at times to New South Wales. All it needed was a few gum trees and I would hardly have been able to tell the difference. We checked into the Thessaloniki Y.H. to sleep on the floor - filthy toilets, but I don’t mind Greek hostels, as the rules are extremely lax and they don’t have the usual hostel atmosphere at all.

Tuesday 12-7-1966 and Wednesday 13-7-1966

The train left Thessaloniki at 8.15 am and we soon discovered that it was going to be a very slow journey - 24 hours at least, with many stops. The train was also pretty lousy by European standards, though we’ve been on worse. We found ourselves in a compartment with four pregnant Greek ladies who jabbered to us good naturedly all day long and we got on quite well with them. Strangely, all the women in the carriage seemed to be pregnant and to know one another, but we could not work out what their collective journey was all about. We never found out. Also on the train was an Australian chap, Dave Petersen, whose father currently lives and works in southern India, and strangest of all coincidences, it turns out Dave knows our friends the Wilsons in Madras extremely well. In fact, Mr Wilson had mentioned to him in early 1965 that two young Australians, namely us, had stayed with them for a few days. It is extraordinary really that our paths should cross as they have, and he has invited us to stay with his folks in Madras should we decide to go that far south. He is also on his way to India, but moving as fast as he can. We had a fairly uncomfortable night on the train, and at the Greek/Turkish border one of the customs officials randomly picked on my rucksack to be opened for inspection. Naturally the contents went everywhere. Still it was something to pass the time - from everyone’s point of view I guess. I slept reasonably well, despite the discomfort, but felt a bit stiff in the morning. I also felt very grubby, as to my mind I had not had a proper wash since leaving London.

We finally rolled slowly into Istanbul, and after going to five banks before being able to change money, we walked to an American student’s hostel in the Old City and checked in. I have to say it is really grand, and I immediately had a magnificent shower, washed clothes etc., the works, and now feel squeaky clean again. I don’t think I have had a shower like that for eighteen months or more - it was hard to find one in England. I feel really great.

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We went into the Hagia Sophia mosque later in the morning, which is just across the road from the hostel, and although I was certainly impressed by the vast and ornate interior, I was a little disappointed by the plain rendered exterior, and in fact did not realize when first seeing it from the side that it was the Hagia Sophia mosque. It is nevertheless an amazing construction and its scale will probably seem even more impressive when viewed from a distance. Ade and Dave are both asleep at present, in nice clean beds, so I am at a bit of a loose end this afternoon. I might go over and have another look. We have decided to stay here about 3 days, including today, and then get on as fast as possible across to Erzerum. Istanbul really seems a great place, and I thrill every time I hear the fabulous sound of the ferry horns on the Bosphorous (there it goes - whooop...whooop, with a rising pitch - I love it!). We will of course go to the Topkapi Museum, but after that I would really enjoy just wandering around the city.

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Posted by Ozac 20:46 Archived in Turkey Tagged mosques istanbul hagia-sophia Comments (0)

Old Stamboul

Thursday 14-7-1966

Today we saw the principal sights of Istanbul, beginning with the Blue Mosque, Sultan Ahmed, which I think is possibly finer than the larger Hagia Sophia, both outside and inside - superb blue mosaic interior and uneven stone floor completely covered with carpets, as a floor in a mosque should be. It has six minarets, most unusual, and they are very fine pieces of construction.

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We went on to the Topkapi Palace, the former residence of the Ottoman Sultans. It was somewhat rundown in parts and a little disappointing, though the fantastic collection of emeralds and diamonds and precious objects in the Treasury was well worth seeing, and so were the expansive views of the Bosphorous from the terraces. In the afternoon we visited the covered bazaar, one of the most interesting parts of Istanbul, though it seems to cater somewhat for tourists. It is one of the largest I have seen and compares favourably with the souk in Damascus. Plenty of cats in Istanbul, but a notable lack of dogs. Another wonderful sound of Istanbul, in a duet with the ferry horns, is the muezzin being called from the mosque at various hours of the day.

This evening we had dinner in a plain little restaurant across the street from the hostel and no sooner had we started eating, on the most unpalatable food imaginable, than a tipsy old Turk at a table opposite sent us over some fruit. Ade was wearing his black Nepali cap and I think the Turk thought he was a holy man or something, as he began quoting the Koran in our direction, and eventually he came over and wrote in exquisite Arab script a quotation for us -“Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim”. He was a strange old man - very friendly, but a little too insistent because of the grog. He must have seen the whole tide of Turkish history change, and still his mind seemed very much with the past. Before we could escape we had to kiss him in brotherly fashion on both cheeks and then he salaamed deeply. A funny old bloke, but an interesting experience.

Friday 15-7-1966

Spent the morning, or rather late morning, round and about the roaring hub of the Galata bridge, an extraordinarily vibrant thoroughfare, comparable to the Howrah bridge in Calcutta; not so much for the amount of traffic on the bridge, but for the variety of life going on about it.

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We watched the arrivals and departures of the Bosphorous ferries for a while and then sat on the steps of the nearby mosque for an hour or so, observing the passing parade. We were amazed at some of the loads being carted on the backs of porters and also the number of shoe-shine men plying their trade with elaborately decorated and highly polished brass kits. They seemed to have plenty of customers.

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Later we returned to the bazaar and wandered around there during the afternoon. I bought a pipe for my brother so that leaves only three more presents to get. I am sure I will have to send for more money, either to Bangkok or to Singapore, as I am overspending enormously. My spending is more difficult to control than I originally thought. My third shower tonight and then I’ll pack my bags. Tomorrow morning we leave for Ankara and Erzerum. Wrote home today.

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Posted by Ozac 03:11 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

Into Asia Minor

Istanbul - Ankara - Sivas

Saturday 16-7-1966

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Looking back to Istanbul from the Bosphorus, with the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and the Topkapi Palace Museum prominent

Today began as a reasonable sort of day. We got to the bus on time, crossed the Bosphorous on the vehicular ferry - a very short ride - and were soon tearing down a fairly good road on our way to Ankara - our first day in Asia. The bus was modern enough, but crowded, and we were stuck down the back, right next to one of the biggest men I have ever seen. He was a Turkish wrestler and seemed a bit intimidating to start with, but turned out to be a really nice chap - a gentle giant. There was some interesting countryside on the way, especially up in the pine forests, where you get these peculiar little log cabin villages. There was nothing outside the the cabins at all - no litter, no people, nothing - just a haphazard collection of perhaps 50 cabins on a cleared slope. As Ade said, they looked like frontier towns. I am sure there are parts of Russia which look just like that. Further on the countryside became very stark and bare, but with those beautiful far horizons, yellow fields, and gently curving waves of hills. Beautiful country.

We reached Ankara about 5 pm and our problems started. Where our bus stopped was not the central bus terminus, so we had to take a taxi to get there. Having reached the bus station we found that there was no bus to Erzerum tonight and in fact there was no direct bus to Erzerum at all. We would have to take a bus to Sivas in the morning and then get a connecting bus from there. Where were we to sleep? We went into the police station and tried to explain in sign language that we wanted to sleep on the floor. They understood, but sent us along with a policeman to the bus office and said we could sleep there in the waiting room. The young official who was in charge appeared very pleased, and seemed to take us under his protection, for anyone who came over to annoy us was sharply shoved off. After Ade went off to sleep I had to sit there for about an hour trying to understand what was being said to me, but not doing very well.

Sunday 17-7-1966

We were woken up at 4.30am to make room for other passengers who were arriving and wanted a seat. The bus left for Sivas at 6.30 and because of the roads it was soon evident that it was going to be a long, long journey. Once more we were seated over the rear wheels. The countryside along the way was again very stark and bare, but at times very beautiful. Turkey’s scenery is on the grand sweeping scale. After many stops, some scheduled, but often because of flocks of sheep, goats or other obstructions on the road, and once for a puncture, we finally reached Sivas about 4 pm.

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Unofficial roadblock, Central Turkey
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Meeting the locals during a puncture stop

Sivas looked a pleasant enough town as Turkish towns go; at least they seemed to be trying to do something with it. When the bus arrived at the terminus, we immediately rushed into the office to see if we could get another one on to Erzerum. No bus until tomorrow morning! It was the same story everywhere; so we prepared ourselves for another night in a bus station. However, just as we had resigned ourselves, one of the Turks came running up, pointing to a coach which had just arrived, and saying excitedly “Erzerum, Erzerum”.

There followed ten minutes of rushing to and fro to get bags, change tickets and what not - all most unnecessary, as it was to be another hour before we left. So we had our bus to Erzerum. And lo and behold, it turned out to be a Mihan Tours coach - Iranian, as I could see as soon as I got a close look, and it was heading home toTehran. One of the drivers spoke French, so we were able to make ourselves understood, and we decided to go all the way to Tehran with them, agreeing to fix up the details later. It seemed a great stroke of good fortune; there would be no need to wait untold hours for another bus in Erzerum and the coach was practically empty, so we could stretch out on the seats and go to sleep. We set off finally after various stops at garages to get petrol and to have the bus greased etc. and it looked as though it was going to be really grand. It reminded me of the similar way we journeyed across the Libyan Desert eighteen months ago. As soon as it got dark I stretched out, got into my sleeping bag and that was it.

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Posted by Ozac 22:52 Comments (0)

Anatolia

Sivas - Erzincan - Erzerum

Monday 18-7-1966

By the time we reached the town of Erzincan, after stopping for about 4 hours during the night and setting off again at 4.30am, there was one remaining passenger besides ourselves, and he was only going as far as Erzerum. It was as if we were travelling in a private coach. We were getting up pretty high into the mountains now and at times we could see large snowdrifts on the ranges in the distance. Again the scenery was of the grand scale, and bare, but much more rugged and rocky and with rivers and mountain streams here and there. We stopped on one occasion when there was a beautiful, crystal clear, mineral water spring bubbling out of the ground. It tasted like soda water and was very refreshing. Eventually we reached Erzerum and then we were in for a long wait.

Our original ticket had been transferred to Mihan Tours when we joined the bus and we had later paid the driver $13 each for the stretch Erzerum to Tehran. This was pretty fair value, as we learned from some people waiting at the bus office that they were being charged $14 just from Erz to Tabriz. I think our driver must have pocketed the dollars. These passengers were joining another bus, which had been there for two days while rounding up business, and was now scheduled to leave at 2 pm. We thought we would probably be shifted onto that coach, but no; it left on time at 2 pm and we remained with the one on which we had arrived, expecting it to follow shortly after. We waited and we waited and we waited. We read, and then we went out to eat, and then we came back and read some more, and when it got dark we stretched out and went to sleep. When we woke up in the morning we had still not set off, and as I write this now at 9.15am on Tuesday we are still waiting. Perhaps we will leave in the next hour or so.

MUSINGS: There is a predominance of the peaked cap on men right across Turkey, with the occasional appearance of a panama hat. For women, there is an almost total absence of the veil in Istanbul, though it begins to appear as you head east, and in Erzerum there seems to be quite a lot of women still wearing them. There is hardly a well dressed person in the country, from all appearances. Most are in cheap, well-worn and often torn clothes, though there have been no beggars. I haven’t found the Turks particularly friendly or unfriendly - largely indifferent, but I can’t say that I have seen much of the village life, as we have been going from town to town. The military is in evidence everywhere, and especially around Erzerum, for some reason.

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Posted by Ozac 15:51 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

Salam Iran

Erzerum - Tabriz - Tehran

Tuesday 19-7-1966

We finally set off from Erzerum around 2.30 pm with only a dozen new passengers on board, so there was still plenty of room. We soon began climbing and I think we got up to about 9000 feet at one point. There were quite a few large snow drifts left on the mountains, which were part of the Zagros range. We did not see Mt. Ararat. Rather good scenery - I have liked the scenery all the way across Turkey - it really is a spectacular country. We drove into the night and reached the Iranian border at about 10 pm, though it was 11.30 on the Iranian side. Reasonably fast movement through customs and we were in Iran and on our way to Tabriz. We were going when I fell asleep, and we were still going when I woke up the following morning.

Wednesday 20-7-1966

We reached Tabriz about 7 am, where we changed money and sent a telegram to Farshid to say we would be arriving in Tehran around midnight. Then we moved on and kept going all day, except for occasional short breaks. We rapidly left the cooler mountains after Tabriz and got out into the hot, dusty, torturous country which seemed to me to be more typical of Iran. Sometimes there were large, grey, rocky masses and at other times nothing but big, parched, blobby hills of dried mud. The villages were all adobe and looked like American Navajo Indian villages. The road was pretty bad most of the way and it was an extremely exhausting journey.

Thursday 21-7-1966 and Friday 22-7-1966

Midnight came and went. We didn’t reach Tehran until 2 am, when we found the Mihan office closed and, of course, our friend not waiting. We had been delayed an hour earlier in the afternoon when the police stopped the bus and searched it thoroughly - for drugs we think. And later, after dark, we had a puncture, which was a further half hour delay. Anyway, we were two hours late in Tehran and there was no one to meet us. We went for a walk in the warm night air and waited around until about 6 o’clock before taking a taxi to Farshid’s address. He was not there either, and it turned out the whole family were up at the Caspian for a few days and would not be back till Sunday. What a blow! We had been making such good time since leaving London that we were way ahead of what we had led them to expect. It was our own fault and now all we could do was wait.

We remembered a student hostel from last time and went round to see if we could get in there. Luckily, we met a friend of Farshid’s who took us in hand, got us breakfast and then found out from the master the name of a tourist club where we could stay. We went there by taxi and, after obtaining the required letter from the tourist office, moved in. This was now early Thursday morning. We quickly fell asleep and did not wake until 2.30 pm, when we went out to change money. That done, we sat about, went to bed early, woke up on Friday and did nothing much. The heat is appalling, really oppressive; it must be near the century during the afternoon. Friday night, some German bloke across the corridor had $200 stolen from his rucksack. What a dope to keep it there! There are some pretty low looking types staying here at the moment so it was probably one of them - maybe one of the hairy gits from next door, continually drugged up to the gills with hashish.

Saturday 23-7-1966

Just another day in Tehran waiting for Farshid to turn up. We went for foreigner registration this morning and they took our passports and asked us to come back tomorrow; so we could not get our Afghan visas today. In the evening we went round to see if Farshid’s father had arrived, but no sign yet. Then we went to the hostel for dinner, and stayed until quite late talking to some of the students.

Sunday 24-7-1966

We went down at 11 and picked up the passports. Then we went to the student hostel for lunch. Then we came back to our accommodation. What a bloody dreary day. We were talking to a Canadian bloke this morning who is on his way to work in Vietnam, at $1400 per month as a construction worker. Now Ade talks about doing the same thing. Time will pass over it I imagine.

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Posted by Ozac 16:22 Archived in Iran Comments (0)

Time Out in Tehran

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Tehran by night

From a letter home, dated Sunday 31-7-1966

We are still in Tehran and are now staying with Farshid and his family. They all arrived back from the Caspian about 4 days after we reached here, so as soon as they returned we were able to move to their home and have been having a very restful time ever since. The university and the schools are on holiday at present, so most of the family is around most of the day. The meals are wonderful, and we are being stuffed with food. All we seem to do is eat, drink, lie about, watch television or go for the occasional drive. Farshid’s mother showed us the towels that you sent her after our last visit. She has not used them, as she says she wants to keep them as a souvenir. We also had some instant coffee, the last of the food parcel which you sent us here Christmas 64, but which we missed. It is really wonderful to be here with them all again; they are some of the nicest people we have met since leaving home and are so good to us. The eldest daughter in the family has had a little girl since we were here last and naturally everything seems to revolve around her. She is a delightful little kid, about 18months old.

The heat here in Tehran has been appalling. We have had century temperatures every day since we arrived and on several days we have had temperatures of 108 and 109 degrees in the shade. At night the temp. only drops to the 90’s and we take our beds up onto the roof to get a little cool breeze. This means getting up fairly early in the morning to avoid the first rays of the sun, but it is a lot better than spending the night inside in a hot stuffy room. At least there are not many flies and mosquitoes here, so that is one consolation.

We got our visas for Afghanistan the other day, but before they would grant them we had to get some anti-cholera pills from the Iranian Health Service. This, in spite of the fact that we had already received two injections in London. Apparently they have been very careful ever since they had a big cholera epidemic last year, and they don’t consider that the normal course of injections gives sufficient protection.

We are leaving Tehran, at the latest, next Saturday, and will go by bus to Mashad, so as to take a different route from last time, when we crossed the country by train. We have written to our friends in Bombay and Poona telling them to expect us in about 3 weeks to a month’s time. The position regarding the Indo-Pak border is still somewhat uncertain, and everyone tells us a different story, so we will just have to wait and see what we find. There are various options if it is closed.

We have been out from London almost a month now - the time is slipping by. In a few weeks I will have been away from Australia for two years. So far this journey has seemed nothing like the last one - everything has been going so smoothly. My pack is very light this time and that gives an enormous amount of comfort. Baggage is definitely the worst thing about travelling.

Our luggage sent from London should arrive in Sydney in a few weeks time, so please let me know when it gets there safely. When I get off the plane I will have virtually no baggage, as I expect to chuck most of my gear in Singapore.

Thanks for the letters, keep them coming. I’m fine, except for a slight case of the runs the last couple of days. Hope you are all well,

Love to all, John

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University Mosque Tehran - nearing completion in July 1966

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Posted by Ozac 16:13 Archived in Iran Comments (0)

Beyond Damavand

Tehran - Mashad

Monday 8-8-1966

We were up at 4 am and, after a quick breakfast, made our farewells all round before Farshid and his father drove us to the Mihan Bus Station. The coach left at 5 and we were on our way again, heading north towards the Caspian coast. Almost immediately after leaving Tehran we began to climb into the Alborz Mountains that provide a backdrop to the city and it was soon quite cold. The scenery was really impressive - massive bare brown cliffs rising sheer from the road. There were some really beautiful peaks along the way, and especially the high, snow clad cone of Mount Damavand, a volcanic peak , the highest mountain in Iran.

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The bus stops at Polour Village, starting off point for climbers of Mt. Damavand, rising in the distance.

As soon as we passed over the mountains the scenery changed dramatically and for the first time in Iran we saw lush vegetation and rice fields. It looked more like something out of South India than Iran. The villages were unlike any others I had seen; the shingle roofed houses each had what looked like an observation tower - a raised platform some 15 feet high - either attached to or away from the dwelling. However, on closer inspection they turned out to be sleeping platforms, so we gathered that here they have a slight variation on the Tehran custom of sleeping on the roof during the hotter months. It soon became quite humid and the land very flat, and away to the left, a thin hazy blue line on the horizon was the Caspian Sea. We never came closer to it than that.

After leaving the coastal belt the land became arid again and, in the Khorasan region that we passed through before reaching Mashad, I think Iran has some of the most beautiful country around, especially when seen in the late afternoon. The plains slope gradually up into magnificent, hazy, blue hills. The shapes and shadows are sharply defined and the colours, all harmonious and merging into one another, run right through the scale. It is difficult to describe, particularly in retrospect, but the colours are vaguely reminiscent of the blues, browns and reds of the Australian Kimberlys. At sunset everything takes on a rose-coloured hue. This is really the sort of landscape I like. So far on this trip, the scenery that has made me sit back and wonder at its beauty has been in Greece, Turkey and now in North Eastern Iran - strangely enough, all brown, dry country. It was a beautiful sunset. The bus stopped for dinner at Bojnord, where there was an argument between the driver and some passengers about exactly where it should pull up. Afterwards we drove on to Ghoochan before stopping to sleep. Ade and I slept for about 4 hours on the tops of fruit vendors barrows.

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Posted by Ozac 23:49 Archived in Iran Comments (0)

Deja Vu

Mashad to Herat

Tuesday 9-8-1966

We got the expected communal prayer chant on the bus last night and again this morning. The cheer leader was an exuberant little Arab kid from Iraq, much to everyone’s amusement. He was a happy little fellow about 12 - smart too. There must be something in it because we arrived safely in Mashad this morning without so much as a puncture. At present we have a 2 ½ hour wait until we can get another bus on toTaibad, the Iranian border town. I have just taken my first cholera pill.

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Later

The bus left on time and it was a 5½ hour ride to Taibad, or Yussuferbad, which is the other name. This was the first road where we have retraced any of the route of our original trip, and we were able to pick out a few landmarks that we remembered from before - a railway crossing, a mosque and so forth. There was a stop at Torbat-e Jam, the town where I’d had to battle for my seat on the bus last time, and then finally we reached Taibad, which is exactly as I remember it, minus the snow and the cold of course. We visited Police, Security and Customs, met some Germans and Australians who are pushing straight on by car, and then ate in a teahouse, where we are also spending the night for 20 cents. We cannot leave until tomorrow, when the bus from Afghanistan arrives. Meanwhile the town is small, pleasantly cool, rather slow and quiet - reasonably clean also. It’s a fair enough place to wait for a bus. This is the first time so far that we have been delayed 24 hours for a connection.

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Taibad, a slow kind of town - the sign at the left says "Taibad Customs Office"

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The Bus Station Taibad - a little busier

Wednesday 10-8-1966

After hanging around all day we left Taibad in the Afghan mail bus at about 5 pm. It was the same bus that we had travelled up to the border in two years ago. Its condition had deteriorated somewhat in the last two years, from being almost new to being an incredibly battered heap. The ride was as bad as I remember. Islam Qala, the border post where I spent the coldest two hours of my life, almost frozen to death, loomed up and we were back in Afghanistan. The bus drove on into the night and we stopped about midnight to eat. It was a fabulous place - mud of course, but we sat cross-legged in a richly carpeted room and ate from the floor, served by a turbaned dwarf. There was a timelessness about it: lamplight, Afghanis, mud walls, exotic carpets - a wonderful atmosphere. We drove on, taking advantage of the cool night, passed Murphs hotel, and arrived in Herat at about 3.30 in the morning. We knocked up the Behzad Hotel and were given exactly the same room as we had two years ago. We fell asleep immediately and did not wake up until 2 pm on Thursday.

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Posted by Ozac 02:59 Archived in Afghanistan Comments (0)

Melons and Minarets

Herat

Thursday 11-8-1966

Crossing Afghanistan last time was hell. Freezing temperatures, sickness, dilapidated transport and the appalling condition of the unsealed roads made it day after day of torture. But this time it will be different. We are here at the right season for one thing, and since we have decided to take the south road again, the now completed cross-country highway should ensure that the road is good all the way to Kabul. Provided I don’t get any tummy bugs I think I am really going to like Afghanistan this time.

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We wandered around the town today and had a good look, especially at the Great Friday Mosque, which is very impressive.

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Herat is a particularly interesting city, not only because of its ancient history going back to before the days of Alexander the Great, but because so much of it today still seems mediaeval. We turned off the main thoroughfare into a side street where all the artisans were and wandered along past the ruins of the massive Citadel, which dominates the city. Looking into the craftsmen’s mud-walled booths was like looking at the displays in an ethnological museum. The weavers and spinners in particular fascinated me; the apparatus they used was really primitive, though absolutely ingenious, and I imagine they have been using the same system for hundreds, maybe thousands, of years. One old bloke let me come in and watch for a while and I was really wrapped in it. We walked on to where there were a lot of stalls selling melons and other fruits of the region, and had a pot of chi in a local tea shop.

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In the evening I climbed up onto the ruined wall behind the Hotel Beyzard to watch the sunset. It’s part of what remains of the old city walls but is just a huge mound of earth now. The view from there was magnificent. From the north a strong wind was blowing down from the Russian Steppes. To the east was the desert of Afghanistan; to the west, Iran; and spread out below me was Herat, with its imposing Citadel from the Middle Ages, the six remaining minarets of its ruined Madrassa, its Great Mosque and its thousands of hotchpotch, mud brick houses. Many others throughout history must have stood in the same spot gazing at much the same scene.

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The mediaeval Citadel of Herat - Qala Iktyaruddin

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The minarets of the Musalla Complex, the ruins of the Gawhar Shad Madrassa, stand at the edge of the city

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The Great Friday Mosque rises above the mud dwellings of Herat

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Posted by Ozac 23:01 Archived in Afghanistan Comments (0)

Camel Capital

Kabul

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Camel Train, south of Kabul

Friday 12-8-1966 and Saturday 13-8-1966

We left Herat by the Afghan Mail bus about 5 pm Friday and drove through the night, except for one or two prayer stops and a free dinner break at a new tourist hotel just outside Farah. We kept going until around 4 am, when we arrived at Kandahar, where I got about 2 hours sleep in the bus. Then we continued on to Kabul. On the way we passed great camel herds grazing beside the road, as well as whole tribes on the move with their loaded down camels; also a number of nomad encampments in the desert. We stopped in Ghazni for lunch in a grubby restaurant with disgusting food. I didn’t eat much. Ghazni looked to be the filthiest town I have ever been in, and that’s saying something. There was a large truck parked there, which had four wild, barbaric looking tribesmen chained together in the back, guarded by about ten soldiers. The fierce looking nature of these prisoners was quite intimidating. We drove on and reached Kabul at about 3.30 pm. We tried to find the Maiwand Hotel, but discovered that it had been closed down since we were here last and that they are building a new one. So we ended up in the Nwazish Hotel in Maiwand Street at 50 Afs per night, after rejecting the BenAzir, which was packed full of long haired, hashish smoking bums. We had crossed the country in less than 24 hours on excellent roads all the way. Less than two years ago it had taken us 4 agonizing days on rutted and corrugated dirt tracks.

Monday 15-8-1966

Kabul smells even worse than last time, probably because it was winter then and now it is summer. But there is still plenty to interest us in this dusty, decaying Central Asian city with its half-hearted attempts at modernization, which don’t yet seem to include closed sewerage and drainage systems. Yesterday we wandered about the streets and markets of the central area and early this morning made our way once again to the camel market on the edge of town. There we found a scene that can’t have changed much in a thousand years. Ade started bargaining with some of the camel traders and they thought they had a customer for a minute - maybe. They were pretty good humoured and it was a way for everyone to pass the time of day.

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Ade camel trading

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Ships of the Desert

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Nothing like a good feed

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The Kabul River

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Ferris Wheel, Afghan style

Tuesday 16-8-1966

We have decided to ditch our plan to go down to Karachi and fly from there to Bombay in order to get around the closure of the Pak/Indian land border. The cheaper, though possibly less safe option, is to fly from here to Amritzar by Ariana Afghan Airlines. But since we want to go through the Khyber Pass again we are going to take a bus down to Peshawar for a couple of days and then return to Kabul in time to get the flight, which we have booked for Monday the 22nd.

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Posted by Ozac 21:57 Archived in Afghanistan Comments (0)

Return Through Khyber

Kabul - Peshawar - Kabul - Amritzar

Friday 19-8-1966

The journey from Kabul down to Peshawar, capital of the North West Frontier Province in Pakistan, was a tremendous experience; first the spectacular Kabul Gorge with its massive and sheer cliffs looming over and dropping away from the narrow, winding road; then the vast desert plateau around Jalalabad; and finally the fabled Khyber Pass, one of the most exciting places in the world to see. There is so much history associated with this area, and so much brutal fighting has taken place for possession of it.

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The perils of the Kabul Gorge

In the two years since we first passed through this way there has been a lot of development going on in the stretch between Kabul and Jalalabad and also Jalalabad - Khyber. They have built a series of dams along the Kabul River, making some very scenic lakes, and great irrigation projects are being undertaken. There were the usual checks at Torkham, the border post where we spent the night last time, and then we continued on through the arid, rocky Pass, with the relics of its chequered history, the myriad guard posts and fortresses, standing sentinel on every major outcrop.

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Looking east towards the plains of north Pakistan from the Khyber Pass

In Peshawar we are staying not 100 yds from the posh Dean’s Hotel, in the tumbledown old British colonial era Dak Bungalow, in Saddar Road behind the Mall, and are doing almost nothing but sitting around under the punkah mending our clothes. It is like a little old ladies’ sewing circle. The clothes we are wearing this time, the same ones as last time, are literally falling apart on our backs. My khaki shirt is almost all patches (Ade’s is worse) and I have had to turn one pair of my jeans into shorts. Not that I am sorry about that, as in the heat we are getting, shorts are the only thing. The heat in Peshawar is almost unbearable - very sticky.

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Cooling off at the Dak Bungalow in Peshawar

Saturday 20-8-1966

We only just managed to get aboard the bus for the return journey to Kabul, up through the Khyber Pass again, for the third time in our lives. There were minimal delays at Torkham, we safely negotiated the dangers of the road through the Kabul Gorge once more, despite some hair-raising moments passing other vehicles very close to the edge, and arrived back in Kabul at 6 pm. Checked into the Nwazish Hotel.

Monday 22-8-1966

After spending one last day in Kabul, this morning we flew by Afghan Airlines down to Amritzar, just inside the Indian border. It was a two hour flight by DC6, very enjoyable, with wonderful views of the Hindu Kush just after take-off. We had breakfast as we flew over Pakistan, then descended through the clouds , taxied to the terminal, and stepped off the plane in India. We have been on the road for seven weeks.

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Posted by Ozac 17:26 Archived in Pakistan Comments (1)

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