we never expected that our good luck would last for ever! So far we had kept good
time. But that was Europe; ahead lay the Middle East and Asia. And there we disembarked.
original plans had included a journey of great historical interest around Iraq,
the Lebanon, Syria, etc. but this had to be revised regrettably, in the hurry
to reach our work in India. So our route lay straight across Turkey, through the
centre of Iran into Afghanistan and down into Pakistan.
leaves Istanbul along the coast of the Sea of Marmora, a very impressive run.
Across the bay of dark water are the enclosing hills with the haziness of early
morning obscuring their details. They appear to climb straight out of the water
and this, combined with their mysterious vagueness, gives a feeling of northern
mountains, th Isles of Scotland. And then across the highlands to Ankara.
is a "created capital" and lacks the historical fascination of Istanbul.
It is built on and among several excessively steep hills - steeper than Park Street!
Its chief beauty is at night when the Turkish passion for electric light fills
the city valley with flickering patterns of different colours and intensities.
countryside of Eastern Turkey is very beautiful, though not in our conventional
northern sense. The contours are those of rolling down-land skirted by low swirling
hills looking like overgrown sand-dunes. Grain stubble diffuses a golden glow
and through this strike the reds and browns of the earth.
hills are completely smooth. Often there is not a tree in sight, just the rolling
hills in their subtle varieties of shads, speckled with herds of black and brown
cattle, black and white goats and sheep. Where rocks show through, purples and
greys are added in a marble pattern and in the distance the mountains frame the
against these hills, and almost camouflaged into them, are the villages of mud
and dung-covered huts. Flat toped and closel grouped together they look like something
straight out of "Beau Geste" - on expects to see Legionaires on guard.
Overhead circle buzzards and kestrels.
in the watered valleys the trees have the fresh tints of an English spring and
there is a rich green groundcrop of the alfalfa type.
up into the mountains high above massive gorges with the sheer rock faces and
sudden drops. Epithets are thrown about
Grand Canyon country
etc. This is undoubtedly our mot photogenic day - except
that a photograph could hardly do justice to this type of landscape, the colour
gradations are too subtle, the shapes difficult to define.
we drive into the evening the bases of the mountains become bluer and their peaks
are caught in the pink light of the low sun. No one could imagine a more complete
scene - beauty, serenity and strength; and, in the winter, I am sure, power and
the mist and clouds, 6,000ft. up in the pass, we met a New Zealander who was driving
alone back to his home. His schedule was very austere, eating a minimum of food
and sleeping in the car with his sheath knife handy.
we heard more of him. We was refused the southerly route through Afghanistan -
lack of a cholera certificate - and mistrusting the northerly track which is considered
unsuitable for cars, had plunged into the unmapped centre of the country.
eventually emerged the other side - having spent many sleepless night alone in
his car - ready to defend himself against numerous unknown horrors and dangers
- with nerves in shreds and having no idea of the passage of days. An object less
to would-be solo travellers.
next night we camped near the Iranian border and in the morning woke to find ourselves
overlooked by Mount Ararat. We had never seen a photograph of this famous mountain
and were delighted to find that with its snow-capped peak and perfect symmetry
it could pass as a model for all mountains.
were no driving east into the tailend of a cholera epidemic. Naturally we had
been inoculated and vaccinated against almost everything and were carrying International
Certificates of Vaccination. Without these it would have been quite impossible
to get through.
epidemic had spread from Pakistan through south Afghanisatan into eastern Iran.
The Iran-Afghanistan border was closed in the east-west direction. From Iran onwards
we were compelled to produce the certificates four or five times a day - often
to people unable to read a word!
had passed through the thousand-odd miles of Turkey without mishap and negotiated
the Turko-Iranian customs without trouble. All we were asked for was firearms
- "Bang, bang," said the officer, pointing into the air; being assured
we carried none he had little further interest. Then came Iran.
the roads settled down to the conditions were to recognise and suffer during the
next two weeks and dream about for much longer. They are covered in dust - and
soon so is everything else! The car ahead appears as though rocket-propelled,
and the safest driving distance is about a mile apart.
cannot apply to incoming traffic, of course. Every time something passes the world
goes grey for several minutes. The taste is terrible. We carry canvas water bags
and drink pints per day - water that must be carefully and laboriously boiled
worse than the dust is the vibration. These roads consist of a succession of ridges
at right-angles to the direction of travel. They say this was caused by the wheels
of the heavy lorries, but sometimes it seems it must have been deliberate; how
else could it be so uniform - and so uniformly unpleasant?
correct technique is to skim the surface at speed, but since the road frequently
drops four feet into the dry bed of a stream this is much too dangerous. Consequently
the vehicles shudder and bounce along; the drivers fight the wheel, which seems
alive, and think morosely of our delicate electrical apparatus and cameras which
will soon be as good as dead.
roads are often reasonably staight, a fortunate circumstance since the cars frequently
travel crab-fashion for considerable periods and maintaining direction in a straight
line is difficult enough. When the driving wheel is turned anything can happen.
Even the slightest bend becomes and adventure.
these circumstances for day after day with heavily loaded vehicles something had
to collapse. In fact, two things did - the rear shock-absorbers of one of the
vehicles. So we limped into Teheran.
saw little of this cty, spending most of our time in repair work - trying to achieve
an equitable distribution of shock-absorbers between the two cars.
after leaving Tehran we discovered another hazard; this was the almost total lack
of signposts - even in Persian, which would have been virtually useless anyway.
So we made our first wrong turning and were rewarded by seeing accidentally Iran's
highest mountain - Damavand, 19,000 ft.
next day we crossed our first desert - the Great Salt Desert of Khorassan - and
saw our first snake. Fortunately its main desire was to get away from us! And
today, also, we lost another shock-absorber!
then we had a stroke of good fortune. We called at the camp of an American pipe-laying
company outside Shahrud for water, and they put us up for two whole days while
we worked on the suspension of the cars. They also gave us the services of an
expert welder. In return our doctor was able to perform a small operation on one
of their men who had badly gashed his arm in a fan-belt. This was some slight
return for their typically warm hospitality.
Mount Damarvand 5670 m in the Alborz / Elberz rang bordering the southern shore
of the Caspian Sea - Roger and Peter
four days late we pressed on as quickly as the roads would allow. But again disaster!
This time a piece of sheer bad luck. A stone jumped up from the road and bent
a blade of the fan, this turned into the radiator and tore a deep circular hole
in it. Inside seconds all the water drained away and we were left high and very
dry well over a hundred miles from civilisation.
was nothing for it but to tow. Over those dreadful roads we towed our second vehicle
150 miles to the town of Mashad. It took the equivalent of a whole day to do it
and is some reflection on the strength of the cars that it was possible - after
all one wouldn't feel kindly disposed to towing a vehicle from Bristol to London
and further, and that on good English road!
driver of the second vehicle was in a dreadful position; tied fifteen yards behind
the first car when he would prefer to be fifteen hundred, choked and blinded by
the dust, and unable to do much to control his powerless vehicle which slid and
leaped and rattled, seeking out all the worst bumps.
link to Mashad
we reached Mashad, Mr Merlin Jones (from Cardiff), the British Council Representative
there, was very kind; and although looking after homeless nationals is no part
of the work of the Council, allowed us to camp in the grounds of the house. He
also gave us invaluable assistance in arranging for a replacement radiator to
be sent from Tehran.
is only one connection between Mashad - the third largest city in Iran - with
Tehran, its capital; that is a radio-link, naturally in great demand. One gentleman
had been trying to contact his office in Tehran for three whole days, and this
was not considered exceptional.
badgering the manager we managed this difficult feat in one day. Then we had to
wait another three to receive the replacement sent by train.
is a holy city, full of pilgrims, with muezzins calling prayers many times
a day. So we had an interesting, although frustrating, time.
in a hurry
we were out on those roads again. And, incredibly within 40 miles the bolt in
a suspension component sheered fracturing a bracket, and one of the cars was on
things can happen; one thing we were very thankful for, however was the relative
absence of punctures. A recent Expedition had 17 on this stretch - we had only
four, a tribute to the gentleness of the suspension.
we removed the offending bracket, returned to Mashad - which by now we knew quite
well - and persuaded a young Iranian to weld a new part. Each time into and out
of Mashad we were inspected at a Cholera Check Post - we thought they would begin
to recognise our faces.
noon the following day the repair was completed and we hurried out of Iran as
fast as we dared; 1,400 miles had taken us 14 days.
was unlucky; and ahead lay Afghanistan. But we pushed on happily still having
confidence in our cars - even in their now sub-standard condition.