The Road to Utopia Overland from London to Dehli 1974 (Budget Bus) charles wright


CHAPTER 3. IRAN DURING THE REIGN OF THE SHAH



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CHAPTER 3.

IRAN DURING THE REIGN OF THE SHAH

The border post was a maze of buildings and barbed wire fences, the contrast in crossing the border from Turkey to Iran was amazing, the Turkish side was filthy yet we could see that on the Iranian side it was spotlessly clean. The building, which housed the immigration and customs hall contained a white line, painted down the centre of the room, this was obviously the border. After the Turkish officials gave us the obligatory exit stamp and we crossed the white line into Iran. " Salaam,” welcome to Iran," as we presented our passports to the Iranian immigration officer who was dressed in black garb and peak cap resembling something out of a Russian spy novel. We did not need visas to enter into Iran; the guards seemed almost embarrassed to search our backpacks. They all spoke perfect English and seemed very Westernised compared to their counterparts on the Turkish side of the border.

After spending the night in Maku the first village in Iran at a hotel that had no water, no electricity, no toilet and nowhere to wash. We thought by entering Iran we had advanced into the twentieth century but this hotel put Iran right back in the Middle Ages. Our first morning in Iran (previously known as Persia) was a bright sunny day. We followed the now excellent road towards Tabriz with small trees visible on the landscape. After crossing a small range of mountains which we ran down into an area of wider valleys, it was from here that George now decided he was to be the tourist guide and Big Russ was to be the tourist. "Hey Aussie" meaning Russell "look at those! They are part of the Iranian irrigation system." There were mounds of earth (called qanats) running in long lines along the side of the road. Each consisted of a series of shallow wells joined together underground by a tunnel to form a subterranean canal, which ran at a constant slope and carried water from the snow fed streams in the mountains to be used for irrigation on the flat lands. The Persians had been using this system for hundreds of years.

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We stopped for dinner in Tabriz, a large industrial commercial centre that really had nothing to offer. The shah had let the local people build this town He allowed anything as long as it looked modern. So after a quick bite to eat at the local kebabji. This one was filthy yet full on hungry looking men. They munched away at the local chelo-kebab, as they stared at us suspiciously. We ate our way through the kebabs and rice then we were on our way again. Iran is predominantly made up of the Shiite sect of Muslims compared to that of other Muslim countries where they are of the Sunnite sect. The national language being Farci, which is written from right to, left. One of our major concerns was to learn the Persian numerals, which would help to stop us from being ripped off. 1٢. 2 ٢ . 3۳ . 4٤ . 5۵ . 6 ۶ . 7۷ . 8 ۸ . 9 ۹ . 10 ٢۰ and so forth. Due to the excellent condition of the road we made good time although it had been dark for some time, we were soon on the outskirts of Teheran. First we had to pass the ugly sprawl of the suburbs before arriving at thirty minutes past midnight at the Amir Kabir Hotel on the avenue by the same name.

The Amir Kabir is a big hotel with over 60 rooms so there was plenty of room for us to stay doubles were 300 rials (£2.15), it was late by the time we all checked in. At the entrance to the hotel was a huge noticeboard with messages left on it for other travellers, At street level there was a small restaurant where tea, bread and jam for breakfast cost 20 rials. It is strange you arrive in a city late at night or early morning as we did, and staring out of the hotel window on its light glazed streets, a scene looking more secretive and seductive than they will by day, so serine an calm. But with a dawn breaking the morning puzzle unravels its self.

Kiwi and Damian slept on the bus last night to save a little money while the rest of us had checked into the hotel. After breakfast when George and Ram with Sina went to open up the bus they discovered to their surprise that the bus had been broken into and George's toolbox had been stolen. "We never heard a thing George," said Kiwi," "how can you kids let someone break into the bus while you are sleeping? "George its true we never heard anything," as Damian insisted.

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After watching George get upset with Kiwi and Damian, we headed into the city a few hours walk and we locate the main avenues. The Amir Kabir Avenue with it’s numerous mechanic shops that lined both sides of the street. Our first stop was the Bazaar similar to the grand Bazaar in Istanbul with its huge maze of shops and stalls including the famous carpet section, good Persian carpets were on sale, but were expensive. There were many tea stalls with Iranians drinking their tea and smoking their hookah pipes. There were also traders specialising in coppers, paper, gold and spices. You return to the hotel no longer swimming among maple’s avenues but aware of the sights and sounds that Teheran had to offer.

Because of the oil, Tehran has become a very modern rich city with chronic overcrowding and a basic lack in urban development. Teheran has only been the capital since 1783. It has now become a sprawling mass of people and traffic, one out of every ten people in Iran live in Tehran. Our second stop was the Shah's, Sa'adabad Palace, although we could not go inside it was extremely photogenic. The Shah, his real name being Mohamed Reza Pahlavi who was born in 1919, assumed absolute power after the second world war and since 1955 he had set out on some kind of crusade trying to reform the feudal nation that Iran was into a modern state. After a series of violent riots with the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini one of the most prominent spiritual leaders in Iran, the Ayatollah was arrested and sent to France into exile. Since the discovery of oil the Shah's dreams of power increased with the wealth that the oil brought. The Shah has almost absolute power within Iran, although his secret police have an unpleasant reputation of beatings and torture.

That night we all decided to go out on the town, walking through the streets of Tehran I noticed a lack of females on the streets, no lovers or couples holding hands, just males prowling around in groups or just loitering. The girls in our group had decided to stay back at the hotel, which was a good choice as I'm sure that they would have surely attracted much attention and we may even had some problems.
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After walking for over thirty minutes we came across the Exelsior Hotel, a hotel that showed much more luxury than the Amir Kabir, which I would class as grotty. There were six of us and after a meal of kebab and rice we adjourned to the bar. There were no women, only four men in business suits. Steve, John from Exeter and I were the only ones who decided to stay for a drink, the others decided to go back to the hotel. We drank, Tuborg beer and more raki, we talked about the trip so far and our plans on reaching Dehli. At 01.30 a.m. the barman was wanting to go home so we called for our bill, 900 Rials,” we never drank all of this?" I questioned. Even though we were all full it was clear that the barman was about to make a bit on the side out of us drunken foreigners. "We refuse to pay,” said Steve, within a few minutes after arguing with the barman the police arrived. "Well, shit," said John as he staggered backwards, another man arrived and began shouting in farci. It looked like he wanted to start a scene by abusing us that we were nothing but American scum and that this was their country. "But we are not American", said John. His voice getting louder "Shut up." I said.

Sensing that real bad trouble was brewing, I said, "let’s pay the bill and go." So we paid the bill and the police let us go, we had surely been ripped off, but at least we were not in gaol. We had heard stories that the SAVAK (secret police) were everywhere and what they do to their victims and the firing squads that take place. We walked back to the hotel down the deserted streets of Tehran it was two o'clock in the morning. Our experience in this may have been considered lucky, but I'm sure it was by no means unique. Also that night Mike, John and Kiwi were also out on the town, three police in uniform confronted them because Kiwi was making a nuisance of himself in the street, but Graham managed to take a photo of Mike and John posing with the police.
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