Our sightseeing continued with a visit to one the most important mosques in Tehran. The Sepahsalar Mosque, just down the road from the hotel. Built in 1890 it is a fine example of Persian architecture of its time. Next stop was the archaeological museum where on display was a pre-Islamic collection of artefacts. We then proceeded to catch a bus out to the Shahyad Monument. It was built in 1971 to mark the 2,500th anniversary of the Persian Empire. It contained a museum and audiovisual history of Persia, which we all found fascinating.
For lunch we found a little cafe just around the corner from the bus station, and believe it or not he had egg and chips on the menu. So it was egg and chips all round, what a luxury after eating chelo kebab. This concoction of a rather bland meal of meat on a skewer and a heap of equally bland plate full of rice topped with butter, raw onions and yoghurt. That afternoon Steve and I who were still in drinking mood found a small little place simply called “The Restaurant.”
So with Barry, Janet, John, Helen and Steve, we stayed to consume alcohol again this time paying as we went, Helen had Coke Cola for 30 rials; she also tried the khoresh, the most popular dish in Iran after the chelo kebab. It was made up of a meat and vegetable sauce on a pile of rice, she said it-tasted o.k. Although the lack of presentation was much to be desired.
It was around eight when we arrived back at the hotel, we all ended up in Russell's room telling him of our exciting drinking session in the afternoon. When we suddenly could hear some screaming and shouting on the road outside. We all dashed for the hotel balcony that overlooked Amir Kabir Avenue to see what was happening.
George had found this young Iranian trying to break into the bus and had decided to take the law into his own hands by smashing the lad in the stomach. Later we learned that George had been in the English Karate team at the Olympics in 1968. Even though his size was now huge he still had the capacity to slaughter some one.
Wednesday 18th December
Tehran to Kabul is 2,242 km, we left at 08.20 a.m. this morning and soon we were driving in snow again, we were sixty miles outside Teheran when suddenly out of know where appeared this huge mountain, Mount Damavand 17,251 feet high (5601 metres). It was a gradual climb, "George what about the snow chains?" but George did not answer, as the bus laboured up wards through the snow. The road led over a series of passes with the Elburz Mountains as panoramic backdrop were just beautiful, we reached a point where we could see the river had frozen on its way down the mountain side. The road grew rougher and steeper, we crossed the plateau, and again it was bitterly cold, not forgetting that the heater on the bus did not work.
A sharp drop in the road brought us out of the snow at last; we quickly dropped altitude and were soon travelling parallel to the Capsian Sea. The road was sealed, all afternoon George drove and we eventually stopped at Gorgan a small dirty looking town, its 18 .00. I decided to sleep on the bus that night to save some money as I had spent far too much drinking in Tehran.
Next day as we were preparing to leave, George went mad at Patricia for being late. Pat was a 21-year-old American, travelling overland to Goa with her daughter Amanda who was only four. Pats dream was of getting to Goa to smoke dope, she had joined the bus in Istanbul and she obviously seemed to have no concern for her daughter.
"You!" pointing his finger at Pat and the child whom was now crying, "off the bus." " No George. Please," she begged of him. "No, I warned you kids, off the bus," he shouted, "this will be a lesson to you all." "But George we have no more money." "Off the bus, both of you," he screamed. But after some persuasion by Ram and Sina he changed his mind, but I can see that he his not at all happy.
Now the 2nd bus had a problem it couldn't get third gear, so we had to stay in Gorgan until the bus is fixed. Nothing but to do all day but sit in the local cafe's and drink coffee. We stayed at Gorgan until 18.30 before George had the bus fixed and we finally headed off into the darkness. These roads are bad enough during the day, never mind at night, I thought.
The miles rolled on; it was midnight by the time we arrived in the village of Bojnord. We again checked into the local hotel, which looked more like a “cess pit”, rather than a hotel. It is still 200 kilometres to the border and 100 kilometres to Mashed the holy city of Iran. It’s an old city dominated by Imam's shrine. Next day we arrived at lunchtime in Mashed. Lunch was an on heap of rice with a daub of butter served up with some Nan. Again I was sharing a room with Steve who decided to get totally drunk on Russian Vodka that he had bought when he went with Kiwi looking for booze. The rest of us decided to try the Iranian Riesling that tasted much like white vinegar. During the night Steve spewed up all over the floor, I had no choice but to clean him and the floor. The smell was so strong from the mixture of Vodka and Raki. Today we needed to get our visas for Afghanistan; the Embassy opened at 09.00 a.m. After leaving our passports, we then went to visit the Shrine of Imam Reza. Janet had to wear a veil covering her face to get in. The mosque it self was covered all over by Turquoise stones. At eleven thirty we went back to the Afghanistan embassy to see if our visas were ready. "Come back tomorrow," said the official, "But George is leaving at one thirty and he is liable to leave us behind. "No, ready tomorrow" he Insisted, unless some backsheeh may be coming my way by handing the official the equivalent of 2 each of us soon had our visas and we were on our way back to the bus. 40.
We left Mashed on time at 13.30 p.m. and we headed into this thick fog, there were a lot of people on the bus nodding off to sleep as George drove the bus slowly towards the border town of Taybad. When we arrived at 6p.m. The fog had gone.
We did not seem to sleep very long before we were wakened by Ram going around waking everyone up. It was still dark outside. We had travelled about an hour, before the dawn broke, George said that it was about four hours drive to border and that we should reach there about twelve. The scenery was flat dessert, a boring drive compared to the one's we had just made in the mountains. The morning became stuffy, the journey was slow, as we drove the dust and sand entered the bus covering everything that did not move.
As we slowly approached the Iranian border post, we could see the flag flying in the distance. We came to a stop and all of us piled out, George said, "let me do all the talking." As we entered the large stone building we were confronted with something that looked more like a museum than a customs post. All lined up for everyone to see were exhibits of items where people had tried to smuggle dope going from Afghanistan into Iran. There were parts of cars, motorbikes, and bags with false bottoms, tins and clothing parts where the Iranian Customs had discovered hidden hashish. Iran has a serious drug problem so they search nearly everyone travelling overland from Afghanistan into Iran. We were lucky; we were going the other way. It was indicated that we should sit down as we might be here for a while. The customs officer beckoned me to him and I handed him my passport. "You are from Britain?" "Yes" I said.
"We have many hippies that come from Britain." "What do you have in your bag?" "Clothing, nothing else." I said. "Open your bag," he asked.
After ransacking my bag, and intimidating me he said. "O.k you can go." and I proceeded to the immigration Official who stamped my passport and I was free then to get back on to the bus. All this procedure of searching every one took a while although nobody seemed concerned about searching the buses.
Bill was getting hassled because he had far too many Iranian Rials on him than his currency declaration form had said. "Where did you get all this money," the customs officer asked?
"I sold two pairs of jeans," he replied. "You cannot take all this money out of Iran." Bill had heard that there was a black market rate in Kabul where he could double his money. But he did not expect to be stopped by customs. "You will have to leave your Rials here." After some strong verbal abuse, Bill finally had no choice but to let his money go or his other prospect was to spend a few months in a cosy Iranian gaol for selling his jeans. After more than two hours at this Iranian Customs post we finally departed and headed down the road to find the Afghanistan customs and immigration post.
AFGHANISTAN HERE WE COME
After travelling for thirty minutes we came across a log hut, a hotel, the sun shone it was dry and arid but the wind whistled we thought we had missed the border and were now in Afghanistan. A massive Afghan in a kaftan with turban and dagger across his chest “Customs over there,” he said. “This is the No Mans Land Hotel.” Again we headed off down the road, and soon pulled into a small compound surrounded by a barbed wire fence, we were now in Afghanistan. Iran was almost Western yet here at the Afghanistan customs it was more like a camel market.
The Afghan border post had a reputation as being one of the strictest of all overland customs posts on the Journey to India, and we were just about to find this out. Afghanistan a mountainous country in the north is sandwiched between Iran to the west and Pakistan to the east. Ghengis Khan tore through the country between 1220 and 1223 destroying all that lay before him, practically wiping out all of the male population.
As George brought the bus to a stop, a well-built Afghan customs officer in a rumpled uniform bordered the bus, followed by a second officer. George just sat in his seat. The officer made his way slowly down the isle, looking at each one of us as he passed, not a word was said. Half way down the bus, he stopped. He didn’t say a word at first just looked at Janet with a long hard stare. “You come with me for body search” he said. No sooner had he finished the sentence George was up out of his seat like a flash. “You leave her alone, if you need to do body search a woman officer will conduct it.” The officer turned to George “This one will have body search.” The reason behind this was that Janet had an extremely big bosom and it became obvious that the afghan officer thought he would be able to put his hands on her by giving body search.
George now grabbed the officer from behind. “No one does a body search,” he shouted. The officer never said a word at first, then suddenly he demanded, “off the bus for customs search.” So we all piled off the bus into this dirty wooden hut. The hut reeked of urine; there was another customs officer who lay sprawled over a wooden desk.
Put your passports here," he said in a rough voice. We had visas with our photos on them. Then they stamped the passport with the Islamic date 1333 the officer who had originally boarded the bus now entered the room. "You will all sit here until this man calls your name, then you will collect your passport. Your name was put in a book, which was taken from office to office. Then your name was put in another book. It took ages, yet it was both fascinating and boring. Bring your luggage for checking." So we all waited until the immigration officer called out to each person in turn and then we proceeded to collect our passports and have our visa’s stamped. I then proceeded out side to get my bag searched.
When I went out side, there was George with Ram and Sina arguing with a customs officer who wanted to completely search the bus. George was offering him a bribe as not to search the bus, eventually some money changed hands and the bus was not searched. This perplexed Russell and I as to why should George bribe the official, as all we had on the bus was dirty clothes. It seemed to take hours to enter Afghanistan
It was not until we reached Kabul that we discovered the real reason why George did not want the bus searched. Suddenly the telephone rang. Kiwi said, "if it's for me tell them I'm not here!" Then out of know where an Afghan carrying a Kalashnikov rifle turned up and immediately began business by selling Afghanistan right here at the customs post in front of every one. The black market right outside the customs building we could not believe it.
Two and half hours later everyone was back on the bus, black market money in their pockets we headed down the road to Herat the first city in Afghanistan when coming from the Iran. We arrived in Herat at three thirty in the afternoon. It surpassed all our expectations, it was like a fairy tale, and it was the Promised Land. We proceeded to check in at the Hotel Mohmand on the main street.
Free from the hassles of Turkey and Iran, Helen thought it was the nicest place so far, a relaxed atmosphere where the locals just got on with their daily chores. Men squatted in-groups across the street from the hotel in their white baggy trousers. There were very few cars yet the road was crowded with horses, carriages and ox-carts, each carriage being beautifully decorated with red and white pompoms, ribbons, and bells; it was just like the Wild West. Non of the Afghans had money, but they all seemed happy. A country of happy people although they were desperately poor; a poor country full of happy people.
Steve and I went for a walk through the town where we discovered the remnants of a castle destroyed by Ghengis Khan, although a part of it was still occupied by the army. Across the street and down the road was the Great Mosque that is considered one of the finest Islamic buildings in the world. It has some magnificent tile work and one can only ore at such splendour. Herat is a small town, an oasis on the overland route. But the young boys in the street instead of shouting ice cream as you would expect they were shouting “hashish, hashish” Happy Jack could not belief it. Some of the gang all they wanted to do now was smoke a welcome joint. Back at the hotel, Kiwi, Damian and John from Exeter were inquiring about getting some dope. The hotel owner asked, "you want hashish?" and brought out a piece from under his desk the size of his fist and proceeded to sell it to members of our group. "Far out," said Damian. "This is worth all that hassle in Turkey and Iran to come here for this. "It was late in the night by the time we all got to bed either drunk or stoned it was like all our Christmas's had come at once after being in Iran.
The time that we had spent in Iran had been nothing short of a nightmare as I looked back on it. Now we were in Afghanistan and all the tension seemed to have disappeared, at least this seemed a friendly country, with friendly people. “I need to change some money “said Steve so he went into the bank. The man behind the counter said “go and change money on the black market you fool.”