18 Iran, Pakistan, India

IRAN                                                                                                  October 2000

Leoné donned her head-to-ankle black cloak at the border from Armenia. Fortunately Jan noticed that although we were stamped in for 1 month, the vehicle had been given 5 days only. The helpful official soon rectified this.

It was late when we had completed the formalities, so that when we parked for the night, it was quite close to the barbed wire fence of one of the disputed regions. Later in the evening the police came and moved us to “safety” in front of their station.

When we ventured off the next day, Jan was delighted with the price of diesel. (Only US$0.015 per litre; 12 SA cents!). Dipli was delighted with the smooth wide roads. However, these good roads enabled the Iranians to do their reckless driving at high speed.

Series III Land Rovers, left over from the 1970’s days, were not quite as fast but in good shape. The desert scenery was broken by brown villages set around palm fringed oases. Truckloads of brilliant red pomegranates were for sale at every lay bye. 

We soon discovered the varieties of Iranian bread. – One kind was large and thin and folded (and tasted) like a newspaper. Later we found the pastries, pistachio brittle and traditional nougat.

We wanted to enter Tehran early in the morning so stopped the night before in what seemed to be a good spot. Later in the evening a turbaned man came and bombarded us with emphatic phrases in Farsi. His gestures and the stick wielding of his companions made these infidels move on fast, into the dark night.

Otherwise, without exception, the Iranians were most kind and friendly.

                                                                                                                        

 Careful navigation (and timely braking) got us to downtown Tehran.

The excellent small Archaeological and Islamic Art Museum charged a whopping $7.50 pp but for us, it included safe overnight parking within walking distance of restaurants with typical food and attractive décor.

We undertook a pilgrimage to the Royal Tehran Hilton where Jan’s parents had stayed. They had been wined and dined there in the days of the Shah. The name had changed (when American property was nationalised), but the “R T H” was still inlayed on the floor of the grand ballroom.

We found a campsite, (a rarity in Asia); near the Ayatollah Khomeiny Mausoleum. The surrounding high walls allowed Leoné a day without the headscarf and “chador”.

By law, in Iran all females over 7 have to wear the “hejab”. The family magazines with “girlie-covers, all featured faces of girls with long hair – 6 years old!?. Many Iranian women seemed to move about freely in restaurants even in the company of males. (Unlike in some other Muslim countries, i.e. Yemen, Saudi Arabia & Afghanistan).

   
    The cities of Esfahan and Shiraz had glorious mosques and mausoleums, set in picturesque gardens and magnificent city squares. There were ancient sites, like Bam and Persepolis where the likes of Xerxes and Darius had dwelled.

 

Darius’ Tomb                                                             Bam
 
  Leoné dragged Jan to numerous crowded bazaars with the aroma of incense and spices and the temptation of Persian carpets. They often had old vaulted teahouses (“chaykunes”) where people sat on traditional carpets drawing on their water pipes.

We really enjoyed our stay in Iran. We felt grateful that the country had reopened after the Islamic Revolution and the Iran-Iraq war.

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PAKISTAN

Jan waved the magic wand and the steering changed from left-hand drive to right-hand drive! Not quite. He actually toiled for 2 hours and then longer, to get the power steering working properly again. We had done 70 000 km, since the Kenya/Ethiopia border, in LHD, but now the whole Indian sub-continent required RHD again.

 

Truck Art


After the surprise of some new highway, the road became a bumpy single vehicle width. The shoulders were dangerously eroded. For once Jan could also ‘enjoy’ the most beautiful objects in the country, as they were coming straight at him! They were decorated Pakistani trucks! Vintage Bedfords were astonishing works of art: canopied, mirrored, sequinned, hung with medallions on chains and intricately painted with pictures, poetry and floral decorations. Friendly drivers always waved and greeted with their very loud musical horns, before forcing us of the road! Priority is according to size, so Dipli could at least force the few cars and pick-ups to give way on the single lane road.  


On a narrow pass we saw our first bus with a very full roofrack of baggage and about 20 people on top of it all. Inside there was a second layer of passengers on the laps of the first! Sheep were in the baggage area underneath. Combi taxis would also have a double layer of passengers as well as some on the seat backrests, but not more than 6 people on the roof. (SA taxis can learn from them!). We remained amazed at this unbelievable crowding on public transport, and saw later that in Bangladesh, where the taxis didn’t have doors, they could fit one more next to the driver on the road side! (and another 6 standing on the rear bumper).

 

In Pakistan’s Baluchistan province,

local men wore intricately twisted turbans.  There were no women in sight anywhere in the villages. Leoné enjoyed seeing little Pakis playing cricket on dusty patches in the desert. Filling stations had cricket scoreboards.

                                                                                                           

Hotels from the colonial days offered parking in attractive gardens. One night we enjoyed a passing fashion parade: 700 guests were coming to a wedding feast. Two venues were decorated for men and women separately. The maitre’d told us that the parents arrange almost all marriages in Pakistan. (Sometimes the couple would meet for the first time at their wedding!)  

The continuously bumpy roads caused a crack in the chassis of our vehicle and although in a very awkward position (weld spatter falling into sleeve), the on board welding system quickly fixed the problem.

The traffic was so congested in Lahore, that Dipli’s driver conceded not to drive, mainly due to parking problems. So we took a minibus tour to the photogenic bazaar and originally splendid, 

 but now neglected mosques, palaces and faded gardens with dry fountains. (We wondered how much money was going into nuclear defence to try and look stronger against neighbouring mighty India). An evening barbecue on the roof top restaurant of the Lahore Holiday Inn was a nostalgic (and spicy) treat for South Africans.




                             
      

We drove east towards the only open border point with India. On the way out of Pakistan an official “Rummaging officer” was appointed. He rummaged thoroughly inside Dipli; whatever for we never figured out.    

 

INDIA                                                                                                            November 2000


We went into India from Pakistan between Lahore and Amritsar. At sunset we watched the daily border ceremony, where the plumed guards of the two rival countries try to outdo each other with exaggerated precision goose step marching and slamming shut of gates, while the flags on either side are lowered.


Golden Temple





Our route was: Amritsar, Jodhpur, Ajmer, Pushkar, Jaipur, Sariska NP, Keoladeo National park, Fatehpur Sikri, Agra, Delhi, Corbett National Park, Calcutta, Konark, Chennai (Madras).

 

We reached Pushkar in the desert state of Rajastan, in time for the annual Camel fair. Thousands of these fascinating animals were displayed and traded- and photographed! This period leading up to the full moon was also the time for pilgrims to bathe in the holy lake. Haunting chanting and temple chimes continued throughout the night. During the day, local women shopped and paraded in the crowded streets, wearing their most exquisite saris and jewellery. Pushkar is a sacred Hindu city and no meat, eggs or alcohol is available. Nevertheless, overland vehicles and backpackers from all over the sub-continent had arranged to meet, to enjoy the company and the spectacle.

                                                                                                            

We spent about two months in India and saw only a fraction of the impressive places like the golden temple of the Sikhs, massive forts, Maharajah palaces, stone carved buildings and a temple with a thousand holy rats! 
   



We thought the beauty of the Taj Mahal had not been exaggerated.

 

Colours

India is spirituality and exotic flavours. India is crowded chaos and colour.  Women wear bright saris and bangles and often flowers in their hair. Stalls have petals being made into garlands, and dye powders in intensive shades. Peddlers offer fruit, spices, shiny chrome and brassware. White cotton is pounded and spun. Rice fields are bright green and when harvested deep gold.

Jan, as driver, saw little of this. Markets sprawl onto the main road in all villages. Pedestrians and cyclists have no regard for moving vehicles. Drivers use no indicators or stopping signs. One-way means both ways. There were always obstacles to avoid; like wide haystacks on wheels or on hoof, pedestrians, bicycles, bicycle rickshaws,

camel carts, elephants, dancing bears, holy cows and sacred monkeys, snake charmers
bulging trailers with cotton, buffalo wagons, 3 wheelers, hand pulled laden trolleys, crowded taxis and many many reckless hooting trucks and buses, and even some cars! When we walked to look around it was a rare treat to detect the aroma of spices and incense above the usual foul smell of heaps of garbage, and water buffalo dung patties. (Used as fuel). Overnight parking was always at large filling stations (as there was never a square metre unoccupied).

                                                                                                           

The air pollution in Delhi was frightening. However, we were in a pleasant suburb and were given a rare treat by a friend at the SA High commission: an evening in a luxurious home and South African food and wine!

Sometimes we escaped to some of the few and comparatively small National parks. They had natural forests, unfamiliar antelope species, like hog deer, sambar, and barking deer. Elephant rides for game watching, was a new experience for us, but unfortunately led to no tiger sightings. Keoladeo bird sanctuary by bicycle was a highlight. 
   
        
                                                                                                   Agra Fort


    
 
 
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