Afghanistan (2) – Iran

Saturday 29th August

Set off early for Kandahar, and made it about 3:30. Booked in at the hotel we’d stayed at on the way out and then went off shopping. We were all still on the lookout for fur coats, but there were none to be had here. Looked in several fancy shirt shops, and found most of them far more bent on selling us kilos of hashish – we christened them “shit” shops in the end. The cost was around £2 a lb, as compared with £10 an oz in England. Got invited to have an Afghani type smoke that evening.

This turned out to be quite an experience. Our guide took us through back streets to a little back room where we found half-a-dozen Afghanis squatting round a large vase, which turned out to be the base of a gigantic water-pipe. The bowl of the pipe was filled up with hash, a little opium was sprinkled on the top for added zest, a lump of charcoal and we were away. When your turn came you stood at the pipe (it was that large), smoked deeply until you were coughing fit to bust, possibly grabbed the bowl of the pipe and whirled at around your head to show you were finished, then sat back down against the wall to continue coughing. The room, lit by a couple of candles, was soon full of smoke, through which one could dimly see the Afghanis round the walls, all coughing. Quite surreal. We floated home quite content. (Footnote – in recent times Kandahar, of course, has become infamous as a Taliban stronghold.)

Sunday 30th August

Drove to Herat – really hot, as it was on the way out. It was nice to be back – Herat was our favourite Afghan city. Booked into the hotel where we’d stayed before, having a room to ourselves for 1/- a head. Bumped into Andy together with Romola and Chris, two others of his party. The other two, Mike and Dick, had gone on to Mashhad, giving a lift to Gus and Paul. The three of them took us to a cheap eating place, memorable mainly for its loo – a hole in the ground on the first floor, seemingly bottomless but out of which blew the most horrendous smell.

Monday 31st August

Spent the day shopping, and finally found a coat for Sue. Then went swimming up at the pool we’d found on our previous visit. Met an American called Pancho, who’d just ridden (horse) along the central route from Kabul to Herat across the mountains. Ate dinner at another restaurant, much better, where all the locals ate.

Tuesday 1st September

The big task for today was to cook up some hash cakes for Mike’s birthday. We had the hashish, so Pancho and I went around the Herat bakers to see who would make us some cakes. None of the five we tried would (it’s still strictly speaking illegal there), so we decided to make some ourselves. Due to restricted ingredients they ended up being pancakes. Pancho and I got completely stoned on the fumes just cooking them, so we hardly ate any. This proved to be our salvation …

Friday 2nd September

We’d intended to set off for Iran, but everyone (apart from Pancho and me) was too stoned and poorly, and spent the day in bed. In the evening we gave the rest of the pancakes away, and they had roughly the same effect on the other people in the hotel. I chucked the remains onto the roof, where a dog had a go at them. I hoped it was all right. Went around town and took a few pics. I also discovered, strumming my guitar in a café, that Mike Heron’s “Maybe someday” appeals to Afghans – at least the tune does!

Thursday 3rd September

Finally left Herat. Got through the border surprisingly quickly, and with the help of a new asphalt road reached Mashad about 5:30. Stopped to have a Coke, and met a young Iranian who offered to show us a turquoise cutting shop (Mashad being one of the two main centres for turquoise in the world), so we had a quick look. Weren’t able to go into any of the fine looking mosques there as it is a very holy city, second only to Mecca. Drove just outside the city and brewed up some good English nosh (stewing steak and spuds).

Friday 4th September

Set out for Tehran, this time by the northern route which is half asphalt. Got about 60 miles out of Mashad when there was a horrible clunking noise from the engine, which stopped and wouldn’t restart. So, deciding we needed a tow back into Mashad we turned the van round by hand and after a couple of hours a Landrover stopped and offered to tow us.

 

I drove, and it was quite hair-raising, as we were cruising at about 50 mph on a very short tow-rope, and we had to do a couple of emergency stops. He left us outside a VW garage in Mashad, although unfortunately not the official agent. However, it was open (on a Friday), so we thought we’d let them do what was necessary. We later discovered it wasn’t just one garage, it was a collection of small workshops, and the VW place was in fact about 15 ft square with 2 mechanics.

We left Malc and George to watch the van and went with the owner of the adjacent spares shop back to his house for lunch (at his invitation!), which was a real slap-up meal of rice with chicken and yoghurt. After a kip his son insisted on showing us round the park (the only time I’ve walked hand-in-hand with another man – it’s the custom there and completely asexual!), and then took us back home where we were invited to spend the night. We eventually persuaded them to let us go back to the van to get sleeping bags etc., and there we found Malc and George. Apparently the garage had shut at noon, after quickly stripping down the engine. A valve had gone through a piston, but the mechanics wanted to renew all four pistons at a cost of $210! However, M & G had met a very nice Iranian who spoke fluent English and who would bring his tame VW mechanic the following morning to have a look at it. So the 4 of us went back to our supper and bed.

Saturday 5th September

Met George and Malc at the garage early (they’d spent the night in the park), and eventually sorted things out. It turned out the price would be reasonable, but the repairs would take a day or so as several other parts were about to fail and needed repair. Spent the day hanging round the garage, and I amused the mechanics by taking the gudgeon pin they’d removed from the smashed piston, wiping it and using it to play some slide guitar! Dined out on kebabs on bread and kipped in the park (about 4 miles from the garage).

Sunday 6th September

I woke early and got a lift into town on the back of a scooter. Work was getting on, and was finished by about 3:00 p.m.. The bill was around £25, which we thought was very reasonable.

So once again we set off for Tehran, and this time did a bit better. Kipped out in the desert after a meal of spam and eggs.

Monday 7th September

Set off at dawn on the bad bit of road – and it really was bad. Only twice in a 2-hour stint could I change up into 3rd. However, we made the start of the good road ok, after about 12 hours driving, and camped (with his permission) in a famer’s field. The whole family came down to watch us prepare and devour supper, followed by a bit of a sing-song. The old farmer was much taken with my little plastic kazoo, so after explaining by mime how it worked (he was trying to just blow it) I left it with him.

Tuesday 8th September

Set off early and almost immediately hit the good road. This stretch, close to the Caspian Sea, must have been the garden of Iran, for it was almost like England. Indeed, we had fresh butter for breakfast, which was a real treat. Turned inland after a while, to cross the mountain range dividing the Caspian Sea from the Great Salt Desert. As we did so the clouds and the trees gradually disappeared as we moved south. In the mountains we passed a traction engine. We’d heard about this – it had been driven all the way from Britain. An unusual sight for Iran.

Made Tehran about 3:00 p.m., so called in the Post Office then got a new flasher for the VW, finally checking in at the campsite about 5:00 p.m.. We all had a good shower and clothes wash, but then, when we tried to start the van to go and eat, it wouldn’t go. So we decided to leave the fault-finding until the morning and walked to a nearby café.

Wednesday 9th September

George and I got up early to fix the van, and eventually found it to be a dud condenser – of which we had a spare, so that was ok. Set off about 8:00. Picked up a German hitch-hiker on the way and made Tabriz about nightfall. Ate out at a kebab place, then drove to our Agricultural Research Station – to find it locked up. Camped in the hills nearby, and spent a really cold night – biting wind which shirt, pullover, sleeping bag, blanket, coat and groundsheet failed to overcome.

 

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