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Lands End to Delhi

Gordon Mackie and Bob Chaplin

September to November 1997
- St Ives, Cornwall, UK to Delhi, India

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September to November 1997 - St Ives, Cornwall, UK to Delhi, India

A journey made on two old (1983) 250cc Single Piston Honda RS Four Strokes.

Editor's Note:
Gordon Mackie (65) from St. Ives and Bob Chaplin (54) from Penzance, County of Cornwall, England. They started the trip on 23rd Sept 1997 and returned to England by plane on 4th November 97. Distance travelled was 7500 miles to Delhi, partly because of a long trip around the Turkish Coast. The bikes were Honda 250cc Single Cylinder 4-stroke - best described as commuter type road bikes. Bob's bike ended up with some 27,000 miles on the clock and Gordon's had about 34,000 miles, they think. St. Ives is a town on the little spit of land on the lower left corner of England known as Cornwall, at the very end of which is Lands End. (Gordon will probably be after my hide for that description, but such is life...)

Their story, written by Gordon Mackie:

I had owned my bike for five years, Bob bought his specially for the journey. My machine complete with full protective fairing and windscreen cost me £300 - Bob really splashed out and paid £350 for his! "Young Bob" is 54 years young and I am 27 - though through some mistake I find myself inhabiting a 64-year-old body.

The inspiration for the trip came from us reading Ted Simons book "Jupiter's Travels" and if some day I meet the author at that moment when I stretch out my hand I will decide whether to grasp his hand or his neck!!

I had been saying for some time, that if I had the right companion I would like to tackle the journey along the Old Silk Road to the East. I said it once too often and was overheard by Bob Chaplin, with whom I had travelled to the Southern Ukraine in an old British Leyland bus loaded with aid goods, and my bluff was called. We spent many happy hours in Bike shops and Camping shops and eventually felt that we were ready for the "Off". We were ready but the Iranian government was not and refused Bob's application for a visa - dismayed but not admitting defeat we contacted a travel specialist in London who had us use the services of an Iranian gentleman to whom we paid £128 and magically the visa was granted. We used the Internet to gather any up to date information on travelling to the East and received a lot of help from an Australian biker who was travelling West on the route we intended travelling East.

Since there was no certainty that the bikes would indeed manage the whole trip we equipped ourselves very economically with the intention of seeking the nearest airport if disaster struck and we had to abandon what was not absolutely necessary. We bought ex British Army Haversacks as pannier bags and spent £6 each on two large holdalls. I had my £75 tent from previous trips and we had a small gas stove and one saucepan. Two head torches, two sleeping bags, a selection of spares and after the local doctors finished giving us the benefit of anti everything it only remained to visit the local supermarket and select a few ready meals for emergencies and buy a good stock of porridge as the ultimate standby.

Departure day

Tuesday 23rd September dawned and we were sitting on our bikes at the Old Quayside pub in Lelant and being waved off by eleven grandchildren. I personally felt that someone close to me should have stepped forward and said "okay its been fun but lets call it off before its too late". Failing this intervention Bob and I set off and it all felt a bit unreal - as though we were just off on a camping weekend. The bikes felt very heavy and it took some time to get used to the effect of the loads on the handling. After the first 100 miles Bob said "only another 59 of these to India" a slightly optimistic estimate, as events were to prove.

A tea and fuel stop just past Exeter showed that Bob's bike was using slightly more fuel than mine due, we thought, to him having no fairing or screen to reduce wind resistance - and I had thought of dumping mine as an unnecessary burden! The bikes ran well and we stopped in Basingstoke to visit Bob's mum - more tea and cakes very welcome. Fuelled again at Fleet Services and we ran on in heavy traffic to the M.25 then a very heavy "slog" in rush hour traffic up the A.23 to Crystal Palace Camp Site - Big Depression - my bike is giving off a hammering and rattling sound due, Bob said, to the engine Overheating!! - Overheating in London? - What price Lahore?!!

We put the tent up in quite expert fashion and went out for a meal at Pizza Express - Bob's first ever pizza. After eating Bob picked a pub for us to have a pint - he having more experience I thought. The pub was undoubtedly the grottiest ever and Bob's standing as a pub picker is at zero. After a good nights sleep we were up at 7am for hot showers and porridge. We took an early bus into London to India House to collect our Indian visas - a very efficient service saw us on our way back to Crystal Palace after just one hour. We now had the "full set" i.e. Iran, Pakistan and Indian visas - the Turkish visa we would get at the border.

We found it quite a struggle just to get out of London and the added worry of perhaps losing one another added to the trauma of weaving through the London traffic. We stopped for a rest beside one young guy who was rather frantically painting a lamppost` and curious as to the need for such great haste we were informed that he got £1.80 per lamppost - by my calculations he should be in John O'Groats by Xmas!! My bike was back to running normally and we agreed that my changing to low lead petrol the day before had caused the trouble.

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France

We travelled against quite a strong headwind to Dover and a very quiet crossing on Stena Line to Calais where we landed in the dark and after finding two camp sites which were closed we opted for asking a French couple for help in a town called Adres. They fixed us up in a small 2-star hotel, which cost us £40. We will not make the mistake of wandering in the dark again (we hope). We daringly lit our stove in the room and made tea with bread and cheese, chatted, and were in bed by 10.30 French time - so ends Wednesday 24th September.

A good night's sleep and we were up early for continental breakfast and the huge task of loading the bikes - we seemed to me at least to be carrying far too much gear. We set off in the hazy French sunshine and quite cold conditions towards Arras and paid a visit to the British and Commonwealth cemetery - always a depressing sight but a necessary reminder of why we were free to do what we were doing. We stopped at a roadside cafe for the usual good French omelette and a coke but we were finding the endless going round roundabouts and working our way through French towns very tiring.

Conditions were good and became almost too hot as the day wore on. I felt glad of the stops at red lights as an opportunity to lift my aching bum off the seat - made all the harder to bear as Bob was "very comfortable thank you". We changed some money in Leon and pushed on to a really plush municipal campsite in the small town of Revigny. Modern facilities and excellent showers for just £5 for two people. We walked around the town later but found nowhere attractive to eat so we bought French bread and some of the local pate and dined "Al Fresco" with the addition of two large Danish pastries for dessert. We now encountered what I will call "the camping syndrome" - what do you do at 9pm on a dark campsite? - no prize - you go to bed - then what do you do at 5am when you are fully rested and have been awake for an hour? - our solution was to get up and put the porridge on as the dawn was slowly appearing.

The night had begun with my being too warm in my bag but ended with me heaping my rubber motorbike jacket and anorak on top to keep warm. We were off very early on our journey South and reached the town of Vittel where Bob's leaking front brake had to be seen to. A local Honda dealer promised to have the part by the next morning so we entered Vittel camp site around 1pm and promptly fell asleep in the hot sun.

A trip into town later for a beer and we spotted a cafe for our evening meal. Reflections after four days??? - Bob seems O.K. but I find my legs stiff and I am surprised at how tired I feel after each day's ride. I expect to get fitter by usage and feel more comfortable on the bike now that I have dispensed with a pair of very strong braces which were pulling things where things were never meant to go!!! We had a really good meal in town and were in bed by 10pm - it was quite cold but we were comfortable in the tent. We wakened early (of course) and Bob asked me the time - I made a slight error of two hours so we found ourselves sitting in the camp laundrette at 5am making the inevitable porridge and banana feast for breakfast - quite cosy and a good spot for us tenters. We were at the bike shop by the appointed hour, had the job done and Bob was £60 poorer!

 

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Switzerland and Italy

We left Vittel around 11am and made our way through Mulhausen and Basle to Switzerland and arrived in Interlaken at Camping Jungfrau 5 - a very scenic site looking up to the mountains. This was the last night of the camp restaurant and we enjoyed a special meal of salad and lamb steaks. On being told that the restaurant was closing for the season I casually asked the young waitress whether she could suggest a restaurant for tomorrow night assuming we were staying for a second night. Whether it was my Scottish accent or her limited English, she immediately blushed and said she couldn't possibly go out for a meal with me as she was off on holiday tomorrow! - she obviously regaled the kitchen staff with my "offer" and Bob was much amused.

The next day was Sunday and proved to be a "magic day". We climbed firstly the Grimsel Pass in glorious sunshine and were amazed as we were passed by literally hundreds of Swiss bikers on their way to the summit - a Sunday pastime for the Swiss boys who meet their Italian counterparts on the Simplon I suppose. We stopped for coffee and apple strudel at the top of the Simplon Pass and felt ourselves to be two of the most fortunate bikers in the world that day. The bikes small engines were working very hard and needed careful handling on the bends both going up and coming down.

We came down into Italy and changed our francs for lira on the way to Lake Maggiore where we found a very friendly camp site - pitching our tent right on the bank of the lake. We met a group of young New Zealanders and spent a very pleasant evening with them in the camp restaurant - young Vicky is to visit St Ives in November. As a gesture towards International Solidarity I donated my wellies to the N.Z's and lightened my load a little!

Off around 9.30 ever heading South we followed rural roads till we decided to splash out and use the motorway to get south of Genoa then onto a narrow winding road, which was hard work, to Chiavari where we booked into a site on the beach. We had our first swim of the trip and it was great to cool down on a boiling hot day. We went out at night to a typical Italian restaurant of the region - it was really different and as we didn't know what to order the very elderly owner just gave us something of everything! - a nice experience. On return to the camp we used the key issued to us to open and close the security gate then into bed for what proved to be an eventful night.

 

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I awoke with the sound of loud hammering and banging and after waiting for some one else to do something I went outside to "remonstrate." I was immediately surrounded by four deaf mutes who were trying to waken their mates in a camp bungalow - some chance since they were also deaf mutes and were not in the camp anyway! I suggested that they stop the noise and kip down in the camp cafe area but as I was returning from the toilets I saw them climb over the 10-foot high camp gates like monkeys and wave me a fond farewell. It turned out that they were Polish guys who made a living going around the restaurants begging. The friends they were looking for had stayed in that bungalow a week ago! One of them had a huge goitre on his neck and that only added to the certain feeling I had that this was a nightmare with me standing in my Y- fronts trying to placate four deaf mutes.

La Spezia was the next town en route and we travelled through very dark tunnels, which we found to be quite disorientating. In the tunnels the bikes sounded like old bombers as we roared along at all of 50mph. Late in the day we found ourselves looking for a site but it seemed that Europe was closing for the season just as we were arriving as the sites we found were closed. Remembering that the New Zealand group had told us of a site at Lake Bracciano called Camping Azzurro we went some way off our route and found this site only to be told "we are really closed" but the kind lady in the Reception had pity on us and said we could stay the night though there was only "one toilet and one shower" - how many do we need?, I asked myself.

Later we used the code given to us to unlock the huge electric gate and go into town for a meal. Back to the camp and no problem with the electric gate. In the morning we arose to find the camp deserted - the water off - no electricity - and the camp gate locked with no power to open it. We used a 'phone in the camp to dial an S.O's number and the police duly arrived and graciously shook hands with us through the gate then found the owner of the site who eventually arrived with keys and, with no semblance of an apology, allowed us to "escape".

From Bracciano we made our way via a rural type road towards Rome and after changing money in the centre of Rome we used the Autostrada to head south to Naples. The road was long, the heat was great and my backside was aching like toothache - no matter how I wriggled I was not comfortable. We took a long break at a service station and the good coffee and excellent sandwich revived us and allowed us to travel on to Naples by 4pm - here, by my mistake, we really did "see Naples" but fortunately the latter part of the famous saying did not apply. We went up then down the Naples Autostrada in heavy traffic having missed our turn-off for Salerno - eventually we escaped and headed down to our destination for the night - Pompeii. We found a site immediately on entering the town and had the tent up quickly and enjoyed the excellent showers. In the evening we sat in an open restaurant in the camp (which, wouldn't you know!, closes tonight for the season) and enjoyed a bottle of wine and a pizza. We were watching Man United v Juventus on the T.V. when the owners said good night to us and drove off leaving us to put the lights and T.V. off when we were finished! - I suppose the camp security would lock up eventually. I got quite badly bitten round the ankles by mosquitoes but our Savlon spray worked wonders and took away the itch.

 

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Greece

When we left Pompeii in the morning we used the Autostrada as the local roads were very congested. We found ourselves climbing on a tremendous road up through Potenza - great engineering and very scenic. By the late afternoon I felt tired and saddlesore and was glad to get to Brindisi - our ferry port for Greece. We booked a cabin for the night crossing and waited outside a cafe until ferry time. We met an ex-pat called Don who worked for an oil company in Albania and he gave us a rundown on life there - his verdict - great people and a lovely country. We moved off in the dark down to the docks and as we sat on our bikes waiting to board the ferry up came a young chap on a big Honda Nighthawk who introduced himself as Chuck - an American biker travelling on his own and making for Bulgaria - ex New York carpenter - embryo writer - lots of stories to tell and very good company. We had a meal in the ship's restaurant and got to bed around 11pm Greek time.

We were up at 6am to disembark in a very wet and gloomy Igumenitsa. I felt very apprehensive on the wet and oily roads and felt the back tyre slide a few times. We stopped for coffee while Bob adjusted the chains on both bikes, which had stretched again. Travelling with Chuck tailing along behind we embarked on a Superb climb through the mountains on hairpin bends with some passes of 1650 metres! A huge Albanian steel carrying lorry had lost it's transmission coming up towards us and the driver had deliberately jacknifed the vehicle to stop running back down the mountain - the whole road was blocked but, we thought cleverly!, by unloading all our luggage we could squeeze past - we got Chuck past and as I was physically lifted past a damn great tow truck appeared and quickly cleared the road. We then rushed to re-load before the lorries got in front of us - not so smart.

We had lunch at a place called Kabbaka where we were impressed by the weird shapes and giant pillars of rock caused by wind erosion I suppose. We carried on towards Larissa and we all felt tired after the endless series of mountain bends - Bob went into ecstasies about the "great motorcycling today has been" - he seemed quite normal when we left England too! After a period of very strong headwinds and heavy rain we arrived in the Greek coastal town of Platamon and found a room with bathroom and kitchen for £7 per head. We went into town when the rain stopped and had a meal in a local cafe with Chuck regaling us with stories from his past. Both Bob and I have taken a real liking to Chuck and went right over the top by making a share of our morning porridge for him - "greater love hath no man etc."

Quite a late start next morning after a lengthy breakfast and we were off in bright sunshine but rather chilly conditions - we had a coffee break by the sea before Thessalonika. There is a good ring road around the town now which made it a "dawdle " compared with a trip with my wife, Grace, in a motorhome some eight years ago. We said a surprisingly emotional goodbye (all hugs!) to Chuck and he set off, a lonely biker, towards Bulgaria - he intends to winter in Rumania and continue touring in the Spring - he has a big heart to do so on his own. We had a lovely drive along the Greek coast to Kavala with the bikes running easily and arrived at the campsite beyond Kavala by 4pm - a desolate sight - no one there! What had been a busy transit site for people travelling to the East eight years ago was deserted - we were the only campers. We had hoped to meet people on the same route or coming from the places we were travelling to get up to date information.

We pitched our tent and the site owner told us his trade had disappeared because of the Yugoslav war. This site used to be popular with the British company known as Top Deck Travel - double decker buses which did the journey to Nepal and India with groups of tourists. We noted that the site owner had gone to the trouble of digging a trench under his entry facade to allow the big buses entry. Our tent was right by the blue sea and looking across to the island of Thassos.

Reflections after 2400 miles - Both of us are thrilled and delighted with the trip so far and looking back on the last 12 days we seem to have seen and done so much that to visualise what we will experience over the next 4000 miles is just not possible.

We still have our store of emergency food less one bag of porridge - we expect we may need some of our own supplies in Iran and Pakistan. I am more comfortable on the bike now - getting fitter I hope.

 

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Turkey

Sunday the 5th October we had an easy run through Alexandropolis to the Turkish border. We were not badly delayed by the Turkish Customs but even so made three attempts to pass the final control each time being sent back for further documentation - no one tells travellers what the procedures are - they find out by firstly doing it the wrong way!! Oh! I nearly forgot - we stopped at a small shop in Greece to, phone home and found we were a day out in our thinking - we had thought it was Saturday. We travelled a few miles into Turkey and stopped at a "cafe" which was back off the main road - it was the pits but to be fair to the Turks it was the worst we found in Turkey. We ordered a whole roast chicken and two cokes and dined superbly! - the toilet was another story.

The last part of our run today was across a high plateau to Gallipoli and we found the going hard with a strong headwind. Gallipoli is no-one's idea of a holiday resort and the hotel we tried was at the kindest of the basic variety! We turned down the first "den" we were offered but settled for a decent room on the upper floor for Three Million Lira!!! - about £11. We went out at night for an average meal and when I returned I tried, phoning home - failing to get through I tried again using my B't . International card - unfortunately as it turned out I got through right away and Grace and I had what I hope was a memorable conversation as I was afterwards charged £24 by the hotel for the call!!

We set off in bright sunshine after a "free" breakfast of coffee and stale bread for the ferry at Cannakle, which took us into Asia. Turkish roads are bumpy with a rough surface which made my hands so numb that I took my gloves off. We made our porridge for lunch and Bob tightened the chains again. On in sunshine but quite cool weather we saw one bad crash and did not appreciate being overtaken with inches to spare by the Turks. A real slog around the city of Izmir ended on a new motorway and so in darkness we finally got to Kusadasi - very tired after a 300 mile day. We had a great meal in the camp - soup, salad, chicken snitzel, ice cream, fresh fruit salad and two beers - total £11. - it's a tough life this motorcycle travel!! We decided not to put up our tent as for an extra £3.80 we were given a small bungalow with it's own toilet.

 

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In the camp we met Colin and Margaret from Derby travelling in a smart "F" reg (Ed. Note: this means approx. 1989 vintage to those not from the UK) V.W. Marbella camper. They had intended to travel to India on a one year trip but turned back after just two nights in Iran! Margaret felt that she couldn't continue - possibly the fact that an Iranian family had"seized" them put them off but it is a pity as they had the visas for Pakistan and India. During the night I awoke with itching bites and thought "Bed Bugs or Fleas" and started a frantic search - it was of course a late season mossy which had done the damage - I applied Savlon and slept through to 9.30 am.

The next morning we had hot showers and a good breakfast and tackled our first big washing - in cold water. The clothes may not look good but they sure smell a lot better - our wives would have been proud of us. This was our first rest day since leaving home and Bob checked over the bikes to make sure that nothing had, or was, going to fall off! In the afternoon we set off for Ephesus which was very interesting and we overheard a guide telling how papyrus gave way to leather for printing books in the region (urine and lamb foetus would you believe?). Back to Kusadasi for a long cool drink and a chat with Colin and Margaret regarding the route to Iran and the frontier procedures. In the evening we went with Colin and Margaret to the camp restaurant again and since they had been staying on the camp for two weeks they had a very good rapport with the young waiters who were very friendly and helpful. To prevent further mossy trouble we plugged in our electric mossy killer - it would have been more effective if we had remembered to put a tablet in the cooker consequently we were bitten again.

Wednesday the 8th October and today I tried a revolutionary loading method! - big bag on the seat and the tent on the carrier - this puts more weight between the wheels and hopefully gives better balance as I have been cornering with all the agility of a pregnant cow. We had an excellent continental breakfast of bread, cheese, jam, salad, and apple tea and were on our way by 9.30am. And immediately got lost - did a 10 mile jog in the wrong direction then eventually found the right road. The bike is a lot better balanced now and with less weight on my hands they are not so numb. We did our usual 50 - 60 miles and had a coke then another 50 and stopped for lunch under a shady tree outside a good self-service restaurant. The bikes were running easily with a slight following wind and some of the scenery of sea and mountains was spectacular. The road bears little resemblance to the narrow winding road of eight years ago but the surface is not smooth and is bumpy in places.

Bob has a touch of the runs so we were glad to stop in Fethye where we bargained for a room with shower and toilet for one million five hundred thousand lira - about £5.50p. We had an hours sleep then walked into this very attractive town past many luxurious yachts - Bob felt ill so we stopped for a coffee and w.c. We had to take a taxi back to the room so that Bob could be near a toilet. I left Bob in bed and walked back into town to buy bananas and coke and bottled water to see if they would help. We put on our mossy cooker again and, would you believe it, the power went off during the night and we were bitten again and had to spray the room to get some peace.

 

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Bob felt better in the morning though quite weak and we left Fethye without breakfast to take the fairly new high road to Antalya - what a road! - up and up to a high plateau in a barren landscape with a mixture of primitive yurts and new, unfinished in many cases, houses. We had numerous stops and Bob tried to eat a little mousakka but had to leave it and stick to drinking loads of coke (Aunt May's remedy).

We came back down to the coast and found it hot and heavy going to near Alanya where we stopped at a swanky looking apartment motel - we beat them down to four million lira but the room was very basic - no furniture, just two beds and no blankets, just sheets and a top cover. Best of all we found we had only half a window!.We had a swim in the new swimming pool and the receptionist sent a guy up with the other half of our window! Looking at the map we seem to be biting off small chunks of Turkey despite being on the road for 7 - 8 hours - but one day at a time is the cry.

To pass the evening, we went down to the pool bar where we met a young English couple who had just been told that their tour company had gone "bust." They didn't seem to be worried and we enjoyed the company - their little boy made our night when he tried to push a Turkish waiter into the pool, missed and plopped in fully clothed himself. After a " mossy free" night we were up early and changed the engine oils on the bikes.

The first 50 miles came easily and we stopped for apple tea, fresh bread, butter and jam - this was one of our better stops. The road then became horribly difficult and consisted of our having to negotiate endless hairpin bends. On small heavily laden motorbikes this took a lot of concentration and I found it very tiring though Bob seemed quite happy - he seems to do well on bends while I am more at home in town traffic as Bob says he is just a "country boy." We did not stop for lunch but pressed on in great heat and fantastic coastal and mountain scenery. We had a bottle of local beer each, which, on an empty stomach was a mistake and I felt my judgement was affected for the next few miles - Bob more wisely left half of his.

We travelled to within six miles of Silifike looking for a camp site, but spotted a little bay with restaurants and cafes by the shore. Turning off the main road made our way down to be met by a large Turkish family who persuaded us to use their partially completed room on the second floor of a new building. The room was clean though very basic, and we gingerly carried our bags past a large and not very friendly dog on the stairs - I just knew that the dog deterrent Bob bought would not be handy when needed! These nice people produced a lousy meal of rubber pellets of lamb and rice with tough chicken added as a challenge to the power of our jaws. One of the five brothers who owned and operated the business made some amends for the meal by giving us a free dessert of fresh fruits and a drink of the local raki which was all very pleasant. We were back in our incomplete apartment by 8.30pm and made the room mossy free for a good night's sleep.

 

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I am writing this part of the daily diary in a hotel room in Kayseri, a big town some 200 miles inland from the coastal town of Mersin. We did 240 miles today in very hot conditions. We began the day by being amazed by the number of new high-rise apartments we saw as we entered Mersin - quite incredible - where did all the people live before the new and closely packed flats appeared? We made our way round Mersin and up to the turn off for Kayseri. When we turned right up a bleak looking mountain road instead of continuing on towards Ankara we just knew that a more rugged stage of our trip was beginning. As we sat side by side on our bikes at a road junction Bob said "you have got a puncture" - he could hear the air escaping from my rear tyre. Very lucky really as if we had continued at a fair speed it could have been embarrassing to say the least.

It took Bob one hour to unload the bike and fit a new tube and in the intense heat we were glad of the bottled water we were carrying. Next little crises of the day consisted of my bike just dying on us and despite changing the plug we could get no life from the engine. As a last resort we turned the bike round and bump-started it down the hill - and it has run perfectly ever since! We rode across a vast plain - treeless and very windy - with people working in huge fields with no houses in sight. Some of these people, we later saw, lived in low tents and the women looked as though life was very hard here.

We arrived in Kayseri around 5.30pm and booked into an old hotel in the town centre after a bargaining episode which brought the initial price down considerably. We were very hot, tired and very dusty - the hot showers were much appreciated. Today was a complete contrast to the previous day's driving in the mountains as we were travelling across a high plain with two snow-capped mountains to be seen as we neared Kayseri. We went out at night to a local restaurant and saw "downtown" Kayseri on a Saturday night! - very much a family night out which we appreciated as the meal and service was very good and we enjoyed the atmosphere. The staff in this hotel were helpful and provided a good breakfast of boiled eggs, meat, bread and jam with apple tea then helped us load our bikes.

We set off for Sivas and a day of strong winds and much climbing - two passes of over 7000 feet!! Hard work - sometimes down to second gear. Occasional stretches of gravel road made the heart flutter as my rear tyre slid around. In Sivas we tried to get a much-needed new tyre for my bike but the size we wanted was not available as all local bikes seemed to be of 125cc maximum. This appeared to be a big problem, as my rear tyre would be struggling to do another 500 miles.

 

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Today we passed the 4000 mile mark and I write this in quite a modern hotel in Erzincan - a town on the old Silk Road which we rejoined today after our detour along the coast of Turkey. Bob has just looked out of the window and has seen a Japanese girl on a big "traillie" motorbike pass slowly along heading West - she has a number on her bike which means she is probably a "stray" from the Peking to Paris rally which should have passed this way some days ago - brave girl!! Today we saw a very heavy army presence, including tanks, in the high passes and may have seen an "opposition group" in two lorries going up a side road. The total lack of any attempt to brighten the houses along the way is very noticeable - no curtains - just sheets or rags across the windows - no attempt to have a garden or flowers - just a shambles of rubbish around the houses which are often sited in the most barren places.

Turkey seems to go on for ever. Perhaps our decision to travel down the west coast instead of directly from Istanbul to Ankara has added a much greater mileage than we anticipated - however the trip down the coast was so scenic and interesting that we both agree we wouldn't have liked to miss it. In the evening we walked out into the town to try to phone home - this we achieved finally despite some aggressive hassle from a drunk and with the help of a very friendly postal clerk. We had the inevitable and nearly inedible kebab and came out of the cafe to heavy rain, which does not bode well for tomorrow.

Bob has now told me that a smaller tyre "would do at a pinch" - and I've been worrying for days that if my tyre wore out the trip would be badly delayed while we tried to have a replacement flown out from the U.K.!! In the morning we were all packed and ready to roll by 7am. We found a motorcycle shop managed by a young student who took us down an alley to where bikes were fixed and helped us buy a tyre for £20. Sardar was able to tell us why the town of Erzincan looked so modern - in 1992 there was an earthquake which killed 5000 people!!

Oh! The relief of riding on good tread again. The smaller tyre seemed to alter the R.P.M. ratio but the bike ran superbly up over a high pass and along a road that felt like "the roof of the world", at one point over 7000 feet, then down to Erzerum at 6000 feet. We paid a taxi to guide us into an expensive hotel - £14 each. We were told to drive our bikes into a garage under the hotel for their safety and this we did despite disturbing a live sheep, which was already billetted there! Having made the sheeps acquaintance we both decided we would order chicken for our meal!

 

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Our impression of Erzurum is not very good - a large, very busy, rather grotty town with few features - just lots of shops and markets - very dangerous traffic and lots of noise. A big political rally was driving through the town in a long cavalcade of cars, buses and lorries all blaring their horns like mad - We don't know what party they represent but we are all for the opposition. This is our last night (we hope) in Turkey and I have written in my diary - 'Turkey trying to modernise fast - too fast - with a lot of shoddy development - people seem to have a very hard life in the barren high ground - a big army presence in Eastern Turkey'

In the morning we were up by 6am - not surprising since we were in bed by 9.30pm the night before and drove the bikes up past tomorrows dinner to the front of the hotel where the staff insisted on carrying out our gear and helping us to load up. The manager tried to charge the full rate for the room after we had agreed a discount so I jokingly pretended to headbutt him - but when he equally jokingly produced a large knife I told him to charge what he liked! He did charge the lesser amount I am glad to report.

After a good breakfast - we have grown to like the glass of Turkish tea with sugar but no milk - we set off in cold but sunny conditions with a good following wind. A following wind is really appreciated when you are riding a 250cc bike - and we climbed easily over one pass of over 8000 feet and two of 7000 feet. We saw people living in very primitive hovels with lots of tough little kids waving and running towards us. Bob was struck by a thrown stone but not hurt, and a passing bus threw up a stone which took a chunk out of my perpex screen quickly followed by a suicidal bird which thumped into my chest - never a dull moment!

We were very thrilled to catch up with our first western travellers since we met Colin and Margaret in Kusadasi. A young Dutchman and an Australian girl on bicycles!!! they have been travelling for 18 months and places like Java, Indonesia, Bali, Burma and India were where they have cycled - strangely, that day was to be the day they parted as the girl had no visa for Iran and was later heading back from the border by bus to Istanbul and home. The scenery today was unforgettable - tall, snowcapped mountains and barren hills with Mount Ararat outstanding.

 

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Iran

We did the 200 miles to the border by just after 12 noon and there it all began. First the Turkish side - some officials went to lunch and we had to stand about on the most grotty buildings. After half an hour a bystander told us we had to "see the doctor" who turned out to be a young guy in a hut who asked us for our "international health card" and money in that order. We declined on both requests so he signed our passports and threw them at us! We finally had our vehicle carnets processed and were told we could go. We drove half a mile down a steep hill to the final passport control where we were told that we needed a signature from an official back up the hill.

We returned back up the hill and obtained the necessary signature from a grinning official only to be told on our next attempt to pass the control that "the bank has made a mistake on your passport entry." Back up the hill we went (God help the poor backpackers in this situation) and the bank altered their entry in our passports. We finally entered Iran after a delay of some four and a half hours - it made the big banner saying "Welcome to Iran" a bit of a sick joke. There is no doubt that some officials enjoy playing games with Western tourists and we were determined to show no anger and indeed said to one official who asked us "why are you waiting here" after telling us to do just that "oh we have grown to like it here".

Some two miles after crossing the border we stopped by the roadside to purchase Iranian motor insurance and were received by a family of father and two young boys working together in a small office. They were very charming and the price of £2 each made the extra half-hour delay of small moment.

Our first impression of Iran is not a good one - the town we have stopped in is very dilapidated and full of soldiers. We arrived at a government run motel in the dark and tried to bargain with no success. We reluctantly agreed to pay the tourist rate of £22 for a room as the thought of going back out in the dark to look for something cheaper was just not on - we were knackered. We went out later for a walk and were not impressed by what we saw - the town is very poor and big open drains run down the side of the streets - the shops are quite well stocked and we did see, of all things - a florists. We had a meal in the motel, which was pretty duff but included really good soup - so we went to bed tired but not hungry - a memorable day - Iran is very poor!

 

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Iran is one and a half-hours ahead of Turkey so we were awake by 5.30am, made a full pot of porridge and set off by 7.30am. First stop find petrol - the guy hands me the nozzle and I fill up and hand the nozzle to Bob who having filled passes me the good news - both tanks filled for 50p!! - less than 4p per litre!

Off we went towards Tabriz in bright sunshine with a good road and views of snowclad mountains - always something different to see - ridiculously high loads on small pick-ups - men on tiny donkeys - ponies and carts and really broken down hovels and villages out of the dark ages. We stopped for a glass of "chai"- tea to the uninitiated - and the boss of the place had to remove two glasses from his regulars to serve us. Wherever we stopped men gathered round to look at the bikes and ask us where we came from - they always said we were German till we put them right - we also found that with their often limited English and our complete lack of Persian it was better to keep the conversation down to the fact that we were travelling from "Englistan" to "Hindustan" and that our bums were very sore but we thought Iran was very big and very beautiful!!! - always leave them laughing seemed the best idea!

We made very good time for the first 100 miles then hit very heavy traffic and a narrow winding road like the old days of the 40's and 50's in Britain with everyone cutting in and out to overtake. After looking in my mirror a few times and seeing huge old American Mack trucks a foot from my rear end I know how a deer feels just before the lion leaps!

Hunger drove us to drive into Tabriz - a mistake - as we drove along a "desert" of broken down industrial works. We gave up, found the road to Teheran again, and soon came upon a little roadside restaurant, which served us with soup, chicken, rice and yoghurt for a total of £3.50. The road continued to be very busy and we were often faced with trucks coming towards us In Our Lane! - and leaving us all of three feet of tarmac to get by.

We entered the town of Mianeh in the late afternoon and noted a number of civilians guarding the bridge and carrying rifles - rough looking characters. A Gillette salesman would starve in Iran as most men are either fully bearded or have a five day growth. We found a good motel which charged us £5 each for a room with shower and W.C.!! what no squat! The manager insisted that we move the bikes round to the rear of the motel into a locked courtyard - his obvious anxiety regarding security did nothing to lessen Bob's doubts as to the wisdom of going "walkies" in the dark so we settled for a meal in the motel and watching football on the T.V. - momentous news - Bob is 55 today!!! - his 56th birthday won't be like this one we are sure.

 

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We were in bed by 9.30pm and before dropping off we named the countries we had passed through - France was Darky Night Land - we were always up before dawn! - Switzerland is Bikers World - that fabulous Sunday on the Grimsel Pass - Italy is Locked in Land - the Azzurro Episode - Greece is Upsy Downsy Roundabouty Land - the mountainous road from Igumenitsa - Turkey is Donner Kebab Land - every cafe a kebab house - and now Iran is definitely Lorry Land - lots and lots of lorries.

When we loaded up early next morning, after a plate of delicious porridge, we found the conditions to be the coldest yet - we could see the steam rising from the small flocks of sheep, huddled close together, being watched by young children. We completed the first 70 miles in good time and filled with petrol, as petrol stations seemed to be few and far between and tend to be cunningly concealed!

This day, Thursday, 16th October, is remarkable for being almost completely boring! We came upon a six lane motorway which ran in a straight line for 200 miles!! The road runs from Zanjan to Teheran with one small petrol stop and chai hut after 35 miles and then Nothing for mile after mile. The sun became hotter. The road was almost deserted and we just "bored" along at 55-60 miles per hour. We passed a cyclist being paced by a small motorcycle and when we stopped for a rest and a drink of water they approached us and insisted we have two apples from the cyclist's pouch. They were very intelligent and anxious to communicate despite the limited English they had. They were most insistent that we tell the people in Britain how unhappy they are with the present regime and how helpless they feel. Bob and I were very moved by the meeting and said goodbye with a good deal of feeling - some of our young Brits would have found their conversation enlightening.

We reached the outskirts of Teheran both tired and hot so we brewed up at the tollgates of the motorway - motorbikes pay nothing by the way! A bunch of local 125cc riders welcomed us by one of them doing a 100 yard "wheely" - on one wheel for the non-rider - after much thought we declined to compete! Bidding our fellow bikers a fond farewell we set out on the 80 miles to Qom. This proved a real ordeal for me and I was forced to stop frequently to ease my aching body.

Bob spotted a hotel at a busy roundabout and though they charged us £11 each the room was the best yet in Iran and the price included breakfast. We have found that the best method of booking into accommodation is for Bob to remain with the bikes while I try to negotiate the price for the room and view same before committing ourselves to unloading. This means that by the time I come back out Bob is submerged under the local population! - however friendly, this can prove stressful and when we finally stagger into the room with our gear it's always with great relief.

 

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Today we covered 380 miles. The scenery today consisted of a huge flat plain with hills in the distance - the first village we saw was out of the dark ages and I wondered what it must have been like to crawl across that endless plain with a camel caravan. In the evening we went out for a walk and ended up in - Bob's choice - a pizza parlour Iranian style! The pizzas were very good but the chat consisted of the staff crowding around to tell us how bad the government was and give graphic signs of what should happen to the incumbents!!

We were up at 6.30am and breakfasted "royally" on eggs, butter, cheese, jam and Iranian bread which is like a huge thin potato scone - very good. Before we left Bob noted that we had very little adjustment left on our chains but a walk around the shops showed that everything stops at 125cc bikes - our "big" 250cc models were just not catered for.

We set off for Esfahan on a good road with distant mountains on either side and the sun blazing down giving a hazy look to the horizon. This was a much more enjoyable ride than yesterday and to cap it all we stopped at an airconditioned, clean and bright restaurant at mid -day for an excellent lunch. The latter part of today's run was some 200 miles and for some reason I became very saddle sore - sitting forwards, backwards, sideways didn't help and I was forced to stop every 20 miles for a rest. I was even reduced to stopping five miles from Esfahan - the sight of Bob sitting comfortably in my rear view mirror didn't help my suffering - he didn't even have the decency to Pretend to be a little uncomfortable.

We stopped outside a decent looking hotel on the main road into Esfahan and I made the mistake of booking without looking - consequently we are in a small grubby room with no view and poor furnishings. We didn't argue about the room as the staff had carefully helped us to push the bikes through the hotel lobby! into a small courtyard for their greater safety. It is now 4.30pm and Bob has just read out Pete Fordeham's description of the Pakistan to Iran section of his motorcycle journey from Australia - makes dismal reading! We also have noted that crossing Pakistan is 1000 miles - where did I ever get my figure of 6200 miles to Southern India!!

It should be noted here that today the record for a family on a 125cc Honda has risen to six - yes six! - Father driving with son on the petrol tank - small child between Father and Mother and two infants one on each of Mother's knees - the 125cc motorbike is the family saloon around these parts.

We walked out at night to see a very busy Esfahan and to find a place to eat. The curry we were given in a local restaurant would have caused a riot in Britain - mostly bones with lots of gravy. We had to cross the main road to get back to our "hotel" and I can honestly say that it took me longer to cross here than in any other city I,ve been in. We had a glass of "chai" in the hotel restaurant and enjoyed a long talk with two young lads who are employed as skivvies working very long hours for a pittance so they told us. Their eagerness to practice their English and their hope to escape from the life they are trapped in was quite pathetic and deeply impressed us.

 

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Having portrayed ourselves as intrepid travellers along the ancient primitive road to the East I don't know how to break it to you that at the moment I am lying on a luxurious bed in a lovely motel situated in a lush garden after a fabulous shower in a huge, fitted with everything, bathroom feeling slightly chilly as the Air Conditioning! is set slightly too low!!!

This heaven on earth is called the Hotel Safayah in the city of Yazd. To go back to the den in Esfahan - which we left gladly early in the morning - we found "Ali the Oil Man" in a little workshop, where he sold us the oil and lent us a filler and tools to change the engine oils, which were last changed in Alanya in Turkey.

We were only a few miles outside Esfahan and had stopped, unsure of our way, when a young Iranian man in a Chevrolet pickup ran over to help. He asked if we were interested in seeing his sweet factory and we followed him for a couple of miles to a small industrial estate, where most of the units seemed to be closed, to view his enterprise. Quite a modern set-up, and some of the complicated packing machinery had been manufactured on the premises, as he had previously been an engineer.

He had spent some eight years in England and returned to Iran out of national pride and a wish to be successful in his own country. He described some of the frustrations of life in Iran but seemed optimistic - unlike the ordinary workers we had met. After coffee with our new friend we pressed on in the heat through a desert region of long straight stretches and over a couple of low passes - very desolate with mud-walled villages and even a ruined fort (not very ruined actually!).

After a couple of stops for rest but no food we reached Yazd around 4.15pm. - a very easy 200 miles for me BECAUSE I wore a pair of very baggy white underpants - what a simple solution to a painful problem!! Our sweet- factory friend had given us the name of the hotel to look for and by dint of repeatedly showing the slip of paper with the name to all and sundry we arrived here hot and dusty - this is great and well worth the £15 per head.

A note here on refuelling in Iran - as I said we fill our own tanks but today a helpful petrol attendant insisted on filling for me and I was sitting on the bike as he overfilled the tank. I was not happy about what could have happened, and levitated off the bike with a crutch full of petrol! The bikes have a range of 200 miles but as we are quite paranoid about running out of fuel in the more remote areas we refill after 100 miles whenever possible.

We had a good night's sleep in our lovely garden apartment followed by an excellent breakfast. A small group of Americans were in the restaurant which surprised us considering what we had been told about no visas for U's. citizens. When I spoke to two older ladies, dressed to conform with Iranian laws (very drably), I complimented them by saying how good it was to hear their accent they were pleased but obviously, I realised later, thought I was an English speaking Iranian. We rode on across the desert stopping for chai in the villages as they appeared. There were a number of old forts by the roadside which were straight out of Beau Geste.

The chains are a problem as they keep stretching and Bob has to adjust them every 2-300 miles. There is not enough adjustment left to complete the journey and replacements seem to be unobtainable - we are carrying one used chain as a spare but I suppose it's a case of "sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof" or something like that.

 

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In one village two young men seemed to be trying to warn us of danger ahead by saying "angry", "angry" and pointing in the direction we are heading making signs of a crash with their hands - if they are warning us about the danger from on- coming trucks - We Know!!! I had one scary moment when the good road suddenly changed to deep loose gravel - I managed to get the speed down but for a few yards it really felt unstable - Bob coming along behind had the sight of my panic reactions to warn him.

The length of each day's journey is dictated, to some extent, by the availability of a town with accommodation therefore today we stopped early in Kerman and had an easy day. The previous hotel had given us the name of a good place in Kerman, and by hiring a taxi which we then followed, we took the hassle out of finding our way in the busy streets. We were given a very traditional welcome to this family run hotel with tea brought to us in the reception before the usual formalities of passport and registration details were dealt with.

We hired a taxi later to try to find new chains for the bikes, but after an enjoyable but fruitless drive around the back streets and the bazaar we returned to the hotel, where we sought the advice of the manager regarding whether the tip we proposed paying our very patient driver was sufficient. "My goodness he will be dancing and singing all night for that," was the response. In the hotel we met Rupert - a retired Austrian headmaster who is driving alone in a small Lada 4-wheel drive truck and is on a Seven or Eight month trip with his wife's consent! We don't feel so guilty now about our neglected wives! Rupert has "done it all" - in '61 a big trip by motorcycle and in '67 by motorbike and sidecar through Africa. We agreed to travel with Rupert, at his request, through Pakistan - he says he has heard bad reports from that region.

It is now Monday, 20th October and we left Kerman for our next destination, Bam, a short run of some 130 miles. The route took us over some fantastic scenery - snow on a large mountain to our right and weird rock shapes formed by wind erosion. At most stops we make, even in the remote areas, truck drivers blow their horns on seeing that we are foreigners and frequently stop and approach us for a chat - I am sure that if we did have a major breakdown they would be very helpful.

Seven kilometres beyond Bam we duly arrived at the hotel recommended by last night's host - a new palatial hotel in it's own grounds with security guard in a guardhouse before the entrance. Driving up on our now dilapidated small bikes we both felt just a little out of place, and as we were escorted into this most luxurious palace with staff buzzing around us we knew there was something missing - other guests! We were the only people other than staff in this huge hotel. A long and friendly conversation with the manager and his girl assistants - the first Iranian women we had spoken to - led us to walk towards the door as the price quoted was way too high. When we were called back and negotiations recommenced - we introduced some US dollars into the equation and a superb apartment was ours, and one for Rupert also.

 

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The place is superb - air conditioned Arabic luxury - but it seems to us to be an economic disaster. Later we travelled back into Bam to see the old abandoned city and citadel. On our way to the old city we got lost and a girl from the hotel in a small car "miraculously" appeared to guide us to the citadel. We learned later that she knew we would get lost and had followed us - how kind.

The old town is very, very impressive and I hope Bobs camera does it justice as mine has given up the ghost. Outside the citadel we saw a large BMW Traillie parked and hoped to meet the rider during our visit, but on coming out of the old city we found the big bike gone and just a plastic valve cover lying on the ground. A pity - we left the cover on the spot as the rider may return looking for it. In the evening we ate in the huge, beautiful dining room in solitary splendour, as there were still no other guests. After the meal we moved to the comfort of the foyer and luxurious chairs for much chai and chat with the hotel manager who told us of his experiences after the deposing of the Shah. As a former servant of the Shah he lost everything and was imprisoned for nine months culminating in a lorry ride in the dark for what he thought was execution but ended up as being dumped outside Teheran blindfolded but free.

Our journey from Bam to the border town of Zahedan was a hard ride through even more barren desert - just stones and a hot wind blowing quite strongly at our backs. I foolishly took of my light anorak and rode for the first time in just a tee-shirt - a mistake as I found by the afternoon that I was surprisingly tired and in hindsight I think the heat and the wind had caused me to become dehydrated. We journeyed 60 miles between fuel stops and the whole area seems to be "down market" - the little forts of the previous days are now manned and some have "bren" type guns in position on the walls with soldiers on guard.

The hotel in Zahedan is pretty rough and there was considerable livestock to be sprayed in the toilet and room before settling in. The bikes were locked in a high courtyard and Bob took the opportunity of fitting my old chain on his bike which proved to be a big improvement. I went into town with a taxi driver to have a link punched out of another chain and the mechanic in his little workshop did it and would take nothing for the job. The taxi driver would not accept a tip for his help and that is my lasting impression of this town of Zahedan.

 

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Pakistan

In the morning we travelled along pleasantly for 45 miles through various check points to the Pakistan border and after dealing with six different "offices" we were finally released from Iran - feelings as we left? - not a country we want to visit again unless or until conditions improve.

Pakistan!!! - what a contrast - soft spoken good looking people in the control offices - lots of dust but pleasant officials - we were given tea and fruit and had a long chat with a Huge official who threatens to visit us tonight in our motel. This is a new tourist motel and though it has good facilities it only has electricity when it operates it's own generator. We were given a room for three, Rupert is still with us, for about £7. We are all impressed with the reception we have had, both from the border officials and the staff of the motel.

Oh!! - we met the "phantom" BMW rider at the border post - he is an American of Chinese origin who is making for China but has come to a sudden stop as he has no Pakistan carnet for his very expensive motorbike. Young Charles found his valve cover, as we had hoped, and is now engaged in frantic 'phoning in order to continue his journey.

We walked out to see what there was to see in this collection of huts and a railway station which is all that the border has to offer - we saw Charles bike being transported to the station for onward shipping to Quetta - he has a real problem. We, all four, ate together in the motel and enjoyed a good meal of lentil dahl, chicken, salad and chips. I walked back with Charles to pick up his gear as he decided to stay with us in the motel, and saw some examples of Pakistan driving - like 70 m.p.h. on a dusty non-road track by a couple of Toyota pick-ups.

Tomorrow should be interesting as we set out on the 400 miles to Quetta! We were all in bed quite early only to be awakened by the giant customs man who wanted to chat - I felt a bit guilty as I declined on the grounds of extreme tiredness.

As Pakistan is one and a half hours ahead of Iran we were up very early and bade a fond farewell to Charles who is off on a truck to Quetta. We enjoyed a good breakfast and took 'photos of the staff at the entrance of the motel as they reminded me of old movies of the British Raj - the boss even managed a smart salute as we moved off. First problem - find the petrol station - there wasn't one - but there was a guy crouching down beside a collection of oil drums who sucked the petrol up through a pipe with his mouth and then inverted the end into our tanks - he will never get the Queen's telegram!

We set off East on what was quite a good road and felt quite optimistic for the first 40 - 50 miles. Rupert was "given" a soldier as passenger for a while then the road became quite "dicy" - loose gravel, dirt tracks, deep sand at one part which had drifted just like snow at home plus concealed humps and bumps. I learned to take the bumps standing on the footrests. We saw a lot of "wild" camels and herds of small black woolly goats. The only thing we could buy to refresh ourselves in the very occasional wayside huts was Coca-Cola kept in water barrels.

 

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We arrived in the first town of any size, called Dalbardin, in the afternoon. - what a dump - no hotel but we were directed to a Dak Resthouse which used to be used by itinerant officials - talk about a relic of the past!! There was two of them - one was the hut itself and the other was the ancient servant left in charge. We were shown a room complete with two iron beds and mouldering mattresses, a water tap and a hole in the floor - Super clean Austrian Rupert blanched and grabbing my elbow said "better the tent"! I am glad I finally saw a Dak resthouse as I had often read about them in other peoples travels - if they used resthouses like the Dalbardin one they have my admiration but wouldn't have my company!!

We elected to travel on to the next town, Nushki, anticipating a distance of 90K - but of course we were now in Pakistan and 90K became 90 Miles! - a big difference when it's getting dark on a narrow road with Giant Humps protecting the entrance and exit to each tiny village we passed through. Rupert was proving to be a handicap as he made no attempt to pass the few lorries on the road despite every encouragement from their drivers - he felt that to put two of his four-wheel drive's wheels off the road to pass a lorry was too risky!! - we finally had to leave him as though he could sleep in his truck we definitely didn't think that the tent was an option in our case.

We passed many fine looking men on small mopeds or bicycles, some wearing the little pill box type hats and others in thick turbans and continued until dark at our best speed. Then I decided that discretion was the better part of valour and did the last twelve miles behind a huge truck, the rear end of which was a mass of luminous reflectors and lights.

Entering Nushki was a bit of a nightmare as the town was very busy and consisted of dimly lit dirt roads lined with small shops and workshops. After a bit of help from a bunch of locals we found a small hotel which though it is not much of a place will provide shelter for the night. The bikes were once more locked away in a separate garage. Rupert arrived some half an hour later so we were glad we had arranged a triple room. The toilet is a bucket and squat job as the plumbing is somewhat disconnected!

Reflections - we covered over 300 miles of desert roads and I mean desert! - the sand encroaching on the road in places and the road disappearing now and then to reappear further on. We have not seen greenery since we left Mersin! We are always greeted with a smile and a handshake and many people speak a little English - some are quite fluent. Today we were 12 hours on the road - not from choice - and intend to do only the 100 miles to Quetta tomorrow.

We left in the morning after Bob did his usual crowd drawing act of tightening our chains - we now have just enough rupees to buy petrol for Quetta as the hotel would not take anything else - no dollars, pounds or cards. We climbed out of Nushki and were stopped a couple of times to be entered in large ledgers - no doubt so that if we went missing they would know where to start looking my pessimistic self told me! The road was narrow and sometimes there was no tarmac - my bike cut out and had to be bump-started - BIG problem looming as even swapping our batteries gave no joy. We carried on through some small villages where children play a crafty "game." They stand beside the village "sleeping policeman" which is about twice the height of the European version - and then they innocently wave to passing traffic - you wave back to the little darlings and properly distracted take off into the stratosphere much to their amusement.

 

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Arriving at the "Welcome to Quetta" sign we waited for Rupert to catch up and were immediately surrounded by the local populace to whom we obviously provided a welcome break on a dull day. There was a bit of impending trouble, as one man seem to have taken upon himself the job of instantly converting us to Islam. I managed to distract the crowd by doing an imitation of Bob snoring in our tent and again exaggerating the amount of pain suffered by my backside on it's long journey from " Englistan".

We were very glad to see Rupert appear and together we travelled into central Quetta and were directed to the Hotel Lourdes which proved to be an old colonial type residence with lawns and rooms opening out onto a covered walkway. After a long hot shower I am watching B.B.C. World T.V. - a real treat!!! The three of us had afternoon tea and biscuits on the lawn and were so delighted we had them again - simple pleasures but now much appreciated.

During the night I awoke with the sound of heavy rain and lay awake re-planning things - so did Bob as we found out afterwards. To travel in rain on these roads is just not on and we will rest here and hope for drier conditions tomorrow. I have just returned from a very pleasant breakfast chat with a Pakistan banker who has promised to help us obtain lodgings in our next stop - Loralai. I am writing this part of the diary looking out on a wet scene of green grass and tall trees while listening to C.N.N. on T.V.

This is our first full rest day since our stop in Kusadasi in Turkey. We have now completed some 6500 miles and appear to have 600 miles to go to the Indian border then 300 or so to Delhi. Bob is finishing the trip in Delhi and the thought of riding on to our original destination in Southern India on my own is not attractive - so the cry is "Delhi Will Do". The little bikes have done brilliantly but are now looking rough with electrical trouble being the only worrying factor. During our rest day we met three lads from a British Overland truck on it's way to Katmandu and sensed the disadvantages of being confined in a group for a long period were definitely showing!! The rain has stopped at present but the lads said that the road from Iran is flooded - thank goodness we escaped from Nushki in time as an extended stay in that place would not have been welcome.

Dry this morning, but obviously these roads are going to be bad - no BAD - so we persuaded a reluctant Rupert to carry our heavy gear and this made the bikes easier to control through the deep mud and water - the roads are really dreadful. We made our way through a never ending Baluchistan and waited twice for Rupert to catch up - his constant cry is "I must take care of my car and go slowly" - he drives his rugged 4-wheel drive Lada as though it was fragile and on our last stop suggested that our bags were making his vehicle too heavy!

The latter part of todays drive consisted of a climb over a very cold bleak pass and down to the town of Lorali in the coming darkness and contacting the employees of the banker we had met in Quetta. We followed them out to a new "Circuit House" on the road into town and after dumping our bags, gallantly (I thought), went back out to stand by the roadside to flag Rupert down as he "Stormed Past"!

 

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Two hours later he did indeed appear and joined us in the comfort of the new building - though electricity was provided only after 10 P.M. In the evening we joined some telephone engineers who were updating the local exchange and it was quite interesting to tune in to the undertones in their talk with us - some phrases such as "our former colonial masters" and "I wonder what the Iranians think of you?!" - when we answered their queries on Iran by saying we thought it was an unhappy country - led us to be quite careful in our choice of conversational chit- chat.

The engineers told us that some of the road we would travel on tomorrow was Very Bad - can it really be worse than today??!!

Monday, 27th October, to answer my own question - This has been your worst nightmare realised of a day on a motorbike. First of all Rupert found a nail in a tyre and we had to escort him to a tyre "wallah" in Lorali. I have told him that he will not make our next town - D.G. Khan - by tonight and that he should plan to sleep at a petrol station if possible - we will see!

Leaving Rupert to the tender mercies of a very primitive tyre repair "shop" we left Lorali by about 8.30 am and then the "trauma" began . There was simply no road in places and the trucks picked their own route past areas of swamp, through slippy thick mud and rocks. We were forced to leave the road at one point as a number of trucks had stuck in the mud actually facing each other, and what was always going to be a difficult passage became a cross country mud bath, with the onlookers cheering on the bikes as we forced them through the mud. At one of the places where the bridge over a river had collapsed I just stopped, wondering how deep was it going to be, but Bob, made of sterner stuff, charged in and forded the river in great style. This left me no choice but to follow, and of course I came to a full stop against a hidden rock in the middle of the crossing - both feet down in the water - bum off seat - lots of revs of the little engine - in clutch - and with a salmon like leap I was on my way to dry land, without suffering the indignity of a push from Bob! The added complication of having no starter made the necessity of keeping the engine going even more important.

We did only 52 miles in two hours and if anything conditions became worse so that by the 100 mile mark we were both knackered. When we finally started to climb up through a steep mountain pass and realised that we were at last leaving the desert behind it was a considerable relief. All through Baluchistan the truck drivers had been very helpful and if you blew your horn they made every effort to give you a little more tarmac to pass on. The oncoming trucks also did their best but the amount of road we were left with meant that sometimes we had to "dive" for the rough at the edge of the road - not something I would do from choice.

At one point on this day's journey I followed a Toyota Pickup loaded - not overloaded - with potatoes and a few passengers and I awarded him my own personal "Driver of the Year" prize. He seemed to know where the potholes were and could find a way through the swampy bits with great confidence and by following him closely as he swerved around potholes, trucks, puddles and mud he helped us on our way for some miles.

The pass we were climbing was very steep and winding with many hairpin bends and a very poor road surface. The weather was dull and all things considered it made a journey through Glencoe seem more like a visit to Dysneyland!

 

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Near the summit we stopped for a rest and on looking back down the pass we saw a large motorbike climbing up towards us and thus arrived Lennart - a 6ft. 4ins. Swede on a big Africa Twin on his way around the world no less. His bike is the exact opposite of ours - very big - very powerful - and fitted out with very expensive metal panniers, spare tyres, fuel cans etc. etc. Lennart had been following us for some days and was always being told at check points that the two old English guys were just ahead. He had a harrowing tale to tell of a bad night in a small village in Baluchistan where what seemed at first to be a warm welcome turned nasty and he was advised to quickly get himself and his motorbike into his room and bar the door - this after darkness had fallen. During the night some five men had been battering at the door and Lennart reckoned that it was only by putting the heavy bike against the door plus his own weight that kept them from entering. Lennart's request to join us for a few day's no matter how slowly we travelled was therefore understandable!!! So now we were four - if Rupert ever caught up again that is!

Dropping down the mountainside into the Punjab we immediately noticed a change in the people - though an attempt to get us to pay a road tax by some youths who stopped us was "beaten back with heavy losses" and some bad language. The people we were seeing now were happy looking and less fierce than the hardy types of the desert and we had a laugh on passing our first tractor and trailer fitted with loud music and chains that jingled as it moved along.

Just to say that we dropped down the mountainside does not do justice to the steepness and dangerous nature of the road. If one of the old Pakistani trucks had a blow-out on the way down that lot it would be "Goodnight Vienna". We were extremely careful and were glad to get down to ground level. Bob's chain jumped off and has caused some damage to his adjusters but he is running on okay.

We (three) arrived in the crazy, crowded town of D.G. Kahn and after turning down two "duff" rooms in a poor hotel we are now settled into the D.G. Kahn hotel. We were literally covered in mud from head to toe and the bikes are unbelievably muddy. On asking the staff for something to eat we were advised to go to the hotel across the street, which we did and had a most enjoyable meal of Pakistani soup and Chinese food!

An attempt to walk along the main street was abandoned due to the mud and we settled for a splendid view from our balcony of the street life at night in this busy town. The outside catering is a feature and we were amazed at how after eating the customers frequently just pulled a cover over their heads and went to sleep on the charpoy (slatted bed) provided as part of the service. This scene is more what we expected in India - but then 50 years ago it was just that. One worrying factor at the end of this horrendous day is that Rupert has not appeared - not too surprising really as he does drive very slowly.

In the morning as we were having breakfast, Rupert appeared. A very stressed out Rupert. He had tried to sleep in his car rather than drive on in the dark, but was approached by police in a truck and told to "keep moving for your own safety!" He therefore completed the climb over that dangerous pass and the consequent descent round the hairpin bends in the dark. He has elected to sleep for a while then follow us to the next town - Sahiwal. When we first met Rupert in Iran he was a fresh-faced smart looking man - he now looks quite grey and very careworn!

 

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We set off around 9.30am and soon ran into severe trouble - floods over the past two weeks and rain today had turned the roads into muddy swamps and in the villages the word "potholes" does not adequately describe the huge lakes we were having to ford. I was in front, and in one village the trucks had come to a complete stop, unable to go either forward or back - Chaos.

As I crept up the sides of the trucks I saw a huge mudbath ahead and my heart failed me - I stopped - Lennart on his huge traillie just forged through the deep muddy water and showed us it could be forded though he nearly came off a couple of times. Bob went next and I reluctantly followed with the local populace cheering us on from their vantage point on the banks of what used to be the village street. I started to slide sideways, and revving madly, sought safety on the higher ground only to end up at an angle of 30 degrees with my legs in mud halfway to my knees and my rear wheel spinning helplessly - off bum - on revs - surge forward - stalled engine - end of effort. Rescued by villagers coming down into the mud in their bare feet and heaving my bike up to the comparatively dry area of the banking.

In the next few minutes I was offered a chair, a cup of tea and overnight accommodation and the services of a mechanic to try to fix the electric starter, and repaid this generous hospitality by demonstrating graphically that on my next visit, if any, to Pakistan I would bring a rowing boat.

A muddy figure waded back to me and good old Bob said " if you let that guy work on your bike you could be here for days" - a thought which galvanised me back into the action. Bob and friends pushed me down the banking and into the mudbath again, but at least with the engine running, and I shot across to the other side of the "road" from whence I managed to escape the village. The rest of the day was spent in much the same way - some quite good road then floods and mud. We saw at least six trucks and a bus all overturned by the roadside. We finally came upon a good road, the rain stopped, the sun came out and what had been an ordeal was left behind - but was indelibly fixed in my memory!

We arrived in this town - Sahiwal - and after turning down the first "hotel" as Lennart thought too many people had used the sheets before us! - softy - we are now in a large triple room and though the "shower" is just a jug and basin at least the water is warm. My bike now has a tyre which is too small on the rear wheel, no starter - I have to be pushed after every stop by the local citizens or my two mates, no lights, no signals, and very important - no horn - a broken windshield and a dicey chain - I feel India calling!! - 150 miles to the border!! I have never seen so much mud on three people outside of BBC cross-country motorbike trials on T.V.

After quite a good meal we were offered the services of a masseur and Lennart (frozen shoulder) and Bob (painful throttle arm) were vigorously rubbed by a tubby young Pakistani who bemoaned the life he felt trapped in and offered to be "your personal servant in England". This wish to get out of Pakistan is often expressed so that "I love Pakistan can you get me a visa" is all done in one breath. We three were glad when Rupert showed up around 9.30pm after a 12 hour trip - he looks shattered - 12 hours for 150 miles says it all!

 

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All three of us were awake by 5.30am after a restless night - horns blowing, trucks revving, then mullahs calling and dogs barking. The boys in the hotel returned our washing to us in immaculate condition and also washed the bikes for us. The poor guy who actually did the bikes with just a rag and buckets of water worked at a frantic rate and what we paid him seemed to really matter - I just know he was living on Very Little.

We suggested that Rupert should leave first and we waited till 9.30am before setting out. The road was not so difficult and quite good on long straight stretches - it was going through the villages which was difficult - congested, muddy, potholed and full of life. Lennart led the way this morning, and being 6ft.5ins, riding a huge motorbike with a full-face dark helmet he looks like something out of Robot Cop and attracts a lot of attention - but I found it to be much easier with someone up front to discover the pitfalls and only have to watch his rear wheel.

Lahore was our first experience of a big city and really, provided you keep alert, the driving is not so difficult. We tried a large hotel in the city centre but it was pretty awful and when we saw the Lahore Holiday Inn we were easily tempted to take a triple room and blow the expense. Under instruction from our Swedish expert we had a jaccuzi, steam bath and sauna repeatedly, though I just knew something was not quite in order when the female leisure centre lady beat a rapid retreat when she saw us. Lennart had insisted this was a Swedish sauna and we were starkers - not a pretty sight. Cleaner than we had been for weeks, we enjoyed afternoon tea and biscuits in our lovely room and had our muddy boots cleaned by the resident bootcleaner - he earned his money the hard way on this job.

We managed to contact Rupert who is staying at the hotel we turned down and tonight he is joining us for a meal in this plush hotel. Bob and I feel our trip is drawing to a close now and thoughts of a comfortable flight home are attractive - remember it was to be "out on a 250 back in a 747". Todays run, though often on a better road, was hard in a different way - we could manage a steady 40-50 mph but the rough surface vibrated the little bikes so badly that we feared they would be damaged - however they came through handsomely once again. The meal tonight was quite memorable - a lavish buffet of Pakistan and European cuisine, which was much enjoyed by the four of us. It's strange how on this trip the food has varied between just edible to very good. In order to "get our money's worth" we all packed away the choices carefully and staggered to our rooms - well you never know when your next good meal will be!

After an excellent breakfast we set off for Waggah - the border post for India. The Pakistani side was quite straightforward and took about one hour. The Indian side was a repetition of entering the same information on many different forms, and slow form filling by various Passport and Customs men. We four seemed to be the only people wishing to enter India today and I wondered what the delay would be if the crossing was busy! I had an interesting chat with an older Customs official to pass the time and was impressed by his story of how Acupressure? helped his hearing after traditional medicine had given up.

 

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India

Our moment of actual entry into India was a great thrill for Bob and I and we exchanged congratulations for a journey of 7090 miles through eight countries on two old motorbikes of only 250cc and considering their, and our advanced years we felt totally delighted. We then had a 'photo taken with a border guard and then off we went into INDIA.

First impressions - lots and lots of beautiful water buffaloes - very fat and sleek - lying by the roadside or just wandering along the road. After one or two early scares I learned to be more careful and not to expect the pedestrians to get out of my way. "When in Rome" is the motto and if you learn to drive as the locals expect you to it causes less confusion, i.e. push on gently but firmly and do not be hesitant or you get badly cut up.

Today is part of India's big festival called Diavali and every town we pass through is mobbed and fireworks are banging. An incident free run to Armritsar and a helping hand from a tricycle rickshaw boy whom we followed to our Lonely Planet book recommended guest house - owner Mrs Bandharis - which is an old colonial type bungalow set up with green lawns and excellent service. Lennart is camped outside our room door in his tent and Bob and I have an old fashioned but clean room and shower.

We had the company of some sixteen tourists mainly from Delhi and we were very touched when an American couple who are resident there invited us to stay with them when we reached Delhi. Though we will not be taking up their offer we certainly appreciated their kindness and their company. In the evening we joined in a communal meal which was very welcome and hopefully we provided some entertainment with tales of our epic journey - well we have decided it's epic!

Up at 7am next morning and after breakfast with our new friends we three were pedalled into town in two tricycles and through some really narrow and congested alleys to the Golden Temple. Hats on and shoes and socks off we waded through a pool of water and entered the walkway round the temple - the crowds were slowly making their way round, and we could see what I took to be religious zealots in the water and some sitting against the surrounding walls. The whole scene was totally different from anything I've seen before, but it did not make us wish to linger, and after some photography we made our way back to Mrs. Bandharis's and packed our bikes for the journey to Delhi, which we intend to reach tomorrow.

Compared to what we had been through the Grand Trunk Road was a bit of a "dawdle" - quite a good road surface and fairly wide - just lots and lots of scooters, mopeds, smoky trucks and people, people everywhere. We saw the remains of two bad crashes which were really hard to understand as they consisted of trucks and a bus which seemed to have collided absolutely head on - anything coming remotely head on to me and I'm off the road smartly!! We stopped for the night at a town called Ambala, about 140 miles from Delhi and used one of the so-called service station stops recommended in the tourist guide. It looked alright but once you get into your room you realise what poor maintenance can do to quite a modern motel.

 

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In the cool of the morning we continued along the Grand Trunk with easy riding though the villages and towns along the way are very congested and in one real old fashioned traffic jam we could not even progress on the bikes. There was just no room between the vehicles, and because we came to a stop and I had to keep my engine running it seemed to overheat. I had to push onto a piece of waste ground where Bob found me and got me going again along the bank above the road. We were continually confronted by wrecked trucks by the side of the road, and we think that a lot of the mayhem happens during the night.

We entered Delhi by the Red Fort and followed the ring road round in heavy traffic towards the airport where we followed Lennart to the Centaur Hotel - his choice. Ye Gods - £129 for a room for the three of us - I'm glad we are not continuing around the world with Lennart - these Swedes like their luxury. Rupert appeared at the hotel later and we bade him a fond farewell - there goes one very determined - and very slow - Austrian.

We took a taxi down to the airport to see if we could do anything about surrendering our bikes to the Indian Customs but could only speak to a disembodied voice on the 'phone who said "come back to the customs house on Monday". I do hope we are not going to have trouble giving the bikes away! We returned to the hotel and decided that tonight being Saturday night in Delhi we would splash out but play safe by travelling into the city and dining at the famous Sheraton Hotel. We enjoyed a fabulous buffet meal and for excitement took a motorised tricycle for the half-hour journey back to the hotel. A memorable experience made all the more memorable for me by the knowledge that having crossed eight countries in good health the Sheraton buffet had pierced my defences and that it would be a mighty close run thing whether the overloaded tricycle or I exploded first!

We are delayed in Delhi till Monday night at the earliest and having said goodbye to Lennart who is off to Bombay and points south, we , in a spirit of economy moved ourselves to less palatial accommodation some distance back into town. After a trip round Delhi on a holiday Sunday afternoon we joined (uninvited!) an English sightseeing tour of a large carpet showroom - the prices being asked by the salesman made me realise what a great invention linoleum is.

 

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Though gravely affected by the Delhi Belly bug I volunteered to once again visit the Sheraton Buffet - well lightning never strikes twice etc. We really enjoyed our meal and the ambience was added to by the presence of young tennis players from all over Asia in Delhi for the Youth Championships. On the way back to the hotel I thought of next Sunday night in lovely, quiet, scenic St. Ives and thinking of the poverty and deprivation we had seen over the past six weeks made me appreciate my good fortune.

What remains to be told? Well if you have the patience of a saint you could be the very person to try to Give Away two motorbikes to the Indian Customs. Three hours of bureaucracy at work and finally we were told to put our bikes in an underground garage - this was the Big Moment and I actually found myself kissing a petrol tank in fond farewell - I didn't feel so silly as I caught Bob doing the same thing! Those old bikes had done us proud - I had travelled four times to Scotland, once to Wales - a trip to London and a lovely journey to the South of France plus many miles around Cornwall - and now I was bidding it goodbye in Delhi of all places. What a well-spent £300 - what amazing reliability in that small engine.

Six weeks out to India on a motorbike became nine hours home in a luxury jet and then a hired car to St. Ives where Bob and I parted with a handshake - there's one guy who is just as reliable as a Honda 250!!!

Story copyright © Gordon Mackie, 1997-2000. All Rights Reserved.

 

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