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India to England Overland 
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Elisabeth Dening's Travel Journal

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Week Five: Kandahar, Afghanistan to Erzurum, Turkey
Map here


Day 29: Wednesday, May 23rd 1979
3,029 miles travelled from Delhi

Kandahar, to Herat (Afghanistan) 350 miles
Map here

Up at 5.30 a.m. Cooked Wieners for breakfast. Had some trouble pumping the tyres up with a spark plug pump. This aroused much interest which we could have done without, although everyone was very friendly. Driving out of Kandahar, there were very rosetted horses looking as though they had flower hats.

Bath water heating arrangement. Before leaving I took a flash photograph of the incredible wood burning geyser and pissoir in the unspeakable bathroom.


The concrete slab road was very good and reliable, through mostly pure desert. Saw sheep being loaded into the luggage compartment of a bus!  Suddenly we were floundering through a very deep irrigation water splash. Who would have thought it was a desert?

Disused fort on the Kandahar - Herat Road. Grisnik. Big river and huge ancient fort.

Drove my first two hours on the left.


A disused fort on the Kandahar to Herat Road.

The culverts are just the right height and security from view for a first class pee! We had lunch at a convenient one on a hill not far from a corner. The logic of this was that lorries coming up would not want to lose their momentum by stopping, while those coming down, see us too late to be bothered to slow down.

At Road Block 3, there were more *Che Gui searchers, all affable again and not greedy. They will only take one (offered cigarette) each. Saw the camels rubbing themselves on telegraph poles. They are in moult and look disgusting - with great lumps of fur peeling off them. We do not find Afghan petrol as bad as Indian, (although it stinks) in spite of tales to the contrary. It is Russian in origin.

Came on a 'Welcome to Herat' sign 30 miles out. What a garden city it is. There was a long fir and aspen-lined avenue into town. What a contrast after 300 miles of desert.


The Great Mosque of Herat.

Great Mosque of Herat

Found a hotel on the way in. Russian-built and very nice, with a wonderful garden. The roses were fantastic and a week ago must have been superb. I have never seen so many massed on a wall. There was a large, empty swimming pool. The whole place was lined with beautiful Afghan, embroidered, silk mats. We are the only guests. There is an armed guard.

Did a huge wash and dried it well. Also bathed ourselves. Had omelette & chips for supper and delicious Iranian orange juice.  Tanks rushing up and down outside. It was here 60 Russian families were massacred not 5 weeks ago. A sobering thought. I shall be glad to cross the border tomorrow. An early night and so to bed.


Payi Hissar, Herat.

Payi Hissar, Herat

* Where Che Gui is mentioned, it is a secret reference to the militia, in case they ever asked to see what Betty was writing. (Taken from Che Guivara - it seemed suitable at the time!!)



Day 30: Thursday, May 24th
3,379 miles travelled from Delhi

Herat (Afghanistan) to Quchan (Iran) 321 miles
Map here

Smell of Broom heavy on the air. We had a disturbed night. Guard (?) talking and odd rumblings of tanks and noises of shouting and protest. We had decided to get away at first light whilst the populace was sleeping. Cooked breakfast in the room and left by 6.30 a.m. On our way to the border.

The place was very deserted and inclined to rain. You could see that the road would be very treacherous in heavy rains. There were many water splashes and thick piles of earth shovelled away on either side from the last session. Strong wind blowing sand. Disaster could have been total when a baby camel (always very neurotic animals in crisis) bolted from a hidden wadi. I don’t know how we missed it.

In the desert there were big clumps of pink flowers. We passed a really large, domed sand brick town as we neared the border.

Afghanistan border ticket. Afghan customs at Islam Quala was not as bad as we expected, once we found the right place.

They insisted on emptying the car and searching and tapping for drugs. (By this time we look like elderly hippies anyway. )

We negotiated a money changing, cash transaction with a frightened small boy, who was our only hope. He gave us a good rate, although he was told off by an official. Negotiations were concluded around the corner to everyone’s satisfaction.

I sat reading Good Housekeeping magazine as a means of passing the time. A customs man asked me if it was a sexy magazine! Shades of *Malawi. The Iranian customs officials were very dour and again emptied the car. One complained bitterly of how his brother had had to pay for kidney dialysis in London. He said it was discrimination. A very suspicious male Russian (?) was having his car gone over literally with a tooth comb. It took their minds off ours. Pouring with rain.

Once through, we drove for nearly two hours, straight down a road through the desert, just the same as on the other side of the border. Changed drivers at Fariman. Traffic was heavy as we neared Mashad - a very holy city to which pilgrimages are made. We went round it on a by-pass. Lots of heavy industrial traffic. The traffic eased a little when we were running through a big agricultural area of large acreages. Wheat etc. under overhead irrigation. One magnificent roundabout on the by-pass, a mass of roses. From there to Quchan.

We had been told to look for a Tourist Inn. We were told they were very good value for tourists and clean. Found it eventually after making a wrong turning. Clean and comfortable. The Inn Keeper speaks very little English.

We were very tired and hungry. Washed Tim’s filthy trousers and hung them on the verandah in an icy wind to dry. Supper was a delicious radish salad with Shish Kebab and rice, accompanied by a pot of tea. We watched what we later discovered to be an **anti U.S. demonstration of three million people in Tehran. They were demonstrating against the interference over the mass executions. The various people drifting in and out could not make out why we were watching, although told by the Inn Keeper that we were English. We honestly thought it was some political rally!

Boiled the kettle for a bucket bath and so to bed.


* Malawi, where Tim and Betty lived for three years, had very strict censorship rules for foreign magazines. Imported magazines regularly contained great swathes of blocked out advertisements and photographs which were considered to be too revealing by the government of the day.

** Find out about the Iranian Revolution here.


Day 31: Friday, May 25th
3,700 miles travelled from Delhi

Quchan to Gorgan (Iran) 275 miles
Map here

The good Night Manager was absent in the morning. His substitute was dour and had no English. We have had roti for several mornings now. These are brown, dimpled, flat, unleavened breads, which are madly leathery and indigestible. Ate it with a cross between an omelette and a fried egg, resulting in dire internal grumblings all day.

Tim is absolutely masterly with the cisterns and ball cocks of foreign plumbing! He has travelled Asia and Africa fixing them at each stop - this trip is no exception. Quchan was a true triumph, as the cistern had detached itself from a rubber cap which fitted a never before seen hole in the base of the contraption. Once replaced and untangled, and a masterly tap given, the water ceased to flow at an alarming and noisy rate.

Ten hours sleep and a late start. The road was signposted every 5 kilometres to the next town. Only 18 miles out, we mercifully discovered we had left our passports with the Manager. That cost us half an hour, but if we had gone right on, could have cost us two days.

Drove first over a plateau, which was intensely cultivated, very windy and bleak, through a very cornery and up and down pass.

We had a nice lunch stop in the hills. Scrub country surrounding us, but with many lovely flowers. Again by a very useful culvert, this time dual purpose:

a) For me.

b) For lighting the Primus stove and heating spaghetti and coffee.

Afterwards, we passed huge patches of deep purple flowers. They may have been Iris. There were also many lovely poppies, some white, in the fields and cornfields. Then we came to a long and beautiful wooded pass - Oak mainly. It used to be the Shah’s hunting preserve. It was about 20 miles in length and now used as a picnic site. We stopped for a coffee and Tim went butterfly hunting. One of our few relaxed drives.

Iranian teachers in Reza Shah Wildlife Preserve, Iran We met a party of young Iranian teachers, 4 women and one husband, all English speaking. They took Polaroid pictures of all of us and were very pleasant and friendly.


Iranian teachers in Reza Shah Wildlife Preserve, Iran.

After that, we had a good, straight run, but had a taste of Tehran driving as everyone went mad on their way home after a day out. Saw some really bad driving.

Found a hotel in the middle of town. We had an upstairs room with no curtains (looted in the revolution), but our own shower room. I was the only female in the dining room bar.


Day 32: Saturday, May 26th
3,975 miles travelled from Delhi

Gorgan to Tehran (Iran) 240 miles
Map here

The hotel was really poor and the lack of curtains annoyed me terribly. Heard on the radio about the big anti American demo in Tehran yesterday, which we had watched on television.

Got off to a very late start - Tim buying two new tyres and us going to the bank. Women very obviously in Purdah and me a real side-show. It did not stop me going shopping with the hotel porter for cakes, jam and goodies, all without any English.

Whilst packing the car, we chatted with an Iranian author going to Mashad on pilgrimage with his wife and twin sons. He said that we had held Nuremberg trials after the last war, so why should they not hold trials about the Shah’s goings on, which by all accounts are pretty lurid. Saw the logic of his argument. He warned us to advertise we were British, so we produced the Brownies’ Union Jack supplied by Mrs Came-Penny and stuck it in the window. Just as well, in view of later events.

Beautiful day. Wooded and pastoral at first, after that very close to the Caspian Sea. Men holding fish by the side of the road. Around lunch time, we went ten miles out of our way by mistake, so picnicked and came back. The towns are not very well sign-posted now and the orange taxis are awful for bad driving.

After that came Amal. Initially we went through a beautiful wooded pass by a river, then the fun began as we climbed Haraz (Elburz Pass) from below sea level to over 9,000 feet in 40 miles. Desolate shale mountains, soon snow-covered, winding by a dirty river. Many unlit tunnels. Very awkward until we discovered that our right headlamp was not working on dip. It worked on full beam, so after that it was easy.

Immensely heavy traffic, both up and down the hill. Heavy lorries and cars all passing four abreast. Nightmarish - saw some really bad driving. Poor Tim struggled on over the top, where it was just as bleak and awful. We were looking for Arthur Bootes Hotel, 20 miles outside of Tehran. Could see what were obviously former ski hotels, but now non-existent and before we could do anything, we were in Tehran itself. Four lanes of traffic on a three-lane highway. Have never seen such traffic.


Tehran postcard.


How Tim coped with the driving, I do not know. There were sounds of accidents and bangs on every side. We could not see any sign of a hotel, so we just eased our way in in the rush hour. Our timing is uncanny! Finally, we asked a taxi man who drew up alongside (on the pavement!) who indicated a rough direction. While we were still struggling, not very hopefully, he suddenly waved ‘follow me’. The Angel Gabriel could not have been more welcome than that lovely kind man; He led us to the Hotel Marmar right in the centre of town. £21 just for a room, but by then we were past caring. Nice, big room overlooking the street, where the car was parked outside the door.


Marmar Hotel


Cooked supper in our room. Chilli con carne and soup, coffee and rusks I had bought - very good, a vast improvement on roti. Very comfortable and civilized room and bed, good hot shower and 10 p.m. to bed for a 4.30 a.m. start. We must be through this place before the morning rush hour and make a real effort to beat the Tehran traffic, which must be some of the heaviest in the world and the worst driven. Took a sleeping pill - so much excitement involved in getting here!


Day 33: Sunday, May 27th
4,215 miles travelled from Delhi

Tehran to Zanjan (Iran) 205 miles
Map here

Really did get up at ‘sparrow fart’ - 4.30 a.m. The thought of the traffic if we were any later striking terror. Coffee, cherry jam and rusks for breakfast and actually on the road by 6.30 a.m. Even then the traffic was increasing, but still bearable. Missed the freeway, but thanks to the Shah’s father, who decreed after laying down his sword that all roads were to be dead straight through towns, we got out comparatively easily.

Found a bank and did some shopping. Only Bank Melle cashes travellers cheques in Qazvin. Again, really no English spoken, but we bought eggs and biscuits and some tinned tuna for lunch. Big, busy town.


Qazvin tourist and camping inn.

Postcard from a Qazvin Tourist and camping inn, where we stopped for a second breakfast.


Then on to horrible Zanjan, where unfortunately we spotted an Inn sign and spent three quarters of an hour looking for it. We are now convinced it never existed.

More Che Gui presence here and the atmosphere not good. Eventually directed by a very nice helpful girl to Hotel Bima. I waited in the car and was pestered by an idiot boy who desired poor old Brigadier Prendergast’s book* on the route home. Despite the many times I would have been glad to get rid of it, I felt I must hang onto it and guard the car. Eventually, for about the only time this far, I was left alone in the hotel room with a rotten so-called Porter. Although post-revolution, no service is offered to anyone. This was an unpleasant man, who fingered my Hong Kong jeans and to my chagrin my fly, until I frostily bowed him out of the room.

The hotel room and bathroom are good. Did the washing and dried it on the verandah. Not a good afternoon. This is such an expensive country. We have decided that getting to Cyprus is really going to be just too much and if we survive getting across to Istanbul and Europe, it will be enough. So, we are just going to head for home as quickly as possible.

Dinner - just kebabs, a few potato chips, 3 spears of asparagus and tea, cost over £6, so we are now going to feed ourselves. Met a German couple who said they had stayed at a fearsome hotel in Maku last night.


* Brigadier Prendergast was an acquaintance who had lent Betty a book based on the same overland journey which they were doing.



Day 34: Monday, May 28th
4,420 miles travelled from Delhi

Zanjan to Maku (Iran) 326 miles
Map here

Slept well. There is a bad atmosphere in the town and hotel. Tim walked to the bank and back very nervously with £50 in rials in his pocket. Left without regrets. Rather nice open country, pretty wild flowers in a meadow beside a winding river. In fact, it stayed beautiful most of the day. Lovely pink flowers and fields of violet coloured ones - most unusual. White and brown bell flowers, massed blue, yellow and white, with buttercups and clover. Found a very useful culvert at coffee-stop time, on a road with very heavy traffic. Actually had a bus overtaking in an unlit tunnel, very badly surfaced and long. Could not believe our eyes. The worst experience yet.

Went through a snow-covered mountain pass before Bastanabad. Many unlit tunnels. Sailed through Tabriz (second largest city) fairly uncomplicatedly. Tim as usual superb in 6 lane close-packed traffic. This time in the lunch hour rush. This included a horse and cart which did better than anyone. Saw Tabriz Inn by a roundabout, but it was too soon to stop. Buses in Iran I have discovered, emit a wolf whistle. For a long time I thought it was the drivers!

More Che Gui checking on the outskirts, but they waved us on. Had a picnic lunch in a bleak lay by. Raining, cold and blowing a gale. Making for Marand, where we indulged in the usual hopeless search for an inn. Heard there was nowhere to stay, so we spent an hour and a half changing the front tyres to new ones and finding a place to get them balanced quite easily. Also filled up anything available with this superb cheap petrol (40p a gallon) ready for Turkey, where there is reputed to be none.

Then another long 120 miles to Maku. Ten miles from the border. Dead straight road, with rather pretty open country and a green river valley. Container traffic by the dozen, waiting or coming from the border. We finally fell into the Alvano Hotel. By our standards alone, it was O.K. Two clean beds and a basin. I cooked supper for the day’s hero under gross difficulties. There were louvres on the window, which did not work until I got at them. The car was locked up in the grotty yard. Containers going by in dozens, very noisy.



Day 35:   Tuesday, May 29th
4,746 miles travelled from Delhi

Maku (Iran) to Erzurum (Turkey) 242 miles
Map here

Yesterday I saw Water Buffalo on one side of the road and camels on the other! This hotel/doss house was a haven after a long desolate run, but its toilet arrangements left a lot to be desired. The Muslim-type squat pan toilet marked ‘Ladies’ had a distinct smell of cigars this morning, also no lock, so my visits necessitated Tim as a guard. Up at 6 a.m. after a good night, thanks to ear plugs. Breakfast in the room - hard-boiled eggs. Packed the car. There was a large van blocking the entrance, but it was moved by a sleepy but not unpleasant owner, after being roused by the hotelier.

View of snow-covered Mount Ararat.  





View of snow-covered Mount Ararat on the way to the frontier.

There were many container trucks waiting, but we were through both sides of the border in one hour with the minimum of fuss. The Turks denied there was a shortage of petrol. To our surprise, the road was super. We had been warned Turkish roads were terrible and the one beyond the border calculated to founder any vehicle. However, we had also been told to take the Kars road and this was even more splendid. It was obviously a military road, but still, surprise, surprise! we saw storks nesting on top of telegraph poles, two to a nest. I would not let Tim stop and photograph them as there were possibly hostile peasants around and we had been warned too that this was a very bad area for stone-throwing nomads and children.

Wandered through bleak mountains. Lots of nomads very gaily dressed in dresses. Fantastic view from a 7,000 foot pass. After that, a lovely 100 mile drive through mountains, snow-capped in the distance with beautiful flower meadows by a swift flowing river. The road was excellent the whole way. Very many varieties of butterflies. Tim stopped twice and I looked for flowers. No stone-throwing small boys, apart from one group who would have thrown at anybody. Our car is very like the local cars and they do not recognize us until it is too late. Everyone wants cigarettes. The army is on summer manoeuvres and we were held up by army convoys on the outskirts. Spectacular fields of bright yellow mustard.

Into Erzurum, a nice mountain town.

Erzerum, Turkey.


Found the Hotel Baysal comparatively easily. An adequate room, but no food. Did the chores, then went out on the recommendation of the proprietor to Kale Restaurant for very good kebabs, salad and veg. Everyone very friendly and helpful. There was a large party of Americans in the restaurant.

The Double Minaret, Erzerum, Turkey. Looked at the old Mosque and wandered around the town. It was dark and the shops were still open.

Some very nice fruit around - cherries etc.
Did some shopping for food and managed with the help of a very good guide book. They have a very nice shortbread-type cake covered in chocolate, also bought eggs and cheese.

Back to the hotel for coffee and bed.


Erzurum - The Double Minaret


Note: This loo is something really special! European-type, but no cistern. Small red pipe sticking through the back in a long curve from a wall connection. It does nothing!





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İE.G.L. Dening
Images and text are copyright E.G.L. Dening 1979/ 2008