India, Pakistan and Iran.
There are now two Anglophone "groups". Kon-Tiki (Les and Margaret), who are making a dash for the UK and K-Nine and Womble (Clive, Ann and Maureen), who are driving more slowly.
This web page is being edited in the UK from material received by e-mail from K-Nine incorporating material from Kon-Tiki, provided before they split up. The photos are from Clive. (Are you following this?)
K-Nine and Womble.We have eventually (2002-12-13) arrived in Esfahan (Iran). At the moment we are having lots of hassles with our guide. It is China all over again, with the impossibility of getting a straight answer about anything. When we have seen Esfahan we will head straight to the border.
We finally obtained our Iranian tourist visas on 2002-11-25. Completely painless, all the pain was in the preparation! It took us two days to get from Delhi to Amritsar, and we spent the best part of a day there before making the move to the border with Pakistan.
The Golden Temple in Amritsar was wonderful.
We thought it would be good but it was much more than that. The Temple itself is tiny, but the Gurdwara is huge and incorporates the large "pool of nectar" that surrounds the Temple. We had to remove our shoes and socks and walk through a foot bath before we were allowed to enter. Steps take you down to the level of the pool, past many inscribed tablets recording donations by the faithful in memory of a father or mother, in gratitude to a guru, or simply in faith. These tablets continue as you walk round the perimeter of the pool. Many of the donors are emigrants, from Canada, the USA and the UK. One runs a cash and carry in South Ruislip.
The gateway to the bridge and the temple are beautifully decorated with beaten "gold" (actually copper) panels and lots of superb inlay work. The faithful bow and kiss at various strategic locations. In the temple we process through but we're able to pause to see what's going on. Nobody ushers you on. Recommended.
The border with Pakistan (the border that is shut, may be shut, could take us days to cross?) is only 30kms from Amritsar and we went there in the late afternoon to see the flag ceremony.
This is a special border. The only land crossing point between India and Pakistan (two countries that have a history). Our object is to see this history played out at the flag ceremony which takes place every night and morning. We park up on a car park consisting entirely of dust and surprisingly we find it is the venue for a large number of coaches. This event is popular.
When we arrive (on the Indian side of course) it is to a theatre. A sizeable outside auditorium has been created so that the masses can observe the spectacle about to unfold. In front of an audience of several hundred, including many school parties, is the office of the border guards. A number of them float around in very fine brown and red uniforms with hats that sport a small fan. Up the road are two gates next to one another, one with the Indian colours and beyond it one for Pakistan. Several tens of metres beyond is a large building with a picture of Jinnah atop. Between the gate and the Jinnah building are several Pakistani border guards in dark green. A few Pakistani flags can be seen and there is a group of spectators, though much smaller than on the Indian side.
For the next 20 minutes, the guards play out the most absurd theatre imaginable as they each perform a meticulously choreographed flag-lowering ceremony which is primarily focused on the actual border itself, where the gates face each other. Several guards from each side march up the road to the border (John Cleese style).
At the actual border there are mock confrontations. Amongst the many astonishing things about this is that it actually displays a great deal of cooperation between the two troupes as well as a substantial degree of alikeness in their procedures and dress. The actual flag lowering is exceptionally complex, but each side appears to exactly mirror the other!
Bizarre, uproarious, unbelievable - but a remarkable example of Indo-Pakistan cooperation, and much better than war. Recommended
The border opened (to us) at 10.00. On the Indian side, the service was friendly but rather ponderous. On the Pakistani side, more friendly and a good deal quicker. There was however a "request" for money (declined) that was repeated when K-Nine and Womble crossed later.
Having crossed the border we wanted to reach Okara before it was dark (160kms away, including the navigation of Lahore). In fact we made it plus 37kms, getting to Sahiwal at about 17: 15. We decided to head for this town as we had a recommended stopping place at the View Restaurant just out of town on the main road. It was easy to find and the potato bhaji that was offered by the waiter as I asked if we could stop was bliss. They were happy for us to stop for the night.
So at 18.30 we did our duty and ate at the restaurant (in the "Family Hall", the alternative being the "Gents Hall"). The food turned out to be simply magnificent - the basmati rice (egg fried and peas pullao) was mouth watering on its own, let alone complemented by the chicken handi (cooked in a pot) and the chicken jalfrezi. We were also served the best chapatti/roti (the names are interchangeable here we were told) we have eaten, some splendid yoghurt as a side dish, and a terrific potato curry. We all agreed this was one of the best meals we have had on the trip. The price (including a generous tip) was 180 Rupees each ($3.20USA)!
The Parkistani Truck - A wonder to behold.
The trucks are extraordinary here with fantastic decoration. The "classic" beast is a very high-sided Hino or Bedford (yes I did say Bedford) at the front of which is a kind of slanting luton above the cab. The luton is open and is shaped like a massive wheelbarrow. Precisely what it is for and why it is so common is unclear. Every part of the vehicle is adorned with paintings, patterns and motifs, reflectors and mirrors. Almost all have a very large painting on the rear, often of a bird, the chukar (partridge) being the most popular by some margin. One (maybe more?) had Superboy carrying a sheep on his back. Others have fantastic beasts such as a horse with a woman's head, and it is not uncommon to see political portraits - of General (President) Musharraf, Benazir Bhutto, and in one case Osama bin Laden. A large number have special attachments such as windmills, wheel-nut mounted reflectors, frilly bits on the door sills, flashing lights on the front, large tassels on the rear view mirrors, several (sometimes ten or more) radio aerials?
Pakistan left a good impression. Like Nepal, we came to Pakistan expecting the worst and did not find it. True, the roads were worse than expected, the driving indifferent, and the poverty manifest, but the people were friendly and very hospitable (finding a place to stop was a cinch, and was invariably free). Much better than India, a better standard of driving, lower levels of filth and no rip-offs. In addition we had a meal to die for at the View Restaurant, Sahiwal.
We came into Iran on 2002-12-05, an easy crossing taking only two hours (or 30 minutes if you change your watch at the border). Our immediate impression is of a country which is much richer and much cleaner than Pakistan, a country where the women wear the scarf but are at least not in bourkhas, are out of doors and look remarkably animated.
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