On Journey: Part Three


My first sighting in Tehran was one of sheer astonishment. A row of red double-decker London buses parked outside the railway station was not what I expected to see. We were so filthy and tired that all we wanted to do was find a room and collapse. We found one directly across the road from the station and dropped with exhaustion. Cockroaches? Bed bugs? We were too damn tired to even care.

The next day I took the opportunity to do some washing which turned out to be a big mistake. When I went outside to go to the shops wearing a short-sleeved T-shirt I was grabbed by a man in uniform (police? military?) and yelled at. More or less pushing me back into the hotel we were staying in. Apparently it was the month of Ramadan and by bearing my arms I was being sinful. I knew not to show too much skin and dress modestly, but I thought I had covered up sufficiently by wearing loose jeans and not showing any cleavage.

[Remember at this time Iran was still ruled by the Shah and not the Islamists. He was trying to modernise the country by a series of economic, social and political reforms with the proclaimed intention of transforming Iran into a global power and nationalising certain industries and granting women suffrage.]

Unfortunately there has been resistance to his regime of modernisation and the people are constantly demonstrating against him. It looks as if he too will follow his father and go into exile; the question is when? (Actually happened in 1979) I think that those who have been educated to Western standards will more than likely leave too, emigrating to Europe or the USA if they can obtain visas. I get the distinct impression that women will lose any rights they have at present, and the way some of the Muslim men stare at me is very frightening. I make sure I keep close to Jon when we finally venture out.

I am surprised to see how western the young women of the city dress. Beneath the Chadors that they used to cover themselves they openly wear mini-skirts and tight tops and full make-up. The older women however are completely covered with only their eyes showing.

We wandered around the market place and along the two main streets in Tehran agog at the wonderful jewellery stores, the aquamarine and turquoise stones, the Persian carpets (not less than 500 knots per inch are worth buying) and the brass-ware. The city is a bizarre mixture of modern office blocks and apartments alongside rabbit warren bazaars and markets, along with wonderful scents of spices and the jewel-like colours of saffron and chilli and cardamom.

Jon at this point was becoming very irritating. He was determined not to get his hair cut in order to enter Afghanistan and I was equally determined not to use the Pakistan route. Because of this we struggled to secure tickets on any of the buses heading for the border and we were in danger of separating at this point. Eventually I managed to convince him that his hair would soon grow so he accepted a trim to above the collar before we went to the Afghanistan embassy for our visas and with them safely stamped into our passports we went on to enquire about transport to Afghanistan.

In one of the many travel agents we were privately asked whether we would do a deal with the manager, who was desperate to obtain foreign currency. The deal was for us to exchange an amount of local currency (rials) into US dollars for him and in return he would get us seats on the bus leaving tomorrow for Mashhad at no cost. Jon was very keen to do this, but I have to confess to being absolutely terrified of being asked to see the US currency by the border officials as the amount was stamped into our passports and of course we didn’t have it. Not on a par with drug smuggling, which I would never attempt to do, but non-the-less risky and if we had been caught we would probably be facing a prison sentence, especially as foreigners.

In the end I was glad to leave Tehran. The city had an undercurrent of turmoil and fear and the cockroaches in the filthy squat toilets were the biggest I had yet to see.

At 3 p.m we boarded the bus to Mashad, expecting to arrive at 12:30 the following afternoon. Another tiresome journey ahead.

Call to Place : India

In the beginning…

My grandfather, Herbert Beddall was born in Sheffield in 1889. He lived in Dunsville near Doncaster and worked as a blacksmith. He married Annie George in April 1908 when he was only 19 years old; Annie was 24 and they were cousins. My grandfather suffered from ill health and the cold damp winters in the north of England did not help, so in 1913 he and his wife and baby son got on a boat at Liverpool docks and went to India where he worked as a silversmith and gunsmith. In 1916 he returned to England where a daughter was born, my aunt Marjorie, but it wasn’t long before he returned to India and his youngest child, (another daughter, my mother Iris) was born in 1919. When she was born they were living at Angus Jute Mills, Gourhati in the Chandannagore subdivsion part of the Hooghly-Damodar Plain near Calcutta. The Portuguese, the Dutch, the French, the Danes and the British dominated industry, trade and commerce in this area for more than two centuries.

Herbert Beddall – definitely not in India!

Eventually the family returned to England and settled back in Thorne near Doncaster, South Yorkshire. My grandfather died of a heart attack whilst cycling to work in March 1938, aged just 49. My mother was only 18 years old.

As a child I always romanticised about living abroad. It seemed such an exciting thing to do; I adored learning about explorers who went out into the unknown and discovered unknown lands and reading about the settlers. I thought my grandfather must have been very adventurous and wished he had lived long enough for me to have known him. As it was my mother’s vague childhood remembrances of India had to do. Her tales of the “Amah” sleeping outside the bedroom she and her sister shared in order to protect them from any intruders was completely alien to our very English suburban way of life.

Because of this background, India in particular appeared very exotic and greatly appealed to me; I didn’t need too many excuses to want to go there, but it seemed no-one else in my family was keen.

The inspiration for my particular travels came from the ‘hippies’ of the 1960s heading to mystical India to seek spiritualism and so-called enlightenment. One of the key elements was travelling as cheaply as possible for as long as possible, using buses, trains and hitch-hiking their way as far as possible from the ‘evils’ of Western capitalism.

It wasn’t until 1973 when I turned twenty years old that my own overland adventure began following that famous ‘Hippie Trail’ through Europe, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. It was a journey that would shape my life.

~wander.essence~ Call to Place

Square September: Pink

Becky’s September square photo challenge Day 21!  She would like us to share photos which embrace ‘pink’ –  there could be pink in the photo, the subject or photographer could be ‘tickled pink’*, or indeed looking ‘in the pink’*.  A photo that manages to do all three things is the ultimate offering.

Beach cleaning at Fisherman's Cove, Chennai, India

Wild storms had caused a great deal of rubbish to wash up on the shores of this resort just before we arrived; a great deal of it plastic. These ladies battled with the wind to collect the rubbish and remove it from the beach. The wild storms that we are experiencing today courtesy of Storm Bronagh reminded me of this photo.

*in the pink’ means in perfect condition, or in good health, and ‘tickled pink’ means delighted.

September Squares | Pink

Square September: Pink

Becky’s September square photo challenge Day 20!  She would like us to share photos which embrace ‘pink’ –  there could be pink in the photo, the subject or photographer could be ‘tickled pink’*, or indeed looking ‘in the pink’*.  A photo that manages to do all three things is the ultimate offering.

Alai Darwaza (Alai Gate), the entrance to the Quwwat-Ul-Islam Mosque

The Qutb complex is a collection of monuments and buildings from the Delhi Sultanate at Mehrauli in Delhi in India.

*in the pink’ means in perfect condition, or in good health, and ‘tickled pink’ means delighted.

September Squares | Pink

home thoughts from abroad

Home thoughts from abroad is a new series on Travel Words featuring a single photograph that reminds me of a country visited and showing something that uniquely identifies it as being ‘abroad’.

Wearing Feetbells (Ghungrus)

India. 2008. Almost exactly 35 years since my first visit in 1973 as a young woman travelling overland from England. This time I wasn’t roughing it, but staying in a resort at Fisherman’s Cove near Chennai. A comfortable beach cabin with a marble bathroom. Buffet meals with dosa pancakes for breakfast. The sweet scent of frangipani and the wild waves of the Indian Ocean sending me to sleep at night.

Just looking at the dancers with their feet-bells brings back the memory of the gently resonating bells representing precisely the rhythmic movements of the dancing feet.