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Icy Passes, Flaming Deserts

And the night train to Baghdad

View Sydney to London 1964 on Ozac's travel map.

Tuesday 15-12-64 to Friday 18-12-64

The 350 mile bus ride from Shiraz to Abadan, over varying terrain, was extremely dangerous, and our fellow passengers continuously burst into chanted prayers, which we felt inclined to join in, as one hair-raising moment followed another. It was snowing heavily as we crossed icy mountain passes, very high up, and at one point, even with chains on, the bus was slipping so badly on a steep incline that it seemed sure to slide backwards over the cliff. We quickly got out, not so much to lighten the load or push, but to save our necks. We did push however, along with some of the others, which went over very well with those who stayed on board, and we managed to get the bus moving forward again. It was a very stressful trip, and after God knows how many more hours of numb bums and a most uncomfortable night trying to sleep on the bus, we reached Abadan. In the night, as we crossed the desert, great gas flames were visible, reddening the sky with their flickering light. Ade saw an oil well early in the morning, but I am yet to spot one.

In Abadan we had a contact given to us by the Chaters, the Iranian family we had met at Fairlawns in Calcutta. He proved to be a tireless man who made us tired by the speed at which he whisked us about. He told us the Chaters had arrived in Australia on the 6th December, and were settling in well, which was welcome news. He gave us a good meal and we spent the night on our new inflatable mattresses in his comfortable house. Next morning he took us on a whirlwind tour of the oil refinery, which was not all that interesting, except for the fantastic maze of pipes, and then he saw us out of the country without any difficulty over our expired visas. We were most relieved. No customs check either. It cost us 3 dollars to cross the Shatt-al Arab waterway by launch and we were in Iraq. First impressions were bad. Even the customs officials tried to do us out of money, and the taxi driver also. It cost us ½ dinar each to get to Basra from Seeba, the border post. We passed through large plantations of date palms, reminiscent of the coconut plantations of Goa. It reminded me a lot of India. It was backward, dirty, but I did not really like or dislike it. Such things pass right through me now without effect. The railway station in Basra was as bad as the worst we saw in India. The toilet would go down as one of the more primitive I have used. 6 pm train to Baghdad. An army sergeant who was directing the huge queue at the third class window let me to the head of the line. Sometimes it pays to be Australian. I slept on the luggage rack, more shades of India, and at 10 am the following day we were in Baghdad.

I did not see much of Baghdad. We went straight from the railway station to the customs depot, in order to pick up a truck for Amman. I don’t particularly care. It was by outward appearances a fairly plain, pseudo-modern Middle Eastern city. I’ll probably never know other than that. Met an Italian photographer who wanted to photograph Kurdish rebels, and he told us of the untold red tape he had to go through to no advantage. He was going to leave Iraq that day. I wanted to see Babylon, but again I did not, which is the only thing I am sorry about. Right through ancient Sumer at night. I think little remains of antiquity there anyway. This is our first Arab country, and the Arab dress is wonderful. The Iraqis seem like friendly enough people too, for all the stories about them, though Iraq is certainly militarized. On the train, the chief inspector was closely followed by his assistant, eyeing everything, then another assistant with ticket book and pouch. Then came a soldier with a revolver, then another with a sub-machine gun; all for checking tickets.

Posted by Ozac 04:08 Archived in Iran Tagged iraq iran

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