The Comex overland expeditions were created by Lt.-Col. Lionel Gregory, OBE, a visionary man whom I (Stephen Stewart) am proud to have met. Although I didn't appreciate it at the time I suspect that taking part in the third Commonwealth Expedition to India (Comex 3) in the summer of 1969 changed my life. (I was originally one of the radio operators on the Yorkshire coach but was elected leader in a bloodless coup, staged rather unfairly by the contingent from York University.) Each coach kept an official diary of the journey. A film of the Comex 3 expedition to India was made by Ron Crompton and Pete Wolf.
The expedition consisted of twenty coaches each carrying 25 people travelling overland from England to India and back. Comex 3 remains the largest peaceful overland expedition ever to be mounted.
Most of the twenty Comex 3 coaches at an American air base in Frakfurt (Germany).
What follows is the "official" diary kept by the Yorkshire Contingent of the Comex 3 Expedition to India in 1969. The opinions expressed are those of the "diarist" on duty each day.
We held weekly meetings in various parts of Yorkshire, including Sheffield, York, Wakefield and Bradford. During these meetings we made preparations for the journey and had several talks on relevant subjects. Among these was a talk by the University Medical Officer from Bradford, who spoke to us about injections, illnesses and hygiene.
At the beginning of 'Comex Week' we had a reception for all our Yorkshire sponsors, which was enjoyed by all. During the 'Comex Week' the coach was on show in many of the areas represented, 'though unfortunately on the Wednesday the gear box failed, so we were without it for three days.
Comex Camp was held at Woollaton Park, Nottingham from 1st - 4th July 1969. Courses were held for the First-Aiders, Mechanics etc. and many problems or queries were sorted out. "T'Owd Tup", our Yorkshire Mummers Play was rehearsed at every available moment and the general feeling of the contingent, especially 'Rolling, Tolling, Tippling Tom' - John Shere, our Cultural Liaison Officer, was that it needed rehearsing much more.
The coach started from Bradford at approximately 8.45 am collecting members on the way, while the remainder met us at the Duke of York School in Dover where we were sleeping for the night. The girls slept in dormitories while the boys slept in the gym.
We awoke at 6.30 am as we had a great deal to do before 12 noon. The packers required the luggage before 7.15 am so the packing could be finished before Greg's briefing. At the meeting Greg told us that Brigitte had been to see him because she could not get a visa for Yugoslavia, since she was classed as a stateless person. He mentioned that Brigitte was to fly to Istanbul. We were all extremely happy as we felt sure that nothing else could be done.
Celia then told us that the coach was leaving by 8.45 am so that the members who had not yet received their Travellers Cheques due to the delay in acquiring visas for Afghanistan, could get them in Dover before sailing and added that even if it meant missing breakfast we had to be there. As soon as Greg had finished speaking there was a mad scramble for the dining room. Breakfast was hurriedly eaten and we assembled on the coach only to find that there was a meeting of the Regional Leaders!
When we arrived in the city centre some members had last minute shopping to do, so we all met at 10.00 am and took the coach for a wash. We closed all the windows, pushed the aerials down but forgot about the flat mast which was broken in the wash.
We then went to the docks, through the customs and onto the 'Enterprise 4'. The crossing was very calm and we arrived on schedule at 4.00 p.m. Once more we went through the customs and drove for a few miles where we took our positions in the convoy. We took what the navigators thought to be the Brussels Ring Road, which was in fact the Brussels-Antwerp Road. The difficulty arose because the navigator was following the lead coach which also took the wrong turning. About an hour later when most of us were dozing off to sleep, the driver, Mike Walker, suddenly pulled into the side of the road shouting for the first aiders, and jumped out. We were all awake in a matter of seconds. Apparently Mike had seen two cars on either side of the road, both on their roofs.
The boys all grabbed their torches and dashed back to the cars, Ken and Val, the two police cadets, used their first aid knowledge on one of the drivers who had blood all over his face. Ken tore his T-shirt in two to use as a bandage. There was petrol and glass all over the road so the boys directed the traffic. A Belgian who had also stopped, went to phone for an ambulance.
When the ambulance came, we decided to leave since we could be of no assistance to the police because no one had seen the accident. We eventually reached the border at Aachen only to be told that we must pay £8-10s-00d (£8.50) road tax before we could get through. The Radio Operators were trying hard to contact Greg but to no avail. After about two hours we paid the tax and later found that we were able to recover the money when we returned
We arrived at the United States Air Force Base at about 6 am and crawled into our sleeping bags.
The hot sun woke us up. We had breakfast and some had a walk while others sunbathed. At 3.00 p.m. everyone attended a meeting of the representatives from Malta, Tanzania, Pakistan and India. The Lord Mayor of Frankfurt, who presented us with flags for the coaches also told us a little about Frankfurt.
Directly afterwards we had a wonderful meal, most of us were so full we had difficulty walking. The rest of the afternoon was spent singing, sunbathing etc. At 6.00 p.m. the drivers met to discuss travelling in convoy. The outcome was that they decided to give it a try the following day.
One or two of us were invited by the Americans to go to a Folk Club in town but we declined as we had seat covers to sew. We did promise to go when we returned. We were all rather tired so we decided to go to bed early.
Some of us thought that it would be better to sleep outside as the temperature would be considerably higher in the Gymnasium. We laid one of the ground sheets on the grass, placed our sleeping bags on top and pulled the other ground sheet over us so that the dew would not wet our sleeping bags. About half an hour later as everyone was settled two American patrol men asked us to move to the other side of the building. Four of us took the top ground sheet as pandemonium reigned. Mike Walker couldn't find his shorts so he hopped across in his inner sleeping bag with his sandals on, Martin looked so funny in his pyjamas and his bush hat. I wished that I had some flash bulbs in my camera. After much joking and giggling everyone went to sleep.
We arose at 6.00 am to be ready for breakfast at 6.45 am The breakfast was as delicious as yesterday's dinner, then we went to pack. We set off at 7.42 am in convoy.
On route the scenery was very much like Derbyshire, wooded and hilly but the houses had whitewashed fronts and small windows. We pulled into a lay-bye for lunch which consisted of larded bread - which was very nice, with cheese, meat spread jam and melon to finish with.
When we arrived at the frontier, Ken asked if they would stamp the passports, this they did and we were quickly on our way. We reached the camp site at Salzburg amidst lightning and thunder so the tents were quickly erected before the rain.
Ken and Maggie prepared a delicious Risotto with rice, for tea and everyone's plates were wiped clean. Some of us went to the Bier Garden near the camp site and had a wonderful evening, dancing and singing with a party of Austrians.
We all slept soundly after the Austrian wine and beer.
Up at 6.30 am breakfast at 7.00 am, though a little damp as raining lightly but fairly continuously. Finally left at 7.35 am in order to go shopping and form up our convoy. When we left it was raining heavily and was very cloudy.
We stopped to shop at 8.30 am then formed up in convoy by 9.30 am at Bad-Schau and drove slowly up into the mountains. It was raining heavily in places and misty in others, therefore few good photographs were taken.
Stopped for coffee and toilets in Rottermann at 11.40 am after a beautiful journey - very picturesque, although the mountain roads make average speeds so slow.
Decided to have dinner whilst on the move - just two sandwiches and keep going towards the border. It was quite hot and not so mountainous after that.
We heard from Greg's car at the Austria - Yugoslavia border that there was more trouble over road tax so we stopped to act as relay to Greg travelling with St. Andrews. We drove onto the border, where we paid the tax and were told that we were on the same wavelength as the Austrian Fire Service. We later found this to be a false alarm but in actual fact we were contravening the Yugoslavian Radio Acts. Officials began taking the serial numbers of all Comex Radios and the names and addresses of all operators. We stayed until 6.10. We spent time eating, drinking and chatting, also played football. We set off singing and stopped after a while to reform the convoy and spent 10 minutes singing by the roadside. Quite a few people listened appreciatively and Birmingham members went round with a hat.
Crew change at 8.10. The main roads were very rough - unmade in places, very different from the Autobahns. As progress was rather slow we didn't reach Zagreb until 10.30 pm. We waited until about 12 coaches had formed up in convoy to go to the camp site and led by a guide sets off. Unfortunately Zagreb had so many red lights that progress was very slow. So arrived at 11.15 pm tired and hungry. Even though the journey was only 300 miles long we saw an enormous change in the scenery, weather and economy.
We had a late breakfast at 9.00 am after our 1.00 am bedtime of the night before. The morning was spent in domestic jobs such as cleaning up our mobile home inside and out; shopping in Zagreb; washing clothes and when that was finished enjoyed the sun and water at the swimming pool on the camp site. Lunch was waived in favour of prolonging these pleasures.
A much needed cultural rehearsal for our cultural performance which was to be held in public for the first time that night was held in the afternoon. Alterations and improvements were being made until the last minute. Everyone looks brown and healthy as though we had spent weeks on the Riviera with every luxury laid on.
Tonight we gave our first semi-public performance of the Comex cultural show. The stage was two groundsheets illuminated by the coaches' headlights which formed a circle around. We felt glad that at least our contribution brought some earthy, broad comedy to the overall entertainment whatever else it lacked. Afterwards we all celebrated at the local Beer Garden and were entertained in our turn by Greg who sang Baba Nova fluently.
We decided to save the bottle of Plum Brandy which the Yugoslav Tourist Agency presented us with, until a time of real crisis.
We arose at 8.30 am and breakfasted at 9.00 am. We then went into Zagreb to see the International Folklore Festival which started from Republican Square. In between the crowds we caught glimpses of many colourful costumes. For about 5 minutes there were a series of explosions above the roofs of the shops, we presumed that was the opening of the festivities.
The processions left the square by various side roads and went into smaller squares for dancing etc. In the square that some of us went to there was folk dancing and also a play being performed about a wedding.
During the play we left to go back to camp to meet the guides who were to take us to see more of Zagreb but this was later cancelled, so most of us went swimming at the camp pool.
John the Banker asked us all if we would pay an extra £4.00s.00d each to be saved, and if necessary used on the way back. After much discussion we all paid. We had tea then directly afterwards began packing to enable us to be off at 5.45 am the following morning.
The poor mechanics were up until 12.30 changing a wheel. Because of this our gallant packers stayed up packing until about 1.30 am whilst the rest of us were already sleeping under the stars.
We set off at 5.37 in convoy with Skopje as our goal, after a hearty breakfast - and laugh - when the banker complained we were spreading our jam too thick.
At 6.10 am our radio operator Steve joined the Sussex coach directly in front, in order to mend their radio, which was not transmitting. We stopped at 7.40 am for a crew change and a ten minute break.
Around 8.00 am it became clear that many of the coaches in our group were having various problems with their radios - and Steve decided to enquire of Greg if he could cable home for more spares.
We had coffee at a roadside cafe at 11.00 am and some of us were tempted to buy wares from an aged peasant woman sitting outside. The journey then continued to the dulcet tones of wooden pipes, beautifully carved and quite cheap.
At 12.15 pm whilst stuck in a traffic jam in Belgrade a woman tried to board our coach thinking it was a tourist bus. Having passed through Belgrade we stopped on the autobahn to buy apples for lunch and dinner from peasants selling them at the roadside. After a lot of skilful haggling we obtained them at about 0.5d each.
At 12.15 pm while stopping at a garage for a crew change, our mechanics tried to buy some more paraffin but found their seemingly - understood request met with a sack containing 50 litres of paraffin wax - graciously declined.
On the last lap to Skopje, we passed a donkey laden with sheaves of barley - the first of this kind of transport we had seen, and the first of many to come. In fact, the last part of the journey showed us quite a change in both greener scenery and richer economy. Many peasants seen were traditionally dressed in black - for the women - and in baggy trousers and Cossack style hats for the men. Also we passed many quaint villages by the roadside.
We arrived at the campsite at 8.00 pm and found we couldn't take the coach onto the campsite. After a fairly heated discussion about whether to drive on to the Greek border that night. Instead we decided to stay, unpacked the coach, put up the tents, ate supper and then most of us went for a relaxed drink and singing session. This was the first time we had to use Sterotabs - and un-British type loos!
A leisurely breakfast at 8.00 am and departed from camp at 10.20 am. Passing through Skopje itself, it was difficult to decide how much of the shabbiness and outright destruction was due to the recent earthquake and how much was sheer neglect and poverty. The well cared for farmland outside the town presented a more attractive picture.
Titov Veles seemed more prosperous in appearance than Skopje. Well kept houses were visible up the hillside, shops with fairly smart clothes in definite western style; small donkeys with crude wooden saddles resting on thick sacking on their backs were walking briskly along the roads and disappearing up the dirt tracks which led to the poorer residential quarters.
We shopped for bread and ice creams and took photographs. The banker is filled with anxiety about the state of our finances and was delighted at the price of bread compared with the price at the last camp site.
Vine growing areas were prominent to the south east of Titov Veles although the countryside soon became mountainous and barren for a long stretch afterwards. The border with Greece was reached at 2.10 pm. At first we thought we would have to wait until Greg caught us up as he was holding the Road Tax Receipt which we needed to show at the Yugoslavian border. We had lunch in the coach - bread, paste, jam, apple and water each, during which time negotiations were successfully carried out to let us through. The Greek border presented no problems and we were through both within the hour. This means we left at 4.10 pm having put our clocks forward by one hour at this point.
Immediately the impression changed from poverty and peasants to an easier way of life. Horses, plains of harvested wheat, well kept houses, currant bushes appeared (proving our school teachers right again). After Thessalonika there was the descent on the twisting road to the coast road, and after nightfall a difficult stretch through occasional small villages, over narrow bridges and round sharp bends, edging our way past swift moving approaching articulated lorries until we reached the camp site at Kavalla at 10.00 pm. We ate a delicious mutton stew, cleaned ourselves at the first rate amenities and settled down to sleep about 1.00 am.
Had a nice lay-in and had breakfast at 11.00 am.
There was a district meeting at 10.45 where Greg explained in full the background of Comex and the aims of Comex. Greg said he thought that there was too much petty squabbling about money for campsites etc., and that through this we do not have the correct attitude towards Comex. He also said that Comex 3 is of a much higher standard than Comex 1 & 2 were.
Directly after the diarist meeting was a contingent meeting where we discussed many topics, i.e. whether we should travel to Hyderabad by coach or train - this was left in abeyance until we received train prices etc. How we should welcome Brigitte the following day, and many more points.
Afterwards some went shopping into Kavalla while the rest went for a swim in the sea.
The tourist Policeman very kindly came over and invited our Police Cadets for a drink later and accepted our offer of tea, which consisted of fish, peppers and aubergines mixed with rice and melon afterwards. John the banker was delighted with the cost of fish, it was 12 Drachmas (3 shillings.) for 3 kilos (6.75 lbs) - thanks to Trevor who bartered for it.
At 8.00 pm we had a Tup rehearsal on the beach and afterwards went to the cultural performance and for a drink.
Everyone had quite an early night.
We set off at 5.15 am - half an hour late after over sleeping - as we wished to be 15 minutes ahead of the lead coach, Edinburgh, this was in order to be first into Istanbul to greet Brigitte - joining us at last after flying from London over Yugoslavia.
At 8.15 am we reached a place called Kimitini, where we took a wrong turning down a tiny side street, but managed to pass an excellent market, which provided melons and cabbage. Ken - a cook bought what he took to be a melon but in fact it was a pumpkin. After a good laugh the stall holder kindly exchanged it for him, much to our relief, as Ken generously shared it.
At 9.40 am we stopped in Alexandropolis so our banker could exchange some money, but in fact he was unable to. We arrived at the border at 10.30 am just ahead of Edinburgh, and were first through. After a crew change and our first experience of unisex loos, we left but stopped a few kilometres later to buy petrol. Unfortunately we drove off leaving John the banker at the garage still in the process of paying for our fuel, but he walked up the road to meet us and seemed to take it quite well.
We passed peasants in traditional dress and also two camels - quite a surprising sight. Travelling non-stop to Istanbul despite Edinburgh's radio message that they were stopping for a swim in the sea of Marmora directly to the right of the roadside, we arrived at the gates of Istanbul at 4.30 pm. There we met Ned Yescombe, the Comex member from the Oxford contingent who was supposed to be accompanying Brigitte out.
He told us that she would now be coming on the plane landing at 6.15 am on Friday so our welcoming dash was in vain. After waiting until we were in radio contact with the next coach, we left Ned and carried on through Istanbul. As it was the rush hour, we had a very entertaining time - as passengers - although we felt sorry for our driver battling with the non-road-sense of the home going Turks. We were fortunately waived to the head of the queue for the car ferry and arrived in Asia at 7.30.
As Ned had brought our mail fro the British High Commission we had a pleasing time catching upon home news.
We found our camp site - at the Institute of Education - after a wrong turning or two - and radioed some other coaches in. After quickly setting up camp and eating dinner, we listened to the reports of Apollo 11 moon probe splash down on the coach radio.
An early night was had by nearly all - although a few die-hards went for a drink in the local equivalent of the 'Crown and Anchor'. Perhaps it is significant that the loos are unisex - is there a new trend starting?
A busy, domestic day on the camp site, fitting and covering the coach seats most of the time. Celia and Pat went to Istanbul to meet Brigitte off the plane from London. She had not been able to obtain the papers enabling her to pass through Yugoslavia so Comex had flown her out to Turkey. Brigitte does not hold a British passport. A Yorkshire hospitality night was held to greet her; campfire, baked potatoes, wine, Beatles music on tape, guests from other contingents, a real party. The men have organised a security guard all through the night as thieves have taken personal belongings from the tents.
We woke to the sound of rain beating on the tent - it seems to be following us everywhere.
Breakfast consisted of porridge and bread and jam, eaten on the coach.
One or two members left early to go to Istanbul with another contingent, to exchange some money. Quote from Maggie our cook 'I'm going down to Istanbul to get a good meal'. A little later some of us caught a minibus, called a Dormus, expecting a nerve-racking 15 minute drive. Upon reaching the ferry we bought the tickets and went on board. We wondered why the passengers were all sitting on one side, we later realised - we got saturated from the rain coming through where there should have been a window. When we reached the other side of the Bosphorous we changed some money and then split into smaller groups as there were so many places to visit.
Sally, Pete, Jenny, John from Kent, John & Anita decided we would try to find the Bazaar. After following Pete's not-too-good tourist map, a youth who spoke German attached himself to us so we asked him to show us a restaurant. As he came inside we thought we had better buy him a meal. The manager came over and directed us to the kitchen to inspect the food, which looked absolutely delicious. We each paid about 8 shillings (£0.40) for the meal and agree it was worth every penny.
The Bazaar was very touristic so we made our way to the Old Bazaar which was more interesting. In the meantime we lost Jennnie and John and it was hopeless trying to find them among the many streets and shops of the Bazaar.
We left and made our way through the back streets - where the women were to be seen and where we sensed a feeling of hostility among the men, to the Blue Mosque.
We took off our shoes and Sally and Anita were given long blue coats to put on. The floors were covered with carpets and the ceiling was inlaid with blue ceramic tiles in beautiful patterns. The mosque was built during the years 1609 - 1616 by order of the Sultan Ahmet 1st, and is the only Turkish mosque which contains six minarets.
Caught the ferry and had a lift back with Edinburgh.
We learned that when Jennie and John had crossed the ferry they called a taxi and gave the directions to the driver who drove them to the wrong place and in doing so managed to get the taxi stuck in the mud. He tried to charge them 60 liras but they, and a few Turks who had joined in, argued until the driver took them to the correct place and then paid 15 liras.
Ate tea and later sang songs and drank local wine around the camp fires before going to bed.
Had a rehearsal for our play straight after breakfast then while some went to Istanbul, either for the first or second time, others remained at camp for a quiet day.
It was discovered that the coach battery was flat, the coach having remained on the site since Thursday, yet being well lit at night. We decided to take the coach for a run to charge up the battery a little, so we ran a few more people down to the ferry in Istanbul, then went for a drive along the water front and back, finally arriving back at camp at 1.00 pm.
After tomato sandwiches for lunch a fairly quiet day passed at camp, odd chores being cleared up. Yet another rehearsal at 6.30 pm then a meal at 7.45 pm. Some then went to watch the Shakespeare rehearsal, others continued their quiet existence - at camp or in the local. Mike Walker and John Nutland came back from having tea with a Turkish man who had been busy brazing broken flagpoles together, and said they had enjoyed themselves very much.
Up at 4.15 am camp departure at 6.15 am and we arrived at the outskirts of Ankara at 3.15 and travelled on to camp site which was situated three quarters of an hour motoring south of Ankara along a dirt track. A nice looking lake turned out to be part of a sewage disposal unit, so we made a survey of the surrounding country and found an open field further along the dirt road away from the sewage.
At 6.00 pm after putting up tents etc, the banker was heard to say 'Let's have a big splash, we've got to eat, even if we have to borrow the money'. This is a complete change of heart on his side. Had supper at 8.30 pm. Played cards, sang songs and then went to bed fairly early.
4.00 am was the time we should have arisen but in actual fact it was 5.00 am when the first person awoke. Ate breakfast of bread and jam, and the boys took the tent down.
Set off at 6.15 - only a quarter of an hour late. The roads were steep and twisting with a virtually sheer drop down one side. The vegetation was very sparse with clumps of grass dotted here and there.
Stopped for diesel and air at a small garage and within a few minutes there were about 50 children around the coach. Val tried to take a photograph but a man put his hand over the lens and pushed her away. When the mechanic went to check the air pressure gauge he noticed that the gauge had been made in Sheffield by Pneumatic Components.
The vegetation changed once more to farm land with a great deal of corn, which we saw being threshed by throwing the grain into the air.
After stopping in a town for the cooks to shop, and sample Turkish honey complete with honeycomb, we had our first dint put in the coach by children throwing stones.
Lunch at 1.30 pm consisting of about 1 oz salad and bread and jam.
A little later stopped for food and some of the boys played football with some Turkish boys. Travelled along the coast road until we reached the Teacher Training College at Persembe, where we were camping. Some Comex members slept inside the college in bunk beds whilst the rest slept in the tent.
Everyone quickly settled down to sleep as we had had a tiring day and yet another the following day to come. The night was quiet and still, only the rain could be heard pattering on the tent. As it began to fall heavier and started to come under the side of the tent precautions were taken by firstly making a channel to take away the water and secondly by placing tent pegs under the edges of the ground sheet to allow the newly formed stream to pass underneath.
About half an hour later pandemonium ensued as the tent fell, in the now pouring rain. The boys ran out with torches and managed to erect it again, in about 4 inches (100 mm) of mud. Apparently the ground became so muddy and the guy ropes so taut with the rain that the tent pegs down one side came out of the ground, poor Pete Whaley was rudely awaken when the poles and Tilly lamp fell on him. Most of the sleeping bags were saturated so some went to sleep in the college leaving students to tidy up the tent.
We got up at 4.00 am and had breakfast. It poured again afterwards and a great communal effort was made in getting the six coaches, parked on the football field, down the steep, narrow muddy track leading down to the road.
After the mud bath a great cleaning operation ensued and such equipment as shoes, tents, poles, groundsheets etc were washed in the sea. It was then discovered that a sewage outlet was nearby so the equipment was re-washed in the forecourt of a local cafe. The proprietor and locals were extremely helpful and our coach began to emerge from under its mud covering. We also were able to eat a delicious and inexpensive meal at the cafe before finally leaving Persembe at 9.45 am.
Everyone was in high spirits on the journey after our muddy exertions and so it passed uneventfully.
We were about 10 km from Trabzon when we were asked by Greg over the radio if we wished to stay at the American Air Force Base there. We agreed enthusiastically and arrived there at 3.30 pm. The Americans were very surprised at our presence, but very welcoming indeed. After cooking our evening meal ourselves most people found American companions for the evening and a great time was had by all. Enough said!
A late start at 10.00 am. Everyone cleaned, well fed, entertained and refreshed after a first rate overnight stop. Soon after passing a sign saying Konak Pass at 11.50 am less than a mile along the road outside Trabzon a medium sized boulder bounced down the hill from four houses up the hillside. It smashed into the driver's side front wing, ruining it completely, loosening the front grill and the air ducts on that side and all the angle iron supports etc. The accelerator pedal was also jammed.
Mike the driver, Pat and others saw it bouncing down the hillside but it was impossible to avoid it. We stopped at the first garage about 400 yards down the road to tidy up the damage. Police officer number 15682 from Trabzon appeared in his car with three other policemen inside five minutes. (Ken had got a lift back into Trabzon in a passing car and brought them). The policeman didn't speak any English and left after examining the damage, with Mike Walker and Ken. After a few minutes they returned to the coach. Lancaster stopped by at the garage and offered condolences with heart felt sympathy as they had sustained a cracked and broken window the day before near this spot caused they believe by a stone from a catapult. Celia was very concerned about the insurance procedure. 'No vital component has gone' Peter, the mechanic, John Nutland and Trevor examined the four houses up the hillside from the road. They saw a high, dry stone wall from which the boulder could have fallen. Opinion among our contingent is divided as to whether the boulder fell accidentally or was deliberately pushed. At 11.55 am Newcastle pulled into our garage to inspect the damage. The Trabzon police will not accept responsibility for an accident outside the city area and gave us a certificate stating the cause of the accident for Insurance purposes. Brigitte went on with Newcastle coach because she could not get her Iranian visa at the consulate in Trabzon. She hoped to get it at Tehran and must not waste time in getting there.
We decided to return to USAF Base for repairs and left at 12.30 arriving at 12.55. We picked up the boulder on the way back.
The USAF people welcomed us back for another night and set to work
producing spares and helping to mend the damage. Most of the contingent went
water skiing in the afternoon. The singing group performed again in the club.
Set off at 4.10 am in convoy with Oxford and St. Andrews. We stopped at the scene of the accident to look for a part of the radiator grill that was not collected the previous day, but had no such luck.
Progress was very slow through the mountains, and vegetation was very sparse. Lunch was one slice of bread and meat paste, a quarter of a tomato, and one slice of bread and marmalade which was eaten by the side of the coach whilst being stared at by a group of children.
The scenery did not change much at all but we did see one or two tiny villages where the shops were very small, crowded and badly lit. The further east we travelled the more the women seem to be covered, only their eyes were showing. The women's garments must be extremely hot as they generally seem to be made out of very heavy materials.
We lost radio contact with Oxford and St. Andrews, we could hear them but they could not hear us, so to get back in contact we had to go back along the road we had just come. In turning round we pulled off the back bumper on one of the potholes. Received directions from Oxford about where they were sleeping and when we arrived tea was quickly cooked - FRESH meat, green beans, potatoes and onion stew - it was delicious. As soon as tea was eaten and pots were washed we went to bed.
We were up at 3.30 am after our night in the field and well breakfasted we left ahead of the other two coaches with whom we camped. The two french men who had spent the night with us after the front axle of their car bent when they found a particularly deep pothole left at 4.30.
We checked the diesel level in Agri and decided we needed just a couple of gallons to get us to the cheaper petrol in Iran.
We passed Mount Ararat en route so we stopped for a convenient crew change and pictures.
We arrived at the border at 10.30 am where we met Brigitte again who was with Greg. After sorting out all our visas, we finally left at 12.30 and stopped for a one hour lunch at 1.00 p.m. in a town near the border. We were unable to stay on the grass by the coach so ate in the grounds adjoining a local cafe. The proprietor was very helpful, if not amused and let us wash up in his kitchens. We also brewed coffee - a welcome change. We left at 2.00 pm or 3.30 pm Iran time as we put our clocks forward.
The road to Tabriz was well surfaced and very smooth. We arrived at 8.00 pm had a delicious evening meal, then after inspecting the campsite, decided not to put up our tents on a terraced hill so we slept beneath the stars - for the first time since Zagreb.
Left camp site at 6.00 am. The road was full of potholes with men working on it so progress was very slow in these parts. The road surface returned to a good standard about 10.00 am but surrounding country monotonous desert. At 11.50 am Trevor saw two carpets lying on the road (off the back of a lorry). He jumped out, brought them on to the coach and we drove off. A few motor cyclists who had observed this pursued us and as we came to a small village after a few hundred yards, one or two men stood in the middle of the road. Martin who was driving had to stop and Trevor threw out the carpets to the men. After a pleasant loo stop at 2.00 pm we went on in high spirits, in fact the battle of the Water Pistols took place between Ken at the front and John Nutland at the back.
At Karachi we were met at 6.00 pm by a prearranged Police escort who led seven contingents of us into Tehran. The camp site was right through the city centre and at the far boundary a large site with adequate, clean facilities. (About 10.50 pm. when some of us were trying to sleep in the open at the camp site and listening to the very loud relay of Arab music, the sound suddenly stopped. Mike Walker came back and said, 'I've cut their wire in two places. We'll get some sleep now').
Seeing as we had travelled for a few days without a break we had a lay in until about 9.00 am. We hoped to have a swim but unfortunately the pool was in the process of being cleaned. Looking around the camp site we found excellent facilities, a bank, post office, shop, shower and medical tent, all erected for Comex - a wonderful gesture.
Anita, Ben and John were singing in the evening at the Youth Palace in Tehran so they left at 1.30 pm with the members from other contingents for a rehearsal. The audience was supposed to have been Ambassadors, but in fact it was mainly students. As the show was running about one hour late they only sang one song. Maggie and John Smith were there singing in the choir. Back at camp Pete Whaley and Ken, with John from Kent played basketball at the college near the camp and also had tea there. After tea the three boys with whom they had been playing came back to camp with them and spent the evening teaching some of the members how to count and some Persian words.
Supper, and on the whole a rather late night.
We were all awake very early because of the heat and the insects hopping over one, and flies landing on one's face. A few sunbathed before breakfast and just about all had a much needed and very refreshing first cold shower of the day.
Breakfast at 9.00 am being over people disappeared generally to do duties or go sightseeing, or just plain rest.
Quite a few of us spent the not too hot part of the morning working slowly, then after a light lunch of chapattis and jam and fruit, most people followed the afternoon custom of an afternoon siesta.
We had a fairly early evening meal as Anita, Ben and John were to appear in the performance this evening at the Youth Palace in Tehran and had to leave at 5.00 pm for rehearsals. The whole contingent with very few exceptions went to this performance, leaving the camp site at 6.00 pm.
We arrived outside the Palace at 7 pm after driving right across Tehran and after wandering around outside for a while we went in. The Palace was on a concrete apron stage with the audience seated or standing around three sides of this. The place was well lit and a public address system was provided, so all could hear very well.
The performance seemed to be very popular with the Iranian people who came to watch, but a very popular item indeed was the appearance of a local pop group. Four young men simply beat out a rhythm on pots held between their knees, but it was amazing how compelling the sound they produced was. They also simulated the noise of the train - very impressive indeed. Another equally popular item was our own folk group of Anita, John and Ben who sang really well and who received much applause.
At the end of the performance the choirmaster John Steyens asked all Comex members present to go to the stage and sing Kumba Ya. This was very impressive and proved a fitting end.
Afterwards we were invited to eat fruit with some local Iranians and a very greedy time was had by all.
We arrived back at camp at about 12 p.m. and were grateful to fall into bed after a very tiring day.
An enjoyable rest day with domestic chores of course but also visits into Tehran and swimming etc. Our folk singing trio, Ben, Nita and John were asked to perform in the evening to a VIP audience in Tehran; Great stuff. Apparently they were performing at the same Youth Palace as on Monday evening but in the grounds where we were not permitted.
As told by Anita:-
'The grounds were centred around a miniature lake with swans and pelicans on it and a bridge over to a building where we changed into decent clothes.
The Scottish dancers were on first, then one of the boys from the Scottish contingent did a Scottish dance. We were on after and then finally the Newcastle rapper dancers. All went smoothly and was a great success.
Afterwards the Iranian people sang and danced a national dance and the pop group went down very well.
Free Coca Cola was provided throughout the evening and was enjoyed by all. The audience were definitely the elite and the jet set of Iran, wearing very modern westernised clothes. They were very friendly and we spoke to one or two who liked, or studied in England and were home for a holiday.
After the merrymaking, tables were spread with Iranian dishes, stuffed tomatoes, meat, vegetables and bowls of the most delicious rice we had ever eaten. It was amusing how, after everyone had eaten, Comex members were still to be seen around the tables.
We listened to the speeches, changed and then left soon afterwards at about 11 pm.
On the camp site we were treated to an exhibition of about 25 champion Iranian gymnasts. They were all excessively muscular and one was about 7 feet tall, a giant of a man. Another was 88 years old but he performed complicated press ups to the rhythm of the drum master (who sang out his orders throughout the show) just as efficiently as the other champions. They entered the ring dressed in knee length patterned trousers with green towels draped round their shoulders The towels were discarded as soon as the exercises began. After prolonged press ups there was 50 kilo weight club swinging and club juggling by one champion. The giant and one or two others lay on their backs and individually lifted 150 kilo shield like weights, one in each hand. The audience exclaimed and clapped appreciatively.
Bed early about 10.30 pm as we have an early start tomorrow and must be up at 3.00 am.
Were ready to leave at 5.00 pm but due to the inefficiency of the other contingents did not leave until 5.30 am.
We had a police escort through the city of Tehran at the beginning of the rush hour, which caused chaos as it does always to have 20 coaches in close convoy in the middle of a city. About an hour ride outside Tehran policemen flagged us down and told us that we would have to form a close convoy again to travel the next 90 km to Amol. Before long the convoy petered out as some contingents stopped for fuel and others for shopping.
The houses are beginning to change from stone and brick to mud and many of them have domed roofs. Each village of these houses is encircled by a mud wall but have very ornate doors and grilles set in them.
The next town we passed through we were bombarded by mud, fruit and sewage water, the latter of which found its way through the small open windows of the coach. It seems that waving doesn't stop the children from throwing.
The rest of the journey was uneventful and we arrived at Shah Pasand about 4.30 pm. Some provisions were bought and seeing that we were parked outside a chai shop quite a few of the contingent partook of some of the local brew. We had waiter service between the shop and the coach. The camp site was only a few hundred metres down the road from the shop. It is the first time since the Nottingham Camp that we have been able to put our tent up in the light. IT was still very hot so our tents were put up differently. The two halves were put end to end and the flaps rolled up and then left one long side completely open.
Hilary, who had been ill all day was now attended by Dr. Ennis and Val was told to keep her cool. Martin I think is trying to break the world record for coke drinking, he drank four before the first hour at Shah Pasand was over.
The insects here are enormous much bigger than they have been elsewhere. One of the boys from another contingent had an insect which looked very much like a cricket for a pet and it stayed on his jumper throughout the evening. An early night but one which turned out to be very restless due to the heat.
We set off at 5.30 am - half an hour late as all were up late. We had a good breakfast to see us off - and plenty of it.
After only 10 minutes on the road we took a wrong turning, but were radioed out of our mistake and back onto the right road. The road here was very dusty and bumpy with our speed averaging only 20 - 25 miles per hour.
After a crew change and loo stop at 7.40 am the road improved, much less dust and green trees and hills by the side. We were passed by Greg's car at 8.00 am - he had driven overnight from Tehran as he had stayed behind to obtain visas (Afghan).
The road worsened again and once more became bone-shaking. This continued to a greater or lesser degree until we reached Bodjnorn at 12.45 where we stayed for shopping. It was still not too hot - a very pleasant climate in fact. We had lunch at 1.30 while on the move for a crew, loo and melon stop.
At 2.45 we hit a bump in the road and drove off into a ditch. We all piled out to look but there was no damage done and after 15 minutes of examining the coach the mechanics deemed that we were ready to leave. However, they decided to tighten some bolts underneath the coach, so we soon stopped again - in the next village - for a quarter of an hour. We all dispersed until they declared the bus fit to drive - and left at 4.35 to the great amusement of the local people.
We arrived without much incident in Mashad and found we were to camp in the Shah's park. However, we were not allowed on the lawns at all, so we cooked a meal and slept on the main gravel path. Everyone was tired and so most went to bed as soon as the meal was over. A few investigated the paths a little and had a very interesting time talking to some of the many policemen on guard duty for us.
Breakfast at 6.45 left camp at 7.20 - a quick tour of the town before we found the correct route to Herat. Another wrong turning about 10.30 resulted in our having to retrace 40 miles of road before we were on our way again. Ken felt poorly again at about 2.00 so we rigged up an Aslam hammock at the back of the bus for him to lie down on. The men held it firm, Val administered tablets, others fanned him and covered him with damp towels. We tried unsuccessfully to contact Dr. Ennis. Everyone else seems well and cheerful
We often pass by road works, not picks and shovels but bulldozers and earth movers. With luck some roads might be ready for use on our return journey! The men all seem to wear white turbans, white loose shirts and coloured baggy trousers, some times with a waistcoat. They all wave and laugh happily at us. When we stopped for shopping the policeman firmly moved on the crowd which had gathered round Maggie and John and kept a clear space around them as they bargained.
About 6 miles from the Afghan border we went right through a fascinating village. It seemed to have a wall with forts encircling it. The houses were mostly round-roofed and interconnecting, with occasionally a fan-shaped window light above the entrance space. At 3.41 the ambulance met us. The doctor came on and examined Ken. He spoke French only but managed to make himself understood. He gave pills, vitamin tablets, a gargle and said that Ken would be alright in 5 or 6 hours. We got the passports ready for the border, picked up petrol and left at 4.25 passing a fenced-in Iranian hospital unit in tents just outside the town boundary. The dirt road to the border was straight, flat, windy and empty - no people, animals or huts, just telegraph wires and a parallel, better, surface road running alongside.
We reached the border at 5.45 and got through in half an hour. An Afghan soldier got into the coach just as we were leaving and was offered a seat without discussion. We drove on into the dusk and at about 7.00 in the dark he signalled to us to go along another road which we had just passed. Assuming he was a guide, we turned with considerable difficulty, but our driver, John Smith and navigator, Jenny, on further thought decided that he was directing us incorrectly or that he was in reality a hitch-hiker! Anyway he got out and disappeared mysteriously into the night - so we lost him. We turned into our original road which took us up along the outskirts of Herat through a magnificent avenue of trees for about 5 miles. Eventually we were turned into the airport where we camped on the Tarmac in the glare of the searchlights. Some of us enjoyed an impromptu concert given by an Afghan trio in the hallway of the airport before going to sleep about 1.00 pm. As we should have put our watches on by one hour at the border, this time was 12.00 pm.
While we awoke and breakfasted at the airport at Herat there was a certain vagueness about he arrangements for the days journey to Kandahar. After clearing up and packing we decided to go into the village, mainly for John the Banker to change some money, and also to replace our broken water containers. As soon as we parked in Herat we invaded the shops, which sold Afghan coats to see exactly how much money we would have to save to buy one on the return journey. It was very hard just looking and not buying now, but we had all agreed that it would not be a very good idea to carry them back from India. The main trouble in Herat was that the moment six coaches hit town the prices for the coats doubled and the embroidered shirts had trebled. Ken was still suffering from the heat but he managed to get out of the coach for a few moments - enough time to buy cigarettes. English cigarettes are cheaper here than they were on the boat. After waiting quite a while for the contingent to arrive back at the coach we set off.
We arrived at the
hotel where we were to camp that night at 10.05 pm not so happy about it. The
toilets were filthy, the kitchens situated right opposite the latter and the
charge per head for the night extortionate. We then decided to camp somewhere
off the road outside the village. We set camp on a dried up river bed sheltered
by a high bank then proceeded to radio the other contingents that wanted to
join us at 'Camp Yorkshire'. After a meal of egg curry we settled for the night
on land which was tribal territory. The night was uneventful.
We were up at 7.15 am since we were so tired from exertions and late night of the previous day. After breakfast, and after packing the coach we waited until 9.30 for Dr. Ennis to arrive on the St. Andrews coach, as Ken is still ill and we are worried about him. Several others on the contingent have diarrhoea and others appear to be developing the symptoms of it.
We finally left for Kabul at 10.45 am having only 18 people on the coach, including Angie from Oxford who was nursing Ken and Karen from Manchester who was quite ill - this was because we had plenty of room for the invalids. We lunched on the move again at 1 pm one of the most enjoyable lunches so far - rice, fresh tomatoes and cucumber with chapattis and refreshing melon slices.
We stopped at 3.15 in a village called Ghaxine for shopping. Many of the contingent found beautiful Afghan fur goods in some shops, tucked away from the main street and were constantly entertained by a local tourist policeman. He told us many goods made here would be cheaper than any in Istanbul. We were determined to come back this way and make our many purchases here. It was also here that we had chai very refreshing, very hot and very cheap. We finally left at 4.30 and drove on to Kabul. We arrived at the outskirts about 5.30 and all formed up in convoy. There was a choice of camp site, either next to the zoo in town or out of Kabul by a dam - but first we had to find our other members, who were travelling with other contingents. Our choice was the camp by the dam. We arrived there just at dusk. We pitched our tent as open as was possible. Filled the jerry cans with water and prepared a meal, after which we had a quick look round. Most went to bed early after our night camping in the desert we were all tired.
Arose at 8.00 am and then had breakfast. The coach went into town for the new front which was flown out from England to Kabul airport - also to do various odds and ends at the airport. Pete and Andrew the mechanics went to the airport for the crate and were informed that an invoice was needed, which had to be collected from the City Office. On returning to the City Centre they found that the vital piece of paper had been sent to the British Embassy, who had in turn sent it off with the Comex mail about an hour before their arrival - several hours wasted looking for this vital document. Eventually it was found and they were promised a rendezvous at the zoo camp site at 2 pm with officials from the Tourist Board and from the British Embassy who would assist in getting the crate through customs.
At approximately 2.30 pm Greg turned up with a letter from the Tourist Board requesting the withdrawal of any Customs Duty - this they took to the customs president, who unfortunately would not go along with this - he added a further note to the letter - the translation of which was never discovered. They then returned to the airport prepared to pay the duty. A rather uncooperative official attended to them and his calculations of the duty required came to considerably more than was anticipated. Not having sufficient money they returned to the City to inform Greg of the latest development and he gave the extra money needed.
On returning to the airport the official still stuck to his rather dubious calculations - but in any case it was by now too late to collect the crate as the bank had already closed and the Customs shed was due to close five minutes later. Dispirited at the whole affair, they returned to camp.
Meanwhile some were spending their Afghan currency on beautifully hand embroidered shirts, hats and coats or having a meal at the Khyber Restaurant - the rest of the contingent back at camp were furious because they had no food or water for lunch. They went to see the film of the Apollo Moon landing, to which 350 Comex members had been invited by the American Library and had lunch in town.
At 11.00 am Pat, Maggie, Jenny, Nadia and Regina were smartly dressed awaiting the arrival of their hosts, who arrived equally smartly dressed and got into Ibrahim's Volvo, accepting his apology for not being able to bring them in his Mercedes Benz, which was awaiting a spare part. As told by Pat 'It was a wonderful day, being perfectly entertained by four charming young men to lunch, Afghan style, in the garden under an arcade of vines, on a carpet surrounded by cushions. We sat down and were served with pilau, spiced dishes first, chapattis and water, waited on by menservants and two boys. After the meal we rested, smoked and enjoyed the music-recorder, a ride on the grey horse and a stroll round the garden. Tea arrived about 4.30 am and we set off for camp soon after. Hadi who is going to Czechoslovakia in 10 days time to study architecture there, does not smoke or dance in front of his father. The latter appeared suddenly and the men leapt up and remained standing until a servant brought them a chair and they all sat again. Nasim's mother, who had prepared our meal, never appeared although we were at the home. Nasim is going to study engineering in Poland shortly. Sheri's Allah doesn't speak English but he is supposed to understand it - he devotes himself to body building and is quite a muscle man. Ibrahim took the initiative throughout. He had spent 20 months in America, which he enjoyed immensely. His father had recalled him to do his one year military service, which he had half finished. He hoped to come to London and study engineering when he completed his military service. The men enjoyed our evening cultural performance at camp, took us out to supper and a stroll afterwards and left us with every courtesy at 12 midnight.
The rest of the contingent spent the evening at the cultural concert or relaxing at camp. We had stew for supper and retired at 12.00 pm.
Left camp at 7.00 am heading for Kabul Airport with 6 Indians who could not obtain visas from the Pakistan government to travel through Pakistan - so must fly instead. We must clear the coach grill and spare parts through the customs and bring them on with us. Nadia, Regina and Dana had an interesting conversation in Czech with two Afghan engineers who had taken their six year engineering course in Prague, Czechoslovakia. They made the Czech quite envious because they are going back to Prague next week for a short while whereas the Czech girls cannot come and go as they like.
At 10.55 am Celia rushed up and said we were ready to go as the spare parts had been cleared. The problem is to pack them in the coach as we have not enough time to do the job here. At 12.00 am we finally left Kabul with the spares stacked along the coach passage. Some contingent members had to travel on other coaches owing to shortages of space on ours. At 6.00 pm we arrived at the Pakistan border, cleared it and reached the entrance to Pakistan via the Khyber Pass by 6.30 pm. The formalities took precious time so that we reached the Khyber Pass at 7.05 pm, five minutes after it had closed. The officer said that we were special guests and gave us special permission to proceed, charmingly warning us not to stop on the way on any account as the land was inhabited by tribesmen. He added that some gates might be shut, but urged us to hurry without solving this dilemma. The sun was setting as we drove off ghoulishly reminding each other of massacres, wild animals, guns and knife-happy bandits and other tourist attractions. Luckily the glorious sunset the magnificent scenery, the difficult road (which incidentally seemed easy when compared with the old road which trailed in and out alongside) and the traffic hazards distracted us. These latter consisted of highly decorated lorries and over-loaded taxis or private cars dashing headlong through the twilight traffic trying to get away before darkness fell. The driver, Martin Bennett was proclaimed hero of the hour when he drive into the Pakistan checkpoint, outside Peshawar in total darkness. We were told to discard all fruit and vegetables here, even surrendering some grapes before moving into our accommodation for the night in the University site.
Beds had been set out on the grass around a central fountain, water was rushing and we cooked, ate at 10.30 pm., washed up about 12.00 pm and retired to sleep in the open. At 1.00 am the rain fell and it took 5 minutes to carry our beds to the shelter of the patio surrounding the grass and to settle down again. There were no further incidents apart from Pat being disturbed twice by a shadowy figure which vanished when she stirred.
We were up early as it was hot and stormy after the gentle rain that had fallen during the night. The rain had driven us off our wicker charpoys on the hostel lawns and under the verandah. the beds were comfortable and cool and made a refreshing change.
After breakfasting simply, from melon and coffee as we had no time to shop the previous day, we left the hostel at 9.45 am on our way to Rawalpindi, stopping at Peshawar to shop for essential sand afterwards for a crew change. Arrived in Rawalpindi to purchase four days supplies (1.15 pm) parking near the centre. Soon a huge crowd gathered around the coach. After a few uncomfortable incidents including some of the women on the coach, we finally left at 3.15. A few miles outside Rawalpindi we stopped so that the film unit could take some shots of us all in convoy. After driving up and down a new road lined with modern impressive embassy buildings, we began the journey to the 'Murrey Hills'.
It took two and a half hours to reach a point about 10 miles from Murrey as the road was virtually one long hill and our speed was slow. The last few roads proved even hillier and the final section was perilous indeed. This journey was very refreshing as the scenery was so great and breathtakingly beautiful in places. Arrived at about 7.30 set up our cooking equipment on a small verandah outside a row of dormitories shared by quite a few contingents - a lot of patience will be needed in the next few days.
In general, all are pleased at the prospect of a refreshing few days at the hill station - it is quite cool at times making a change from the sticky heat of the plains. We are sure we will be much better fitted for India after our short stay here.
10.00 am awoke and breakfasted on scrambled eggs and chapattis. Did some washing, attended to the sick while Regina, John and Celia cleaned the coach thoroughly.
Lunch - jam, meat paste, marmite, chapattis amidst a heavy down pour. Photographs by a group of Pakistani teachers who came to visit the camp. We chatted with them for a while but on the whole rather an uneventful day. Stew for dinner (29th time). The evening was spent writing letters, singing and discussing the route back to England. John Shere was invited back for chai by a visiting Pakistani and enjoyed himself very much. Ben's back was covered with huge bites to which Val attended. Steve took photographs of us hunting for mosquitos. Early night 10.00 am.
Once again we got up late (about 8.30 am) and had a slow and hearty breakfast - much enjoyed by all.
The morning was spent doing many sundry duties although as quite a few of the contingent are either in hospital, nursing there or generally feeling ill, great advances cannot yet be made.
The mechanics have very nobly decided to replace the glass fibre front
to the coach themselves and have begun this today.
After mentally setting the alarm clocks the previous night we awoke at 6.20 am and breakfasted on two slices of marmalade. Pete, Trev and Ken had half packed the coach the previous evening so we set off at approximately 7.30 am.
The scenery is still quite green but dusty and the road very bumpy even though Tarmac. John Nutland had to get out every few yards and do the 'usual'. We arrived at the Pakistan border at about 10.30 am by which time the temperature was very high inside the coach.
Two small stalls were at the side of the road and we all bought limes and some crispy food which we thought was peppers, onions, curry powder and seasoning fried in hot fat in small pieces - weighted in one ounce portions at 25 pesas each.
We were through in about half an hour later and joined the long lines of buses and other vehicles to go through the Indian border. A much appreciated welcome was given us there. Everyone was thankful for the free Cokes provided here. Ken caught the sun again and was taken to the border bank and placed on a straw bed to rest. When he was feeling better he was replaced on an Aslam hammock in the coach. John later made use of this.
At 2.25 pm we stopped at a town called Moga to shop. The dress was different again - men wearing very brightly coloured turbans (some had one end of the turban hanging at the back). The crowd outside the coach were very friendly and chatted to us through the windows.
3.30 pm bread and banana sandwiches, eaten on the coach. When Ben was driving we were stopping for loos for Ken, John and Dana at about every 20 miles.
We stopped at 8 pm and the cooks bought curried pastries for all since we knew that it would be late when we could stop to eat. The funniest event of the day was when a loo stop was requested by John. By the time the message reached the driver we stopped directly outside the Delhi Gate - No disrespect intended to Delhi.
The campsite was easily found. We arrived there at 11.00 pm tired and hungry but happy to know that we had at last reached our destination safe and sound. We were greeted by some Indian students who took us for our meal at the camp; everyone ate Indian food, bananas and cream and drank coffee. Ken was taken to see the camp doctor who told us to take him to hospital where he would be properly attended to. We could not find our tent so we slept on the lawn under the stars.
We were up very early in time for our set breakfast in spite of our late night the previous day. Some of us had to sleep out because there were no empty tents. We were ready by 9 am for the regional meeting to discuss the day's events, but this was delayed until Celia returned from another meeting. Some of us - in the meantime - started cleaning the coach and washing it in preparation for the events of the day.
After lunch at 12 noon we finally left for a ceremonial drive around Delhi in convoy with all the other coaches. We had a police escort at the head of the procession. The police held up the traffic on the route so we could all remain in Convoy. We drove first to Gandhi's tomb, where we stayed for half an hour. The tomb was very impressive, covered with flowers and in a very simple setting.
After leaving the tomb we drove on around the city, even through the gates of the university, round the roundabout twice then out through the gate again, to the great astonishment of the students.
We arrived back at camp at 3.00 pm to find that tea had been cancelled but that we had been invited to a reception along with the Manchester, Sussex and Newcastle contingents, at the Centre for Indian Culture in New Delhi. Thus we were all able to have a rest to prepare for the evening's activities.
The evening began with a series of speeches and a Buddhist blessing. Colonel Gregory was there with us and replied on our behalf. We then gave a short cultural programme. Ben had to sing on his own as John and Nita stayed at the camp since John still felt unwell. we had coffee and snacks and began our conversations with those invited. We left here at 8.00 pm to go to Rabindra Rangshala for our evening meal and we all agreed that we had far too little time at the centre. Since we had all found people of rather exceptional interest to talk to and were disappointed at having to leave.
After another spicy meal - a little too hot for some - we convened a regional meeting at 10.00 pm to discuss the activities for the following day. It was finally decided that our brakes were insufficient and would have to be fixed. We obtained the services of two Manchester coach mechanics who agreed. Pete having gone with Durham, John and Andrew both feeling ill. Having decided we would hope to leave for Agra at about 4.00 pm the next day we all turned in well pleased with our busy day and full of our new experiences.
We were all up quite late as we knew we weren't leaving till at least the cool of the afternoon, so decided to take a much-needed rest. While some of us pottered around the camp for a bit, John set to with the Manchester mechanics to repair the brakes on the coach.
Around mid-day some of us decided to go into Delhi for a meal so hopped into rickshaws for a hair raising ride into Delhi. It certainly proved to be a novel way to travel. We arrived safely and spent several hours both eating and having a short wander round. Arriving back at 4.00 pm we discovered the coach was leaving in an hour so we hurriedly packed, showered and generally prepared for the four hour journey.
We agree to take some people from the Sussex coach with us for the next few days to take the place of some of our missing members. Mike was staying in Delhi for a few days in order to obtain a visa to visit Nepal. Ken was still in hospital, Dana wished to remain in Delhi, Val was travelling with Moor on the Glasgow coach, while Pat had a return fare to Pondicherry to visit some old friends.
All in all we were rather a depleted group, but during the day some of us made friends with a group of Indians, one of which was Roshan, who was delighted to be asked to come with us. Her parents were a little apprehensive at first but soon warmed to the idea so she packed a few things and waited with us. We also had another Indian guest with us, an Indian guide from Delhi University. This was arranged by the Comex India Committee so we could make the most of our stay in India.
It was only in the late afternoon that we decided not to risk taking our coach and our people all the way in the heat of the day to Nagpur, so Newcastle decide to go in our place. Celia made our apologies to Nagpur and we decided to go to Agra for a few days, then return to Delhi a little early in order for Ken to join us. Thus our plans were changed quickly.
Having thus readjusted to this
we finally set off at 6.00 pm with four extra people on board - people who
wished to have a lift to Agra only. This was quite a bus full but a relatively
uneventful journey brought us to Agra at 10.00 pm. We were to stay in the
Shandi Stadium, facilities had been arranged and we found nine other coaches
were also staying the night. Some were at the Taj when we arrived so we decided
that we would see the Taj by moonlight the next evening. We went to bed that
evening after having a meal - quite a full day behind us.
We were up quite early, breakfasted quite well and then set off to see an ancient village 25 miles away called Fatepuhr Sikhri. Apparently this village was built by Ahbar during the Mogul period, but all the palaces and buildings - having taken five years to build - were not used after ten years of his reign, since he had returned to Agra to rule.
We turned the corner from the stadium then stopped at the Central Telegraph Office in order to phone Delhi and find out how Ken is. We also wished to inform the Comex India Committee of our plans to go to Jaipur tomorrow, they said that they would try to arrange for us to stay in a hospital at Jaipur University. This we would find out about later. We found Ken quite well now but he would not be joining us, instead staying in Delhi to rest.
We arrived at Fatepuhr at 10.30 am and spent a really fascinating two hours looking at beautiful palaces of red sandstone built by Ahbur and also two magnificent entry gates to the mosque. Also in the courtyard was a really beautiful white marble shrine with inlay work and a carved screen as fine as that at the Taj Mahal itself.
Leaving at 12.30 we arrived back at the stadium at 1.15 and then rested as it was very hot. After a delicious lunch most people wandered off to do some sightseeing. Some revisited the Taj again, by daylight, or the Red fort which was generally agreed to be as impressive as the Taj for the magnificence as well as for its enormity. Others had a great time in the local markets, buying souvenirs and having fun bargaining for them.
After a delicious Czechoslovakian dish for supper we watched a cultural performance given by Comex Yorkshire, Bristol (staying here also) and Birmingham (Staying at the Medical College in Agra), which took place on the verandah. It seemed to be quite popular with our local audience - mainly stadium officials - then we all had an early night as we had an early start for Jaipur tomorrow.
We finally left at 9 am, Mike Venables not coming with us as he wished to stay in Agra. The journey was quite uneventful - we stopped in a village on route for fruit and also to buy cold drinks as it was very hot.
We arrived in the Pink City at 13.00 and although we were not expected at the University of Jaipur's Guest House (our message appeared not to have been passed on) we received both a very warm welcome and a very cold drink each. We were to stop there and sleep on the roof as the contingent here officially was Edinburgh - and they were occupying all the available rooms, but another contingent staying here, Manchester, said it was quite comfortable and fortunately cool and breezy.
After a short rest and a contingent lunch, most of us went into town by all means of conveyance - some in the cars of the people who had most hospitably welcomed us from the very beginning, some in cycle and scooter rickshaws. We were told to eat at the bank's expense and also given the name of a recommended restaurant so in fact most people met at this place and ate together. Most managed to see quite a bit of Jaipur on our first evening - at least to wonder among some of the streets at the bazaar and to understand why it is called the Pink City.
Arose early, breakfasted and left to pick up some of the Indian girls - students from the Maharani's Girls College who took us to see the Amber Palace a few miles outside Delhi. It was situated high on a hill with a large courtyard in which there were two or three elephants. Some of the contingent had a ride and thoroughly enjoyed it. A Coke stop at the bottom of the hill was much appreciated. We went back to the city of Jaipur to buy provisions and then to the school to invite the girls back to the guest house for lunch. An informal hour was spent singing songs and playing the tape recorder for the girls who seemed only to want to listen to pop music.
At 4.30 am the elephants came from the Amber Palace to give free rides to anyone who wanted. It was funny when Sally asked Ben if he was getting a rickshaw into town and Ben replied, 'No I am getting an elephant'. She later believed him when she saw the huge piles of dirt left on the lawns of the guest house!
We saw two films in Jaipur in the evening and straight after dinner we spent the rest of the day chatting to the students. Anita and John spent the time teaching one of them to do the waltz. Another late night.
After the previous evening's entertainment everyone was very tired and most slept until after 9.00 am, showered, breakfasted and then went their own ways with friends, sightseeing or shopping or relaxing.
Amrish and Joshi - two very friendly students with whom Nadia and Regina, Hilary, Anita, John and Pete had become acquainted called at 9.30 to take us out for the day. We first went to the guest house of the company for which Amrish's father worked. It was really out of this world - marble tiled, three bathrooms and priceless works of art along the walls and shelves.
We sat on the floor and discussed several topics over cups of tea brought by one of the servants. Amrish took us in one of the many cars to Niros, who bought them dinner before visiting the museums. We tried our glass of sugar cane juice which was made by crushing the sugar cane through a sort of mangle, then adding fresh lemon juice and ice. We were then taken to Josh's for a cup of tea before setting off to see a place that no one else on Comex would see - the Graveyard of Kings at Gattor. Amrish told us that although it was in Jaipur even people who had lived there all their lives did not know about it - this was proved by Joshi who had not heard abut it. Gattor is through a small village just two or three miles from the city centre, surrounded by hills with a fort at the top. The guide there was a very old man who explained about the beautiful carved ivory temples of the 400 year old burial ground, which was still in marvellous condition. Around one temple were carved ivory pictures which told a story. Amrish told us to memorise the buildings on them then later took us to see the same buildings in the same condition now as when they were carved.
As the sun was setting a pinky glow was cast over the village which gave the graveyard of the Kings something of a mystic aura. We could have stayed hours inspecting the buildings but Amrish and Joshi had yet another surprise in store for us - a birthday party for John - dinner with Amrich's parents. After a quick look around the bazaar Amrish showed us a sari that he had bought his mother. It had a plain border, while the rest of the garment was of gold thread. His mother would not wear it and was saving it for his wife when he took one.
The meal was delicious with rice pudding as sweet, slightly flavoured with perfume. He showed us some card tricks and chatted for a while before going for a drive. We sang one or two songs, when they sane some in Hindu, including one that Amrish had written itself. We said our goodbye's after a wonderful day with our friends at about 11.00 pm and went to bed very sorry to know that we might never see them again.
Breakfast at 9.30 - taken at the restaurant on camp, porridge, egg and tea. During the day the contingent began to reform when Peter Harvey (from Durham?) and Celia returned from Madras.
A casual day was had by all with no set programme organised. Pete and Ben went into Delhi to the embassies for visa forms. We had a very interesting meeting after dinner which was cooked by Nadia and Regina - potatoes, peppers and tomatoes. The meeting was to decide on a regional leader. As Steve had acted as leader whilst Celia was in Madras and done this very well, we agreed (with no disrespect to Celia) that Steve was more capable due to the fact that he had been on various committees at University. We voted on this and Steve was voted leader. We then voted as to whether he should have a trial period of two weeks but this was voted against. During the meeting we filled in our Iranian visa forms which Pete and Ben had collected at he embassy. Nothing eventful happened during the evening and we retired to bed.
Everyone had breakfast at the cafe on the camp - the same as every other morning - fried eggs, boiled eggs or omelette. Various members went about their various tasks, some went out with friends others wrote cards. In the evening a fashion show was held by the Indian students and Maggie modelled for them. She modelled a crimson sari embroidered with 18 carat gold which was worth 540 Rupees, also some of her own dresses. Afterwards there was a beat dance, with the Liverpool Beatles and some folk singing. In the evening there was a reception with the Rotary Club in the auditorium. Anita and John were asked if they would quickly sing one song for them since Ben was out with friends, so they dashed down only to find everyone leaving.
Breakfast taken at leisure, normally at about 8 am when the electricity was switched off, rendering the fans useless so that the tents got so hot it is impossible to sleep any longer.
All India Radio were recording a cultural programme and Ben, Anita and John took part. Keele Harmony Group, Dave from Cambridge and John Burke from Sussex. The studios were very well equipped and the twenty minute programme was very efficiently recorded, very different from Rawalpindi Television Studios. Comex were also paid 50 Rupees expenses which were shared out at 12.5 Rupees an act.
The rest of the day was spent in the normal way. In the evening the coach was cleaned by the boys. After the cultural performance some of the acts were filmed and recorded for the Comex film - Shakespeare, Pete and Pat Rapper dances and some Indian dances were filmed and recorded for the Comex film. Anita sang the last verse of Kumbaya for the ending of the film. This took until 5.15 pm (?) the following morning.
We finally left the Rabindra Rangshala camp at 9.45 nearly all of us sat in the bus since about 8.15 to escape the mountainous rain outside. While waiting for our Pakistan road tax forms to be signed and brought out from the Embassy in Delhi to us, we spent the time discussing what we had been doing, where we had been, what we had eaten and what we had been given or bought. Most of us had been busy or ill so we had not had much time to see the other members of the contingent. It was finally decided however that we had waited so long at the camp that we would never make it before it closed (6 pm) and also the roads would be flooded in places, so we would go to Chandigah for the night and cross the border on Thursday.
Just under an hour after leaving we passed Bristol who had a slight accident. A small child had run out in front of the bus but was not seriously hurt and refused all assistance, so we drove on and Bristol followed shortly afterwards.
While passing through Panipat we managed to stop in front of a donkey - just! India certainly has its hazards. After crew changes at 12.00 and we arrived at the University of Chandigah at 3.30 where we found a message from Greg warning them of our arrival had not been received.
Up once again at 4 am and left at 5 am in the dark - just like old times. Roads were very wet and flooded in places so driving speed was reduced and the coach was absolutely filthy. Sally (the diarist of the day) was ill on the journey so the report will probably be a short one.
We arrived at the Indian border at the Singa Wella at 9.30 only to find the border bank had no hard currency for which our bank could change its excess Rupees. After some discussion it was decided to turn back into India and drive 6 miles to the nearest bank at Terosepuhr city. However, we were told here that no hard currency was available for exchange so a cable was sent to Memlu back in Delhi that we were unable to change the Rupees. We then drove back to the border which we cleared without delay.
We arrived at Lahore at 3 pm whereupon most people left their goods and rushed into town to spend their excess Pakistani Rupees. Hence later in the evening we spent a lot of time admiring other's bargains. After another delicious supper of luncheon meat some of us went to bed since an early start was planned for the next day, while a few went to a party to which they had been invited.
We awoke late at 7.30 and had porridge, bread and marmalade for breakfast. We left at approx. 8.00 am amidst a downpour of heavy rain. We managed an hour or two of smooth travelling before we stopped because of radiator trouble - a leakage to be precise. The mechanics wanted to rest it for it to cool down to check it and refill it. We then had to wind our way along a dirt tract around pools of water as the bridge was collapsing in one part and was dangerous to use.
Lunch was salad, bread and marmalade and banana sandwiches eaten whilst on the move. We stopped at Rawalpindi to spend the rest of our Rupees and to post letters. There were not so many crowding the coach on our way back as there was on our outward journey, so no face- slapping by the girls today. We arrived in Peshawar just before dark and arranged the sleeping bags on the groundsheet with the boys between the girls - thinking of the incident on the way out. We were assured that this would not happen since the gates would be locked at 9.00 pm. Maggie and Brigitte had a lot of trouble in the showers with Pakistani men peering through the windows - a couple of pails of water were thrown at them but this didn't seem to have much effect. Some of the girls smeared soap over the windows, much to their annoyance.
Maggie and Brigitte had prepared the vegetables for the stew on the journey so we ate quite early, with semolina and stewed pears for sweet. The mechanics and Steve volunteered to work through the night on the coach to enable us to leave early so we could go to Granzi for our Afghan coats.
Although we were up at 5 am we didn't leave the hostel until 10 am as the mechanics hadn't yet finished. Our plan to drive back to Kabul as well as to Ghazni fell through.
We reached the Khyber Pass at 12 noon and negotiated the Pakistani border without undue delay. We had to wait just over half an hour at the Afghan customs - the official who came onto the coach was a little dubious about our two guitars, which we had forgotten and so hadn't declared. Driving through Afghanistan was hot and dry so at the crew change we had a swim stop. Most of us beetled down to the water and had a swim in our underwear although one of the members had trouble at first as she was wearing disposable knickers and they did!
Feeling much refreshed we continued, only to have an emergency stop a little later behind a lorry. We had just passed a car which had swerved into a wall. Various members of various vehicles were arguing hard and slagging each other we decided not to stop. We arrived in Kabul at 6 pm and went to the American Centre to fill up with water. However, we discovered the battery was flat again as we were about to leave, so we had to give the coach a push start. As it was getting dark we could only stop five minutes for shopping and had to drive to the campsite without any lights. We made it just in time, but our cooks soon rustled up a delicious meal and we all felt very satisfied. There was a bitterly cold wind, so everyone snuggled well down for the night.
Everyone was quite excited this morning at the prospect of Afghan coats etc. A breakfast of porridge, scrambled eggs, chipatees and marmalade was enjoyed by all. Washing was done until we were informed by Greg of future arrangements. Greg said he thought that the stay in India was quite successful even though it was badly organised and he did have a lot of questions to answer to the Press. He also said that he hoped that the coaches would take the same route back to England as the outward journey because the hospitality offered would be better accepted on the homeward journey and we wouldn't offend them by passing them by.
We left at 1 pm as we had to wait for a while for a new alternator to be fitted. Celia, John, Shere and Andy, Mike Walker and Ken we dropped off at the airport to try to recover the refund of the Customs Duty. John Smith and an American who we had picked up at the centre whilst filling our water containers, were dropped at the Khyber Restaurant. The rest of us set off for Ghazni.
We were told that it was 35 miles to Ghazni but in actual fact we arrived there at about 4.30. After agreeing that we would wait about three quarters of an hour before we made any purchases we wandered about the coat shops. We argued and bargained until everyone had got what they had wanted, by which time it was dark. We set off back all with our Afghan coats on, passing a message to those back at camp that we were on our way. Had a delicious Risotto and fruit salad for dinner, then retired well wrapped up against the cold.
We got up at 6 am and after a hearty breakfast finally left at 9 am. After an uneventful drive to Ghazni we stopped there for two hours while Celia and Andrew tried to buy Afghan coats, as they had been unable to come with us the previous day. Most of the contingent went round again but very few bought anything else. Ken and Celia bought bargain coats so the expedition was worthwhile. We left at 2 pm and continued on towards Kandahar, which we passed through about 5 pm. We continued on for nearly an hour then formed a campsite in the desert just as it was growing dark. The tent was pitched behind a disused runway off the road, so the coach formed an effective windbreak. After a lovely meal of hamburgers - yes in the middle of the desert - a guard rota was arranged and then people went to bed. Once more a cold night but still quite bearable.
Andrew woke us at 5.50 with cries of 'Wakey Wakey breakfast in 10 minutes'. which was very kind of him. The general feeling is that he makes the best porridge - it was delicious. Coffee, chapattis and marmalade followed. Saw our first camel train and we all took photographs. Val, Anita and Brigitte had rides after a few camels were sighted down the road. One poor Afghan man had his camels taken by another man who brought them over for us to have a ride. None too pleased the former chased after the camel, made them dismount and muttered threatening words to the fellow who had borrowed them. Unruffled this fellow ran off once again and came back with a donkey, which Jenny mounted for photographs. We bade him goodbye and moved on.
We decided we were low on petrol and according to the R.A.C. route card the next place where we would refuel would be at 76 miles from our campsite. We stopped for a crew change and the crew coming off mentioned that we hadn't passed through Girishi and were extremely low on fuel. They were informed that we had passed a sign that indicated that the petrol station was in a direction to the right, however, no one had mentioned it since they thought that the situation was under control. After consulting the map we discovered that the nearest place where we could obtain petrol was at Dellerman, which seemed to be nearer than any other village through which we had already passed. We crossed our fingers and set off for Dellerman. We eventually reached the place and saw a solitary fuel pump at the side of the road. Trevor was the first to jump out and run to the man selling the fuel. After spending five minutes breaking the language barrier, he returned with the bad news that it was petrol and the nearest diesel station was 120 kilometres away. Dellerman was very small and seemed to consist of only one row of buildings. There were about 10 public carriers and lorries so we decided to try to buy some fuel from one of these. Again we were out of luck since they were all petrol.
We were all up late after a good night's sleep and breakfasted at 8.30. We finally set off at 10.45 am and stopped to shop at Herat for three quarters of an hour. Once more there was a rush for the fur shops and people came back waiving their bargains. This time it was hats - making the coach look a bit like a milliner's waiting room. John Nutland was able to exchange the boots he had bought the previous day - which he had immediately ripped - for a nicely embroidered waistcoat. We continued out of Herat and took the wrong road within about twenty minutes. However, we very soon corrected this and drove on till the coach engine began to make rude noises. As we stopped so did the engine and smoke began to pour out from under the cover at the front. It was though at first that the oil had overheated, so we waited for half an hour to let it cool down. Newcastle, who were only about two miles ahead, returned to help us, but it was decided that there was little they could do above what our mechanics were doing. However we asked them to wait with us at the border for us if we were more than three hours behind. We set off, but stopped again within a mile with smoke pouring out of the engine again. It was discovered that the radiator was completely empty this time, but instead of warning us by boiling over the engine had overheated. We all lay out in the shade by the coach until the radiator could be refilled and we finally left at 4.30 about two hours later. We stopped again about 10 miles further on to check the level of the radiator, but surprisingly enough it was still full. It was suggested, half jokingly, that someone must have emptied our radiator during the night at the airport. Half an hour later we reached the border.
After concluding the formalities and drinking chai, on starting again we found, to our horror, that we had run out of fuel again! Despite our horror, the situation was soon sorted out when we bought some diesel from a lorry that had pulled in at the border during the terrible process of discovery. We finally set off at 7.15 pm and reached the cholera check point within half an hour, and all piled out of the bus for our rectal swabs. Our passports were retained here as we would not be allowed to enter Iran until we were cleared as cholera carriers - by spending two days in quarantine at Farimar. We journeyed on to the quarantine station with a guide. The journey was rather arduous - many radiator stops and even two oil stops delayed our progress on an already slow road. We had to stop about every 15 minutes to fill up the radiator and as Birmingham had passed us, we borrowed their water carriers from them. Passing through a small village we managed to fill 10 water carriers - it made packing quite a job but they were very necessary.
We finally arrived at the camp site at the quarantine camp at 2.30 or 1.30 Iranian time. We were received very well and served with scrambled egg, tomato yoghurt and chapattis within half an hour of our arrival. Much refreshed we went to sleep inside the hospital building on a carpeted floor, and slept like logs after a long day of many varied events.
After our arrival at 2.30 am we awoke to the clattering of cutlery and mess time to find that we were sleeping in the hall where breakfast was being served. We were obliged to get up or be trodden on. We waited quite a while for our contingent to be called but it was such a nutritious meal that it was worth waiting for - a bottle of milk for everyone, bread, cheese, boiled eggs and a cup of chai, also an antibiotic tablet. When breakfast was over the coach unpacked and cleaned inside as thoroughly as possibly by Hilary, while the mechanics worked on our poor old bus - taking the radiator off to be sent to Mashad to be repaired. This was a much more difficult job as the new front had no drop leaf. Some took advantage of the showers while the rest purchased aerogrammes from the small tent which had been set up - this also provided Pepsi for sale. Others just sunbathed. Lunch was cooked in the form of rice and meat with a bottle of yoghurt between two and a bottle of Pepsi each. Unfortunately our stomachs were not used to so much food and a good deal had to be given away since we could not possibly eat all that was given.
The afternoon was not ideal for sunbathing as the heat was unbearable so we went to bed and talked.
Once again the day started with a delicious breakfast - we feel like the calves fatted for the feast. Most of us then spent the day lazing, finishing of washing, writing letters etc. and also yet again - mending our now famous seat covers. A huge lunch was served which left us sleepy and even more lazy (is it possible?). The mechanics fitted our repaired radiator back on the coach, then we all cleared our remaining stuff from it as we would be travelling with other contingents as far as Shar Passad and onto Tehran.
Yorkshire would travel with as light a load as possible - just taking three drivers, three mechanics, Steve as electrician, Hilary as navigator and Nita as cook.
We did little all day really, even the evening passed lazily. Most of us went to bed early as we would have a 4 am start.
After having breakfast and chai, the ones who were staying on the Yorkshire coach said goodbye to the rest of the contingent and left at 6 am. We had on board 10 gallons of engine oil which we had bought and five which Ken had very kindly lent to us. The mechanics had calculated the amount which we would need and we were all hoping that this amount would be sufficient for the journey ahead of us. We also hoped that the engine would not deteriorate further and that we would reach Tehran on time.
The first shift was taken by Hilary Ben and John and though the oil pressure stayed below the 80 position the oil level was checked and we filled up the tank and continued our journey. We came to a fork in the road the left one being a typical Iranian road while the other had a newly tarmacked surface. Hilary decided to take the new one as it seemed to run parallel to the other. Due to the better surface our speed increased and we soon passed another Comex coach travelling on the old road. After a few kilometres the road converged - it looks as though Iran will have mainly tarmacked roads by the time Comex 4 comes through Iran. After another oil check and four more pints were added we stopped at a small town for provisions. We all had cokes then were back on the road with John driving, Hilary navigating and Andrew watching the gauge. Though we were only losing oil very slightly at the next check it was discovered that we were still losing water from the new radiator, which had the mechanics worried for a time. They suspected that a cylinder head gasket may have gone. Dinner (tomato, onion, chapattis and grapes) was eaten on the move. It seemed that our oil trouble was over if only temporarily though we could still have a lot of work to do when we arrived in Tehran. We noticed the loss of power when going up hills, which suggested that all the cylinder heads were not working. We did get a few sarcastic comments from the radio operators of the coaches that we passed, though we hastened to remind them that we only had nine passengers. Ben also felt the hand brake though it was decided that this could wait until Tehran.
We stopped in front of Cambridge coach who gave us five pieces of melon - our second gift of food that day - since Cardiff had given us a dixie of porridge before we left camp that morning. We agreed to drive on past Shah Passand to give us a good start the next day on the better roads so we had a snack since we all knew that dinner would be late that night. We stopped at about twelve thirty and it didn't take the two girls long to cook the meal that Nita had prepared on the way.
We woke early had breakfast and left after filling up the water containers. We passed some fields where cotton picking was in progress. Had a smooth uneventful journey to Tehran. We were the third coach to arrive and were joined by the rest of our contingent who remarked how good it was to be home. We exchanged details of our separate journeys while the mechanics, helped by Bernard from Manchester stripped down the coach to find the parts which had to be renewed.
Breakfast at 9 am - delicious - scrambled eggs, fried tomatoes, meal chapattis and tea.
Mechanics from Tehran due at 8.30 to take our mechanics back with them. Arrived at 9.30 and said it would have to be stripped down in camp. Then mechanics from Tehran took over. Wonderful day relaxing, writing letters, playing football and sunbathing, along with the cold drinks and cigarette that Mike and Trev were selling at the 'Yorkshire Emporium'.
Lunch was an appetising salad prepared by Maggie.
In the evening a cultural performance was held in camp by the light of the coach headlights. The performance was supposed to have been filmed for Iranian television but we were not sure if it was or not. The feeling among our contingent was that it was the best cultural performance that we had given. We were in such high spirits later on in the evening that Jenny, Pete, Ben, John and Nita decided to sing Bill and Ben the flowerpot men in a five part harmony/round and when they had stopped singing voices could be heard singing it again. Thinking that it was Liverpool next door John rushed up to their tent and jokingly shouted "sing your own bleeding songs" only to discover it was John Smith who had recorded it on his tape and was playing it back. The place was in uproar.
Up late, a leisurely breakfast and a lazy morning set the tone of the day. Around midday, Regina and Nadia were told that they would need Greek visas for the return journey as the chance of driving back through Bulgaria was now very slight. Regina rushed off to the embassy as it closed at 2 pm. Some of us went into Tehran - mainly those with specific things to buy but the majority spent a lazy afternoon. Nita, John and Ben left for the Youth Palace once more Yorkshire culture was in demand. A little later the wine ordered by the contingent arrived so a merry time was anticipated by all.
At 7 pm a camp fire was lit near the baseball court, but unfortunately the roaring jollity never materialised. After the contingent meal people either drifted off to bed or to sup their wine reflectively both good preparations for the morrow's start. One member was heard to mutter that she felt like 'a stomach on legs' - an apt comment on the size of the portions at supper.
Up at 6, packed by 8 yet mechanics due to arrive then never turned up. Thus we anticipated a morning's sunbathing and we were right. After much trouble and using Leicester as our messenger the mechanics were induced to come with the relevant spares at noon and we were able to leave by one o'clock. John and Nita weren't travelling with us as John wished to get to Tabrin in a hurry so we were joined by Martin from Exeter. We drove into Tehran to pick up Nadia and Regina who had gone in earlier to get visas. We had trouble finding the embassy and it was nearly an hour later when we picked them up. We then continued on to the garage where the spares were to be picked up. As we left this garage it was discovered that our radiator was leaking. When we found out it would be a two hour welding job we resigned ourselves to yet another delay and spent the time in a local chai shop and mooching around a few local shops.
At last we left the garage and drove towards Tabriz until 9.30 when we camped in the desert just off the road. After a delicious stew most of us had gone to bed when Trev came in gleefully to announce that we were camping in a melon field and bought in with him the fruits of his discovery. Finding one to be delicious we decided to go melon hunting in the morning then turned over to go to sleep.
Once more a rude awakening at 6 am and a 7.30 start. It's usually fairly chilly at this time but after the sun has been up a couple of hours life is pleasantly warm again. Setting off we decided to try to cross the Turkish border that day as we would obviously be able to go further than Tabriz. Crew changes came and went, an uneventful shopping stop, the inevitable loo stops a fairly typical days journey. We stopped by a stream and most of us performed the ablutions that had necessarily been missed in the morning through lack of water. Some members of the coach managed to wish a bit more than others much to the delight of the local peasant boys.
We carried on and most of the people on the coach drifted off to sleep. Arriving at the border at 10 p.m. we met Cardiff camping on the forecourt of the Iranian customs post. They were waiting for Greg to arrive with some spares. After a few words, we carried on over the border with little formality at all.
We camped about 3 miles from the border and had put the tent up and got the meal cooking when suddenly 10 Turkish soldiers marched up to the tent. One can hardly say they stopped for a chat - language difficulties prevent this - but they seemed curious, not hostile, much to the relief of some of the girls on the coach who were contemplating rape. The soldiers left, presumably on manoeuvres. After about 15 minutes we learnt with great relief and amusement that we were being menaced by a pack of goats. Someone made a crack about the Turkish army but it is better left un-printed. And so to bed.
Up at 6 am and off by 8 after a breakfast visit from some local peasants. Two of the earlier visitors were given coffee and even the later visitors 3 smallish boys - were seen triumphantly bearing off a gift from Yorkshire the contents of our rubbish bin .... pots and tins were seized with delight - just after a rubbish pit large enough to accommodate them all had been dug. We had in fact camped at the bottom of Mount Ararat without knowing and the view in the early morning sun was really beautiful. An uneventful journey punctuated by the usual crew, loo and shopping stops. Around mid morning we stopped in a little village called Taslicay to refill our water carriers. As this was the village where Maggie had previously bought the contingents huge wooden spoon - occasionally awarded to the stirrer of the week - quiet a few of us rushed off to the local shops.
Continuing our journey with half a dozen people armed with two or three huge wooden spoons (or clubs) life was a little fraught with danger due to spoons plummeting unexpectedly from the racks. We drove on up the mountain passes. We decided if possible to get through the first two passes and camp in the river valley. However since we couldn't find a suitable camp site we came to a halt at the beginning of the last pass. After a discussion it was decided that we phone through to the Commander of the Air Force base at Trabzon and find out if we would be welcomed at 1.00 am having explained our position. He seemed very welcoming so we continued over the final hurdle. There was so little traffic on the pass that the journey took less time than we had anticipated and we were able to steam into the base at 12.30. Maggie rustled up a delicious risotto within half an hour but even then many of the contingent - tiredness dropping away miraculously - were out on the tiles. Needless to say a good time was had by all. We were made so very welcome and people were genuinely pleased to see us again - in fact the hospitality we received was 'trooly gr'reat'. Many of us renewed old acquaintances and were welcomed as old friends. And so for a few to bed.
We were woken at 4 am to make an early start. Then we (John and Nita) went to find the Yorkshire coach and found Trev, Ken, Pete, Steve, Hilary and Regina had stayed up all night. We had breakfast when the rest of them woke up. The coach was thoroughly cleaned inside and out. Everyone had a delicious cooked dinner in the air base restaurant - steaks, omelettes and syrup pancakes. We had planned to leave at 12.30 but Steve and Lee went to phone the Samsun Air Base to see if it was possible to stay there the night. Unfortunately they said that they did not want to create a precedent but we could stop for water and a dress-changing. After half an hour of photographs we said farewell - having of course picked up our boulder. Steve, Andy and Pete ran behind the coach down Rock Alley to stop the children throwing stones and banging on the back of the coach. After we were on the coast road we stopped to buy bread and have a snack of frankfurters. It was dark when we stopped for the night on a small road.
Wedding anniversary of John and Nita Nutland. They had four cards and a bottle of brandy from the American Air Base plus congratulations for their future happiness all round. It was a cold night but a lovely Autumn morning once the sun had broken through the mist and we were on the road again by 8 am. We arrived at Ankara at 4 pm, didn't like it and decided to push on by our selves and make our camp later on in the evening. Nita slept in the gangway all afternoon. Maggie made two melon pip necklaces. We found a suitable camp site about 340 kms from Istanbul, set up the tent and made dinner. Sally was stunned by a half dead wasp while preparing the sweet. She was suitably treated with antihistamine by Mick Veg. Val poured brake fluid into the washing up instead of detergent. Luckily it was discovered by Sally in time. We had a drinks party in the tent to celebrate Malcolm's 18th birthday (20th September). John and Nita's anniversary; Sally and Trev's engagement; Pete Whaley's 21st; Val's birthday (28th September); Brigitte's birthday (23rd September).
We awoke early and in good spirits, ready for breakfast of Andrew's porridge, bread and jam. The boys were playing conkers and generally lazing about. As we were clearing everything away two young boys came along with two dancing bears and a tambourine. The bears were partly muzzled. The elder boy sang and played the tambourine while the bears danced. As we had a few slices of bread and jam left we gave them to the bears who immediately began licking off the jam. After collecting some money they left. We arrived at the border, having stopped to spend the last of our currency and got over in a very short time and back to sit down loos....
We arrived in Kavalla and drove into town for provisions. Steve managed to buy a hammer had and a shaft while most of us sat in a cafe by the quay and drank coke and at cream buns. One of the policemen that we met on the outward journey came and chatted to us and told us about the festival that evening when the fishing boats are lit with fairy lights and are sent out for the next haul. When the cooks arrived back laden with cabbages and other vegetables we left for the camp site.
Arrived at the almost deserted camp site, pitched the tent and Maggie began dinner. Warm showers for the girls but no such luck for the boys. A really delicious dinner of sausages and mash, tomatoes, peas and parsley sauce with grapes and butterscotch whip. Everyone early to bed.
On the road by 7 am travelling all day. We went through the Greek/Yugoslavia border at midday, put the clocks backs one hour and pushed on until twilight when we started looking for a camp site off the main road. About 8 pm we found a camp-site off the main road. We found a farmhouse and knocked on the door to ask if we could camp in the surrounding fields. Nadia and Regina spoke to the farmer and his family in Greek and they replied in Yugoslav which seems an adequate means of communication. The farmer wanted us to come inside and give us beds and sheets but his daughter realised that here were another 25 in the coach. We were quite happy to pull our bus on the road and sleep in the open. The whole family and some neighbours were very friendly indeed and chatted and smoked with us as we prepared the evening meal. They offered us some fruit (something like a furry skinned apple) Nadia says the Czech name of the fruit is 'Gdula'.
Awakened rudely at 5.30 by the gentle patter of raindrops. We were sleeping out covered by the tent against the dew. Luckily the rain was short-lived so breakfast went on as usual. During this we were entertained by the farmers wife feeding the pigs. She was very friendly and gave us milk and cheese so in return we fed the pigs with the remains of the breakfast scraps and gave her a good selection of English, American, Indian and Iranian cigarettes. We left at 7.15 after an extremely hospitable night and certainly a very unusual one.
The journey to Belgrade was uneventful. We had to obtain Austrian and Belgian visas for Memlou also Mick Venables wanted a dentist because he had had bad toothache since Kavalla. During this time most of the men of the contingent startled the children of the area by grubbing for conkers in the area adjoining the parking spaces. Then ensued a grand conkers tournament which collected quite a crowd and brought forth the statement from a local traffic warden to Nadia 'You have many children aboard?'
Onward to Zagreb, where we arrived in the camp site about 8 pm having previously passed the scene of the Durham coach crash of Comex 2 without anyone noticing the exact spot. Just after this point, we passed an accident where St. Andrews had stopped while Dr. Ennis gave assistance. This certainly brought home to us all the dangers of this section of the autobahn. We pitched the tent in the main field at the camp site, had our meal, and went early to bed.
Had a long lie in until 10 when the cooks woke us for breakfast. The mechanics spent all morning on the coach while others cleaned it. Trev, Jenny, Nita and Sally collected walnuts from a nearby tree until some woman from a house nearby stopped them. The coach was driven into Zagreb by Kevin of Manchester for us all to do our last shopping. Some went for a 10 mile walk along the river bank and arrived back just as the sun was setting. Nadia and Regina cooked a delicious Russian meal called Borsch, consisting of vegetables in cream.
There was a conker tournament in full swing with broken conkers flying everywhere. One or two went to the Biergarten for a quick drink but as it was cold most people went to bed as it was the only way to keep warm.
A very clammy misty morning. Up by six and off by 7.30. Everyone calm at breakfast time. It was lovely to see the mauve autumn crocus growing wild by the roadside, the orchards full of red apples. The bright yellow pumpkins and sign of harvest home everywhere. We stopped at Rottermann in Austria for half an hour for a rest and coffee. Pete Harvey and Andrew wanted to buy some light walking boots which they had noticed on the way out and were very disappointed to find the shops shut as it was half day closing. At the last minute, they discovered a shoe shop where the owner saw them pointing at shoes they wanted. he let them in by a side door, and each chose a suitable pair. At about 4.30 we stopped in the Alps to pick up two hitch hikers Nigel Fletcher and Heather Lee from Comex who were hitch hiking for a change. We took them into the camp site at Salzburg and left them there while we pushed on and on into Germany. It was 12.30 by the time we found a suitable site, made a meal and settled down for the night half in the coach and half in the open.
We were up at 6 am and had breakfast. We received a few curious looks from passing policemen since we had spent the night on a parking space on the autobahn. It felt as if we lived permanently in the coach, since most of us had hardly left it for 24 hours. We decide to go a different way back to Frankfurt, taking the autobahn via Stuttgart and along the Rhine valley. In fact this route proved to be faster with a complete absence of heavy lorries and slow hills.
We arrived at the Air base at 3 pm and found ourselves second coach in behind Oxford. We soon pitched camp on the grass field near the gym and headed for the washrooms and showers. By 5.30 we were much more clean and presentable and ready to eat in the canteen. Huge meals were consumed by all and everyone went staggering back to the tents. As usual some of us were tired and went early to bed but the majority, after a necessary recovery managed to bravely find the energy to go drinking .... Some went to the officers mess while others went to the German Discotheque just off the base in a village called Walldorf. Bottoms up...
Hurriedly dressed at 7 am to be at the restaurant for breakfast. Just in time. Theatre at 10 am for the final mass meeting with Greg. He quickly summarised arrangements for the rest of the trip and briefly mentioned the Comex Exhibition to be held in London. He outlined his ideas and made a plea for more from us all. He then gave a short resume of Comex 3, highlighting events both amusing and sad. One comment which appealed to us was that of likening Comex to a swam of locusts who 'descend on the coca-cola counter, snarl up the loos, drain the water dry and move on. All in all Greg seemed to be very pleased with the progress that Comex 3 had made in establishing improved relations (Anglo-Indian) and felt that we should all look on Comex 3 as a success. After nearly three quarters of an hour of speaking we all gave him a really wonderful display of our affection for him. The vigorous clapping took many minutes to subside and we all poured out of the theatre cheerfully into the sun.
On after the coach was cleaned once more, this time more thoroughly as the seats were taken out, beaten and brushed. The coach was finally left smeared with polish and left to dry, ready for polishing at the end of the journey. A general rest day. John Nutland joined with other Comex boys for a game of football against the American boys - the score 4-2 to the Americans - and a few stiff joints afterwards.
The last Comex cultural performance was held in the ice-rink with everyone wearing their Afghan coats and hats. Despite the chattering teeth and cold feet the performance was a great success and the audience thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it.
Some went for a last drink and then to bed.
Awake at 8 am breakfast etc. then off to hot showers. By the time we came to leave the camp site, all of us looked amazingly smart and clean for the ferry crossing. We arrived at the docks at 11 am after a bread stop and a minor diversion round a one way system which had momentarily led us astray, and waited to get on the boat.
The enterprise 3 did not arrive at Zeebrugge until 11.30 so it was obvious that the 12.30 sailing would be delayed. Most of us mooched around the dock area spending our last francs - buying fish and chips even - and generally chatting with members from other coaches. During this time, those swapping coaches to travel home with other contingents moved their luggage, so confusion ensued for a time but was eventually sorted out
We finally boarded at 12.30 and there was a general exodus to the bar, duty free shop, bank etc.
During the trip Greg was presented with an Omega watch and Annie, who had come across on the ferry to meet us, was given a mysterious parcel containing a leather bag. Probably some have a rather hazy recollections of the latter part of the journey - certainly the bar did a roaring trade, matched only by the queue at the duty free shop. Suddenly all the penniless people from Frankfurt seemed to find enough money to buy their legal supplies of cigarette and drink, thought to be fair these may have been homecoming presents.
Our leader Steve had been allotted a cabin so that he might rest his regal self during the arduous voyage. Quite a few of us were invited to inspect his quarters (anyone who was around to be precise). Although they proved to be pleasant they were a little noisy so upstairs again to the various delights.
And so to Dover. Although a huge cheer was not exactly raised as the famous cliffs hove into view one could feel the atmosphere of rising joy as England appeared on the skyline for the first time in three months and thoughts turned to homes and loved ones soon to be seen. These were also sad moments - the end of three months living as a member of a rather close-knit community of 25, within the wider framework of 500. For many people this parting from their Comex friends were final - time and everyday life would inevitably intrude amongst the memories and reunion promises - and this fact was quietly acknowledged yet left unsaid.
We docked and then waited an agonising half hour to leave the ship while a broken down lorry was towed off. The tension rises - we were all anxious to step onto English soil, phone relatives and start for home - not forgetting our first smell of English fish and chips... At last we move and after queuing a little to get past the customs which we did with little trouble and very courteous treatment.
So Yorkshire leaves Dover docks and heads for the nearest station so that urgent phone calls can be made. Next the fish and chips shop... Supper is on the bank so as a group we gathered outside feasting on the dreamed of delicacy. Onward then and the trip really is over with people dropping off at many points along the route.
However, this is by no means the end of the diary. The end may not be until 20 years have passed by - such is the hope that the spirit of the brotherhood of man sparked at so many times during the trip may be preserved and used for the good of many in the years to come.
Photographs: Stephen. D. Stewart and Martin. Bennett.
Comex Home Page
10th May 2000.