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Published: April 5th 2013
Day 41 - Thursday 23rd March
The train arrived in Mashhad in the late morning. The scenery en-route had not been very inspiring - in fact it was bleak. The countryside was mainly desert-like with patches of grass resembling tumbleweed. The villages were mud huts surrounded by mud walls. Some buildings had domed roofs. A significant number of villagers seemed to be digging ditches but it was unclear whether the activity was to renovate irrigation ditches for Spring or more likely to help with the dispersal of pools of flood water. According to our new travelling friend from the University of Shiraz, 1972 had been the worst winter for many years.
On our arrival in Mashhad we could see the Golden Temple - the Imam Raza Shrine - but unfortunately once again, we felt the need to make haste in our travels east and hence miss investigating the historical and cultural aspects of Mashhad. John had to obtain a visa for Afghanistan and so he and 4 other travellers hurried across town to the Embassy. We headed towards the Tourist Information to enquire about buses. As usual, the bus station was the other side of town and they advised a good bus company and thought that there might be a bus at 2pm - a bit of a rush ! There was no shortage of taxis but finding a sensible price was a different matter. We walked away from any taxis quoting 90 to 100 rials and eventually found a driver who would accept our price (as suggested by our Iranian student). However the taxi did stop on several occasions on our trip as he looked for other passengers to squeeze in - not easy with our rucksacks as well. His final gesture was to claim a special surcharge for carrying the rucksacks but he soon shrugged his shoulders and relented. It was a reasonable distance so maybe it was not such a good deal for him.
The area around the bus station was mud - mud everywhere. Our targeted bus would travel to Herat via Tayebad - a town situated close to the border. There was no sign of a bus at 2pm but eventually one arrived. The bus was loaded and after a few more stops on the outskirts, we were on our way. The driver was very keen on his horn. He hooted every time a vehicle approached in the other direction and also at anyone standing by the side of the road. Michael wore a large ring and also brought out his very large Bowie-type knife to peel an apple and this caused lots of interest and offers to purchase - it was very friendly banter though. Most of the roads were asphalt but occasionally the route through a village was just mud - to describe one stretch as bumpy would be a complete understatement. It was nice to notice that the local children were waving enthusiastically as us foreigners passed by.
The bus arrived at Tayebad at 6pm. Two Americans who we had given us guidance at Teheran station were waiting for the bus as were several local people and absolutely loads of possessions - pots and pans and more. It was a long slow job and not helped by what appeared to be an argument between the drivers. The bus left at 7pm and we were getting closer to the Afghan border. Not much further along the road and another wait for an hour - never did find out why. Soon we arrived at a Police check point but the passports were not stamped. It soon became clear why as we were not crossing the border tonight but instead staying at this last village in Iran. A Pakistani man who had been working as an interpreter in Teheran guided us to a hotel and helped us organise a bed for 20 rials - a room of 6 beds, damp and not at all pleasant. The local cafe served a rice and meat dish which was equally appalling but food is food when you are hungry. Surprisingly I slept OK but there was no doubt that dinner was starting to cause a few rumblings in my stomach to add to the ongoing discomfort of my cold.
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