The 'Delhi belly' finally hits in Iran

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Middle East » Iran
April 20th 1974
Published: September 15th 2021
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It took around 90 minutes to make it through to the Afghan-Iranian border, to get the most thorough examination we have seen yet. They took two hours to search everything, including sleeping bags, and panels of the bus – and this was only the disembarkation from Afghanistan! The Iran authorities were not so tough, but the whole deal took some 5 hours to complete, including lunchtime. The clocks going back an hour gave us a bit of extra time.

The road into Iran was slightly greener, but still of little interest. Many of the signs being only in Arabic made navigation more difficult. We encountered frequent dust-storms, occasional willy-willies and some light rain, our first rain of the trip. We finally reached Mashhad around 5pm and booked into the Darbandi Hotel, which was really expensive, but it looked like this would be setting the trend for Iran. The meals were expensive too, but at least the beer was reasonably priced. We met up with another Sundowners bus doing a 44-day trip in the opposite direction, with 16 gals and 3 guys on board – so that seems to be the standard Sundowners ratio.

We had a good quality schnitzel before taking off for a night on the town at the Iran Hotel discotheque. It ended up quite a night, with people from both buses plus a fair contingent of very westernised, expensively dressed locals showing off their dancing skills. We were given a valuable lesson that evening in the local culture. The Irani men were only too happy to request a dance with the Western women (which our girls were generally more than happy to accept!), but as soon as a couple of us sought a dance with their partners, the shop closed up very quickly. We did a birthday bit for Andy at midnight then had a very rowdy and drunken singsong through the streets on the way back to the hotel around 1am.

The following day was our longest daily drive to date, being 560 kms, which resulted in an 11-hour drive as we made our way up towards the Caspian Sea. The road was uphill part of the way, and with the present sick nature of the bus, progress was very slow. It was very desolate countryside early, becoming greener and more cultivated later in the day, punctuated with a few mud villages and general farming scenes.

We stayed at the Hagigat Hotel in Gorgan in very mediocre dormitory accommodation, with no showers, poor toilets and a proprietor who spoke no English. However, this was more than compensated for by the meal in the downstairs restaurant of chicken soup, shish kebab with tomatoes and chips, and yoghurt, for which I was able to avail myself of a double helping from everyone else’s leftovers. Gorgan didn’t appear to offer any nightlife to the tourist.

The next day was another slow drive as we headed towards the capital Tehran, due to continuous hill climbs and a sick bus. The scenery early was pretty ordinary but improved as we climbed into the Elburz Mountains. We checked out some beautiful snow-capped peaks, including Mt Damarvand, the tallest mountain in Iran at 19,000ft. At one stage, we actually reached the snow line, and travelled past some lovely mountain streams with greener vegetation.

We reached Tehran late afternoon and booked in at the Hotel Shiraz. Tehran appears to be a very modern city, with all conveniences, no doubt as a result of their oil wealth and the progressive attitude of the Shah, but very much at western prices. We went to Ray’s Pizza House for dinner, with a large crowd attending as a belated birthday dinner for Andy. The food was great, with well-priced pizzas and a litre of cold light ale for just 60 Rials (a buck). Added extras included ice cream, milk shakes etc making it quite a meal. We followed this up with a session at the Marmar Hotel in Olde Englishe style, playing darts and all. We returned to the hotel around midnight to the news that Jenny, one of our close-knit group, had been taken off to the Tehran Clinic (a major hospital) with suspected hepatitis. We spent some time discussing next steps and decided to await confirmation of her tests.

The first issue for the day was a huge row over the poor service and food at breakfast, with the manager well and truly made aware of our complaints. After breakfast, a crowd of us went up to the Tehran Clinic to visit Jen, and also it was decided that I should have some tests. Our multiple hire taxi trip was one of life’s interesting cultural experiences, firstly in trying to advise the driver of our destination and then negotiating a suitable fare with a driver that spoke no English. It was pretty hairy driving, but it’s amazing how used to that we had become. Our biggest worry was in fact as pedestrians, as we were inclined to look the wrong way when crossing the road and drivers were certainly not on the lookout for us. Motorised cycles (mopeds) were a common form of transport we hadn’t met before.

I saw the doctor at the hospital and gave them a stool sample for tests but was advised that I would need to return again the next day for further tests. So far, there had been a payout of 1,500 Rials, so it was not a cheap exercise in this part of the world – I just had to hope that my medical insurance would cover most of it. Fortunately, I had shown no symptoms at that stage of the dreaded hep. (Editor’s Note – in hindsight, I was fortunate to be having my tests at the Tehran Clinic during the Shah’s reign, as I hear that the quality of medical work there deteriorated when the Ayatollahs took over.)

I returned from the hospital to the hotel with Rose-Marie (Jenny’s travelling partner) and met up with the group for another lunch at Rays – a great spag bol and some ice cream. Dinner was yet again at Rays, with chicken this time. There was no kicking on that night, with the bus due to take off for Esfahan very early next morning – unfortunately without Jenny, Ro or myself.

It was a sad farewell for Ro and myself as the bus left for Esfahan at 7am without us, especially as it meant we would be missing out on a visit to the ruins of Persepolis. When the bus had gone, we moved into a double room at the Shiraz, where we planned to stay until the others returned in four days’ time. We took a full hour to walk down to the Clinic, where we spent time with Jenny, both had gamma-globulin shots, and I gave a further stool sample for analysis, results of which were due back in three days. They served fabulous ice cream at the hospital, so I availed myself of a couple of servings before we left.

There was nothing to do but rest after lunch, due to the almost complete closure of all shops, banks and offices in Tehran between 1pm and 4pm for siesta. We later checked out tailors and shirt shops, then we wandered around the bazaar before meeting up with Mohammed, an English teacher at Tehran High, who seemed keen for our company and the opportunity to practice his English. We spent a couple of hours with him in a seedy little tea shop, learning the basics of Hebrew and discussing our contrasting lifestyles. We just had a cheap meal of hamburgers, washed down with many glasses of fresh orange juice.

With Iran known as a good place to get clothes made, we set out early next day so I could find a tailor to make me up some slacks. I finally settled on a grey pair with red checks for 1,400 Rials (20 bucks), for which I paid 500 deposit. On my return, I met up again with Mohammed, who had suddenly become my best friend, and he accompanied me on a tour of the city, including the Golastan Palace and the Shahyad Tower. The former had some really good pottery and chandeliers, and I was able to get a student discount for 15 Rials. We later went on to a back street cafe for a cheap lunch of rice and shish kebab, to be followed by chai (mini tea) before exchanging addresses and going our own separate ways.

The next morning, we were visited by Bashi (Shipping Officer with the Government Oil Refinery at Abadan on the Gulf), with whom we chatted for an hour or so. I then went down to pick up my clothes from the tailor, then the pair of us went off to join Bashi at an Irani Nightclub for lunch. We had a great lunch of kebab and chicken, washed down with heaps of beer – all at the expense of a by now very drunken Bashi. The Irani singing and dancing was a real eye-opener – I hadn’t known the girls were allowed to expose that much flesh in this country! I finally got back to the hotel around 5.30pm a little the worst for wear and crashed.

I was awoken around 7pm by Ro, who had returned from the hospital visiting Jenny. She advised that Jen was still very yellow, and depressed with her stay, but not nearly as sick now.

The next day was a day of hospitals and insurance companies! I dropped into the Insurance Company early to file my claim, for which they told me to return later that day. We went to the hospital to see Jenny, and played cards, read books, and chatted to the doctor and nurses for a couple of hours. I was fortunate to get the all clear on my stool sample – they advised that I just had a minor form of amoebic dysentery. We then went down to the consulate to find them closed, so we went back to the Insurance Company. While it took a further 3 hours to finally get my refund, I was absolutely delighted when they shelled out 2,860 Rials, which was all but 5 bucks of what I had paid for all my tests.

Next morning, we took off by taxi to the Shahyad Monument, but had a big hassle over the fare, with the driver demanding 100 Rials but after much argument, I finally paid him 40, but I suspect that even then I was ripped off. The monument was magnificent, but unfortunately we were not allowed to take any photos from up top due to its proximity to the airport. However, the audio-visual show in the studio below was well worthwhile, giving us a great portrayal of both the old and new in Iran. As we came out, there were hundreds of schoolchildren lining the footpath, with a procession by the Shah imminent. We were both mobbed by about 40 or so young schoolgirls, who were fascinated at our obvious western dress, but they were finally pulled away from us by the police and their teachers. This was followed by further trouble with the police over my use of my camera – it appeared the Shah didn’t like to pose for photos. I was taken into custody and had a heated argument (giving my schoolboy French a good run) with the superintendent before finally being released.

We caught a taxi back to the University, where we strolled around before having a bite to eat in the canteen with the company of two Iraqi med students. We tried to get access to the library, but were refused, despite a further argument with the Director, again in French. On Bashi’s advice, I visited the Dept of Chemical Engineering and discussed the structure of the various faculties but was unable to get any information on potential employment. Late in the day, I went to see the Sepahsalar Mosque, which was really attractive inside, but I was unable to get a panoramic view of the city from the minarets, as advertised. Later that evening, the Sundowners bus finally returned from Esfahan, having had another breakdown on the way back. The troops reported good things from their visits to Esfahan and Persepolis and were kind enough to show me their pics to show me what I had missed!

The next day we were finally all back on the road again, except Jenny who had been held over at the Clinic, but there was little of interest to see all day. It was a long drive of over 600 kms with the countryside being mainly desert until we rose into the mountains as we neared Tabriz, where we were greeted by snow covered desert. We had a couple of light falls of snow as we travelled, but there had clearly been heavier falls higher up.

Accommodation for that night was at the Hotel Djahannama in Tabriz. It was fairly mediocre accommodation, with a meal of chelo kebab down the road not much better. But we did get the opportunity for a quick visit to the Grand Bazaar, where we got to view some magnificent locally produced carpets, even if they were all well out of our budget range. Three Canadians, working as Engineers under contract in Iran, took some of the troops down to the local Swedish club, but I declined their kind invitation since I wanted to ensure full recovery from my health problems as we headed into Turkey.


15th September 2021
Mt Damavand

Amazing beauty
I hope to get to Iran some day. Time will tell.
15th September 2021
Mt Damavand

Again the politics are sad, Merry Jo. I understand why your country classifies Iran as 'evil' but as a country and a people, you'd go a long way to find more interesting and friendlier. Interestingly, I made a brief visit there on business 30 years later and felt exactly the same about them.
17th September 2021

Chelo Kebab
I agree with you about Iran. The people were always friendly and welcoming but, even before the days of the aytollahs, the authorities were not very friendly. Iran and Afghanistan had little to do with each other and there was no bus service between Mashad and Herat so we had to hitch/pay for a ride in a truck to the Iranian border post then walk the 10ks to the Afghan border post. We were lucky enough to find a taxi driver who was willing to take us but the bribe to the Iranian border guard was extortionate and the taxi fare ridiculous. With the temperature in the high 40s it was worth it though.
18th September 2021

Chelo Kebab
I don't think I mentioned it in my blog but by the time Bob and I had travelled overland to Kathmandu, we reckoned we were so experienced (and macho!) that we wanted to ditch the Sundowners bus and make it over to London on our own, as obviously you did. It was only when they refused to reimburse our pre-paid fare (quite justifiably) that we decided to stay with the bus tour. When I hear of experiences like your Afghan-Iran border, maybe it wasn't such a dumb decision after all. Furthermore, had we not taken the bus tour, neither of us would have met our wives (that 'sliding door moment') - not sure if that is a good or a bad thing!!

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