Road Trip From Islamabad to UK

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I must have acquired my love for travel from my father who sadly passed away last month after a long and colourful life.

I was browsing through some of my Dad’s papers after the funeral and came across a battered exercise book which contained a log of a road trip he took in 1971 together with my Mum and sister. (I was in boarding school at the time.) The journey was from Islamabad in Pakistan, where Dad had been working, back to UK, a distance of 10,567 km according to his odometer readings. The trip lasted 34 days and took them through Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, Greece, Yugoslavia (as it was then), Italy, France and England. My sister, who was 18 at the time, shared in the driving, even though she had only been home-taught by Dad in Pakistan and had no driving license.

Their vehicle by the way was not a hardy Land Rover but a humble 1966 model Vauxhall Viva SL, a regular saloon in the days when cars (particularly British-made cars) were not as reliable as they are today.

Unfortunately the log is only a record of dates, distances and out-of-pocket expenses (so he could claim them back) and not a detailed diary but thanks to the log, my sister’s recollections and the many postcards they sent me en route I am able to reconstruct many of the details. Here are some of the highlights.

24th October 1971

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Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, is a modern planned city and was still under construction in 1971. It adjoins the ancient city of Rawalpindi, or ‘Pindi’, where this photo of the Intercontinental Hotel was taken. This hotel used to lay on an excellent curry buffet and was where I first encountered lime pickle, a delicacy which I still don’t like after five decades of curry eating.

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Dean’s Hotel was the leading hotel in Peshawar and, over the years, welcomed notable guests such as Rudyard Kipling, Winston Churchill and President Jinnah. It was situated in the green and leafy cantonment area of this North West Frontier city but it has since been demolished, along with many other historic buildings. I see from the log that my Dad stayed at Jan’s Hotel which was somewhat downmarket from Dean’s. In his postcard he noted that it was cold – ‘overcoat weather at night’.

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25th October 1971

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The next day they left Peshawar and crossed the Khyber Pass at Landi Kotal into Afghanistan, then reaching the Dakka tollgate with fine mountain views overlooking the Kabul River and on to Jalabad before arriving in the Afghan capital Kabul where they stayed at the Kabul Hotel. In those days the Kabul Hotel was a Soviet style building with a bleak dining room serving fried sheep’s testicles as a speciality. This hotel does not appear to have survived the subsequent decades of war.

27th October 1971

Manzel Bagh Kandahar

Two days later they drove to Kandahar and stayed at the Manzel Bagh Hotel, which was once a grand palace but no longer seems to be a hotel, if it is still standing. My sister noted that they couldn’t find a postcard from Kandahar.

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28th October 1971

Above: The great mosque of Herat. Today’s postcard, written by my sister said ‘Seen lots of desert and camels but not many people. On the way up Mum got kicked by a donkey because she was standing behind it and stroked it. It was quite amusing really!’ Mum didn’t think so.

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29th October 1971

Arrived Bakhtar Hotel, Meshed (Mashad) the second biggest city in Iran. The postcard above is of the Astane Ghods Museum. Mashad has an extreme climate with scorching summer temperatures but averages 20 snowy days in the winter.

30th October 1971

Arrived Bojnurd near Iran’s border with Turkmenistan. Their accommodation, Izadi Hotel, was one of the worst places they stayed on their trip. Didn’t get a postcard. The town does not seem to have improved. TripAdvisor only lists one B&B, rated as very poor!

31st October 1971

Arrived Sari Hotel, Sari, near the banks of the Caspian. Another crumby hotel. Wikipedia notes that a clock tower is the main point of interest. Travellers Tip: As a rule of thumb, avoid places where the sole attraction is a clock tower.

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1st & 2nd November 1971

Teheran Palace Hotel. The above postcard is of Fowzieh Square, named after a beautiful Egyptian princess who was, somewhat reluctantly, married off into the Shah of Iran’s family. Following the Iranian revolution, the square was renamed Imam Hossein roundabout. My Mum seemed impressed with Teheran. She wrote ‘ Signs of civilisation seen – Leyland double decker buses, real shops, in fact reminds me of London’s Oxford Street.’

3rd November 1971

Arrived Qazvin, famous for calligraphy, baklava, carpets, historical mosques and athletics. No postcard though.

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4th November 1971

Arrived Tabriz, another Persian carpet centre and quite a pretty looking town. The postcard is of the Shah Kuli Tabriz.

5th November 1971

Stayed at the Maku Inn at Maku close to the border crossing into Turkey. Amazingly it still exists and is the Number 1 B&B in Maku (out of one). No postcard.

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6th November 1971

Reached Turkey and stayed in Erzurum at the Polat Otel. Eastern Turkey was the only place where they encountered any hostility on their journey with local kids throwing stones at the car.

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7th November 1971

Arrived Ordu after a journey over some rough roads from Erzurum via Trabzon. Dad wrote ‘The Black Sea coast is pretty and quite civilised after the wilds of Eastern Turkey.’ Stayed at the Galestan Hotel. It appears to have gone out of business which is not surprising – the leg broke on Dad’s bed as soon as he got in it.

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8th November 1971

Arrived in Samsun, also on the Black Sea coast. This town was mentioned in Homer’s Illiad so it is appropriate that my parents should have visited it on their own Odyssey.

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9th – 11th November 1971

Reached Ankara, the Turkish capital and stayed at the Hotel Bulvar Palas which still exists and is rated 4 stars. Mum wrote that Ankara looked very modern but was expensive. They stayed in Ankara longer than planned after the car developed a fault. The postcard is a picture of Mount Ararat, thought by many to have been the place where Noah’s Ark ran aground after the flood.

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12th November 1971

Arrived in Istanbul and stayed at the Pera Palace which nowadays is owned by Dubai’s Jumeirah Group and is very upmarket. My sister remembers lots of ancient plumbing in the bathroom. I mentioned this hotel in an earlier blog post.

13th November – 23rd November 1971

The remainder of the journey was through Europe which I’ll skip over since this is familiar territory for most readers, but here are the remaining postcards I received.

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Kavala, Greece

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Mestre, Venice

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Venezia

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Torino, the main drag.

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La Cote d’Azur – Villefranche-Sur-Mer. Vue sur les quais, la Forteresse et la Darse.

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Avallon, France

Their last entry in the log, on arrival back in England was ‘Dartford Tunnel Toll – 12.5p’. (The toll is now £2.50, twenty times higher).

Dad’s trip was quite an adventure which would be tricky and dangerous to undertake in this day and age. Perhaps Jeremy Clarkson and his former Top Gear buddies would like to try to replicate the journey. Of course, to be authentic, they would have to do it in a 1966 Vauxhall Viva!

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Vauxhall Viva similar to Mum & Dad’s.

The exercise book contains the logs of two other road trips made by Mum and Dad in the Seventies, from UK to Tripoli, Libya and back again. The subject of a future blog post perhaps.

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Ouessant & Pasopati

I have been on two submarines in recent months. Not underwater thankfully but safely berthed on land and now serving as museums.

KRI Pasopati

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The first is the Submarine Monument in Surabaya, Indonesia. KRI Pasopati is a Whiskey-class Soviet-era submarine built in Vladivostok in 1952 and acquired by the Indonesian Navy in 1962.

It weighs 1048 tons and is 76 metres long. She was well armed with 6 torpedo tubes, 4 at the bow and 2 at the stern. I had not realised how huge these torpedo are – probably over 6 metres in length.

The submarine has seven cramped compartments housing the torpedoes, the diesel-electric engine, navigation, communication and other equipment as well as the living accommodation for a crew of around 50 men.

According to the museum’s brochure, this vessel participated in Operation Trikora,  an Indonesian military operation to gain control of Netherlands New Guinea, which later became Irian Jaya (now Papua / West Papua).

SMD Ouessant

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The other sub I visited is the Ouessant which is now the Submarine Museum in Melaka, Malaysia. The Ouessant is an Agosta-class conventional (non-nuclear) submarine built in Cherbourg in 1978 for the French Navy. She was decommissioned in 2001 and from 2005-2009 she served as a training vessel and used to train Royal Malaysian Navy personnel, while still based in France. Since she was never really integrated into the Malaysian Navy fleet she maintains her French name.

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This submarine is shorter than the Indonesian one (67 m ) and is designed for a complement of 5 officers and 36 men. She only has forward-facing torpedo tubes but can also deploy Exocet missiles.

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Boys and girls considering a career as submariners should visit museums like these before they sign up. The claustrophobic working conditions would put most people off and the courage needed to serve in a submarine during wartime means that only a special kind of person need apply.

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Baghdad, England

I was in England last month visiting family. While I was there, I learned that there is a town in the green and leafy English county of Hertfordshire which was named after Baghdad.

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Old Baghdad

It was founded by the Knights Templar in the 12th century on the site of earlier Roman and Iron Age settlements. Seemingly, while on the Crusades, the Knights Templar had visited, or heard about, the famed city of Baghdad with its bustling souks. On their return to England they wanted to emulate this city’s success by establishing a market town which they named Baudac or Baldac, being the Norman French form for Baghdad. The name has since been Anglicised and the town is now known as Baldock.

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Baldock Town Hall & Museum

An alternative theory is that the Knights named the town after Baalbek, the ancient Phoenician / Roman city in modern day Lebanon, an area which the Crusaders were far more likely to have visited.

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Baalbek on a 1967 Lebanese Postage Stamp

Whatever the true origin of the name, modern-day Baldock bears little resemblance to either Baghdad or Baalbek. The Charter Fair started by the Templars in 1199 is still held annually though these days it is more of a fun fair than a bustling Middle eastern souq. The town’s heritage is remembered through the Templars Hotel & Restaurant, the Knights Templar School and the Knights Templar Sports Centre.

The town is twinned with Eisenberg in Germany and Sanvignes in France. There are no plans to twin Baldock with the Iraqi capital!

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Jalan Bellamy – Kuala Lumpur

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Jalan Bellamy, in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, has been the home of Alice Smith’s Primary School campus since 1952. For the benefit of those Old Alice Smithonians who might be feeling nostalgic about their school days here is how Jalan Bellamy looks in 2017.

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It is actually one of the better preserved streets in KL, with a number of old colonial bungalows still in use and lined by massive mature trees. You can even hear roosters calling in places. Most of the bungalows are of identical design so perhaps the former colonial occupants were all officials of the same seniority.

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It is a short road (about 700 m long – it may have been truncated when the Jalan Istana highway was constructed) and it was named after H.F. Bellamy who was a civil engineer and director of the Public Works Department in the late nineteenth century. He participated in the construction of the famous Sultan Abdul Samad Building on Dataran Merdeka though he was not in charge since his boss wrote that he was lacking in talent and drive to execute such a major construction programme. A Mr. C.E .Spooner from Ceylon was brought in over Bellamy’s head to run the project. How terrible that poor Bellamy’s job appraisal report is still being banded about on the internet after all these years but at least he got a road named after him.

Jalan Tun HS Lee Fire Brigade

He also had other interests. He headed up the Selangor Volunteer Fire Brigade and he might well be in this old photo.

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Next door to Alice Smith is a Hindu temple called Sri Thirumurugan.

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Opposite the school is an old bungalow housing the KL office of the Veteran Association of Malaysian Armed Forces.

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The Embassy of Bosnia and Herzegovina is also on this street. KL is probably a nice quiet posting for Bosnian diplomats.

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Next door is the mirror image of the embassy only this time with a blue roof. It is occupied by a government sports and welfare council office with the catchy acronym MAKSWIP.

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A more modern building is the National Civics Bureau (Biro Tatenegara) of the Prime Minister’s Department and the Nationhood Academy (Akademi Kenegaraan).

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Another pair of bungalows with identical designs to MAKSWIP and the Bosnian Embassy are nearby. They are called Rumah Meranti 1 and 2 and are probably used as government offices or rest houses.

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The best house on the street is Rumah Melaka, a wonderfully preserved colonial mansion which is the official residence of the Chief Minister of Melaka when he is visiting the big city of KL.

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The street ends next to a park called Taman Dusun Bandar (urban orchard park) which opened a few years ago at some considerable expense. It’s a very nice park. It’s just a pity that I was the only person there, apart from the gardening staff.

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A much more busy place is the adjacent Medan Ikan Bakar – barbecued fish hawker stalls. Specialities here include grilled squid, cat fish and mackerel wrapped in banana leaf. According to Lonely Planet, when the nearby Royal Museum was still used as a royal residence, the King would sometimes send one of his staff to buy an order of grilled stingray from one of these stalls.

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Serunding means ‘floss’ and comes in three flavours, fish, beef or chicken. I think I’ll stick with Oral-B mint flavour.

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Malaysian Conman?

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The way Malaysian English is pronounced and understood, it is perfectly reasonable for an air-conditioning servicing business to call itself ‘Aconman’.

Some people though might hesitate before trusting someone who calls himself a conman.

An unfortunate choice of brand name or just a clever way of getting noticed in a crowded marketplace?

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Miniatures Museum of Taiwan

I could not resist visiting the Miniatures Museum of Taiwan during my trip to Taipei earlier this year. It is hidden away in the basement of a modern office building but contains a treasure trove of dolls-house-sized models of Dickensian London, early 20th Century America, mystical fantasy scenes, Edo-period Japan and much else, all in superb detail.

Since Christmas is fast approaching I have made my photos into a seasonal slide show video.

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Sarkies Hotels

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On my recent trip to Surabaya I stayed at the prestigious Hotel Majapahit, established in 1910 as the Oranje Hotel by Lucas Martin Sarkies, a member of the famous Sarkies clan of leading hoteliers.

Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1078786

Clockwise from top: Arshak, Tigran and Aviet Sarkies

The Sarkies brothers, (Aviet, Arshak, Martin and Tigran) were Armenian businessmen born in New Julfa, the Armenian quarter of Isfahan in Iran. They founded a hospitality empire in South East Asia at the end of the 19th century which included the Eastern & Oriental Hotel (Penang), Raffles (Singapore) and the Strand (Rangoon).

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A few antiques fill the foyer in the oldest section of the hotel.

Lucas Martin Sarkies was the son of Martin Sarkies and continued the family tradition in Surabaya. He commissioned noted architect RAJ Bidwell to create a Dutch colonial art nouveau hotel with a budget of 500,000 guilders. Bidwell also designed Kuala Lumpur’s Sultan Abdul Samad Building and Singapore’s Raffles Hotel. 

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Needless to say, I did not stay in the opulent and massive 806 square metre Presidential Suite shown here.

The Oranje soon became the place to stay in East Java and famous guests have included Charlie Chaplin, Joseph Conrad and now, Thrifty Traveller.

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The art-deco section of the Hotel Majapahit, opened in 1930.

In 1930 a new art-deco style lobby was added and is where the hotel’s main lobby is now located.

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Painting of the flag incident on the roof of the hotel in 1945.

The flag pole on the roof is where a celebrated incident took place at the end of World War Two as Dutch forces were attempting to re-establish control after the defeat of the Japanese. Leaders of the Indonesian independence movement ripped the blue strip off the Dutch flag, leaving just the red and white which became Indonesia’s national flag.

Apart from the Majapahit, I have also had the good fortune to visit the other surviving former Sarkies hotels, even if I could not afford to stay in any of them.

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Raffles Hotel in June 2014.

Raffles Hotel, Singapore. Continues to be the ultimate in colonial-era luxury. The Long Bar (home of the Singapore Sling) is the only outlet I’ve visited in the Raffles.

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Eastern & Oriental Hotel, Penang in December 2011.

Eastern & Oriental Hotel, George Town, Penang. An advert for this hotel in 1906 boasted that it was ‘perfectly appointed, unrivalled situation,sea, lawn, excellent cuisine & wines, terms moderate’ . All still apply, except perhaps the bit about moderate terms. The Sarkies also ran an establishment next door called the Oriental Tiffin & Billiard Rooms, a great name which should be brought back.

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Vintage postcard of The Strand.

The Strand, Rangoon – ‘the finest hostelry East of Suez”’ said the 1911 edition of the ‘Handbook for Travellers in India, Burma and Ceylon”. Still the top hotel in Yangon.

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Sarkies Bar, The Strand, Yangon.

I enjoyed a quiet drink with my son at the Sarkies Bar at The Strand in 2010. The hotel’s website says that the bar ‘has played host to many a thirsty traveller, explorer and celebrity alike, and the names of Noël Coward, Rudyard Kipling and Orson Welles are worth a mention.’

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