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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20 Responses to Road Trip From Islamabad to UK

  1. Very interesting. What a pity your father did not keep a regular diary.

  2. rcannon992 says:

    Everywhere looks so uncrowded back then!

  3. Condolences D. Nice homage.

  4. Big Sis says:

    A message from your sister….your blog brought back many memories.
    You could have also mentioned the time that the car keys were accidentally locked in the boot of the car at the Iran/Turkey border. Panic stations until a man turned up with a huge bunch of about 20 car keys and unlocked the boot straight away. He was our saviour but I’ve always wondered why he had so many keys and what was his profession. 😐

    • Hi Big Sis. Thanks for additional anecdote. Can you remember what type of number plates you had on the car (see Susan’s question below)?

      • Big Sis says:

        The number plates were Pakistani. I can also remember we had a Pakistani AA badge which was exactly the same as the old metal yellow English one but in green.

  5. Susan Young says:

    Amazing trip — thanks for posting. The road trip of all road trips! Did they have UK plates on their car or Pakistani? (Wondered what nationality the stone-throwers in eastern Turkey thought they were hitting.)

    • Thanks Susan. I’m asking my sister if she can remember what plates were on the car. I doubt the stone-throwers were basing their actions on nationality – probably just didn’t like strangers.

  6. judith wilkinson says:

    What an interesting read. That must have been a lovely article for you to put together with your sister. loved the postcards and the Vauxhall Viva!

  7. Oldstock says:

    Condolences on the passing of your father. He was a brave man indeed to be travelling that part of the world at that time. As you mentioned, replicating the journey today isn’t that much easier. Looking forward to the next post about the Libya trip.

  8. p0k0kkelapa says:

    What adventures! So fascinating to read and see. Thanks for sharing. You have a remarkable family and c;early the wanderlust has rubbed off.

  9. Zora_M_ says:

    What an amazing read. Adventures, fun.I’m totally in love.

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