The anthology Emails from India- Women Write Home published by Seraphim Editions, Ontario, Canada, celebrates its launch in Vancouver in a few days time!
And this is the next part of the journey across Asia.
|Baluchistan - photo credit http://www.travel-culture.com/pakistan/balochistan.shtml|
The second morning in Quetta, Pakistan, we were up before it was light, to catch the early bus to the Iranian border. We had met Gustaf the day before and he had told us about this bus. The morning was bitterly cold but the air was unbelievably fresh and clear and the sky was crammed with stars, distracting me as I squatted by the brass pot with its film of ice. There was a reddish glow to the sky, like a smouldering fire that only needs one breath or gust of wind, to make it burst into flame. But there was no wind in this high mountain air. The morning was still as frost. Outside in the streets, some people were already up and about, moving like silent shadows, keeping close to the buildings. The muezzin called into the silence, stirring deep into the layers of sleep and dream, echoing them, linking them to the new day of work and noise and activity, a constant rope to bind the worlds of night and day, the expansion of the dream, and the focusing of work. At the point of almost-light, the muezzin calls. The fruits of dream, freshly dedicated to Allah, are put into the work.
It was almost light by the time we reached the place where the bus was supposed to leave. There were plenty of buses around, plenty of people too, but no-one seemed to know where our bus was. I was used to it by this time. We were offered cups of tea, by people who smiled and gestured at us and we squatted down beside them, to watch the sky grow light.
By some apparent miracle, we followed some side-streets and found a bus away from all the rest, with Gustaf sitting in the back. He waved wildly, when he saw me. He was quite convinced this was the right bus. I had no intention of arguing.
The morning was confidently settled in the sky by the time our bus left with its cargo of noisy gesticulating passengers, with extra baggage piled on the roof and secured with ropes. Inside the bus it soon became stiflingly hot and claustrophobic as people and baggage were crushed together. A couple of russet-haired goats joined us later on and settled near the back of the bus, where we were sitting. This delighted me but irritated my companion, who glared and muttered angrily if goat or person pressed their flanks too closely against his. As the day wore on he slumped back in his seat, morose and silent.
We made several stops during the day. We travelled through dry desert country with no vegetation that I could see, just brown stretches of land, hills and flat land, mud-coloured houses blending in with the brown landscape. After midday there was a dust-storm, the air turned thick and swirling, blotting out the light so that the afternoon turned into a gloomy twilight. The bus pulled off the road at a chaikhan and we got out, covering our mouths to avoid breathing in the choking air. When the storm passed we set off again but after sundown it got steadily colder inside the bus. I was sitting next to the window and part of it was broken. In my attempt to make my burden as light as possible I had left all my warm clothing behind. All I had to travel back in was a shirt, jumper, sheepskin waistcoat and jeans. A freezing current of air blew through the broken window, penetrating my clothes. Someone tried to drape something over it, which partially succeeded, but still an intermittent icy draught blew onto me.
|Baluchistan photo credit - http://www.defence.pk/forums/pakistan-tourism/161403-majestic-balochistan-8.html|
When the bus finally stopped in the early hours of the morning, I'd already fallen asleep. Gustaf woke me, very carefully. It was hard to believe he was the same person who had been so full of anger and irritation the day before.
After three or four hours sleep the bus continued and we reached the Iranian border before noon the next day. But we all had to wait until mid-afternoon before another bus appeared to take us to Zahedan, the nearest town.
|The road to Zahedan - photo credit - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Road84-Pakistan-Zahedan.jpg|
When we arrived there, we spent the night in an hotel on the outskirts of the town, with the wide brown desert all around and a red mountain rising in the distance. Gustaf, who had clearly had enough of travelling by public transport, managed to track down some Italian people who were driving through to Europe, and persuaded them to take him with them.
And so the next day we set off for Tehran. The desert rolled on like a carpet of rock and sand, subtle rock colours of green purple and yellow against the unbroken blue of sky. Iran is a country of curious contrasts. In Zahedan, there were wide, almost-empty streets and immediately you left the town you were back following a dirt-track through the silent rock and sand, the hard silhouettes of mountains carved against the sky. Modern angular houses mingled with round igloo-shaped dwellings. But they were all the same mud-brown colour. They ended abruptly, where the desert took over. No gentle transition, just an end of occupation, then the desert was the sole ruler, supreme, once more.
Tehran was grey, still winter-caught, suffering in its slow thaw. No spring here, no sudden vivid green, just a gradual easing of winter. A brown city, beyond it a landscape of mountains with no vegetation, streaked with snow and frost. The cold was raw and old, solid and tyrannical, like some despotic ruler, querulous in old age, unrelenting and monotonous.