I thought it was the end of the world. No human in sight, except the tired fellow travelers on that bus. The fear of getting lost was there, for certain. Stories of robbers and thieves lying in wait for such travelers I had heard. But the idea of specifically being targeted and shot in the head had never occurred in my tiny inexperienced brain. But the signs of course were there.
About the Chagai range, one studies in Pakistan Studies. How rocky it is how difficult the terrain. What no text book tells you is that for miles and miles on those rocky hills chalked are the words ‘Kafir Kafir Shia Kafir’ Shia infidels. I kid you not. Go and see for yourself. Even though years have passed by since I crossed those hills, those cold cold words, still chill me to the bone.
We had decided to travel on our own. But on the way from Quetta, we met another family with the same intentions, also hailing from Karachi. They had made the same journey three times before, and hence they decided to ‘adopt’ us clueless beings.
After a grueling 12 hour bus ride we reached the last stop of Pakistan, Taftan. No not the sweet bread. The bus stopped at a rundown, almost haunted rest house greeting us with the picture of the Quaid. Jinnah in case you were wondering which. Next to him were the words ‘Ghar se duur, ghar ke jesa’ (far from home, yet like home). Seriously where exactly did they think we lived?
As soon as people got down, there was a mad dash stampede towards the nearest restroom. We however were saved from being trampled once again by my uncle’s ‘connections’. Army vans ready to take us to the army mess were a sight for my sore eyes.
More than the breakfast of anda paratha, with halwa on the side, I was happy to find clean bathrooms. But soon, I had to say goodbye to my country and enter Iran. The customs took a while to shoo us all in. And then began the most exciting time of my life. The journey into Iran.
The bored little town of Mirjava welcomed us into oblivion. Deserted as far as the eye could see, my little group tired after the long bus ride braced themselves for what was to come. We van-pooled with another family and reached Zahaidan after two hours, from where another back breaking 22 hour travel awaited us. By now we had started resembling Robinson Crusoes shipwrecked on an island.
The fun however had just begun! The wonderful people of Iran can only speak one language. Persian. No Arabic, no Urdu, and don’t get me started on English. Therefore we were limited to sign language, which we weren’t really very good at. The funny thing was, even though nobody in Iran could read English, most of the billboards and sign boards were in English. What they indicated however was anybody’s guess.
Our stay in Iran spanned over three weeks, during which we experienced things we never thought we would. However never once did the thought of not making home alive entered our minds.
We went about on our ziarats. Visited the beautiful tombs and shrines across the country. Spent a pretty scary night in Tehran where we also had a multi-lingual fight with one of the bus drivers. The shrines on their own were breath-taking. The most memorable one was the one of Imamzada Hazrat Shah Azeem. Located on top of a mountain in Iran, it was so high up that at one point even cars refused to go up. For the weak and the old, a donkey had to be hired while the rest had to walk.
End of part 2
To be continued.