Mesmerising Landscapes and Tragic History of Bam

I cycled from Kerman. I was scared. I'd heard nothing positive about the road after Kerman. Luckily as usual the negative hot air is hyped out of proportion. I met a great guy in Mahan who gave me a huge insight into the Iranian and Islamic way. He spoke good English and we chatted for about 4 hours.The road from Mahan to Bam was single two-way. I was grumpy because I had been used to the wonderful hard shoulder on the freeway.

Once again I had to pay attention to the road. I unfortunately cultivated a lot of negative energy which resulted in a barrage of swearing and anger at lorries that I perceived as driving too close. The road went closer to the mountains so I got a closer look. I was listening to Kraftwerk, Richie Hawtin - Consumed, Aphex Twin and Lemon Jelly. It was a science fiction journey. The Aphex Twin, and Richie Hawtin albums didn't help to lift my mood.

The landscape and geography was the most interesting I'd seen in Iran with epic green, black, and Mars-like red colours. A persistence head wind made cycling a taxing experience but the constant noise of the wind served to add to the feeling of being in a bubble flying over the land of a distant planet. The stupid paranoia swimming in my head which I was trying desperately to push aside was grinding at my patience. I wasn't happy. How could I know what was really true? On the road leading into Bam, the scenary was pure moonscape with maze-like gulleys and channels like a brain flattened out covered the land.

As the sun slowly drew to the horizon, I could see the sillouette of a castle ruin in the distance. Someone threw an apple core out of a window exactly as I was cycling alongside. Perhaps carelessness? But of course in a bad mood it is construed in a negative way. Then 2 teenagers on a motorbike, initially friendly, wrenched a bag of bread from the bungee on my bike. It was annoying and rude. What a pair of idiots.

Down into Bam, people in tin huts were selling various things, fruit and auto-repair shops, people crouching by the street and talking. I was getting plenty of whooping, hellos and 'where are you from' etc. The date palms were beautiful and unique to the area around Bam. They created a truly exotic and 'oasis' feeling to the place. I didn't know what to expect as I turned off the main road into the town to find accommodation.

As usual, I almost immediately met friendly and helpful people who took me to a hotel. It was too expensive, but I remembered to ask my friend from Toudesht, Mohammad Jalali, from the Silk Road NGO, about his contact in Bam. He pointed me to the Akbar Tourist Guest House. The hotel owner called the police for an escort. I had no idea why. Anyway, an escort took us to the place. Happily tired I thanked my guardian angels and wheeled my bike after 165km into the guest of the guest house welcomed by the impeccably English speaking and legendary Akbar. 'you are very welcome my friend' - just what I wanted to hear.

Thus followed a cathartic 2 nights and day spent relaxing under the date palms with Akbar and my friends, Iman and Javed. Later in the day an English Lady, Frances arrived.

Javed at the guesthouse

Bam was raised to the ground in an earthquake in 2003. It was utterly devastating and killed half the population of the city and destroyed the ancient citadel Arg-e-Bam. I heard how this affected the families of Iman and Javed - 2 guys my age with a life and experiences much harder than I could ever imagine. Yet they were strong, positive, happy and ambitious and thoroughly inspiring. Search for the 'Bam earthquake' to read more. The city is slowly rebuilding and the rebuilding of the citadel is the biggest of it's kind in the world.

The citadel now Arg-e-Bam

I left Bam and embarked on a day that will be etched in my mind forever. The road was smoothe away from Bam. I was mentally recharged. I made an effort to spread the love and waved at all the cars and lorries, getting nice responses back. It gave me just a little bit of encouragement each time. It was exciting and felt like jumping into an abyss to be riding forward when no-one had a good word to say about the road. The first settlement was wild with many more Toyota Hilux packed with Balochi-style dressed folk with the rag wrapped around faces to shield from the wind. The weather was moving in also, and the wind was epic.

As I left the settlement the intensity of side winds increased until date palms were swaying wildly and clouds of sand blasted across my passed. I wore my buff across my face and battled onward. The wind intensified further and I passed a section of road, to my left, open desert filled with scattered rock formations sculpted by the wind. The experience was raw and challenging. It was fascinating and tough. It got to the point I was leaning the bike into the wind to keep upright and occassionally swerving from the road.

Each lorry that went past broke the wind-stream, caused me to swerved sideways and then sucked me along in the slipstream. The traffic lessoned and I climbed onto open plain with just hazy date palms in the distance, the regularity of vegetation reduced until there was nothing but powerful continuous wind blasting over sand and gravel. I had to stop to savour the moment of the raw experience of nature's power. As I continued I came across a dead camel with it's legs tied together. I sat an ate my lunch contemplating it's inert form and distinct lack of life and likened it to a bad stage prop.

Onward I pedalled heading for a town called Shur Gaz after around 115km moving toward Zahedan, the border with Pakistan. I got a huge treat for my hard work when I came across a band of wild camels roaming and grazing across a patch of vegetation. It felt like Jurassic Park. The slow and weary creatures bending to eat and looking around. I snapped away with my camera, finding it difficult to keep steady in the strong wind. I felt a lot calmer than before when I had been grumpy because I was so wrapped up in the experience.

I reached Shur Gaz and it turned out to be just a military check point. I had not planned to cycle to the next town 60km away and asking about camping. I was pointed to a patch of sand across the road and grumpily wheeled my bike across thinking I may aswell camp alone in the desert and at least be free. After a couple of minutes the army decided to insist that I put my bike in their pick up. I thought they were going to drive me to the next town. But thus ensued a chain of being passed from one armed military escort to another.

One section I sat in the back of a pick up clutching the cold steel stand of a large machine gun mounted on the back. Two young soldier sat and joked with me. We flew at high speed through the most stunning scenery. The sun's magical last rays illuminated the fascinating mountains and geographical forms. I felt more than a little frustrated not to be able to take all this in at the speed of bicycle. But I was also excited by this new experience.

I saw trucks of Afghan refugees being carted about as I sat in the back of another pick up munching dried figs. All the soldiers insisted on trying out my bike and the majority were young, around 18-20 and annoying. It wasn't that bad though. The escort was totally unnecessary, or was it? There is certainly plenty of night moves happening along that road at night, but there would be no problem cycling in the day. The soldiers insisted I got an escort with them even when I tried to explain I wanted to cycle.

On reaching Zahedan I was escorted to 2 different expensive hotels before then sleeping at the mosque in a military compound. Most people were now in Balochi dress which initally was a bit sinister but only because I wasn't yet used to it which I now am. I had a tantrum because no one would take responsibility for me and I was being passed around between arrogant little soldier boys. Eventually I got somewhere to sleep. I was tired and I couldn't be bothered with the hassle.

In the morning I felt better. I met a soldier who's brother lived in Macclesfield and sister in Stockport. Once he finished military service in 5 monthes he was going to visit. He hadn't seen his brother in 9 years. I calmed down and waited patiently. I tried to leave to cycle on but I was held back and it took around 4 hours of waiting only to get a lift in a car for about 5 km before leaving the Iran border and entering no mans land. I was left here to pedal and I thought that was the end of the escorts.

I was rathered chuffed and so disappointed when out jumped a (very friendly) soldier who insisted I hitch-hiked with him to the border with a Balochi guy in his typical toyota hilux pick up. I insisted I could easily cycle but he was adamant I got a lift. We flew at hair raising speed past spectacular angular mountain forms which with the mid day sun shined black like broken coke. These sights were the things of seemingly alien invention. Each different distinct sculpted landform represent an emotion or feeling- evil, dormant creatures, interweaving rocky features. I was utterly mesmorised. This was exciting and touched me. I wanted to come back there and study them further. No wonder these places are said to be dangerous. They are sacred and fascinating, like hidden treasure. Hidden from prying eyes of tourists. I imagined. I reached Pakistan border, my mind was a mental swill, I felt shaky. I'd had my own plans and momentum ripped from me and had my path written for me. I felt violated.

The border process was very easy. I crossed over and into the Pakistan customs. It was a ramshackle building with the sign painted on the wall. Men in baggy white clothes asked me in English if I wanted to change money. I got my passport stamped. One man asked me if I want to take a bus. I found it tempting but I wasn't going to. I asked about buying food and was shown into a little shop. There I heard an English voice. It was Frances, having a coffee. She said she was getting the bus. It was all coincidence.

I decided to go for the company, packed my bike onto the bus and so, off we flew to Quetta. The desert was wonderful, vast and exciting from the bus window. I felt sad and a little guilty to not be cycling but also glad to have been able to throw a spanner into the works, shake things up a bit and tempt the unknown and another way and experience.

It was fun. The bus was fast and bumpy. We made one stop for a cheap curry and chapati. It was delightful. Delicious spicy meat and sauce. The Pakistanis were friendly and inquisitive and some spoke English. I was warming to the experience. The night was an amusing one. Lying on the back seat to get some kip I was airborn on multiple occassions. The ride was akin to a child's rollercoaster for 11 hours solid.

Arriving in Quetta, a helpful man speaking good English helped us to a cheap hotel. I've been in Quetta today. A thus starts a new chapter, Pakistan, back on my bike to Multan, Lahore and cross the border into India.

Quetta doesn't disappoint. It's exciting, interesting, - rickshaws, crazy decorated packed buses with touts hanging out the side whistling and shouting. People selling scarfs, ring, street food, little curry restaurants, ramshackle mixed up architect, bicycles, bicycle repair shops, people speaking English saying 'hello, how are you'.

Delicious cheap food, mountains lurking behind the city, back streets - a make shift cinema, jewellery shop, electrical appliances, tailors, beggars, street kids, friendly people. Old men with dark wrinkled skin, no teeth and red eyes, long beards, white baggy outfit, rag around the head. Something from the wild.

And so the adventure continues... this is a quick blog written on a keyboard with very sticky keys in a late night net cafe in Quetta. It's needs editing but I hope you enjoy it.

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