HOW WAS THE TRIP, Salty asked, when we finally arrived back into London from the tour.
I see you found Ron and the group alright then ?, .
Yes, no worries I said, everything was good.
I mean what can you say, regarding the Trials and Tribulations, of the Overland Tour.
Prior to that London departure, Brian had said to me, Ron from our Sydney office is coming as tour leader with the next group, you will pick him up in India.
That’s good I said, its hard work on your own, and he can drive the bus for a while and I will look forward to seeing him again.
The drive out via Europe, Greece, Turkey, Syria, Jordon, Lebanon, Iraq and into Iran, it was all very good, everything was smooth as silk, everyone happy and enjoying the tour.
We were all travelling well, having just crossed the Lut desert and driven through some of the most remote southern areas of Iran.
We finally drove into the Baluchistan region of Pakistan, and into the city of Quetta for our few nights stop over, before heading towards Lahore, and across the border into the Punjub and Amritsar before heading on down south through India to meet the ship with the new passengers that were coming from Australia, led by Ron.
As with all Borders it pays to get along well with those in charge, and the Iran exit into Pakistan was no exception, he was a busy body, at the best of times, but we got along well enough and he always served chai while he smoked from the carton of English cigarettes, that he like magic found on his desk, he had his men hurry the group through the border rigmarole, post haste.
The Pakistan border post was different for instead of tea and talk, unlike the Iran police/Army, he wanted to wrestle, it didn't deter him that I was several inches taller and several Kgs to the advantage.
As soon as we arrived in the line with the other vehicles, he would call us through, and I would park our vehicle up front near the customs police post, I knew what was coming.
He announced to all and sundry, how he and I were to wrestle, and the preparation for this was carried out by his men drawing the circle, and he stripping down, doing press ups, getting his shoulder rubs etc, all the while those travelling were gathering around awaiting the grand event.
In short it was for three rounds, no stopping until a fall was had, and one of us was pinned to the ground for the count.
The Sundowner passengers were well informed and loud cheering was encouraged, not for me but especially for the Sergeant.
He won the first round, me the second and he the third, but what a struggle we had, he winning two to one making him the winner of course, in each round the wrestling went on for many minutes, you have to put up a good show.
Then we all congratulated him, me saying that he was lucky and how I would beat him next time.
However it was so much quicker this way to get through the Border, than to wait in the line.
We went on to Quetta, and after the accommodations were secured, for our stay, we all went and changed money as the rates were good, and as we were travelling on through Pakistan for several more days we changed what we thought we would need, as for me, I was coming back into Pakistan on the return with Ron and the new group, I too took advantage off the rates offered.
The following morning the chief of police called at our accommodations bringing along their army chief and said, you must return into Iran, India has attacked Pakistan and we are at war, you cannot go any further in our country. we are in a state of war with India.
I said, but we must be able to go on as I have these people to take to India and another group to collect for the return journey.
No they said, you will leave in the morning with an escort to the border, if you refuse to go you may be arrested as spies, and put in jail for a while.
Now we all know a little of prisons around these parts, so I agreed to depart.
In the meantime other Passengers informed me that the two English females had gone off with the chief and the local Mayor.
I said you had better go get them because we might have to leave in the morning, they said they wont come we have been to see them and since then, they have been shifted to another place and we don't know where they are.
I went and found the chief of police and asked for the two females to be returned, he said ,they want to stay with us, and don't wish to continue with you.
I insisted I speak with them and finally he agreed, he called a Jeep and we set off, to where they were keeping the two soon to be ex passengers.
I insisted I spoke with the two women alone without he or others being in the room, and carefully explained the problems which they could soon find themselves in, but all to no avail.
In the end I had them both sign release forms explaining their intentions to leave of their own free will.
I called the chief of Police aside and said, there was another small problem, some of us have purchased Pakistan money, and the Iranians won't except your Rupees, we expected to remain in Pakistan for some weeks. we have cashed a lot of dollars into Rupees, and although I have tried they won't cash them back into dollars for us, or even into Iranian Rials.
This I said is a real problem for us, as we have come a long way from England, and being towards the end of out travels we are short of Dollars.
I think I understand the problem he said, perhaps you might do as some other persons do.
I thought about his comment a while and thought he might consider leading me astray and then give me a holiday at the states expense.
He said again you can buy something here and sell it in Iran.
I said, I wouldn't know how to go about something like that what would you suggest we buy.
He said, we in Pakistan have the best tea in the world and it is highly thought of in Iran, buy some tea and sell it when you arrive into Iran.
I said, I think that might be illegal, don't you think, oh yes he said I'm sure it is, however people do it.
Should you need further help let me know and I will help you choose the best tea.
I said, I would prefer to just exchange the money.
That won't happen he said, come along I will help you, so he did,
He took me to the market and we purchase two tea chests of first grade tea.
He suggested we remove them from the boxes as that was too conspicuous, being so large, and he arranged to be made several double thickness cotton bags, and the tea was put into them.
We finally loaded these on to the roof rack and tied down the tarp ready to depart early in the morning.
Later that night he arrived with more police, and called me aside.
He said, we have a small problem. HELLO I THOUGHT welcome to Pakistan!.
Then to my relief he said, there are some people with English passports who are like you, caught up in this war and all flights are cancelled and they need a ride into Iran, and then back to England.
I said that's no good as I have little room on board and I have another group coming from Australia docking in India, and I have to take care of this group and then locate the new group.
No matter he said, these people must depart from Pakistan and get back into England and they will travel with you in the morning, besides you have two extra seats now don't you.
As they say what can one do. Come the morning the English family arrived mother, father, and seven children.
Starting at this height and going down to that height, and their luggage.
They had more luggage than us, that's all of our group put together.
The cherry on the pie was the might have English passports, but they were all from Pakistan, looked like it , dressed like, like, like.
I said this cannot happen, Iran will not approve, of these people, I cannot take them.
I think you will, oh yes you will, you know you will, if not you might be detained for carrying something with the intention of selling it in Iran, also who knows you could be spies.
I rolled back the tarp to load All their stuff, and right away the smell of the tea was so strong, I can't tell you what I thought,
I loaded their load on the roof rack and roped the tarp down tight.
I said to myself, they won't travel far, once in Teheran they are off the bus.
However I knew we would have trouble on the Iran border with my friend, them having British passports was one thing, being from Pakistan was another. Passing out of Pakistan was no problem.
When we arrived at the Iran Border the official came to the door and looked, he recognized the bus from some days before.
He waved and stood there, I suppose he was wondering why we were back so soon.
Me, I was wondering about what would be happening within the next few minutes once he found out who and what was crossing his border, I prayed he wouldn't want the tarp rolled back for an inspection.
I parked down on the road as far away as possible from the customs house, and walked up to the office with the passports, as usual I handed them over to the customs man and went to join my friend for the chai and to explain why we were back so soon.
All was going well, until a passport customs man going through the pile came to the British passports and saw the photos of those whose original place of birth was Pakistan.
He cried out something to whoever, the official looked at me and put down his chai, then mayhem arrived, soldiers everywhere all armed, my friend the official went mad.
We were all to be arrested, and then he asked to clear the roof rack, of all luggage, smugglers all, those Pakistan people he said, take every thing down.
All you people on these passports you line up here, he yelled waving the British/Pakistan passports I honestly thought they would shoot them.
I refused to empty the roof rack of the luggage, because I knew what would happen if I did.
The official was getting angry and impatient, he then instructed one of his men to climb up and throw down everything off the roof rack.
In two seconds I was on the roof of the bus and rolled back part of the tarp, the aromatic smell of the tea was at its best, they could smell it in Bombay or even Sydney I reckoned.
I threw down as far away from the bus all the belongings except ours of the group, and then pulled the tarp over again.
We were going to be here on this border for a very long time, I finally decided it was all getting out of hand, so I asked to speak to him in his office which he finally agreed to, and whilst we had some chai, I decide to tell him all, as it happened, he listened and I carefully explained the situation, he didn't know the war was on.
He made a phone call and that part was confirmed, we talked a lot more and I laid it out as it happened about how the policeman had done this and that including the threats, and my two missing passengers and I asked what could I do.
Finally he calmed down and made me promise that I wouldn't do this again, I assured him I wouldn't.
We arrived into Teheran and off loaded the British /Pakistan people and all their luggage at the British Embassy, I felt sympathetic towards their plight however these things happen from time to time, and the conditions of their reentry back into the UK was to return by a certain date.
There was no mail, and after checking shipping I was able to establish they wouldn't dock in Bombay.
I was easily able to sell the tea, down in the market area, we made a slight profit on our deal , and once all passengers were re financed again, we said our farewells, for they were to depart for Australia from Teheran, and I had to give some urgent thought to where Ron and all the new passengers might possible be.
I thought if the ship sails past the port of Bombay because of the War, which I had found out it would where could they go, now days we would get on the mobile phone, but back then we had no communication, of any kind no means of knowing, would they stay on and disembark in Italy, but then I thought maybe Cairo.
I decided Beirut was where I would go first, If I couldn't locate them there, I would head for the port of Genoa, the ships home port.
So off from Teheran and out of Iran into Turkey down past lake Van, and down into Syria through Aleppo, Homs and through to Beirut, I drove up to the hotel and parked the coach and bingo. Ron and the rest of the group were just arriving.
Their first words were bloody hell, how did you find us, how did you know we were here.
Now, I thought to myself, that was a very good question.
To all those who held the steering wheel, and to all those who watched out the windows and made it all become a reality.
Robert (Bob Wilko) Wilkinson.
Limestone coast S.A.
Sundowners Overland London
1964 -----November 1977
Just loving your stories Bob, hope others contribute as I know other stories are out there waiting for us to read and share.
In reply to this post by Bob wilkinson
Wonderful story.Any chance a book?Three chapters already.
In reply to this post by Bob wilkinson
I reply to Bob"s article Where's Ron? This is what happened to me and my group on that tour.
It was September 1965 and I had been advertising in Melbourne for a group to travel overland from Bombay to London. We would sail on the "Galaleo" to join Bob in Bombay.
I had hitch-hiked overland from Italy to India in 1960 so I was able to talk about the trip I did and show the group my slides which was a big help trying to convince them to join the tour. I had had a lot of problems hitch-hiking across the Middle East but I said " This time we will be travelling in our own vehicle which will make things a lot easier. Or so I thought.
Bob was on his way out to Bombay in our brand new 21 seater Bedford. (Compliments of Ted Cumming) who had raised the money to buy it. Bob had a group of Aussies returning home and one guy Victor an Englishman doing the return trip.
I managed to get 9 passengers to sail from Melbourne with another two joining in Perth plus two more guy's (doctors) meeting the ship in Singapore. Making a total of 16 in all which was just about right for the 21 seater.
We had sailed from Singapore with all the group intacked and having a good time when I got a call from the Captain for an urgent meeting !! India had declared war on Pakistan and had bombed the Port of Karachi. Chandris Lines had informed the Captain that they thought Pakistan might retaliate and attack Bombay so the ship was to avoid India altogether and go to Colombo instead.
My group were the only ones getting off in Bombay so were the only ones affected by this decision.
Vot Too Doo!!!
I rang Brian in London via the ship's radio/telephone --now there's and experience. Where's Bob?
I asked ? Not sure said Brian. He could have made it though to India before the war started and if so you could all be stuck there for some time. Brian said he would try and locate Bob and get back to me ASAP.
The ship docked in Colombo and I spent most of the time running around the various shipping companies to see if we could get a local cargo ship up to Bombay, but nothing doing due to the war.
I had the group pack their gear and wait on deck incase we had to make a quick exit. This was because El Capitano was giving me a hard time wanting to know if we were staying onboard or getting off as the ship was about top sail. I told him that I was expecting a call from London at anytime to tell me where the bus was. Then the shit hit the fan. El Capitano "But Mr James the ship is in radio silence while in port . You wont get a call until we sail. Aaaarrrhhh.
I decided to stay onboard for the safety of the group and sure enough as soon as we sailed a call came through from Brian to say that Bob had been caught up in Pakistan.See Bob's story.
We sailed on to Port of Suez and spent some time in Egypt while Bob was to make his way back to Beirut and meet us there. Hopefully!!. We saw the Pyramids, Valley of the Kings, travelled by local bus to Alexandria and then by a small passengers ship to Beirut. I left the group sitting on their suitcases on the wharf while I went looking for a 21 seater with English plates . Sure enough there was the bus parked outside the hotel we had used in the past. Yippee
Bob was lying back on the bed having a well earned rest after his 2000 odd mile detourto pick us up. At last we were all together in the bus to sart our "overland" journey.
We travelled back as far as Iran going down to Isfahan then back to Teheran and up into Turkey.I mentioned Victor and Englishman doing the return trip. He had beeen on the road with Bob for some months now and despite Bob and I telling the group not to drink the water, Vic thought otherwise and would show off in front of the group (new comers) and drink the local water.
Not long after Vic started to get sick and could'nt keep any food down.He was losing weight
and despite our two doctors doing all they could nothing seemed to help.It got to the satge where we had to help Vic on and off the bus he was so weak.
Finally we arrived in Ankara and took Vic straight to the hospital. We checked on him the next day and knew he was in good hands and there was nothing more we could do for him . When we got to Istanbul I rang the hospital but there was still no improvement.
The following day I got a call from the hospital to say that Vic had'nt made it . He had cholera.
Although he had had the injection apparently there is no reaction with the cholera shot so there is no way of telling if it has taken or not. Vic was one of the unlucky ones.
The rest of our journey through Europe toLondon was pretty uneventful---it would want to be.
Normally we would have sent the group off from Australia with the name and address of the hotel in Bombay and where to meet the driver. I cant think of how this trip would have turned out if I had'nt been escorting them.
Sundowners "The adventures of a lifetime"
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