Wednesday, April 24, 2013

From ‘Magic Bus. On the hippie trail from Istanbul to India’ by Rory Maclean


The academic said, ‘Before 1979, we used to drink in public and pray in private. Now we pray in public and drink in private.’

Iran has struggled for security throughout its history. The Persians built an empire stretching from the Mediterranean to India only to surrender it to Alexander the Great, the Parthians and then the Sassanians. In AD 637, five years after Mohammed’s death, the country was conquered by the Arabs. Persian society flourished under the caliphs and the Seljuks, until destroyed again by the Mongols.

In modern times, Iran has continued to be a battleground for foreign and internal rivalries. The CIA helped to topple a democratically elected nationalist prime minister in 1953. Both Washington and London had disapproved of the nationalization of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, forerunner of BP. But the new Shah’s brutality and impatient reforms inspired anti-American Islamic fundamentalists to hijack the 1979 revolutions which overthrew him.

That February, 3 million Iranians too to the streets to celebrate the Ayatollah Khomeini’s return to Tehran.


‘Mountains do not come to other mountains but man can come to man.’

‘I remember laughter, music, tablecloths spread under the trees, the phht-phht of the pressure-cooker,’ she says, her quick laugh like a string being plucked. ‘Once I rode on the roof of a bus (inside which were two sheep and a bag of rice for another picnic) high into the Hindu Kush, winding through an indescribable landscape, thinking, “If I have to go, let me go now. Let me breathe in this beauty and go.”’


…… In Lucknow, a beggar sits next to the ash-covered torso of a dead baby on a toy trolley. No sight can surprise me, even if a sacred cow stands on its hind legs and takes to the air.

‘Stop trying not to die,’ Ginsberg wrote during his sixteen-month Indian sojourn, ‘fly where you can fly.’

Every day, 14 million passengers travel on Indian railways. This morning, half of them seem to be on my train.

‘The (plane) door opened and I smelt India – a mikniva of shit and urine. I walked around Colaba in wonder, watching the puja, seeing the light, feeling no fear, thinking I’d landed in my mother’s lap.’

My old mother from Guernica had a saying. “La esperanza muere ultima.” Hope dies last. Lose hope and you’ve lost everything.

Then he details the ride-by-ride bus fares from Istanbul to India. Total 1971 cost: $15 to cross Asia.

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