Blog 4: INSTC Friendship rally hits the road in Iran. Day one – Bandar Abbas to Shiraz
INSTC kicks off for Shiraz
A driving adventure is not without its challenges and the first one was getting our Mahindra SUVs out of the port. But the fact that we got the cars out in a day means we’ve probably set a record for the quickest clearance of cars from any port in Iran. Nevertheless the INSTC hits the road and our destination is Shiraz around 600km away. We’ve lost a day and that means less sight seeing at the ancient city of Persepolis but that’s just as well cause it turns out we couldn’t manage rooms in Persepolis anyway and are booked into the Persepolis hotel in Shiraz.
Great roads in Iran on the INSTC
Is Iran a developing or a developed country? Visually you can’t tell. The cars for instance, they’re ages behind what we buy in India. The most popular car that I can see is a Saipa 131 which is a nineties Kia Pride, and remember in the nineties Hyundai and Kia made dreadful cars. The Peugeot 405 is very popular, designed back in the day when designers creased their trousers and used rulers for every line. The trucks – a major portion are beastly Mack and International trucks that are least four decades old, cause that’s when the revolution swept through Iran and everything American was taboo. At petrol pumps there are beggars. No I don’t know how far this is true but an Irani was quick to point out that the beggars aren’t Iranians but Pakistanis. Don’t shoot me if I’m wrong. The stuff you find at petrol pumps is another indicator of a country’s prosperity. You find rubbish.
“The Peugeot 405 is very popular, designed back in the day when designers creased their trousers and used rulers for every line”
But then there are the roads that are fantastic. Some patches are a little bumpy but there’s not a single pothole. The road markings excellent. Highway #75 that takes us from Bandar Abbas to Shiraz is most dual carriageways with proper dividers but even where they are single carriageway it is a breeze to drive on. These are first world roads. And these are roads built with an eye on the future because there’s hardly any traffic. These roads are ready for all the trucks that will fuel the trade that will get a big boost once the INSTC is complete and gets into action.
The INSTC Friendship rally was Putin’s idea
Or so I’m told by the organisers of this event. Apparently during the BRICS summit in Goa Putin suggested to our PM to run a car rally from India to Russia. The PMO conveyed the same to the FMSCI, then Kalinga Motor Sport Club got involved and now we are here driving the INSTC.
“One wonders how, in such a dry, arid and hot place, civilisation was birthed”
Hot, dry day on INSTC
Bandar Abbas was hot. Really hot. And really dry. Despite it being a port the breeze that blew was dry. And as we drive north the heat stays with us. The terrain is barren and desolate punctuated by some hills but otherwise the roads are arrow straight cutting through fascinatingly barren and rocky terrain. One wonders how, in such a dry, arid and hot place, civilisation was birthed. These lands, these cities, they are the cradle of civilisation; they predate Christ by centuries. Unlike other countries in the Middle East, Iran is dripping with history, with culture, with great cities, great poets and great minds. No wonder they consider themselves superior to their neighbours.
Lars, the off-road capital of Iran
Lunch was at an absolutely trippy restaurant in Lars, a 20km detour off the highway to Shiraz – a town with massive wide roads, neatly laid out, clean and quite deserted. And escorting us to the town are members of the off-road club of Lars in their Toyota FJ Cruisers, forerunner to the Land Cruiser. Turns out they are huge FJ enthusiasts, going by the number of them in our convoy, and they put together some fantastic off-roading events. Apparently even for a second-grade off-road event they get 100 4x4s from Europe coming down to participate. Lars is on the edge of the desert which is hot, dry and harsh, a great place for these off-roading dudes to show how much of dude they are.
INSTC reaches Shiraz
We roll into Shiraz at half past 11 in the night. Convoy driving isn’t without its frustrations, and an 18 car convoy, oh boy. Fuelling up itself takes 45 minutes. A bio-break turns into a tea break and eats up 45 minutes. Lunch becomes a 90 minute affair. And with radios installed in all our cars for communication there’s a constant stream of inane chatter, including “convoy slow down”, “convoy new speed limit”, “convoy…”
On the plus side we have Captain Khan, the naval attaché who is with us on the drive who is a walking-talking encyclopaedia on all things Iran. How he knows so much is beyond me – and he has only been in Iran for a year and a half! He speaks fluent Persian. And he has an answer to every question we throw at him – food, places to see, culture, energy, everything. He even reels off cuplets in Persian – since we are going to Shiraz, which is the birthplace of Hafiz, one of the greatest poets. Of course some geniuses don’t hold back with the sensitive geo-political questions to which he politely replies, “we will discuss when we meet”. Our diplomats are very well trained!