Blog 3: Challenges to overcome before we hit the road for INSTC Friendship Rally through Iran
Mini-adventure before INSTC
Bleary eyed after a red-eye flight from Dubai I find myself at a transfer desk getting my boarding pass for the Iran Air flight to Bandar Abbas – a short hop across the Persian Gulf after which we collect our Mahindra SUVs and head out on the INSTC. I’ve found a nice lady who hammers away at her computer for over half an hour before my boarding pass to Bandar Abbas pops out. Except at the next counter the rest of the group has turned up, typically without the concept of a line, and the guy refuses to issue a boarding pass.
“Where is your return ticket”, he asks in all sincerity. And he cannot believe that we are driving through and exiting Iran by road. In his mind all warning bells are ringing. “Without return ticket the airline will not issue you a boarding pass,” he says. Not true, I tell him showing him my boarding pass (I’m flying back from Baku in Azerbaijan). To which he gives my issuing lady a dressing down and shreds by boarding pass. Oh great.
“As we take off from Dubai our group goes up in cheers. A completely opposite scene from the movie Argo!“
Even better – the next flight from Dubai to Bandar Abbas is in two days! Time to journo-up. I get hold of the Iran Air official at the airport, explain to him the whole concept of a motor rally, that we are driving et all. He doesn’t budge. “What if immigration turns you back at Bandar Abbas?,” he asks. Eventually we strike a deal. Everybody has to show 1000 US dollars at the boarding gate – enough cash to buy a ticket out of Iran if the immigration doesn’t allow us to board. Fair enough. Boarding passed for Bandar Abbas. The adventure begins even before we board Iran Air. And by the way Iran Air is pretty good. There’s a new Airbus A-321 takes us for the short hop across the Persian Gulf from Dubai to Bandar Abbas.
As we take off from Dubai our group goes up in cheers. A completely opposite scene from the movie Argo!
The next INSTC adventure is getting the cars out
The INSTC was supposed to hit the road on Sunday to Shiraz but things aren’t so simple in Iran. Well it’s not their fault to be honest. We expected our cars to get cleared out of customs in one day – that does not even happen in India. The ship only berthed at Bandar Abbas port on Saturday when we arrived. And our Sunday is spent at the port trying to get our fleet of Mahindra vehicles out – primarily Scorpios, one Thar, two XUVs and one Getaway for the service crew.
The team camps out at the port for the entire day – a blazing hot day in this extremely dry part of the country. By afternoon plans of leaving for Shiraz are canned and we extend our stay at the Homa Hotel in Bandar Abbas by one more night. And then at 4 I get a call to grab my passport and head to the port, the cars are being released!
Another 4 hours are spent at the port, hanging around basically, me taking pictures of all the cars and trucks that pass us by. They have a mix of vehicles – very, very, very old Mack trucks that look beastly (American trucks so this has to be older than the Revolution in the seventies), equally old Volvos and modern stuff too. The vehicles are a strange mix and all very dated. The most popular car that I can see is the Saipa 131 – that used to be produced under license from Kia (this one is the ’90s Pride) and is an utter shit box. There are very old Peugeots that are made in Iran along with some new Logans. Iran Khodro is the local automobile giant – the largest car manufacturer in the entire Middle East region – and they have tie-ups with Peugeot as well as Renault. I even read they assemble Mercs and Merc engines though I see no sign of those Mercedes cars.
Finally at sun down our Mahindra SUVs are out. We are taken in convoy out of the holding area, out of the port Special Economic Zone and hit the road to Shiraz.
We are ready for the INSTC!