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1. Haven't left yet | 2. Fiji, New Zealand | 3. Australia | 4. Australia, Indonesia | 5. Indonesia, Malaysia | 6. Thailand | 7. Cambodia, Vietnam | 8. China, Hong Kong | 9. Macau, China | 10. Tibet, Pakistan | 11. India, Nepal | 12. Nepal | 13. India | 14. Sri Lanka, India | 15. Pakistan, Iran, Turkey | 16. Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Egypt | 17. Grand Finale

Well, onwards from Dharamsala, I spent a mostly enjoyable two weeks in New Delhi dividing my time between chasing up visas and shopping for souvenirs, both of which were accomplished with sufficient degrees of success. The only blot on the horizon, however, came from out of my rear end which had begun to exhibit the curious habit of passing fresh blood every day or so!

Now, I know many of you were fascinated by the various toilet stories that I've mentioned in these pages. Sad to say, however, the septic depths of Chinese dungheaps are long gone and since then I've encountered a host of South Asian commodes of the squat variety, notable only for their unremarkableness. But I would like to introduce a related topic and that is bowel movements! Something you've probably never realised is that the subject of bowel movements, their colour, odour, viscosity etc., takes up an inordinate amount of the conversation between fellow travellers, believe it or not. In fact, the test of a true traveller is their ability to conduct a discussion on their current intestinal productions without a trace of embarrassment. And often the best person to talk to about a problem in this area is not a doctor but your fellow wanderer who is quite likely to have a much vaster experience of this subject and, if given a detailed description of the appearance of your excreta, can instantly name the ailment you're suffering from and, into the bargain, hazard a surprisingly accurate guess at the percentage breakdown of which parasites are currently inhabiting your gut! In my case Bruce from NZ, who's a paraglider instructor up Manali way, quickly divined my ailment (good on yer mate, sweet as bro) but I decided to consult a doctor just in case.

Well, at the New Delhi East-West Medical Centre, the doctor promptly pulled out a host of weird and wonderful paraphernalia, tubes, lights, rubber gloves, KY jelly, the whole shebang, and it wasn't long before he had me singing Moon River. I'll never know what he saw down there but it was enough to send the poor man into paroxysms of pure terror, backing away from me as he alternated between screams of horror and uttering streams of expletives interspersed with all known names of the Dark One, Lucifer, the Devil Incarnate. He remains to this day a gibbering idiot in a Delhi asylum! As for me, my bleeding was diagnosed as originating from an internal laceration caused by constipation, nothing to worry about. A blood test also revealed an infestation of worms, easily cured. Subject to verification, I may go down in history as the only tourist ever to have suffered from constipation in New Delhi, I kid you not! :-)

If the above has utterly disgusted you then good, that means I was successful. Thank you.

The only other event of note during my New Delhi sojourn was the detonation of five nuclear devices at Pokhran, 300 miles away, which demonstrated the lengths 3 month-old coalition governments will go to divert attention away from their shaky power struggles.

I crossed the El Crapo Pak-Indian border on 24th May 1998 and spent a couple of boiling hot days in Lahore as Pakistan was experiencing a heatwave at the time. The mega Pakistani mango shakes almost made up for the heat though, a heady blend of luscious mango flesh, milk, crushed ice, cane syrup and a scoop of mango ice-cream, nectar of the Gods.

This time in Pakistan all I was interested in was making my way across to Iran so I promptly caught a 32 hour train to Quetta in the south-west, a journey which took me through some of the hottest parts of the country, the high(?) point being Sibi Junction where the thermometer hit 51C (124F) in the shade. The trip was so hot that it caused a fellow cabinmate, a Pakistani, to croak "I think I'm going to die". Luckily he survived till the end and it was with a happy heart that I set foot in the pleasant climate of Quetta which is situated at an elevation of over a mile so the heat was a lot more moderate here.

I spent around 5 days here gathering the strength I needed to face the Middle East in summer. During this time the Pakistan government entertained us by setting off 6 nuclear devices just 150 miles to the west. The TV footage of the 6th explosion was quite disturbing, it showed the whole of a dark mountain turn a light colour due to the heat of the detonation. I think I made out cries of "Allah-o Akbar" (God is great) from an onlooker. Goddamn fanatics.

In Quetta I met a poor cyclist from Belgium who had been coming from Iran the day before the first nuclear test. The road from Iran goes as close as 50 miles to the blast site and, cycling along, the Belgian was confronted by a large army helicopter landing in the road in front of him and it wasn't long before himself and his bike were flying to the nearest town where he was questioned and all his film confiscated. Poor guy lost over 4 months of photos of his trip from Belgium to Pakistan. I had only one fully exposed roll on me but I made sure it was well hidden before I made the journey along the same road.

The precaution wasn't needed as things at the Pak-Iran border were fairly relaxed now that the nuclear tests were over and I had no problems crossing to Iran on June 2nd 1998. One of the first things I saw in Iran was a wall painted with the words "Down with the USA, the No.1 enemy". Aaah yes, it was nice to be among people of impeccable taste once more.

I spent three interesting weeks in Iran altogether. Coming from the east Iran is quite a shock as the general standard of living is a level or two higher than Pakistan, India and such countries. The roads are excellent, the buses very comfortable, there are a lot more cars on the road, there were no frequent power or water cuts and the tap water was actually drinkable.

As reported by numerous travellers I'd met, the Iranian people were extremely friendly, more so than any othere people I think I've met. After Pakistan it was nice to actually talk to local women again. Though the government is very strict on what Iranian women (and to a lesser extent men) should wear - typically most women wear the chador, a thin black cloak that covers the woman's hair, neck and body down to her feet - in other respects women here have a better life than practically any other Moslem country in the area, they are well-educated, can travel without needing a man to accompany them, are often, shock horror, to be seen driving cars and, unlike Pakistan, can actually talk to male tourists.

The sinister side to Iran is their police forces, in particular the Komite, the religious police, whose main job it appears is to stop people having fun. Fun, to a large extent, is a no-no in Iran. If the Komite find a boy talking to a girl who is not his relative then most likely it's straight to jail for the poor chap where he will usually have the lard beaten out of him. Alcohol, parties and dancing are prohibited. And for the most part the people are unhappy with the situation. Right now they have an excellent, reform-minded president, Khatami, who is very popular but has limited ability to change things due to a complicated governmental system where much of the power lies with the conservative religious section of the assembly headed up by Iran's spiritual leader, the humourless Ayatollah Khamene'i, successor to the famous Ayatollah Khomeini. Things are improving little by little, hopefully it will continue that way.

From Pakistan my route through Iran took me to Zahedan, Bam, Kerman, Shiraz, Esfahan, Tehran and Tabriz. Travel is very comfortable on the excellent buses and roads and is extremely cheap. For budget travel Iran is hard to beat, with subsidised petrol costing just 4 cents a litre, a bottle of Coke goes for as little as 6 cents, it's 20 cents for a one hour bus journey and you can usually pick up a hamburger for under 40 cents. Daily living expenses including travel costs worked out at around $6.

There were few travellers around, I believe Iran gets only 4,000 or so tourists a year, so travel could be a little lonely sometimes. Outside of the big cities I felt I was very much the centre of attention with people constantly staring which got to be stressful after a while. The highlight of the trip was my stay in Esfahan, one of the nicest cities I've ever been in. I liked the place so much that I stayed for 11 days, spending my time gravitating between the magnificent Emam square, the great bazaar and the beautiful stone bridges with their atmospheric teahouses underneath. It was a good place for meeting other travellers also as we all tended to stay in the same hotel.

One funny incident happened while I was there. A Belgian guy at our hotel, Filip, managed to leave his moneybelt in the toilet two mornings in a row. The second morning he wasn't so lucky in recovering it. A girl who'd used the toilet after him took his moneybelt down to hotel reception where she gave it to a man standing outside the reception desk who spoke not a word of English. This man turned out to be an Iranian guest who promptly went to his room, ransacked the moneybelt and absconded with Filip's wallet, passport and $90 in local money, failing to find a wad of $900 hidden in the belt. The guy was fairly stupid to rob the belt in such a rigorously policed country but his idiocy hit record levels when he not only left his address book and a photograph of himself behind in his room but he also failed to collect his Iranian i.d. card from hotel reception. A remarkable heist! The entertainment continued when Filip, who had to immediately go to Tehran to get a new passport, managed to leave his camera behind on his bed. Thanks for a good laugh Filip.

I eventually had to leave Esfahan behind and decided to take advantage of Iran's ridiculously cheap domestic airfares and I flew to Tehran, thus avoiding a 7 hour bus ride, all for the princely sum of $10, including a meal! Gotta love it. In Tehran I was fortunate to meet Filip again (he had been delayed in the capital fighting bureaucracy straight out of Orwell's 1984) and he brought me on a very nice walk in the Alborz mountains to the north of Tehran, a better first day in this sprawling, overcrowded metropolis than I expected. Later on that evening though we had a problem with a taxi driver who tried to charge us 10 times our agreed upon price, a common scam. We ignored him and gave him the correct fare. Five minutes later, while Filip was gone in search of a toilet, I was confronted with several secret police who wanted to see my passport, it turned out the taxi driver had set them on us. I refused to give them the passport without seeing identification which they did not appear to possess. By luck we had just met an excellent English speaker a minute before this and he did all the translating. Presently the police proper, flashing lights and all, arrived and a cop gave my passport and visa a thorough inspection. Filip hadn't arrived back and the police started getting really impatient but he eventually returned. I was a little worried as Filip didn't have a passport (the foreign affairs police had it!) but our English translator was invaluable, I don't know what would have happened without his help, and we were finally allowed to go.

Another brush with the authorities came the next day. I had heard that after the revolution in '79 a street outside the British Embassy was renamed from Winston Churchill St in honour of Bobby Sands, an IRA convict, hunger striker, member of Parliament and a hero to many older Iranians, and I wanted to get a photo of the street sign. Walking past the embassy's front entrance I noticed several brass plaques on the wall, one which said British Embassy and below it another that declared the entrance for visa applications to be on Bobby Sands St! The juxtaposition of British institution and IRA terrorist was too much and I had to get a photo but, in my haste, I was spotted by an armed guard who raced over and wanted to rip the film from my camera. Much pleading on my part save the film but I was left in no doubt as to what would happen if I was caught taking photos again when the guard mimicked pulling the trigger of his AK-47 while making "pow pow" sounds! Having successfully escaped I regretted not having grabbed a snap of the plaques anyway but instead I made my way by a circuitous route around to the back of the embassy and, paying more attention to concealment, I finally managed to capture the Bobby Sands street sign.

That day was June 21st, the day Iran was due to play the U.S. in the World Cup. I had been planning for months to be in Tehran for this match. I didn't know of a good place to watch it though (no pubs remember!) but, by a stroke of magnificent luck, at the superb Crown Jewels museum I bumped into James, an English guy I'd first met the day I arrived in Iran. He had an Iranian friend who ended up getting us tickets to the only big-screen showing of the game in Tehran. It was held in a mini-cinema with only around a 100 or so capacity. There was a quite exciting start to the game with some fierce attacking by the U.S. and there was a lot of cheering from the audience but after 5 minutes of playing time the house lights came on all of a sudden and the match disappeared from the screen. The police had arrived and were going to shut down the event because the people were exhibiting non-Islamic behaviour such as clapping and shouting! The religious police appeared soon after. It took a quarter of an hour of argument to eventually allow the screening to continue. The audience's spirit was undampened though anytime things got too rowdy from then on the management would flicker the house lights as a warning.

Well, the game ended in victory for Iran at around 1AM local time. It took us over two hours to return to our hotels through the streets packed with celebrating Tehranis who were going wild, nothing too unusual if it was in another country but for Iran the scenes were something extraordinary. By the time I arrived at my hotel it was locked up tight and no amount of banging on the door was enough to wake anyone up. In the end I had to sleep on a bus-stop bench in Emam Khomeini square for a few hours before I had to meet up with James again at 7am for a taxi ride to the bus station with a stop-off to capture one of Tehran's best propaganda murals, a 10-storey(?) high painting of the American flag, a special Iranian version! Instead of stars there were white skulls, the red stripes pointing downwards were depicted as the smoke trails of falling bombs and the whole image was emblazoned with the words "Down with the U.S.A."!

After a night in Tabriz where James and I hooked up with another traveller, Ulli from Germany, the three of us crossed into Turkey under the watchful eye of Mt. Ararat, legendary resting place of Noah's Ark, on June 23rd. It was immediately obvious that we'd left Iran behind, something to do with seeing beer shops, pornographic newspapers and shameless, corrupt Turkish women wearing nothing except t-shirts and jeans!! Outrageous (and a sight for sore eyes)!

The general relaxed atmosphere in Turkey was a relief from the suppressed Iran and the people again were very friendly. It was nice to have a beer while watching the World Cup. My route through Turkey took me to Dogubeyazit, Van, Diyabarkir, Cappadocia, Pammukale, Selcuk and Istanbul. The first few towns were in Kurdistan, the separatist Kurdish area of Turkey, location of frequent incidents between the Turkish army and Kurdish guerillas. The army presence was very visible, we saw numerous tanks occupying strategic hillside positions and plenty of soldiers and checkpoints, but unfortunately I have no exciting warfare stories to tell you, we spent a peaceful week passing through this friendly, untouristed and relatively cheap area, on our way to Cappadocia.

Cappadocia is one of the most unusual sights I've ever seen, its eroded, volcanic stone scenery looks like it might belong in the deserts of the American south-west but what sets this place apart is that for hundreds of years people made their homes within the soft rock all around the area. There are countless spires of rock dotting the landscape with complete houses carved out of their interior. It's uncanny how close some dwellings come to appearing like something straight out of The Flintstones cartoon. I stayed a week here in the beautifully situated, but sadly touristy, village of Goreme before heading on to Selcuk, site of the impressive Ephesus, the best preserved Roman ruins on the Mediterranean, and thence to the excellent Istanbul where I am right now getting visas, in Europe at last (for a little while).

In some ways Turkey is not so interesting as the culture here isn't so different from the west and getting around is far too easy, it lacks the adventure of eastern Asia! But there are many great sights to see here and the food is very good (especially after boring Iranian fare). I met no Irish people in Iran or Turkey until Istanbul where I ran into a couple of friends from India, hello to Aoibheann and Aibhinn (a prize to any non-Irish that can pronounce their names)!

One distressing trend in Turkey though is the use of Western toilets. Yes, for the first time in ages I've had no choice but to use them. If you had told me before I started travelling that today I'd be singing the praises of squat toilets I'd've said you were potty (heh heh, it's a pun, geddit?). But here I am, after two years performing the magical feat of cleaning my arse without the aid of toilet paper, to tell you that yes, I've gone beyond the boundaries of normal civilisation, I'm over the edge, beyond the pale, and folks, at this stage, God knows what my chances of rehabilitation into proper society are. All I can ask is that you pray for me!

Well, on from here lies the road from Istanbul to Cairo which should take me through Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel to Egypt. There are only a few months travelling left for this raggedy, battered soul of a wanderer. If, sometime before Christmas, you happen to see a lump of dirt and dust arrive on your doorstep which bears but a passing resemblance to civilised humanity please take pity on him ... and for God's sake keep clear of his left hand!!!

1. Haven't left yet | 2. Fiji, New Zealand | 3. Australia | 4. Australia, Indonesia | 5. Indonesia, Malaysia | 6. Thailand | 7. Cambodia, Vietnam | 8. China, Hong Kong | 9. Macau, China | 10. Tibet, Pakistan | 11. India, Nepal | 12. Nepal | 13. India | 14. Sri Lanka, India | 15. Pakistan, Iran, Turkey | 16. Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Egypt | 17. Grand Finale

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