Welcome from Jan

Hi there!
This blog is for those who love both books and travel. I'm starting by travelling back in time to the 1970s and the overland trail to India which I took as an 18 year old. Have a look at my daily diary entries and photos. Some of these places are impossible to visit at the moment, but I can give you a flavour of what they were like in the golden age of the hippy trail.

The experience has inspired my new mystery novel, THE VANISHING OF RUTH, which is out now as an ebook. Find details and extracts at The Vanishing of Ruth

To buy: The Vanishing of Ruth

Also take a look at Facebook Page Overlanders for more memorabilia.

Cheers, Jan.

Saturday, 21 November 2009


[Quetta began life as a caravansarai on the busy trading routes through Asia.  During British rule it grew into their biggest military garrison and a base for attempting to control the vast interior and border with Afghanistan.  Now it is the Taliban who use it as their HQ for launching attacks.  When we were there 33 years ago, the town was under a night time curfew because of civil war with the Baloch - so not very clever to be out late at night at the old Club, even if it was a time-warp from the Raj ...]

"Up very early, left without breakfast to reach Quetta to get visas.  Got to Quetta, pleasant roads with trees and mountains in backgroud, english signs.  Up to Londra Hotel to look for mail with Di - v friendly in reception. 

Into town - eventually found people in Farah Hotel - had breakfast of omlette, toast and coffee + little cake and pastry!  Recent pop music playing - understood by waiters! 

Afternoon, me, Di, Heidi and Fran wandered round bazaar - great fun.  Camels pulling carts, small gaily coloured scooter-rickshaws - dashed between them and bicycles - incredible variety of hooters!
Lovely stalls with scarves, hats, embroidered clothes etc.  Tasted lots of street foods - small hot batter things with spicy potato filling, sugar beet sticks, nuts etc.
Cloth seller invited us in for tea - sat on painted trunks inside stall and drank revolting sweet milk tea.
Lots of crippled beggars in streets.  Some boys and a teacher invited us in another stall for tea - had three more cups! (Felt quite ill).
Lots of people offering hashish.

[Quetta is 1700m in altitude and below freezing at night, so we went to a hotel instead of camping]
Gas fire in hotel room (had a warm night for once).  While sitting after evening tea, some prosperous looking Pakistanis next to us invited us for a meal.  Insisted on taking us out for a drink beforehand.  9 of us piled in one car (with gun pressed against me) - Sally (minus voice), Adrian, Di, Fran and me. [the gun was a rifle lying on the back seat]
Took us to old Quetta Club - unlocked it for us - amazing dark panelled, red carpeted, quiet corridors, huge big WC, and bare room with two wood fires and a long bar - about 10 liveried waiters suddenly popped up behind the bar. Like stepping back two generations.  Had beer (others on gin and whisky) - one of them hassling Fran for a dance (had tape playing). 
Took two and half hours to get them to take us back - hair-raising journey - driver drunk - Di and Fran having struggle in back - me sat on top of the lot!  Banged on hotel door - lots of guards patrolling streets (at 1.30 finally got in!)"


[Some extra info that I put in a letter home, written in Quetta, about the construction camp in the Iranian desert]

"After dark we drove through a range of hills then the bus turned into this encampment of huts - we were expecting the usual cry of 'tents to the left!' but the driver disappeared and came back to say we were kipping inside; there was a mess bar with beer and vodka and HOT SHOWERS!  Was this a mirage, a touch of the sun?! ...

Some of them [the British construction workers] were quite interesting about the local people - the Baluchis, split now between Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan, but who want independence (roads at night are chained off to prevent trouble).  Iranians aren't employed so as not to upset the local economy, so they employ Pakistanis and Baluchis (the last are paid peanuts for a day's work, whereas some of the British blokes will leave with virtually a million!) ...

There's tension between the [British] engineers and the miners, electricians etc, because the engineers usually boringly withdraw into their rooms while only a few are left to entertain themselves in the mess; only when Swagman arrives do they flock in!  Apparently it's becoming quite a usual stopping place for Swaggers - the men all tend to pour out their problems to welcome strangers like us.  Geordie John from Blaydon said he'd meet me in the Dun Cow sometime!"

Thursday, 19 November 2009


[We crossed into Pakistan and its largest province Balochistan (then called Baluchistan) - a vast region of deserts and mountain ranges.  Ever since the British left India, promising but failing to guarantee autonomy from Pakistan to the Baloch, there has been a strong independence movement and rumbling civil war. In more recent times the province has had to deal with a large influx of Afghan refugees.   Reading my diary, I obviously found these Baloch Highlanders striking, and Balochistan is central to my novel in progress, OVERLANDERS.  Look at my Links to find out more about this region]


"Fascinating custom's yard - all official business done in fenced in area in the open air - just tables and chairs.  As ate breakfast, some public transport buses drew up accompanied by wailing music, and blanketed and turbaned figures piled out, looking very mysterious in the morning mist

Buses were amazing - Bedford trucks completely painted over with flower designs, pictures, hearts, writing etc - even laders at the back painted.  Luggage piled dangerously high, some with people on top of that too.  Fronts decorated with tinsel, mirrors and other shiny decorations - one had a small Xmas tree hanging inside cabWe all went and stared at their buses while Baluchis came and gazed at ours!

Incredible costumes - turbans, fantastic woollen scarves wrapped around their head-dresses; small embroidered caps, baggy trousers gathered at ankle, carpets slung over shoulders like a plaid - greetings among newly arrived bus loads, cigarette sellers; several blind beggars being led around by little boys, holding one end of stick.  All around was the noise of throat racking spits! (Fred expert too). 

Changed money with 3 English guys off one bus - they'd travelled with chickens (one which had laid an egg in bus!) and even a goat!

Across desert again - more sandy and bigger scrub.  Road washed away in places.  Villages neater looking than in Iran - people sitting out on rush mats watching us pass.  Little bicyclists in middle of desert!  Slept a lot again.  Later, large stark rocky black hills studded the desert - Chris said I must feel at home because they looked like slag heaps!  Lots of camels - some seemed to be roaming wild without packs or attendants.

Camped in grounds of army resthouse - gas lamps in cosy rooms.  Roads chained off at night because trouble from Baluchi.  (Near Nushki)."

Wednesday, 18 November 2009



"Missed breakfast.  Ran back for camera!  Headed for border.  Stopped at small town Zahedan to spend last rials - felt like a zombie.  Slept until lunch.  Slept until border.  Passports looked at twice - water train (arrives once a week) was in.  Money changers round the bus.  Had to file in and be looked at.  Slept until dark - missed the day!  Slept again until got to Pakistan customs' yard in nearest town.  Pitched tents.  Saw camel train!  Several more later on.  (Nokkundi)"

[The previous stop at Camp C and suddenly being thrown into a pocket of Britain - a Geordie working men's social club in the Iranian desert - caused more than just a hangover.  It was a disorientating experience and caused my first real bout of homesickness - the accents, the familiar food - causing home to rear up in an unexpected way.  It was fun at the time, but left me more vulnerable to the sickness of home-thinking]

Tuesday, 17 November 2009


[Camp C in the desert in South East Iran was one of the more surreal and unscheduled stops on the route to Kathmandu - more Auf Wiedersehen Pet than Hippy Trail.  We were there because the bus's half-shaft had broken on the rough desert tracks and needed mending before we headed into the even remoter deserts of Sistan va Baluchestan and Pakistan's Baluchistan.  So we made the most of hot water and sliced white bread]

"Got up and had loads of tea and coffee in mess room while others still asleep.  Geordie Dougie came in - one of a few who were late getting to the job that morning.  Excuse was stopped watch!  Had great breakfast of toast, ham and poached eggs!  Had easy morning while waited to see if we were staying or not - half shaft had to be mended.  Did some washing; beat Jan and Rob at table tennis (Chris beat me with sneaky spins); beat Mark at skittles - balls kept flying off side into pool, had to paddle to get them back!)
Baluchies watched us all day instead of building!  Saw one roll his turban.  Dominoes in sun with Di, Chris and Shirley ...
had coffee in mess and played Mick the Irish miner at draughts - beat him 2 games to 1 ...(word got up to mine that Mick was chatting up girl from Durham and had been beaten at draughts).  He was supposed to be on night duty but stayed up all day talking and drinking with us and was determined not to go on night duty while we were still here.  As it was he crashed out for most of the evening!
Had meal at mess - steak, chips, carrots, soup, jelly, biscuits and cheese, coffee!  Dirty miners came swaggering in during meal.  Another session of beer and vodka - chatted with engineer called Dave - out for nearly a year and enjoying it.  Geordies in good form again!  Geordie Keith a real rough diamond but great fun - home trouble, obviously rather upset about wife etc.  Both he and Mick warned me that travelling would ruin me and make me restless - Mick says never leave mark anywhere.  Keith said mustn't get cynical from seeing so much (the old advice to the bairn again!)
Some dancing - only the strong few who could keep up the pace left!  Even Dougie gone after raiding the fridge.  Eventually we raided the kitchen - made baked beans and toast which Neva succeeeded in burning!  Jelly too.  Then Scotty Jim brought out bottle of Glen Livet!  Geordie John (comes from Blaydon) had bought me a blanket (which I forgot to take) - wanted to keep my denim hat.  He sang "Sixteen Tons" and fell about while trying to sing standing on sofa.  Swapped addresses - ordered to send p.c from Kathmandu and meet in Dun Cow at Christmas!  About 3 hours sleep."

Monday, 16 November 2009



"First stop was the ancient city of Bam.  Hot sun, very still, eary place.  Amazing maze of mud houses including mosque, surrounded by old city ramparts and reconstructed fort.  Wandered round city walls (crumbled away to narrow ledges in places - not exactly Nat. Trust style!)  View over newer town and palm trees, showing oasis in the desert.

Sat on ledge in front of fortress looking over ruins - lovely and not after bitter cold morning, but huge scorpions so we left.  Me and Jan made for mosque and then got separated somehow, while climbing through ruins.  Really scary - incredible silence except for ugly cawings and throat rattlings of huge black birds wheeling overhead and scuttle of lizard in front of me!  Got lost!  (Expected to meet a snake at any moment!)  Finally saw the "red elbow" signalling from ramparts!  (She knew I'd be lost in there somewhere!) 
Walked into town - palm trees up middle of road, women washing in drain, loads of veiled women in main street etc.
 [For centuries this amazing mud city was an important staging post on the trade routes between India and Europe.  In December 2003 it was largely destroyed by Iran's worst earthquake in which tens of thousands of people were killed or injured.  Children's charity, Action for Orphans, has built homes in Kerman for some of the children whose families were wiped out.  http://actionfororphans.org.uk/]

Stopped in afternoon at Bam lighthouse - crumbling ediface in middle of huge expanse of desert.  Climbed to top and looked out over road - only thing to see apart from bus.  (Crazy thing to be doing on a Sun afternoon!)  Brewed up cup of tea sheltered in 2 lorry tyres and had stone throwing session with Jan and Rob.  [Such 'lighhouses' were viewing points for the many camel trains that plied the old trade routes]

Saw mirages of water and then stopped at military cay shop and bought coke.  Drew up at Camp C - like a mirage in the desert!  Construction camp for Marbles Ridgeway for road blasting in nearby mountains.  Made a b-line for the showers with Diana and Shirley - hot water in basins!  Had orgy of washing hair etc, then went into mess room.  Jim, nice Scot, bought me beer straight away - ate my curry in there then they ordered me a caramel pudding, followed by lovely bits of chicken and ham.  Beer and vodka flowing that night. 

Talked with Malcolm - v interesting about Baluchies and preparation for Revolution to make a country out of bits of Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Then Di and me got talking with 3 super Geordie miners - had a really nostalgic session, felt homesick to hear their accents!  There was a bit of dancing at one end.  Ended up having great sing song - one fella could play guitar.  Very stuffy sleeping with heaters in rooms."

[This camp in the desert seemed to be divided up into three separate quarters for British and Pakastani migrant workers and the local Baluch workforce]