Monday, January 17, 2011
The Desert Handcar
Zahedan is a town in south eastern Iran close to the border with Pakistan and Afghanistan. It is also the railhead for travel to Quetta in Pakistan.
I arrived there by bus from Bam, an amazing walled city built entirely of mud bricks, which made Zahedan look very ordinary. Although the railway line went as far as Zahedan, with its station building built by the British, the train did not cross into Iran and so passengers had to wait until it was due, and then travel a further 100 km to Koh-i-Taftan just over the Pakistani border.
The train ran once a fortnight and, as luck would have it, I had to wait almost a week before it arrived.
Gradually a few other travellers drifted in from the surrounding desert, one of whom was an austere and slightly agitated American in his twenties wearing a blue twill raincoat. Obviously troubled by the vagaries of the railway schedule he set off into Baluchistan desert on a handcar, taking his turn with the maintenance crew to propel it along the line. Three days later the handcar returned, still with the blue raincoat man on board.