Overland to Bangladesh 1973 – Part 3: Istanbul to Erzurum
After weeks of immobility in Istanbul, suddenly I was moving east through Turkey. The coach drove through the night to Kayseri, arriving at 6.15am. We stopped once for tea, which two fellow passengers insisted on buying for me, and a second time when the coach clipped a lorry with its bumper when overtaking. ‘No great damage, but much shouting and half an hour’s delay.’ It transpired that this ‘direct’ coach to Erzerum entailed a 9-hour stop in Kayseri and a change of coach. Once again, the trunk became an inconvenience, as it had to be deposited in left luggage at extra expense. I wandered somewhat dazedly into town, looking for something to eat. There was a lot of new high-rise development and the only food to be found was some rather unpleasant soup. However, I did catch a glimpse of distant snow-capped mountains.
In the new coach, I found myself uncomfortably on the back seat and did not sleep. A 12-hour journey brought us to Erzerum at 3.30am, only to be set upon by hotel touts. I was told the Tahran Palas, where the Butterfield group had stayed, was full and my trunk and rucksack were loaded into a horse-drawn taxi to the Asya Hotel, where I took a bed in a four-bedded room also occupied by two Turks. Next morning after a much-needed shower and shave, I walked to the Tahran Palas to pick up bus tickets which Ashley was supposed to have left there for me. Not only were there no tickets, but the hotel said the group had not stayed there. The only way of contacting Ashley was by telegram to Delhi, where the group were due to arrive that evening. I located the post office and sent an 11-word telegram for the enormous sum of 96 TL. I did not receive a reply.
Erzurum was a small but important city in the east of Turkey – it once would have been in Armenia – with few cars and large numbers of soldiers, as there was a military base nearby. The prime sight was the Twin Minarets Madrassa, which housed an ethnographic museum. This dated from the Seljuk period – around 1265 – and had an imposing brick façade with two tall minarets. Nearby I came across the Yakutiye Madrassa (1310) looking rather neglected but with a fine decorated minaret. They were the most exotic looking structures I had seen. Tourists and travellers were uncommon sights and, coming across a university teacher who spoke English, I found myself talking to someone at length for the first time in weeks. I went round the museum with an American and his guide. The company was welcome.