1 (edited by JCH 19-Dec-2008 20:46:06)

Topic: Overland Buses 1971 to 1973.

I first joined Safaris Overland in 1971 (see Overland to India with King Kong) and was on the Asian route till Spring 1973 before taking a break but then returning again to the route in 1976. Anyway thought it might be interesting to mention some of the Overland Companies I came across between 1971 to 1973 before I forget them ! Perhaps someone remembers these names and can fill in some of the gaps ?
'King Kong' Safaris Overland Bus in Eastern Turkey 1971.
   When I started with Safaris the well known Indian Operators were, Swagman of course, Sundowners, Hann Overland and top of the bunch in price at least Penn Overland and the German operator Rotell Tours. PBK was, or was about to go bust while Safaris Overland had replaced them in the battle for the midprice market.  Safaris in turn went bust in 1973. Capricorn (or was it Indigo?)0then emerged for a few years but later also went out of business.I think the original Overland bus operator 'Indiaman'(see http://www.indiaoverland.biz/forum/view … 104)ceased business in the 1960's ?Rather a high turnover!! Swagman I would see on route fairly regularly and in 1972/73 I had to transfer some passengers onto two of their buses . What happened was that I had booked passengers in Kabul for Istanbul and Europe including two motor bikes. I remember loading them onto my bus roofrack  in Kabul by taking them up to the first floor of a partly completed building next to the Mustafa hotel and then across onto the top of the bus-a rather delicate maneuver!  When we got to Tehran my bus had cylinder head problems (think I had to buy a new head from Leylands in Tehran) and was delayed. It was my own trip and I could not ask my passengers to wait so did a deal with two Swagman buses and transferred motorbikes and passengers to them. Any Swagman drivers remember that one?!
    I first came across Emil and Wende of Budget Bus (See also http://www.indiaoverland.biz/forum/view … =11)during the Winter of 1971/72. They had just started running cheap five week Tours to India and continued doing so till around 1980, one of the few successful low cost Overland Operators. They had their own yard up at Totteridge and Emil, worked on the buses, and checked out their drivers/subcontractors before they left. After 1976 I did many subcontracts for Budget Bus in my blue 41seater Bedford coach (Tour East)(Leyland upright 350 engine-good motor).
  It was also around 1971/72 that I first net Greg and Nee of Magic Bus. At the time they were, I think, still running their own bus which was spectacularly painted in classic Pakistani designs (Mountains, trees, lakes, birds etc). Soon afterwards they moved to Amsterdam and set up their booking office subcontracting fast Magic Bus trips to India.
  Then there were the individual Operators who either subcontracted their buses but drove them or booked and picked up passengers for Afghanistan and India (and back),while on route. I became one of these in 1972 when Safaris Overland went bust. They gave me the bus in lieu of cash owed and I ran it under the Safaris name until it was repainted yellow and renamed Himalayan Tiger. While I was freelancing between Kabul and Istanbul in 1972/73 I often came across Roland Watts and Bob Harlow of Tangerine Tours. Bob in particular I regularly saw on route. The last time we met up was at Bodjnoord in Iran. Heavy rain had washed out the road above the town and traffic was stuck. Amongst the vehicles was Bob in his Mercedes. When the bulldozers eventually cleared the mud I followed Bob's bus up into the hills. Near the top the Mercedes engine 'blew up' right in front of me -for a horrible moment I thought it was my bus! He was stranded but I managed to take some of his passengers to Istanbul. In the late 1970 s I think Bob was working in the music business in Germany.

On another trip to try to pick up passengers at the Pakistan/Indian border I came across Jaqueline who ran the[b]

2 (edited by Dave 03-Mar-2008 11:42:10)

Re: Overland Buses 1971 to 1973.

John, can I mention some of the pre-1970s Overland people as well - and as you've mentioned Astran's Mr. Frost, later on a bit about some of the truck firms, since we all drove on the same routes, at least to Tehran on the the direct route to India - a very small number went as far as Lahore, but more of that further on.

I'd say that in the first half of the 1970s some of the Overland firms from the 1960s were still active; firstly because John, Harvey and myself drove for them - are Safaris. In 1966 (ish) the Fenwick brothers, Bob and John, started the Safaris company from the house in Lansdowne Gardens in Stockwell; nearby was the Canton pub in the South Lambeth Road where the meetings and bookings took place - for both Safaris and PBK Tours - which was run by Paul Beesley. The old information sheets from the late 1960s claims that PBK had been doing Overland Trips since 1962. Another name associated with Safaris and PBK was Brian Page - but I can't remember much about him.

http://i22.photobucket.com/albums/b322/GeeVor/No%20Going%20Back/Overland_Firms_04.jpg http://i22.photobucket.com/albums/b322/GeeVor/No%20Going%20Back/Overland_Firms_02.jpg

When I first went Overland in 1968 and starting driving with JF in the Maudslay bus, Beesley was running with us in a newish, petrol engined, long-wheelbase Landrover. This seated, I think, 12 people - it must've been cramped in the back, and a long roof-rack carried all the rucksacks and clobber. This vehicle was very handy for a few of us to use in the evenings, or if the ancient Maudslay broke down. The Maudslay that I was in, I'd thought, was a 1948 bus, but I'm sure JF told me recently that it was rebodied in 1948; the chassis etc was apparently pre-war.   

Tangerine Travels was another of the independent Overlanders; here's the card given to me by Roland Watts. The last time I saw him was October 1972 in Istanbul; Mr Beesley I last saw in 1975 in Greece and Istanbul, he was driving a Bedford VAL - this was a 3-axled bus, in transport jargon they are referred to as a 'Chinese-Six' because they had four front wheels. He still owes me the 20 dollars I lent him, when we and and a few of his passengers (mostly female) had a well lubricated dinner in a floating resturant in Istanbul. He'd come out that night without any cash on him, or so he said; I knew I'd never see it again...


Peter Day ran his own bus, and he may have operated as Roadrunner or something like that; I last heard from him in 1978, when he phoned me up and asked if I could run a truck (he must have known I had a HGV licence) from Germany out to Kabul for him - I didn't like the sound of it, so I politely declined.

And there were many more people at it, especially as the 1970s progressed; not just from the UK but Europe. Dutch, German, French buses were doing the Overland as well, though I don't think it was anything like the numbers from here (UK), although a fair percentage of drivers of buses departing from the UK were Australian or New Zealanders.


And here is a motor belonging to AsiaBus, stuck on the Iran-Iraq border in 1966 - I don't know who ran this firm, or who drove for them. The picture is cut from one that Rory MaClean has put on Flickr, and I've shown it before.

But before all this happened, as Derek says on here, Norm Harris started in 1958, and it was probably 10, or more, years later that Emil began the Budget Bus trips. It should be compulsory for all ex-Overland drivers and passengers to be computer users...there's so much information and so many photographs, just locked away.

John wrote:

Another regular driver, though not of Overland Buses, was a guy called John Frost who drove for Asian International/Astran trucks on the rout to Tehran. There were not many trucks heading East in those days though after 1972 the situation changed quickly.

At the same time as the Overland Bus trips were running, the Europe to Asia transport activity was really growing; in 1964 two blokes set off from London for Kabul with an articulated truck loaded with printing presses. Following the success of this venture they set up a company called Asian Transport - which in later years was renamed Astran. This now large company still runs out to the Middle East today.

In 1970-1 Iran began to increase its hunger for trade with Europe so the amount of truck traffic increased in a very short period, all this freight movement overloaded the primitive road systems, particularly in areas like eastern Turkey. Reluctantly in 1977, the Turkish authorities opened an existing military road to create the northern bypass route around the mountain range that peaked at the notorious Tahir Pass - this old road had been a tortuous and twisting climb to over 8000' on an unmade surface. By the late 1970s it'd be fair to say that for every Overland bus, there were many hundreds of international trucks on the same routes - and as the numbers of trucks increased the likelehood of those drivers stopping to help you out decreased.

This is the situation on the Tahir before the northern route was opened up in 1977. In this picture, very few, if any of that lot of trucks struggling to get over the Tahir would have been from the UK - they came from all over Europe, including the eastern countries like Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Hungary and so on; plus the odd Turkish and Iranian ones. Not all the Overland bus firms operated right through the winters, whereas the freight traffic ran whatever the weather - it just kept going. In 1968 there wasn't anything like this number of trucks going to Iran - of course there were a few, but most of the time you had the road to yourself.

When I got into trouble on the old Tahir Pass road in 1971, it was an English Overland truck that pulled the AEC bus back onto the road, but also offering assistance was another Englishman called Dick Snow who drove for Asian Transport - his yellow Scania truck and drawbar trailer are in the background of the picture picture below. This man went on to become a cult figure among the truck drivers who went out to the Middle-East; his reputation founded on his legendary trip times of 21 days from England to Tehran and back - not bad going in a 40 ton vehicle, with no co-driver. He once told me that he now and again drove as far as Lahore in Pakistan, and that these trips were usually for the British Embassy in Pakistan; and that the loads consisted of personal property of long-serving senior officials out there, or new furniture being sent out to the Embassy. The staff were either commencing or finishing a term of duty.

Now that there some Hughes and/or Intertrek drivers here, do any of them know anything about the Bedford in this picture that I've posted 2 or 3 times before?
John, that bloke to the right of you, in the picture is Hank - a passenger going from Delhi to London in 1971. In 1972 he phoned me up and told me he'd bought a Bristol double-decker and was setting up on his own to do Overland Trips. Anyway, he asked me a lot of questions and in the end I went down to see him and his bus in a yard at Westbourne Grove in London; I didn't fancy his chances with it and told him so, but some months later off he went. I think it all went wrong before he got out of Turkey, his few passengers deserted, the bus was abandoned out there and he lost a lot of money. At some of the borders were fenced off compounds full of confiscated vehicles - from cars to buses. It wasn't as easy as it may have looked; it was an understandable thing to want to have a go at - many people did, and a lot of people failed. Too many people went out there for the wrong reasons.

John, or Johnny, Frost came to Astran after Snow had started (these meteorological sounding names are real...) and as far as I know, is still alive. Mr Snow gave eventually gave up his long-haul driving to run a pub in Essex, and died some years ago. In the picture below he is seen, on the right, overseeing the recovery operation of a European truck that had gone off the road on the Tahir road in eastern Turkey. A truck and a grader, chained together, are attempting to extract a Scania 110 and its semi-trailer from the snow - this was a far too common sight, this one was lucky; some guys didn't survive these incidents.


The Euro-Asian truck movements were not totally the activity of European firms; for a long time Turkish trucks went up into Eastern Europe and into Germany, as did the Iranian firms like Marand, and Shams Express Transport (from Maku).  The largest Iranian firm to do international work (in those days) was ICC (Iran Container Company) - based in Tehran, they regularly ran as far as Germany from 1970 onwards. They used dark blue Mack Maxidyne tractor units for this work - each one double-manned, to minimise stop time. One night in Erzerum, one their drivers, an English speaking Kurd, helped me fit snowchains to the AEC, and afterwards I helped fit the chains onto the (6 x 4) Mack. This was a miserable task when the temperature had fallen to below -30

Re: Overland Buses 1971 to 1973.

Harvey emailed me this photo taken on the Greek/Turkish border on the 1971 Safaris Overland trip (My first Overland trip-see 'Overland to India with King Kong').Right at the front of the traffic you can see our bus but prominent in the picture is a Rotel Tours Bus and Trailer.
   For those not familiar with Rotel Tours they were, to the best of my knowledge, based in Germany and ran Tours as far as India in !971.Apparently they still operate and have worldwide trips even today though I think the vehicles may have changed somewhat .They have been described as QUOTE:

A German based touring company which operates world wide with an interesting range of vehicles. Rotel is short for "rolling hotel". It's a cross between a coach, a caravan and a hostel.

The idea was that during the day the passengers travelled in the coach and at night they slept in the trailer which was towed behind their bus.You will notice all the windows in the side of the trailer. Each is an individual compartment which from the inside looked like a narrow oblong box perhaps 8 ft long and 3 or 4 ft wide. How they got into those cubicles I'm not sure as many of the passengers were elderly and as you can see some compartments are quite high up.Would be interesting to know what the washing and toillette facilities operated as well !! Incidentally these trips were quite expensive.
This is a Photo taken by Harvey on the Greek/Turkish border in 1971

4 (edited by Silver Express 14-Aug-2008 20:29:35)

Re: Overland Buses 1971 to 1973.

John, I encountered Jacqueline briefly in Pakistan, maybe a year or two after you last saw her. She was well but by this time she had only one arm and one eye - but she was still driving! I knew her partner (can't remember his name, Phillipe maybe?) and last saw him the following year, in Teheran. He was staying in a crap little hotel virtually opposite Amir Kabir. The bed bugs were as big as peas. I'd come through the border at Taibad a couple of days earlier and happened to stop off briefly in the village. There stood the wreck of a bus, obviously recently involved in an accident. I was horror struck when I recognised it as his bus. A chilling spectacle. You could clearly see the oval void, created by the tanker he had hit, starting from the front and going half way down the width and length of the bus at floor level, roof and side ripped open to the sky and six or seven rows of seats crushed together. On the other side of the gangway, from the drivers side of the windscreen to the rear window was totally untouched. He must have been travelling 30 - 50 mph. This was a tragedy on a large scale. In Teheran I talked with him about the accident. He was on bail at the time awaiting the court case. I was very happy to see him alive and well. He was really down on his luck and sharing a room with some guys trading in stolen travellers cheques. There was nothing wrong with his brakes, John. He told me he thought he could make the gap between the two tankers, the drivers were just sitting talking, right there on either side of the road. I said he was lucky the accident hadn't been on his side of the bus. He said, with a shrug of the shoulders, that of course it wasn't luck, when he realised he wasn't going to make the gap he swerved away from the tanker nearest to him. Five young travellers lost their lives in that crash and I don't know how many more were seriously injured. If the tanker had been full of petrol it could have been unthinkable. My opinion of him hit the bottom of the pan. I never heard of him again after that, though I believe he left Iran before his case came up.

Big-eyed beans from Venus
Don't let anything get in between us.

Re: Overland Buses 1971 to 1973.

Hi ! Thats an interesting though unfortunately a tragic story and it certainly clarifies what I heard.I think I must have been in South Africa at the time and did not return to the Overland till 1974/75.I feel rather sorry about Jaqueline being indirectly involved in all this as I liked her. Incidentally I recognise your picture next to your bus so some of my 'grey cells' seem to be still working !

6 (edited by bro47 19-Dec-2008 13:52:29)

Re: Overland Buses 1971 to 1973.

hi jhc,
I met abdullah no-sweat in lahore in november 1973 at the shaheen hotel. he said he was from nigeria and seemed to know a lot of people in pakistan. we traveled together for a couple of weeks and he introduced me to the abbassi brothers of hyderabad then left for quetta. what ever happened to him?

7 (edited by bro47 19-Dec-2008 13:53:09)

Re: Overland Buses 1971 to 1973.

hi jhc,
Does this sound like one of your runs. In april 1972 I was in Istanbul and found an ad in the pudding shop, for a bus to Kabul for approx. $18. the next day I boarded a new mercedes bus with 15 others for the trip. We were told they were going to pick up passengers stranded by the indo-pakistani war. It was my introduction to a new world and a life changing experience. does anyone have any information or memories of that bus? I spent 5 days on that bus but can only remember 2 names liz from canada and tec from hawaii who introduced me to Gurdjieff.

Re: Overland Buses 1971 to 1973.

Hi Alan,
      Thanks for post and info.! I'm afraid it wasnt my Bus you got on as mine was a British Coach and by then was a little the worse for wear.....As the coach you booked on was new it sounds like it could have been a Tour Coach running empty from Europe to pick up pre booked passengers at the Indian /Pack border - think the border was still closed to anything except those crossing on foot.Money from passengers picked up on route would just have been a bonus.
  Was interested to hear about 'No Sweat Abdullah' as the only time I met him was that one time in Afghanistan. I never saw him on the road again when I was driving Kabul and between Istanbul and I returned to the UK in the Spring of 1973.Perhaps he sold his Bus out East ? It would be interesting if anyone elso has any news of him.


Re: Overland Buses 1971 to 1973.

Hi I'm a journalist researching overland bus journeys from Europe to India in the 1970s and 80s and came across this forum. Would be wonderful if I could connect some of you who did the journey (or drove any of the buses). Please contact me on email if you can.I'm on reshmi@gmail.com. Thank you so much.


Re: Overland Buses 1971 to 1973.

I was on a magic bus in 71 from Kabul to Delhi but we had to turn around in Lahore as India had entered the war and closed the border to Pakistan.  We stayed overnight at a hotel in Lahore and all got really stoned with black Afghan that the chief officer at the Torqam border gave to a girl on the bus he clearly admired. Have no connections to anyone on this trip any more. Most of us then took Ariana to Delhi airport from Kabul