In 1954 two Iranian brothers embarked on a 10-year journey around the world on motorbikes, a journey that deliberately passed through places like Congo, the Arctic Circle and the entire length of the Andes. While the rest of the world was racing to modernity and feeling superior to the so-called primitive peoples, Abdullah and Issa Omidvar had an easy affinity and respect for those they met, something that gave them unique access to sights and sounds that were soon to be lost. En route they created a visual record that is now a milestone in film history, a documentary record of a vanished world: peoples, cultures and even entire countries that no longer exist. This extraordinary documentary is packed with interviews, archive image and rare videos that tell the story of this amazing journey.
TIME CODE: 00:00_05:00
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Issa Omidvar, The first Iranian World Explorer:“Let’s go there for a walk.
Here looks like the heart of Africa.
I’m one of the Brothers Omidvar. My name is Isa Omidvar. My brother, Abdullah is now living in Chile. For ten years, we travelled around the globe to study various primitive societies in places off the beaten track. Our desire to travel had roots in our childhood. Our family was made up of four brothers and two sisters. Our mother loved travelling. We would go on long journeys when we were still little children. At the time, going to cities like Qom or Mashhad were considered long journeys.
- Excuse me sir. Is here Seyyed Ibrahim Bazaar?
- Sorry I don’t know.
- Seyyed Ibrahim Bazaar.
We used to attend Iqbal School here. It was right here. It must be here. You know, people live with their memories, especially with the memories of their home town.”
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Issa Omidvar, The first Iranian World Explorer: “its Abshar alley, isn’t it?”
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Local Resident: “Yes.”
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Issa Omidvar, The first Iranian World Explorer: “Then it must go to Rey Street”
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Local Resident: “You’d better ask the shop owners over there.”
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Issa Omidvar, The first Iranian World Explorer: “Thank you.”
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Local Resident: “Can you see the red light? Seyyed Ibrahim Bazaar is right there. “
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Issa Omidvar, The first Iranian World Explorer: “Seyyed Ibrahim Bazaar?”
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Local Resident: “That’s right.”
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Issa Omidvar, The first Iranian World Explorer: “It’s in fact a shopping arcade.”
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Local Resident: “That’s right.”
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Issa Omidvar, The first Iranian World Explorer: “The butcher’s used to be over there.”
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Local Resident: “That’s right.”
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Issa Omidvar, The first Iranian World Explorer: “Yeah, it was nearby.”
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Issa Omidvar, The first Iranian World Explorer: “I joined the climbing organization when I was in my early teens. Along with my friends, I would discover all big caves in the country. Inside these caves, we would find things that belonged to the past; things like swords, oil lamps and so on and so forth. Now they are all kept at the museum. So little by little, we developed a desire to know more about primitive people and their lives. We wanted to go to their lands, meet them face to face and study their lives more seriously. As two teenage boys, Abdullah and I decided to travel with Iranian nomadic tribes to get more experience. We also wrote for many Iranian journals like Weekly Information, Black and White, Readable etc. So after three years of studying and exploring, we finally got prepared for our longest journey. In 1954, we imported two motorbikes from the UK. We put big sacks on them and installed a big reserve gas tank in the back of one of them.”
TIME CODE: 05:00_10:00
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Issa Omidvar, The first Iranian World Explorer: “We put all our equipment in the sacks. The motorbikes were not for racing though they were to accompany us in a long odyssey. Look, it was there. 15 years ago when I came here, our former house, which was an old building, extended from here to the end of that building. It had a ceiling made of mud. But now you see what has happened to it. We were here during WWII. We were born in that house. It was located in the most ancient part of Tehran. The night before our journey, our father gave us 100 tomans and told us, “I’ll telegraph a friend in Mashhad to help you, if necessary.” After riding 300 kilometers, the handlebar of my bike broke. With great difficulty, we got to an abandoned coffee shop. I tried then to fix it up. Abdullah also remained there. Though we were only 300 kilometers away from Tehran, we didn’t come back to the city. We didn’t want to look behind. The city would begin from this point towards the east. Only this district was a bit towards the west. Our father’s shop used to be over there. There was also a travel agency there with a big garage at the back of the building. There used to be about ten old buses for travelling across the country. The buses had windows of wire rather than glass. I used to come here whenever I could and watch the travelers on the buses, dreaming about going to faraway lands. We had a comprehensive plan. We moved from Tehran toward the east. We went to Afghanistan and passed through cities like Herat, Qandahar and Kabul. We stayed in Kabul for a week, performing some programs there. Then we headed for Pakistan visiting Lahore, Karachi, Ceylon, Heidar Abad and finally Madras. We continued our journey until we reached Delhi. There we met with Jawaharlal Nehru, the Prime Minister of the time. We asked him to let us go to the northeast part of India. Our aim was going to Tibet. We climbed a mountain in the Himalayas. Actually our goal was not only climbing but also finding a way to go to Tibet. Those days, the Tibetans didn’t allow any foreigners to visit their land. Anyway, we came back to India and visited the whole Far East. From Jakarta, we went by sea to the east of Australia. We organized a program there about Aborigines. We lived with them for a while.”
TIME CODE: 10:00_15:00
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Issa Omidvar, The first Iranian World Explorer: “We remained in Australia for about nine months. It was our first encounter with Aborigines, the real inhabitants of Australia. I found the Aboriginal tribes very interesting. They believed that man had been evolved from creatures like fish, crocodiles and kangaroos and that all human beings are members of a big family. After travelling across Australia, we came back to Asia, this time to Japan. We stayed in the country for a month. We visited Hokkaido in the north. Then with a fishing boat we went from this way to here, the Aleutian Islands in south Alaska. In other words, we went to North America. From there, we went to Alaska and equipped ourselves for the Arctic Circle in Alaska.”
Narration: Now we’re going to move towards the Arctic Circle in Alaska. But the freezing cold doesn’t allow the plane’s engine to start. The pilot had to spend two hours under the tent to melt the ice with lamps.
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Issa Omidvar, The first Iranian World Explorer: “It was the year 1958 when we were in North America. We lived about seven months among the Eskimos in the North Pole. The temperature was between 60 and 65 degrees below zero centigrade.”
Narration: There are only ten thousand Eskimos living in this vast area of more than eight million kilometers.
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Issa Omidvar, The first Iranian World Explorer: “We had to adjust our cameras so as to make them suitable for cold weather in the North Pole. Otherwise, they wouldn’t work properly. We also had to figure out some solutions for the films, which would be fragile in sub-zero temperature. Our aim was not just to visit the Eskimos and take some photos of them. Our aim was to examine their way of life. In the North Pole, we travelled to different areas in summer and winter. It was unbearably difficult to be there in winter. We lived with the Eskimos inside Igloos. Many times, we traveled with the Eskimos, which gave us a better understanding of their lives.”
TIME CODE: 15:00_20:00
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Issa Omidvar, The first Iranian World Explorer: “We sledged hundreds of kilometers with their families or hunters. The sledges would be pulled by seven to nine dogs. It’s very easy for the Eskimos to build their houses, igloos. It takes them just an hour to build an igloo. Usually, in every house, two families live together. They also build a porch attached to the igloo to prevent wind from coming directly inside the igloo. They also put their weapons and the hunted animals in the porch.”
Narration: Two families live in this igloo. While the women are busy with housekeeping, the husband comes back home with an animal he has hunted. Now they have food for one week. The hunted animals don’t only provide the Eskimos with meat and food. Their skins are also used by the Eskimos to make shoes and clothes.
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Issa Omidvar, The first Iranian World Explorer: “In fact, the Eskimos live in very hard conditions. They are not aggressive people. They are not dangerous at all. Since they have to live in harsh conditions, they need each other’s help. They are very close to each other. They build their igloos near each other. Sometimes, a frozen lake the igloos were built on would break to pieces and the Eskimos needed each other’s help.”
Narration: A change in the direction of the wind broke the ice. And animals that lean against the ice to rest are good targets. But since the land of the Eskimos is flat and the visibility is down, the Eskimos put one person on a big skin and throw him up to ten meters. While he is in the air, he can see the animals. Soon the animal’s place is located and then the Eskimos go to hunt it.
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Issa Omidvar, The first Iranian World Explorer: “What you see, is one of our motorbike and the car we used when travelling. We had two motorbikes but now just one of them has remained. For seven years, we travelled with this motorbike. It was not easy to travel with it. We imported it from England in 1954. The bikes were in a box. We opened the box and assembled them. We also added our own equipment to the bikes. We kept things for filming and photography inside that box. In our backpacks, there were photos of Iran’s historical works. We took those photos with us to hold exhibitions in big cities around the world. We were very motivated to continue our job. Nothing was important for us except our goal. We would put our equipment on top of that. One of the motorbikes had a reserve gas tank that could contain gas up to 30 liters.”
TIME CODE: 20:00_25:00
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Issa Omidvar, The first Iranian World Explorer:“To share our duties, I filmed and took photos. My brother is a good orator. He’s also very good at note taking. During our journey, he kept a diary. As we were travelling; we would earn money to afford the cost of travelling. For example, I would catch poisonous snakes and sell their poisons to pharmaceutical institutes.Sometimes, we had to make a living out of poison.We also wrote for the world’s famous magazines based on our studies and research. We wrote many articles for prestigious European magazines in Europe like Bonte Deuch, Connaissance de Mon, Sens Voyage, and National Geography. We would also take part in TV programs.When we were in cities, we would be invited by universities. There, we would be provided with food and a place to stay all free of charge. There, we were also allowed to use film and photography laboratories to develop our photos. We are all part of the international community. We are all different but we are all of the same origin. We must bear in mind that we are originally the same but we have been separated from each other for political reasons.”
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Issa Omidvar, The first Iranian World Explorer: “My wife is Azeri but I’m Muslim. If I am reborn, I’ll do the same thing again. But I know that all different communities once we lived with have disappeared completely. I personally like the Far East more than other places. We have many cultural similarities with those in the Far East. After that, I prefer Latin America with its friendly people. We and Latinos are very similar in general. That’s why my brother is now living in Chile. I always tell the Iranian young people to move. If a pen doesn’t move, it can write nothing. A river is clean because it moves. The same is true about man.”
TIME CODE: 25:00_30:00
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Issa Omidvar, The first Iranian World Explorer: “The more one moves, the more one travels, the more one studies, he would lead a better life. With travelling you would have a better life. When we had a project for Amazon, for example, we stayed for two months in Bogotá, the capital of Colombia. There we studies in libraries and talk to those who knew about the geographic conditions of Amazon. We would live in university. Once, the chancellor introduced us to the Colombian President. When we met with him, we gave him a copy of The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, translated into four languages. He became very happy and then he asked, “How can I help you?” We said, “We would really appreciate it if your air force gives us a flight to Amazon.” He agreed and a few days later we took our luggage to the airport and flew to Amazon, the biggest forest in the world. It’s about four times bigger that Iran. Hundreds of different tribes are living in this area.”
Narration: This sound has broken the silence of the forest. Creatures resting under the weak sunlight coming through the trees moved around frightened and angry.
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Issa Omidvar, The first Iranian World Explorer: “Everyone ask us about the way we could afford the cost of travelling and how we could communicate with local people around the world. Take primitive tribes in Amazon for example. They are hundreds of different tribes with different languages and accents. The fact is that no one can talk to this variety of people in their own language. We had to communicate with them with media other than language.”
Narration: Where is the destination? We are looking for the most primitive tribes who are not accustomed yet to modern civilization. Though we had heard a lot about European tourists disappeared while among these tribes, we didn’t change our mind and our small group was sailing through the heart of the forests. Our boat, carrying a cargo of 500 kilograms was making progress against the current. But with the slightest touch of each branch, thousands of stinging insects would scourge our naked bodies.
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Issa Omidvar, The first Iranian World Explorer: “Many of those tribes welcomed us with bows and arrows. During our stay in Amazon that lasted for about eight months, we met tribes that had not seen a white man.It was very dangerous and we wouldn’t go to a tribe unprepared. We took with us some gifts for every tribe. The main gift was salt. It was a valuable gift for them. You cannot find salt in Amazon. Some of these tribes were very dangerous. They would fight with other tribes to capture their girls and women. So, most of the time, the tribes were at war. We would give them a bowl of salt and in return they would give us a human skull. We told them in jest, “How much do you pay for our head?”
Once, a few German scientists went to the Jivaro tribe. This Amazonian tribe is famous for their head-hunting raids. They take out the skull of the victim carefully and then sew the skin and let it dry. After a few days, the skin shrinks to the size of an orange. The only thing that remains the same is the hair.”
TIME CODE: 30:00_35:00
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Issa Omidvar, The first Iranian World Explorer: “There we saw a head with blonde hair. We got very surprised. They smoke the skin to preserve it, that’s why all the skins are always black even those with blonde hair. They didn’t know to whom the head with blonde hair belonged. They just had killed him. Later on, we found out that a German had been caught by the tribe and they had killed him and kept his head. We did our best but they didn’t give us the head because for them it had beautiful, blonde hair.”
Narration: They call these worms Mokokoi. They eat them as food or refreshments. There is only fat inside these worms. They eat these worms raw and sometimes, they also roast them.
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Issa Omidvar, The first Iranian World Explorer: “My whole life is full of things worth telling. I cannot tell you which moments were the best. All the moments were sweat, bitter and dangerous at the same time.”
Narration: While we couldn’t sleep being afraid of animals to attack, the guides and hunters were fast asleep.
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Issa Omidvar, The first Iranian World Explorer: “Once I saw an Amazonian woman from the Yagoua tribe who was in labor. She went to the riverside and grabbed a tree branch to give birth more easily. Meanwhile, her husband in thecabin began to make sounds. This is similar to what men do in Iran and other countries in Asia. In Iran, men stand on rooftops and say Azan or call for pray. The aim is to create a sense of calmness in women. We had rifles to hunt. We used them on some occasions. We wouldn’t show them to the tribes because it would put us in danger. Once I had put my rifle on the luggage and looking for something among the luggage to give to a chieftain as a gift. Suddenly I found out that he had taken the rifle with his finger on the trigger unknowingly. He didn’t know what it was. At the same time, he was looking inside the barrel. There were two bullets inside the rifle. With the slightest pull of the trigger he would lose his head undoubtedly. And of course, our heads would be now in the world’s museums. As soon as I saw the scene, I went up to him with a smile on my face and took his finger off the trigger. Then I put the rifle aside and blew up a balloon and gave it to him. He took it in surprise and then let go of it. They balloon went up because I hadn’t fastened the balloon. He was amazed. Then he became very happy.”
Narration: Our adventure in the heart of Amazon is coming to an end and we will get out of this humid, dark point to open, sunny places. But the fearful secrets of its dreadful forest will be with us forever.
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Issa Omidvar, The first Iranian World Explorer: “We were in Amazon among different tribes for about seven months. I had many films and photos of the area. We took them to Bogotá, the capital city of Colombia. I myself developed the photos in a laboratory there. Now I think it was wrong to do so but back then we wouldn’t think about the future. After all, we always looked before we leapt. The cameras we had are now really obsolete. We had a Zeiss camera that could take 12 photos. We also had a video camera that we bought when we were in Australia. Before we set off on the journey, our mother got very sick. After seven years, when we came back home, she was still sick. Sad to say, three days after our return, our mother passed away as if she was waiting all those years to see us again.”
TIME CODE: 35:00_40:00
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Issa Omidvar, The first Iranian World Explorer: “In 1962 we travelled to Saudi Arabia. We went there by car. Before that, we were in South America and Europe – to be exact in England and France. In France we went to Citroën and there we talked about our lives. The company didn’t give us a free car. Instead, it bought from us some articles about our journey. With the money they gave us we bought a car from the company. We returned to Iran and put the motorbikes aside. In our second journey, we went to Kuwait from south Iran. Again, we provided some equipment because the area was desert with sandy soil that put us in danger several times.”
Narration: 2,000 kilometers away from this arid desert is located the city of Mecca, which is the next destination.
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Issa Omidvar, The first Iranian World Explorer: “We had wire netting of 10 meters length. We would spread in front of the wheels to prevent the car from getting stuck in sand. My brother Abdullah or I would gather the netting and then spread it in front of the car again. This way we could pass through sandy areas. It was in early May when we got stuck in the desert. A severe storm was blowing up. In the morning, as we got up we found ourselves under sand. We couldn’t move on since the car was out of gas. We had also run out of food and water.”
Narration: After three days the storm blew itself out but the car was half-buried under moving sand. It was totally impossible to continue the journey on the margin of the Rub' al-Khali.
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Issa Omidvar, The first Iranian World Explorer: “We were stuck there for seven-eight days. There was not a single man there to help us. There was no road there. It was just a dry desert.”
Narration: Here we go again. It’s impossible to find the road even with the aid of a map and compass. Well, to be honest, the road can be found but the problem is something else. Yes, due to lack of gas, every attempt was doomed to failure. After seven days, a caravan of camels came into sight from a long distance. This one is not mirage. It’s really a caravan to save them.
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Issa Omidvar, The first Iranian World Explorer: “We made it with the help of the Bedouin who migrate across Saudi Arabia with their camels. We saw them from a distance and went toward them as they came toward us too. Then with the aid of camels they pulled out our car from under piles of sand. We went to an oasis where we could find gas.”
TIME CODE: 40:00_45:00
Narration: We were floating on air as soon as we could get some gas. We headed for Mecca. But this time, an Arab who knew the roads completely accompanied us. After driving for thousands of kilometers in the heart of sandy lands and caravan roads, for those lost in the desert the first road is a path to heaven.
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Issa Omidvar, The first Iranian World Explorer: “We got to a sign that read, “Gas and mechanic 950 kilometers””
Narration: This is Mecca, the land of the beloved and pure hearts. It was on top of that mountain that the Prophet recited the words of God, “Say there is no God but Allah to find salvation.” In order to arrive in Mecca we had to cross many blazing plains and face many difficulties, But as Hafez says, “In the desert, if you walk to reach Mecca, Don’t worry if thorns prick your feet.” Here is the house of God. The Black Stone is located I this building. This is a place where millions of Muslims from all around the globe perform the Hajj rituals each year. Like other Muslims in the world, regardless of color and social status, before arriving in Mecca we performed ablution and went to the house of God wearing Hajj clothes.
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Issa Omidvar, The first Iranian World Explorer: “We made the first film about Kaaba in Saudi Arabia. If you watch our film, you see that about 20 pilgrims are walking around Kaaba.”
Narration: No one deserves praising but Allah and Muhammad is His Prophet. Most of the drinking water in Mecca is drawn from wells, especially from the Well of Zamzam.
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Issa Omidvar, The first Iranian World Explorer: “I wish all boundaries throughout the world would disappear but this is just a dream. If there were no boundaries then attacking “other” lands has no sense. Man must take a bit of a risk in life. I mean sometimes he must put himself into danger. Otherwise, he won’t fulfill his dream. His dream can be anything. I’m transferring all my personal belongings to the Cultural Heritage Organization. I hope it can protect all those things in the future. We put our lives in danger to get those things.”
TIME CODE: 45:00_49:00
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Issa Omidvar, The first Iranian World Explorer: “Different ethnic groups in the world have different believes and myths about themselves. The men in the Maasai tribe in northwest Africa are of heavy build. In this picture, you see a man who has thrown his four-year-old child into the air while he has two daggers in his hands. As the child is coming down he holds the daggers horizontally so that the child can lie down on his arms.’
Narration: With the playing of the drums, a father falls into a trance and throws his child into the air with two sharp knives in his hands.
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Issa Omidvar, The first Iranian World Explorer: “We lived for three years in different parts of Africa. As we reached Kenya and Tanzania in east Africa, we decided to climb Kilimanjaro. You see the snow and glaciers. Now they have disappeared. As you know, we’re dealing with global warming and sad to say the glaciers have melted as a result. You see I’m not a tall man but you can realize how small pygmies are. They sharpen their front teeth as they reach puberty. A ceremony is held for those who come of age. All members of the tribe dance. Their music is very fascinating.”
Narration: As male or female pygmies reach puberty, they must sharpen their front teeth because cannibalism demands sharp teeth. This surgical operation is carried out by the tribe’s wizard, and with a knife and stone the edges of their teeth are broken and their tips sharpened.
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Issa Omidvar, The first Iranian World Explorer: “We published our book in 1964 in 10,000 copies. The book was sold like hot cakes. Then I decided to publish it in English. It came out a few months ago. The book has also been published in Spanish and is being sold in Latin America. I enjoy my life for what I have done, for taking a small step in introducing the culture of different nations to my people. This keeps me motivated. Though Abdullah and I are living away from each other, we are very close. We are brothers and each other’s alter ego as well. It was our destiny to live far from each other.”