From England to Iraq by train

United Kingdom based tour agency Lupine Travel which offers “once in a lifetime experiences in unique and hard to reach destinations” is to hold a “Wigan to Iraq” train trip to take place in September of this year. The Iraq International News Agency spoke with agency founder Dylan Harris about the trip offering.

Where did the idea for this trip come about?

Long distance train travel is something we are increasingly looking to offer as we try to ensure our tours become more sustainable. In the past we have runs trips from the UK across to North Korea, and also down into Africa. This tour is our first train trip into the Middle East. This tour was inspired by a journey that Agatha Christie took in 1928 when she travelled from London to Baghdad by train. This trip changed Christie’s life and also inspired her to write her famous novel, ‘Murder on the Orient Express’. This period was really a golden age of travel, and this is what we wanted to help recreate by running a journey that has so many connotations with this period. Although Agatha Christie’s trip started in London, we decided to start ours in Wigan, as that’s where we are based and we felt it made a quirky addition to the tour! 

What should your clients expect to see from Iraq?

Our clients will begin their time in Iraq by visiting the Yazidi temple of Lalish, Mar Mattai monastery and the Erbil citadel. They will then travel along the Hamilton Road and see the spectacular views at the Rawanduz canyon. They will then travel to Koya citadel and the museums at the Red Prison and also Halabja. After this is an extension where the clients will be able to visit Baghdad, the Ziggurat of Ur, Babylon, Samarra and more as they travel further South before taking a trip through the Marshes and ending in Basra.

What do you think Iraq’s greatest attributes are?

Iraq’s greatest attribute is the people! They are truly wonderful, such a hospital and friendly place to visit; we are always made to feel incredibly welcome every time we visit. But also its history; from ancient times to the modern day. This makes it such a fascinating and educating place to visit. There is also the varied landscapes. Many people prior to visiting only have an image of desert for Iraq, but the reality is that as well as beautiful rocky desert landscapes there are also stunning mountains in the North, and the unique wetlands of the South.

Have you previously done trips to Iraq? If so, have you seen an increase in interest since starting?

We have been running tours to Iraq since 2014, so almost 10 years. At first there was only really demand for trips to the North, around Erbil. But over the years, there started to become a slow increase for tours to Baghdad and further South. Since the end of the covid pandemic, increase has grown significantly for tours to the South and I expect this to continue over the coming months and years. For the North, we started off by running one tour per year, but this has now grown to 4-5 large group tours per year.

Being a rail-only trip, what are your thoughts on the railway system in Iraq, and what improvements could be made in your view?

It’s unfortunate that large sections of the rail system in Northern Iraq aren’t currently functioning. At the moment, we travel all the way from the UK to Turkey but then we have to transfer to a bus for the next section before returning to the train on the Baghdad to Basra route. I would love to see the whole of the original system to be reopened. As I understand it, there are plans in place to link the network back up to Turkey. If this happens, I think it will open up great opportunities for tourism in Iraq (as well as all the benefits for both trade and the local population). Attitudes towards travelling to Iraq are really starting to change at the moment, people are now realising it’s a safe place to visit again. Once further railway lines open up, it will encourage many more people to visit; not only does it make it easier and cheaper to travel between cities, but it’s also a really enjoyable and social way to travel. 

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