Overland trip from England to India in 1970 – Part 6
This is the sixth part of an amazing overland adventure journey from England to India and back again that took place in 1970. I am really honoured to be hosting this story by Reverend Stephen Barton on Selims Raasta – off the beaten path travel interviews Have a read of the other parts and how two friends hitchhiked all over Europe, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and now headed to Pakistan and onwards to India…have a read how this incredible journey started!
In his words “The world has changed. Yugoslavia is no more, and I doubt if it’s advisable or even possible to bum a ride over the Khyber Pass these days.”
Sunday 12 and Monday 13 July: Kabul
Arrival in Kabul. Hotel reasonable. Good sleep. Fabulous meal in restaurant. Made me homesick – or rather comfortsofhome-sick. Success at British Embassy and good reading at British Council. Ate later in restaurant and talked for longest time since we left. I felt bad – selfish washing. We differ. Is it just because I demand the impossible of life – ease? Perhaps Al’s way is right. Where do my ideas come from? They appear to be the most easy assimilation. I know so little. But this self-deprecation leads nowhere. One thing to learn from Moslems is the worship of God.
There was no difference between Iran and Afghanistan as striking as that between Turkey and Iran. The villages seemed fair, as did the people too. At first we were chary, as before, but in Herat much impressed by the noble dignity of this people. Perhaps it is their height and dress that give them this air, but even beneath this there lies a majesty we have not perceived elsewhere. Except in Kabul, by money changers, we were not pestered, but the wares were there for us to buy if we wished. The transport seemed better organised and we were shown more respect. The lack of hygiene is appalling but, that apart, a place like Herat is beautiful. The trees by the roadside, the sweet smell and magnificent hills impressed us greatly. The mausoleum was calm and holy, the trees and surroundings diligently nurtured by an old man. The laughing lads in the tea shop and the welcoming old tourist office man, the helpful Pakistanis.
Kabul was different, more like Istanbul. Immediately the cries of “Hey Mister” and the noise of the traffic was upon us. And the stinking river and old bazaar. The excreta discreetly deposited by the wall, the holes in the ground. The hotel could be depressing but cheap and fairly pleasant. This poor country, so upset and confused. What is it that the people value? Each his purse?
But many accepted us, in the restaurant and in the lane where I enquired for the lorries. I was so sorry to disappoint them in the morning. The “real gentleman” was so glad to see me. And the man at the Academy, and the boss at the Customs House. The little old man who took me up to him (how he ran up the stairs!). All very friendly.
Tuesday 14 July: Kabul to somewhere south of Jalalabad
Eventually left Kabul on lorry – boss at Customs House was very helpful. Good meal and then fantastic ride through mountains. Magnificent turquoise lake. Wonderful reception in village, good food and night.
[letter home] The ride over the Khyber Pass was about the most fantastic journey I’ve ever made. We split up to travel from Kabul to Peshawar by lorry. Al had bad luck on that trip but I had a splendid time, with a magnificent view from my perch on top of the lorry! But the journey was better still cos we stopped for the night at a village where somebody spoke a little English and invited me to his home! The welcome I received was wonderful. Everybody there (a whole family, or rather the men and boys as the women are seldom seen) came to greet me, shake my hand and say welcome. They fed me and I slept there too under the stars. Another of those experiences I wouldn’t have missed for the world.
That night is one I have never forgotten. At Jalalabad, the driver turned off the main road and headed south, stopping at a village. I was unable to communicate with anyone. Desperate for a pee, I went where it seemed others were also relieving themselves, but then people appeared annoyed with me – I think I was too close to a stream. Anyway, while my rucksack (containing my passport and money and everything) remained on the lorry I had travelled in, I was quickly bundled into the back of another one, along with a bunch of well-armed men. They took me to a homestead, behind high mud walls, and there sat me on a rope bed. It was sunset and I could see the men saying their prayers at one end of the compound. The younger ones who were not praying gathered round me to greet me and then the men came over, each one shaking my hand. One of the younger ones was then able to interpret a little. I remember him asking me what I thought of Afghan women, and I replied that I could not tell as I could not see them. Food was brought, which I could hardly see, as it was now dark, but I ate well. I turned down the young interpreter’s offer to sleep with me, but thanked him for all the hospitality – he said, “Thank you for you.” And I slept well, out in the open. Early, about 3.00 am, I was woken and some men accompanied me by foot back to the first lorry, where the driver awaited – all my belongings were safe. This time he invited me into the cab, but I so enjoyed sitting on the roof above it, I went back up there for the ride across the Khyber Pass and then down into Peshawar.
Alan, by contrast, had a dreadful experience. His lorry driver threw him out at the border on the Khyber Pass and he had to spend the night there in the Police Station before getting a bus to Peshawar.