India – Afghanistan (1)

Wednesday 19th August

Pam and I were still fairly tired in the morning, so we stayed in the guesthouse and washed clothes while the others went to look round a farm. Lunched at the Sondhis’ and then shopped. In the evening we went to dine at the house of the Minister of Tourism (the same man who’d financed our dinner at the Pinjore Gardens).Superb dinner of course. Several members of the household wanted to hear my guitar, so I gave them a few songs, ending up with 20 minutes worth of Alice’s Restaurant (which went down surprisingly well). The Minister produced some amazing whiskey, from a private supply made years ago especially for a maharajah.

Thursday 20th August

By the time we had said our goodbyes and got our spare tyre back from the garage (unusable, but need for the Customs), we made a very late start, but eventually hit the road, crossed the border, and made Lahore just before dark. Stayed in a cheap hotel near the station. A huge vote of thanks here to George, who every night from now on would help me unload the sitar from the roof-rack where it travelled so it could be locked in the van, and load it up again in the morning.

Friday 21st August

Set off about 9:00 a.m. for Islamabad, to get our Afghanistan visas. The embassy, however, was shut until the following morning, so we had a quick look round the town and then found a cake shop. The town is all very new, rather like Chandigarh, and was intended to be the new capital.

Drove out to the nearby new dam, but the water was too dirty to swim in. Drove back into town and had dinner, and then camped out by the dam.

Saturday 22nd August

Made the Afghanistan embassy by 8:00 a.m., to find a large queue of people already there. Hung around until 1:00 p.m. when our visas were ready. This was relatively quick – the others there had been waiting since the previous day. They were all very friendly, and asked us about the short-haired people they had heard about in England who didn’t like Pakistanis (they meant, we worked out, the current skinhead fondness for Paki-bashing).

Set off for Afghanistan, reaching Peshawar towards evening. Decided to push on over the Khyber Pass, and this developed into somewhat of a race against time. We just beat the sunset, despite having to stop and put our last ½ gallon of petrol in when we ran out on the way up, but were too late to cross the border. Spent a very jovial evening having a smoke with the Customs officers and having a last Pakistani tea. The locals are all Pathans, looking rather fierce with their beards and rifles. One could just imagine the North-west frontier as it was.

Sunday 23rd August

Crossed over first thing, and made Kabul about lunchtime. On the way we had to stop to let a military procession go by. Very large, it must have been just about the whole army. We were told it was a big holiday for a week, celebrating independence from Britain (in 1919). Booked in at the Najib hotel ( a 3-bed room for 9/- and 1/- each for the rest of us on the restaurant roof). It was good to be in Afghanistan again, where everything was cheap and it was cool in the shade and at night.

Went along to the VW garage, but it was shut. The differential had begun to growl in India, and we wanted to know if it was serious.

Monday 24th August

Hung around the hotel most of the day, doing the odd shop. Marvellous fruit milkshakes here, if you ignore the way they transport the ice (big blocks, completely uncovered). Stayed off minced beef, having watched the flies covering it being chopped into it.

Tuesday 25th August

Garage still closed. Mike ill, so got a doctor who diagnosed Asian Flue. We’d got the doctor’s name from the British Embassy, which is an incredible white building, complete with swimming pool and tennis court. Met Gus and Paul, two more Petrians, whom we’d just missed in Kathmandu. They also decided to stay at the Najib, after finding that the beds in their hotel had been given to someone else.

Wednesday 26th August

Garage still closed. Spent the afternoon looking round Kabul zoo. This had animals such as dogs and cats, but also a cage labelled “Wild Sheep” with a sheep in it that looked just like a lion. It also had a rabbit labelled “Porcupine”, wolves, leopards, lots of small animals (mostly African) and a Tibetan Yak, which stole the show.

Ate at a place Gus and Paul showed us, where you could get a bowl of soup and a good steak for 2/6d. We’ve been eating pretty well, for not 10 mins walk from the hotel is a street full of delicious strawberries and a baker who sells apple turnovers for 4d.

Thursday 27th August

Got up early to take Gus, Paul and Andy to the bus station. They were going on to Herat. Mike and Malc were feeling better, so we decided to spend the night up at the dam.

The garage was finally open, but they told us we might just as well get the diff. mended in England, as it would last us that long and the £40 bill would eat rather deeply into our funds. However, they did do a bit of servicing for us, and, as they had some shock-absorbers just in from Germany, we renewed the two front ones, which greatly improved the ride. Slept up at the dam.

Friday 28th August

Did a final shop in Kabul, then set off for Ghazni about 11:00 a.m.. Got there about 2:00 p.m., and spent the afternoon looking around fur shops. Several of the others found coats they liked, but I was not so fortunate. Booked in to a hotel (1/- a head to sleep on the balcony) and then George and I went to bring the van from where we’d left it. On the way we stopped to watch a game of volleyball, and were immediately press-ganged into playing. Caused much amusement with our feeble attempts, and doubled the crowd!

That evening we found celebrations still going on in the form of a talent competition, and we were grabbed and placed in front of the grandstand. It was a pity their music did not, to our ears, match their hospitality.

As an aside, and as a postscript to this diary, we found the Afghanis universally hospitable. For example, we would routinely stop in tea-houses on our journey, which were ubiquitous even in the midst of nowhere. All six of us were made welcome in every case. It wasn’t until years later that I realised that these tea-houses are exclusively male preserves, and that, particularly given the lowly position of women in Afghan society generally, for Pam and Trottie to be treated as normal guests was equivalent to women being allowed in a male-only London club – without being given even a hint that this was in any way out of order. In both Afghanistan and Iran we found that hospitality over-ruled all other cultural considerations. What a shame Britain can’t treat foreigners equally hospitably.




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