With the fall of Afghanistan, I am reflecting my travel experience there as a 23-year-old backpacker on the “hippie trail” from Istanbul to Kathmandu. Yesterday and today, it is a poor yet powerful land that foreign powers misunderstand and insist on devaluing.
In this final journal entry of 1978, stay away from me as I travel from Kabul along the fictional Khyber Pass in Pakistan.
Friday, August 4, 1978: From Kabul to Rawalpindi, Pakistan
I was mentally for this morning. I don’t think I could have woken up feeling bad and I didn’t. Jean and I both felt good. We had breakfast at the last big Sina hotel and caught our small 8:30 bus to Pakistan.
On this bus I wanted to pass Khyber. I dreamed of crossing this romantic wild and historically dangerous pass year after year and it was too much on my to-do list – definitely in the top five. Now I was sitting next to this kinky old bright, but poorly painted, wonderful open window that leaned out half of my body if I wanted to. Our seats were big and high but crowded and the bus was full of Pakistani and “Road to India” passengers.
I was glad to get out of Kabul and almost immediately we were on a beautiful mountain pass. From here to the border, although nothing was up to the Pacific Northwest standard, it was the closest thing we saw in Afghanistan. We even crossed a lake, but I didn’t see any boats. I wondered how many, or how few, Afghans were ever on the boat.
Hastily stopping at Jalalabad for lunch break, we got back on the road in 20 minutes. We were close to the border and the fears kept growing. We hoped it wouldn’t be too much of a hassle but so far nothing has surprised us.
Afghanistan border station, time consuming, was easy. We just sat down to eat a watermelon and asked for money from us for a coke. In fact, we neatly planned to save our cash and leave without any Afghans. We waited our turn to search, filled out the form, stamped our passports – the normal process, and reloaded to stop after 100 yards for our acquaintance with Pakistan.
This place was pretty random. We entered a room and were called to our desk one by one. The customs officer “hunts and picks” our important statistics in his register and stamps our passports.
Passports in hand, we knew we were halfway through the process, but we weren’t sure where to go next. We walked around and entered a building, and in a dark room, two men jumped out of two beds and welcomed us to bed. No thanks! We get out of there and get crushed by dope dealers and black market money chargers. Everything was so open and clear that it seemed almost legal. We bought 10 10 or Pakistani Rupees and then tried to search our bags to finish our work. Disappointed by the chaos, we got on the bus and avoided the luggage check. At our window we were entertained by lots of hash sellers and especially with a steady guy with a small bottle of cocaine – 4 grams for $ 30. I took a picture of him and told him to get lost.
We were finally loaded and ready to do it – to cross the Khyber Pass. I was thrilled. Physically, it was like any other rocky mountain pass, but when you think, dream and think about something for many years, it becomes special. I got on the bus. Hanging out the window, I tried to take everything – every wild bend in the road, every castle-crowned hill, every stray goat, every colorful truck that passed us, and every mud hut. I looked at the rude people living near this treacherous pass and wondered who they were, how they lived, what story they could tell. In the dry, rocky graveyard, flags fluttered in the wind, hovering over the hillside. The cloud threatened. We were heading out of the arid Arab side of South Asia to the wet Indian subcontinent. From now on we will feel mild – but enjoy the green countryside.
We crossed the Khyber Pass and passed through a tribal village to pay the toll for convenience. I could see the bus with rifles around, ignoring the bus, and gathered in a circle doing business with both the product and the story.
Within minutes we were in Peshawar and saw that the direct train to Lahore was leaving within an hour. We didn’t see anything to hold us in Peshawar and India’s magnetism was getting stronger and stronger as we got closer. We’ve had trouble trying to decide how, what, and where to buy our tickets. It was a new experience – learning how to operate the Pakistani train system. A little upset and not sure what our best move was, we bought a 50 3.50 ticket (first class) for a 12-hour ride, quickly got off at 60 cents dinner, and found a place in a non-standard first-class car.
The difference between the first and second class was the padded seats and 1.50. We thought for 12 hours it would be nice to have pads. Our car was very crowded. I was happy to be by a window that was blowing in the warm, gentle breeze. We got out at about 5:50 just in time, and I tasted the wind.
The countryside was flat, gorgeous and attractive. After a while, I started reading Orwell’s Animal Farm. It was good and the time passed nicely. Then it got dark, and the bugs came. The lights work just like my old bikes – the faster you go, the brighter they become. It was not a very bright train. The bugs went so far as to talk to me and I made a bloody proclamation “From now on any bugs will come upon me and die by ruthless squash”. I decided that what I really needed to do was learn how to do it right, with my thumb or forefinger, and rub it on my arm and toe until they disappeared – either rubbing or rubbing.
The ride continues to pull. We decided to stop the trip to Lahore in Rawalpindi, a half way place, catch a train in the morning to finish the trip.
It was almost midnight when we set foot on the waterlogged road in Rawalpindi. The morning train to Lahore was at 5:15 so we could catch a hotel and get four hours of good sleep. It seemed so bad – everyone was full and everyone else looking for a place was disappointed. Luckily, I found a guy with an open door and a shower in the side door (Jean didn’t tell me about the lizard later). Otherwise, the 10 rupees ($ 1) we paid was just a hole. But it has served its purpose. I took a cool shower and found a comfortable place between the bumps and curves of my bed and soon I got to work sleeping. Today was a good day – covered many miles, a new country and I crossed the Khyber Pass.
(This is a five-part series journal entry # 5. If you miss anything along the way, go back to my Facebook page on Tuesday, August 17th.)