PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 1974 - AUGUST
1 August, Teheran
TEHERAN BY NOON - CLOSED BAZAAR AND WESTERN MAIN STREET
The first day in August - I am up with the sun and soon on the road - by 7:00 a beekeeper in a Citroen 2CV has picked me up - he is going to Teheran in a hurry. He tells me that Shah Reza is a dictator and that there is no political freedom - 300 people have been shot for revolutionary beliefs and 5,000 are in prison. He collects his honey three times a year, once from the bees in the orange trees, but the best honey comes from the mountains. We pass a very large salt lake which looks just like the mirages one sees in deserts. I am dropped in the centre of Teheran on Amir Kabir, a road which is lined with motor mechanics. The Amir Kabir hotel is the one where all the travellers stay, but it is it a rip off. Eventually, I find a crummy place to sleep on the floor for 40 rhials. After I go to the Poste Restante, but there's no letters, not one. I walk aimlessly until I get really hungry. I am about to fall down with weakness when I come across a soup and bread shop. In the bazaar, I meet a posh-speaking consular officer - but most of the shops are shut. I walk back along the main street where every shop is Westernised.
2 August, Teheran
BEAUTIFUL PAINTINGS - HASSLES IN HOTELS - SITTING IN PARK
After a chai and biscuits, I visit the Sehpahsalar Mosque, which is very quiet until a group of Americans arrove, and then the fine arts museum. This latter is just one room decorated in a style I didn't recognise - light blue ceilings with heavy plaster work in relief - exquisite Persian paintings, of lovers sitting in gardens or families eating in rooms with a view of the city in the background. The pictures are full of detail, without any empty space, flowers and patterns even fill the frames. There are pottery and wood pictures and cabinets and carpets - all very fine. I move to the Toos Hotel for 70 rhials, and wander over to the Amir Kabu. I meet John, an American, who is also going to New Zealand. But he plans to try and work here for two months - teaching English for 350 rhials per hour. We go to the park and are befriended by several students - we sit talking for hours about politics, music, education, world affairs and Iran - eating melon and peaches. A restless night - I wake with one of those headaches that really hurt when you cough - perhaps it is sleeping on a bed for the first time since Kuwait.
3 August, Teheran
WALKING MILES - I TRY FOR A JOB - JAFANI CLUB
John goes to see about his job and mail - I walk miles to the Australian embassy only to find it closed. I sit in the Amir Kabir reading and talking to a big fat rich American who is installing a new telex exchange. John returns and tells me about his experience. I decide to try for a job too. At 4:30 I take a 40 minute multiple choice test on correct phrasings and with some comprehension. Later, I go to the Jafani Club for a show. The money taker (and accountant) takes a liking to me and explains what is happening. There are eight or ten men performing rhythmic exercises to drum beatings and chanting - swinging clubs in circles and throwing metal weights from side to side above their heads. I am invited to return tomorrow to meet Mr Jufari who is a super-champion. Back at the Toos, the school manager calls and asks me to come again tomorrow at 5:00 for my first training session. John is a bit put out because he hasn't heard anything. I go shopping but only buy plums to eat. At the Toos I find my room full of Indians - a real hassle - I go to the roof but don't have my sheet - I feel sick all night.
4 August, Teheran
SITTING IN THE TOOS - I TRY FOR A JOB
I still have a very bad headache and feel rough - most of the morning I sit in the courtyard reading Robert Heinlein short stories and watching life in the Toos Hotel: the podgy stodgy manager who takes the money, two women who do the beds, two young guys who clean and do general duties, and a few freaks who sit around drinking chai, one in particular thinks he has only 25 rhials to get to Istanbul. John comes over. He is happy. He's got his mail and the school wants him to teach English after all. About 3:30 we bus to the school where they quiz John for ten minutes and me for twenty minutes on grammar and discipline and behaviour. They decide they wanted John but not me. In the evening, I sit around talking to some young travellers who have come straight in from Istanbul (the train from Istanbul arrived today and the price of the hotel went up to 80 rhials). One of them had some money stolen and was complaining but they were advised against calling the police in. John returns after a training session, we eat and play cards. After an argument, the hotel tells me there is no room, so I walk off and sleep in an alley - a rough night.
5 August, Gonban
LUSH GRASS AND TREES - THE GREY CASPIAN - IRANI HOSPITALITY
I've still a bad headache. I manage to get a free lift to a small town, out of Teheran, thank goodness. In a tea house, I am charged 15 rhials for chai, then, when I complain, it goes down to 5 then 3 then 2! The scenery from Teheran to Amol is beautiful - real mountains, one with snow, and lush grass and trees and many rivers - many of the fields are full of cotton plants. There are also many bumps in the road which make my head reel, and many cars full of holidaymakers heading to the Caspian coast. I meet two crazy Irani kids who are also hitching. They catch us all a lift to Babol; then I pay for a bus to Sari. There isn't much at Sari, so I hitch on to the last point on the Caspian Sea - Behshahr. I get dropped off at a ferry point, and I can see, across the sea, the Gorgan peninsula and a town. I am tempted to go, but don't. I cadge another free ride to Gorgan where a guy really hassles me to eat ice cream with him. Eventually, I shout at him to stop following me. I'm getting really ratty with the Iranians and their incessant cries of 'hello'. Three very nice students, though, take me to their parents' house - we eat and talk and drink.
6 August, Mashad
'MONEY, MONEY' IRANIS - MASHAD
Chai for breakfast and off on the road again - a short lift then a long wait - just as I am ready to take a bus, a small truck stops. I insist on going in the back (so as to keep any payment I might have to make down) which is uncomfortable (especially with my ongoing headche). I manage to sleep some, but it gets really cold - I put on my big woolly jumper. Other people keep riding with me for a short way and then jumping off - for a while, I am accompanied by a huge tyre, and then a few sheep. But then the truck wants to take a lot of sheep, which means there's no room for me. I still have to pay - what a hassle. The driver holds on to my baggage, so I let him, but then he comes after me with it. Some bystanders end up judging our argument. I am nearly in tears (I am still feeling very bad - when I sneeze, I sneeze through my nose, that way my head doesn't jolt - if I want to move my head, it's easiest for me if I shut my eyes). Eventually I pay 7 rhials. I take a bus into Mashad but only to the outskirts, which leaves me a lot of walking to a camping site (20 rhials sleeping on grass). I meet some crazy Iranis, they are smoking dope and driving dangerously. They give me a short ride, but want hash, kisses, jeans and whisky. I'm really fucked off with these Iranis - they tell you anything - they're selfish and money conscious. The only sane ones are the students. Here in Mashad the screaming of 'hello' and 'mister' has reached a pinnacle. I buy a melon and stuff the lot in one go, then lay myself out to sleep.
7 August, Mashad
MIND-BLOWING COINCIDENCE NO 2 - BLUE MOSQUE
This morning for the first time in four or five days I feel slightly better. First I go into town to change £5. At the Afghani consulate there are a hundred people, half collecting passports and half filling in forms. A visa costs £5 - what a rip off. But mind-blowing, there, in the queue, is the guy I met at the Tournament Pub in Earl's Court, several months ago. He has come from England in three weeks - super express. His first words are 'you're slow'. I walk around town for a couple of hours, around the bazaars and the holy shrine and blue mosque, which I definitely can't enter, but it has a beautiful gold dome and gold minarets. At the campsite, I move into a tent with the friend from London. He carries the photostats I gave him of my BIT magazine. Four of us in the tent eat scrambled egg. This afternoon, I sit in the shade talking to an Australian girl who has come through Indonesia, and to an Irani family. The family give us nuts and tea. I do a little shopping later for cheese, tomatoes and bread, and talk to another Aussie. My headache has nearly gone. Early to bed.
8 August, Iran/Afghanistan border
VISA HASSLES - A NIGHT ON THE BORDER WITH MUSIC, DANCING
Early to rise and four of us go straight down to the Afghani consulate, but there are already hoards of people there. Just after 8:00 we get let in to sort out our passports. Linda meets an old guy who offers her a lift to Kabul, I am very annoyed - so then we are three. We take a taxi to the Khavar bus company, only to find several other freaks there. It's amazing how many people are travelling. I sleep and read Venice Preserved on the way to Tayebod where the locals get out - only hippies are left onboard. About 4:00, we are dropped at the Iran border. I use up my old rhials, and then we all troop into no man's land where some buses are being loaded - but they all depart leaving behind the Europeans - Italian, French, a Norwegian, English, and one Irani, who happens to speak English and helps us out. We wait one and a half hours, and eventually a stream of buses come, one of which picks up our stuff and takes us to the Afghani border. What a lot of hassles and pushing and waiting around. It is getting dark by the time four of us have managed to finish the customs and police and health checks - then the generator breaks down and the police house closes. Andrew and the Irani really want to get on their way tonight, but this isn't possible. I tale charge - we change money with the men and boys standing around, and look for a restaurant where we eat rice and drink tea. Here in Afghanistan you get a pot of tea, holding three glasses, for three 3 afs - but it's pretty weak. Later there is music, the drum and guitar playing of two wandering musicians - the Afghanis drum too. We all sleep out (and close our eyes while soldiers step over us).
9 August, Herat
AFGHANISTAN - SOOTHING HERAT - MEET PHIL AGAIN
By 8:00 we are all cramped in and on our way to Herat - the bus makes a few stops for tolls - at one we buy a load of melons, a bit messy but super tasty. It's hot and dusty - we pass little mud villagesand arrive at noon - Phil is walking by when the bus stops and recommends us to the Ariana Hotel - so half of us troop there, at the end of town - it's really clean and spacious for 20 afs. Phil and some old Scot-American here, a Swiss guy, a German, two English and a load of Italians. I eat, rest, sleep after a shower till 4-5, then we all go int town. One guy buys an Afghani suit - like baggy trousers and long jacket-shirt - some nice pseudo silver with turquoise and agate - I will buy one. All the kids say 'hello, goodbye' or 'he mister come look around'. Many Europeans everywhere in all the shops - but such wide roads and so few cars - horses and carts running around - lazy hot air. I try to enter the mosque but I'm not allowed. There's an old crumbling mud fortress in the middle of town, but we can't go in here either because of soldiers. I can see many dogs silhouetted on the sky line of the castle walls.
10 August, Herat
TROUBLE WITH BANK - FUN WITH DOPE - NO LETTERS
I set off early to walk around the old town. Between the wide pine tree-lined main streets are the conglomerations of mud houses with little alleys criss-crossing, sometimes covered, sometimes sewers, but always high walls on both sides, usually wood doors - I think they have courtyards and plants inside but I'm not sure. At 8:00, I go to the police, at 9:00, the chief waves me away - he says I can go on the north route through Afghanistan without permission. There are nasty looking wasps here - red, bright yellow and big. Alas not one letter for me at the Poste Restante. At the bank, I change money but the officials lose my customs form (which I need to prove I've bought local currency here and not brought it with me). I wait nearly two hours and get very angry - eventually the manager of the tourist office offers to help - he types me a silly piece of paper which I'm sure will get me into trouble at the border.
I buy a metal round box with turquoise and agate for 80 afs. As I'm walking a boy whispers 'hashish' - I follow him around a corner - I buy a small piece for 5 afs. I eat with the Swiss guy - plate of rice, small dish of lamb and another of aubergine with a little yoghurt. An English guy wants to buy dope too, so I walk with him while the Swiss guy goes to the hospital. I can't find the same boy again, but we find someone else - we sit in his hut next to the soldiers' entrance to discuss the price - he has a nice hand-pressed round piece of black - 100gm. The English guy buys a quarter for 65 afs. A group of us are wanting to head for Mazar i Sharif in trucks - it costs 350 afs - three Italians are going tomorrow at 7:00. The Swiss man and I decide to take a bus tomorrow at 7:00 to Maimana for 250 afs. There are hundreds of shops that just sell sugar and tea and a few spices, all next to each other. It's an amazingly lazy place - a warm wind is always blowing. leave a note for Phil to go the Poste Restante for me - I listen to some Bob Dylan music and go to bed early.
11 August, Herat
A RIDE TO KARUCH - HEAVY POLICE - BACK TO HERAT
At 7:00 on the dot we are at the truck yard - pay 250 afs. At 8:00, the Italians arrive. An hour later we are packed into an jeep (with benches at the back) like sardines - maybe 16 in the front and four in the front - there is no cover from the sun. Once out of Herat, the road is bad un-made and full of potholes and cross-irrigation channels. For half an hour it even follows a near-dry river bed. The truck rarely goes over 30km/hr. In the one and a half hour ride to Karuch there are two small villages and a couple of army installations (lots of cannons on show). The police at Karuch stop the truck, they want to see our passports and our police passes. I explain that I talked to the police in Herat and that we do not need a paper. For two hours, the Karuch policeman tries to phone Herat - but, eventually, he says we must have papers and we can't carry on - SHIT. We're pretty angry but take it calmly. The truck goes on after we get our money back in full (including 100 from the policeman). And then we wait six hours, until 5:30, in the only restaurant - occasionally reading, writing, drinking tea. The Afghanis are always smiling, they think it is very funny.
I walk a little around town and find a large garden surrounded by a mud wall. To enter you have to pass through a small room with four mirrors and finely engraved doors and chains hanging down. Inside, there are pine trees, a few graves, an important-looking shrine, a small crumbling mosque and a small stream overcrowded with fish. People are eating and sleeping here in the shade. Graffitti is scrawled over the crumbling mosque, there are some old korans lying around - I take a sheet to remember Karuch.
The Italians don't speak English so we don't talk so much. Bernard, the Swiss guy, is a little quiet. On the way back to Herat we are packed in even more tightly. Once we have to walk up a hill and once we have to push-start the jeep. By 6:30 we are again in Herat. I go first to the hotel, then to police. The commandant isn't there, but I'm told he will come at 10. We sit in a chai house till then - talking to another German. The commandant says 'yes' you can have permission, come tomorrow at 8:00. I go straight to the hotel to sleep with the hope that we can get the paper immediately tomorrow and still catch the truck at 8:00. Before I'm asleep, Phil brings me a present - my green customs paper which was found in Bob's passport!
12 August, Quala Nau
SUPER UNCOMFORTABLE 12 HOUR BUS RIDE - BANDITS AND BAD PEOPLE
At 7ish we (Bernard and I) eat eggs in the Behzahd and check on the jeep. Then I check the Poste Restante again (I notice a letter from January 1972 saying 'please forward in 10 days'.) From the commandant's office we are taken to the passport office where we wait until 9:30 with two Japanese. We are then told to go to the tourist office, which tells us to come back at 2:00! So, another day is wasted. I wash some clothes and Bernard writes some letters. We eat rice and sheesh kebab. At the tourist office are three of four pairs of people all with papers from the passport office - but now the man says we must have a guide. If we go together, 10 of us, it will not cost much. I am angry and want to go back to the commandant's office - but neither Bernard nor the Italians want to come with me. The commandant signs my bit of paper, and tells me this paper will be sufficient, I can go now - but, he pleads with me not to tell the others. Bernard is worried about the Italians - but they have gone, and when I see them later, they are happy to go with the guide. We find a bus leaving for Quala Nau at 4:30. We pack our bags in a hurry and say goodbye again. What a decrepit bus. It goes about 5:00 and we have a seat at the back - it's crowded, but not half as much as it gets later: where there are seats for five I count 16 people - bodies everywhere. It's very uncomfortable. Occasionally we stop for half an hour to count people or for prayers. These people pee by crouching down - funny sight. Our friendly policeman at Karuch is happy because we have the right paper now.
At about 2 in the morning, we stop for an hour at a police post - it appears that some Afghanis from another province are sneaking in here to work. The truck then pulls up a bit further on, at an all night chai shop, which is very welcome. A man here gives us some hash, and Bernard wants to smoke now so he crumbles a large bit and reforms a cigarette - I smoke most of it - it just makes my throat sore. About half an hour later, I suddenly realise the whole thing is a trap. There is no-one I recognise in the chai house, just Bernard and me and laughing Afghanis. They encourage us to sleep, give us more tea, but the hash has made me stoned, I feel I can't walk straight. I struggle to the door and grope to the bus but there are bodies everywhere inside - I climb onto the roof. I'm frightened because I'm sure they are going to take Bernard's camera and money. Previously, one of the men had asked us where Bernard kept his money pouch. I'm struggling to think what to do. One by one, people come out of the chai house - take their snuff stuff and look up at me on the roof - I don't see Bernard come out. Then I hear that someone is climbing up behind me - when I look down at him, he is hesitant but continues to climb on to the roof also, he then curls up to sleep. Next, a whole band of men suddenly arrive at the chai house - one man comes out to meet them - there is some sort of roll call. One by one they climb up onto the roof of the bus, around me - they all have swords! I am thinking: this is not happening, the hash is doing this, this can't really be happening. A man tells me to go down from the roof, and then it occurs to me that this is not about robbing Bernard and me, but that the gang of bandits has some other purpose. I stumble down and into the bus - and there is Bernard smiling at me. And I see all familiar faces of the passengers. The bus goes - but this is not the end of my paranoia, I continue to fantasise - there are new faces and I am sure they are going to rob us. It is all so very real. The bus eventually arrives in Quala Nao at about 6:00 in the morning.
13 August, Quala Nau
SLEEPING - QUALA NAU - THE RUNS - TOURISTS
I follow Bernard through town and eventually he finds the hotel - 50 afs inside or 10 outside. We sleep till 11:00 - we go to eat, but I don't feel so good - later Bernard sews his trousers and I write. The town has several streets of shops selling melons, sugar, clothes, a couple of metal beaters, and several chai houses. Many donkeys, a few horses and camels carry goods into town; sheep are herded through. There are lots of trees but the water is milky and doesn't look good. I have the runs today, not helped by the whole melon I ate - the melons are so cheap. I sleep till nearly 7:00 when three Swiss cars and one truck of 16 tourists arrive. The boss of the tourist office is travelling with the Swiss party. He says he has to go to check the way: people have been sick, some have disappeared and some girls have been raped on this route. We all eat at the same place, meat, potatoes and bread. I have to get up in the night to shit.
14 August, Bali Morghab
A REALLY REALLY BAD ROAD AND A 10 HOUR JOURNEY
We get up early and and wait till well after 10:00. There is pressure for us to go with the tourist truck, but we resist. I begin reading a book I bought for 20 afs, 'Tale of Two Cities'. Our transport is a lorry with sacks of corn on which we have to sit. The road is very, very bad, we rarely go over 5mph. I feel really terrible. The truck driver stops to examine some discarded wood and I run for cover and a shit. Later, after a chai, I feel better and OK for the rest of the 10hr trip. The scenery is boring: small arid hills, a small river, frequent villages, a large river, the Marghab, flowing quite fast and chalky, and a few higher mountains, rugged and arid. By 8:30 we are in Bali Marghab - we learn that the others passed through a few hours ago. We meet some academics here counting the number of bedouins. We find a hotel floor for 10 afs and rice at a chai house.
15 August, Bali Morghab
CONFLICTING INFORMATION - A LAZY FRUSTRATING DAY
We arrive at the chai house at 7:00, as per the information given us yesterday, but the truck has gone - yes gone. We can't find out when the next one is - the locals keep us guessing - we just sit in the chai house reading and swatting the bloody flies. Bali Marghab has three streets of shops, a river to one side, and a prison (that looks like a crumbled down fortress) with a few jailers sitting around playing music by a wooden gate. I can see four prisoners in the yard surrounded by high mud walls. At tea time, five Volkswagen vans arrive - all Germans. Bernard asks if we can go with them - they refuse, and so Bernard refuses to talk to them, but I do a bit. Apparently, the local commandant won't let them press on because the last group of vans hasn't yet reached Maimana. I eat soup and bread. Later, Bernard finds a place to eat omelette and salad. I smoke and sleep but the hash does nothing for me this time round. Here in Afghanistan, many men wear skull caps and a long piece of material wrapped around the head a dozen times - a semi-turban. It always looks untidy. Also, there are more than a few people with virtually shaven heads, as there were in Teheran.
16 August, Maimana
A BETTER RIDE TO MAIMANA
This morning, Bernard and I get to the chai house by 6:00, but there's no bus. We pay money to a man and sit around. A Russian truck with seats finally leaves at 9:30. Bernard doesn't feel well so pays 50 afs extra to sit in the front seat (on top of the 100 afs for Bali Marghab to Maimana - 160km). At first the truck is very crowded and uncomfortable but I have a good seat - later there is more room. There are quite a few towns on the way and, toward the evening, we stop often for chai and/or police. On the roads and in the villages there are many camels, horses, cows, donkeys, mules, asses. It takes 11 hours to get to Maimana - 40 afs for bed, 20 afs for floor, what a rip off, I get the price down to 15 afs. I think this is the end of the old Afghanistan - there is a cinema. I talk to two Germans in a jeep who intend to drive to Nepal then sell the jeep and head for Africa.
17 August, Mazir i Sharif
SORES, DESERT AND ASPHALT - MAZIR BY 5
I have one sore by the eye, two sores around the nose, two on one arm, and two on my feet. My nose is always running, but I can never fully blow it because otherwise it starts to bleed. I put socks on so flies won't find the sores on my feet, but the socks sick to the sores and when I pull the socks off they rip open the sores. For four or five hours the truck crosses desert, almost the same as Saudi Arabia, tracks everywhere with deep sand ruts signalling the route of the road. There are many trucks moving between Maimana and Mazir. We have to walk a kilometre or so and, foolishly, I do this in my bare feet - I now have a huge blister. At Sebergen we take a detour to cross a deep gorge cut by the river in the soft mud earth. The final section of the road is paved all the way to Mazir, along a valley of much greenery, crops and trees in the drainage plain of a great river that divides Afghanistan and Russia. A hotel in Mazir charges us 50 afs for two. We eat meat-stuffed pasta, a sauce of potatoes and tomatoes, covered with yoghurt and sprinkled with green herbs.
18 August, Mazir i Sharif
BAD FEET - RUSSIANISATION
We are up early for breakfast. We try many bus companies but none have buses leaving until 5:00 tomorrow morning. Eventually we buy tickets at one which is nearest our hotel. I smoke some dope but without effect. Bernard buys some cheese and bread. I take some soup and some cake and come back to the hotel. My blister hurts. I sleep till 3-4 then we go to the mosque, it looks very beautiful from the outside - with many different patterns in the tiles. It costs 20 afs to enter so we don't. Mazir is far more Western than Herat, there are a lot of clothes shops. Many cars and trucks are Russian; and, in the hotel, the clock is Russian. It seems the Russians have helped a lot in building Afghan roads and other civil amenities. There is a French guy here with no money and no papers who hopes to go to Herat via Maimana. It is one hell of a restless night - we turn the light on to read for an hour or so in the middle and the bloody mosquitoes plague us.
19 August, Kabul
A COMFY RIDE - KABUL - GOODBYE TO BERNARD
We make the bus by 5:00 but it doesn't leave until after 6:00. This is the most comfortable bus ride yet - I sleep a little. The road follow a river upstream for ages along a beautiful narrow valley - with peach trees, small fields, mud villages and, near the highest point, stone houses and snow. After some tunnels, the road drops down from the mountains into a huge plain of trees and mud houses - looking almost like a jungle. And then, before Kabul, there is an arid stretch.
In Kabul, Bernard gets uptight because he can't find a hotel or the bus company. When we do find both he pays 100 afs to be woken at 4:00 so he can catch a bus back towards Tripoli. He is a nice guy, and it was good to have someone to travel with for a while. I seek out Chicken Street, where there is a hotel full of travellers, and pay 15 afs to sleep on the floor. I am farting like a horse. I wonder around to the Peace Hotel and Sigis - the area is full of tourist shops but quite quiet. The Afghanis are always spitting - they put some stuff like snuff in their mouth and then spit it out five minutes later. I finish Tale of Two Cities - a cool book.
20 August, Kabul
POVERTY BUT CHARACTER - TRAVELLERS IN KABUL Up at 6:30, a hot shower (really ace), apricot cake and chai with the flies. My first stop is the tourist office for information on Kabul, and my second stop is the post office, but there is no message from Phil. I get 127 afs for my pound with the money changers, and the same at the bank. At Pakistan Airlines I find a leaflet on Lahore which says I should get four or five rupees to the dollars, so I go back to the money changers and change five dollars for 68 rupees.
In the centre of Kabul I find a dry river, very few modern buildings, and very few women completely shawled - in fact a lot of girls walk around in school uniform. The bazaars are crowded, but the city gives me a feeling of space. Among the goods being sold in the bazaars and on the streets I see melons, tomatoes, lemons, cigarettes, peas, apples, cokes, ice and lemon water, water with nuts, carrot and apple juice. Shops include bakers, butchers, chai houses, general stores (tea, sugar, cigarettes), chemists, tailors, watch-makers, tin platers, wood carvers, bicycle repairers, and a few cleaners, film shops, water carriers, and cart pullers. There is, though, great poverty here, more beggars than I've seen before. In the afternoon, I buy a ticket for Peshawar on the 22nd. Then, I walk up one of the many surrounding hills, between the white brick houses and squalid smelly streets. From here, I can see most of the city, the main streets lined with taller pastel-coloured houses and small mud huts between. I like Kabul, the atmosphere pleases me even though it is less than Teheran or Istanbul in every way. The surrounding hills give it a little beauty, and there is not much obvious American influence - no rows of modern shops and Wimpy bars.
Travellers in Kabul: a Scottish guy waiting to be repatriated (the embassy give him 100 afs every day); a group of English heading back to Europe; many French in the Peace Hotel smoking hash; an English girl heading back to London with $50; an Irish girl who lost $260 to the owners of a bus that kept breaking down; an American who thinks he's the world's gift to photography and writing.
21 August, Kabul
HOSPITAL - KHARGA DAM - CHESS AND SPORTS NEWS
I hitch to Kharga Dam. Soon a doctor picks me up. He takes me to the hospital where he works - it is part of the university complex - he dresses my sores with some red stuff and gives me a prescription - a good guy. I take a bus back to the main road only it goes the wrong way and I end up going round Kabul. After the diversion, I give myself half an hour to get a lift to Kharga. I get one, standing in the back of a lorry. I talk to an Afghan worker who speaks English because he used to work at the embassy - he has a wife and five kids - he digs roads and gets 50 afs a day. It is really quiet and peaceful by the lake, with the mountains in the background, but the dam is not so big or impressive. Here is a country and golf club. I hitch back, getting one ride on a bicycle, another in a lorry.
I sit around reading 'For Whom the Bell Tolls' by Ernest Hemingway. The Scottish guy still not getting any joy out of the embassy for his flight back. I play chess with a German in Sigis, and drink peppermint tea. I spend the evening with a couple from Manchester and a guy from Middlesborough. The latter tells me the sports news: two tests that England were sure to win were rained off at the end; Brian Clough is manager of Leeds, Kennedy has been transferred and Kidd bought; Jimmy Connors and Chris Evert won at Wimbledon. The couple are on an organised trip with a tour operator called Indigo, but are not having a good time: the driver is missing out all the interesting places; he takes them to expensive hotels; there is quarrelling on the bus. I lose my soap and there is no hot water for a shower.
22 August, Peshawar
KHYBER PASS - PAKISTAN - PESHAWAR - SMOKING MATTRESS
I meet Robert on the 627 post to Peshawar. He is going to Cambridge next year to study history. We go through the whole gamut of conversation: places, people, food, dope. There are some fine views of mountains and a few lakes. It is very hot and humid. Before 12:00 we arrive at the Afghani customs, where we have to wait over two hours. The Pakistani border is 1km away. The customs/police are quicker and make less fuss - no currency form. The tourist office is useless. In Pakistan tea is served with milk. The Khyber Pass is very pretty mainly because of the stone walling, tunnels for roadways and the many forts along the tops of the mountains. I see a group of students in sports vests and shorts carrying hockey sticks (Pakistan has the best hockey players in the world I'm told). The bus driver is crazy but we reach Peshawar by 6:00. A cart driver cons us to go to the National Hotel which costs three rupees a night - it is only 100 yards away and he wants three rupees for his trouble. We gave him one. There are a few freaks here, all French, all smoking. A television in the courtyard shows a few English programmes, which is how I learn that the Portuguese empire has just crumbled and its colonies in Africa will get their independence.
It's still fairly early so we walk around looking for eats and end up at the Rainbow Hotel - and then we get lost among the street sellers looking for a cheap biscuit shop. The British influence is so obvious - such a contrast to Afghanistan. There is a big fort in the middle of the town with a sign prohibiting all taking of photos. We take a horse and cart back.
We talk a while and read in our grotty little room. I smoke a last cigarette. I am just about to put the light out when smoke seems to be coming from the fan - the manager comes running in and looks really scared. Immediately, he notices it is the mattress smouldering away - lit by my cigarette! The commotion dies down and he starts demanding money from me. We talk slowly (long periods of silence). I finally say I'll give him my sheet for the damage, and that I'll tell other travellers this is a good hotel. But he wants money - 200 rupees. His demand comes down to 90 rupees, and then 40 rupees. I say I can buy a mattress cheaper than that but then he demands my passport. I go down to the office with him to get a receipt but I don't like the look of it, so I refuse to sign. Then someone calls his 'honour' to join us. He fixes a price of 30 rupees. I know it is too much to pay, I insist I am poor and can pay no more than 20 rupees. Stalemate. The manager gets angry, I get angry. Finally, I offer him one English pound and my sheet. His 'honour' accepts immediately, and then finally we all go to sleep. What a laugh - I'd only put the mattress on the floor because it was so dirty and old and full of bugs.
23 August, Peshawar
MUSEUM - BUDDHA - TAKT-H-BAH - SWEATINESS
Robert, who has lost his boots, is up before dawn. He finds them in someone's tool box, then he pisses off to try to catch the 8:00am train to Lahore. I can't sleep much after that, so I pack my bags and move to the Rainbow Hotel.
First I go to the railway station where it takes me an hour to get the paper for a student concession to Rawalpindi. Then I am looking for the tourist office when I come across a museum with the life story of the Buddha - in stone - from his previous life to people worshipping his relics. After his enlightenment he was supposed to have performed many miracles. Many of these stone portrayals come from the ruins of Takt-h-Bah. So, for two and a half rupees, I take a bus ride across fertile plains full of cows and oxen and people and sugar plantations and sugar factories and villages. After much trouble, I find three children to guide me the two miles to the Buddhist ruins, but they don't speak much English. It is very flat all around except for a few small hills. On walking around the base of one of these hills, I see ruins half way up one of the other hills, and then I realise there were ruins all around. They are splendid, but they don't look so old - I think they are being renovated - arches in walls and dungeons and passages and steps up the hillside. Then we walk on up the hill and along the tops of the hills - I am sweating a lot so we rest for a while by a hermit's cave. On my return, there are many children waiting to greet me. I lose my guides before I can say thank you. I drink a chai and ride on the roof of a bus for free to Mardon, then another bus to Nowshera, and eventually to Peshawar. Often the road runs parallel to the railway line and a canal - many people are swimming, as they do in the canals in Peshawar too. Everywhere is so busy with people. Finally, I make the Rainbow Hotel, gulp down much water, shower, zip into a chai house for tea. Supper is meat and potatoes, as always very spicy.
In the evening, I talk for an hour or so with a Frenchman who believes that North Afghanistan, Pakistan and India are all going to blow up in 10 or 15 years because there is no unity, and because of border disputes. He says America and Russia are providing the arms and will fight again here like they did in Vietnam so as to create a double barrier around China.
24 August, Lahore
FIRST TRAIN JOURNEY - RAWALPINDI - LAHORE
The railway station is full of minor clerks - relics of English bureaucracy - with offices for divisional superintendents, station masters, assistant station masters - all with their triplicate forms and their servants running a message or gumming something together. There are not many people at the station at 6:00 - I buy my ticket (three and half rupees) and take a seat with no problems. The train leaves on time and arrives in Rawalpindi by 10:30 or so. The trip is unremarkable except for my initiation into Pakistan railways and the cafeteria with an English menu on the wall (two eggs on toast etc.) with fairly reasonable prices. The windows have three layers: glass, wire mesh and a complete shutter. At Rawalpindi it takes me five minutes to get my student concession to Lahore, so I have two hours to walk around. I go to the bazaar, where I buy an excellent lemon juice, but I fail with my second choice of a drink which seems to have salt in. The tourist office gives me a small map which helps me get back to the station. This time the train is fairly crowded but I sit in the dining car with an English Pakistani and his entourage for all seven hours. I write, sleep and talk, and sometimes at the station I get out - but it is so humid. The landscape is very wet and there is water everywhere, ponds, small lakes, rivers - the monsoons are not yet over. Rice is a major crop.
In Lahore, a boy takes me to a hotel but I'm suspicious because no-one is there - I walk and end up at the Swat Hotel for three rupees. It's a rotten place. I haggle in a chai house over the price of a plate of gristle - and retire early, very tired but it is difficult to sleep because of the humidity.
25 August, Lahore
TOWER MOSQUE - FORTS AND GARDENS
It is a long walk towards the Badshaki mosque - around the railway station and along the railway - it is very dirty, so many people and dirty mud patches everywhere - buffalos and horses blocking the traffic - little scooter taxis zipping here there and everywhere - lots of bicycles. But, suddenly, the town becomes pleasant - in one square mile there are a modern tower built for independence of Pakistan, the old old fort of the Mughals, and a large Mughal mosque. In a small park stands a lighthouse-like tower. Although I am exhausted I walked to the top where there is a fine view of the Lahore city - two million people. The mosque has been extensively repaired but is very interesting - it has huge courtyard, the walls and porches are of red sandstone, but there is white marble along the floors at the side and under the domes - many students are studying in the shade of the porches. For 50 paisa, the fort is good value - 40 acres big it contains many crumbling buildings and rooms and porches. It also houses two museums, one of very fine paintings and upstairs it is air-conditioned! There are gardens and pavilions (where sheiks gave audience), arches, gateways, steps and corridors. The final thing I see is a room of small carved mirrors like the shrines in Shiraz (but not a patch on them). I am very sad here - maybe it is seeing the pretty girl of the European family again, the one I saw in Mazir. I'm tired and a bit lonely.
An unbelievable sight: one man pushing an ordinary lawn mower being pulled by a water buffalo controlled by three men. In the afternoon I borrow a bike from a boy at the hotel and risk life and limb in the disorderly traffic of Lahore. There is no control at crossroads, traffic just goes where there is space - and the bike does not have such good breaks either. I find Shalimar Gardens - lawns and fountains and trees - laid out a long time ago in the 17th century - three levels all with big ponds and vertical spouts. I give the bicycle boy two rupees, then go and eat with two Italians and a Venezuelan girl I first saw on the Khyber Pass bus - they are racing straight on to Kashmir.
26 August - Jammu
ANOTHER MIND-BLOWING COINCIDENCE - INDIA INDIA INDIA
I am at the bus station in good time for the 8:00 bus but it doesn't come till nearly 9:00 - a one hour ride. The border Muslims don't keep us long - I meet up with Friedhelm going through the customs, and walk into India with three rupees left. Here are brightly coloured tents and uniformed workmen all around. We have to pass by three sets of people, one of whom searches the baggage and notes how much money we have. It is very hot. At the bus stop chai house I run into John - Ian James' friend in Cardiff. He says he's spent six months working in Canada and is now zipping through to Australia. A cranky old bus takes us to Amritsar for two rupees. I change money at a really bad rate (18.40 to the pound) which means everything becomes very expensive. There are many bikes and wine/beer stores. It is too tempting - we drink a bottle of beer between us for eight rupees, then take a bus to Jammu (four or five hours). It is still very sticky and uncomfortable. The landscape is flat. The rest house at the bus station is dirty so we go to a hotel and pay five rupees each and enjoy a wonderful cold shower. Most people here have long hair and beards.
27 August, Sudhampur
AN INDIAN BANK - A SIKH TEMPLE
I shower, then I sit in front of a fan and write for a while. At 9:30 we trot towards the bank (it doesn't open until 10:00). The main streets are busy with a completely different assortment of street sellers - Friedhelm takes a lemon juice and water but I forget to tell him they put salt in. There are 101 clerks in the crummy bank and a million and one files - desks in doorways - five or six others waiting to change money - the whole process takes a frustrating hour and a half. By the time we get to the bus station we can't get tickets for Srinigar until 4:00. The seller promises us good seats, so we pay 15 rupees. Friedhelm drinks some beer and we go to the tourist office - it is so hot I have my shirt off but at the TO I'm told to put it on. We go into a Sikh temple to look - it is full of strange marble statues in locked rooms - three-headed men - dressed-up elephants with four arms and two heads - dozens of different gods - many have offerings, incense, paintings and trinkets, even money. Each big statue - weird and colourful - has a six- or eight-sided room and a tower. We have to hide all leather to enter. There is one golden tower but with nothing special inside.
We hurry, pack, pay, shower and catch the bus. Yes, we have good seats by the door, with room for our feet. It is not long before we are climbing amid many trees and much greenery. Before dark we stop in Sudhampur and are told to go to a particular hotel, but we don't, we go to the rest house of the Sikh temple and they give us a clean big room - there are eight of us, but in the register they only write down the two ladies. I walk around, and then eat. I sleep restlessly, fighting mosquitoes all night.
28 August, Srinigar
THE MOUNTAINS AND FORESTS OF KASHMIR
The bus eventually gets going at 6:00 - the day's trip is really pleasant - the mountains become high with lots of ridges always covered in trees - many small and larger rivers in the valleys - often it is sheer below the road - houses with tin rooves. After lunch we pass through a long single-lane wet tunnel - and then we are in the valley of Kashmir with a large sprawling plain - from here to Srinigar the scenery is flat with much agriculture. We arrive about 4:00 and when we get off the bus we are besieged by houseboats owners - really besieged (as were during the chai shops on the way). One of them convinces me. He says his boat is not far away and we can have a shower and a place to sleep for two rupees. So we take a shakari ride down the long lake and then we have a big argument - there is no shower - we accuse him of being a dishonest man, and, eventually, he admits it is a business trick. It is all business tricks - he tries really hard to keep us - but, in the end, he understands we can't stay because there is a principle involved. He takes us to an equally nice boat just for us. Here we can sleep on the floor for three rupees or have a bed for four rupees. It is a small boat with toilet, bedroom, sitting room, carpets, chairs, tables, lamp, curtains, bar glasses, books and pictures. In the evening we walk around town looking for info on Sonamarg; and we drink coffee, and eat eggs.
29 August, Srinigar
WASHING - SEWING - WRITING - PADDLING
I wake up this morning with 32 mosquito bites on one leg and 25 on the other. The river and lake are really pleasant - crummy wooden house boats cluttered in the green weedy water - the sound of ducks and children - sun and no humidity. Inside the boats are really nice - but the business to fill them is rotten. I wash clothes, sew, eat bread and honey - handicraft boats pull up the side, the salesmen are lying back in their shakari while two boys do the rowing for them. Salam, how are you etc etc. One pulls up with a complete variety of groceries including Three Nuns tobacco, speed, Cadbury chocolate, wire, books, the lot. In the afternoon we shop (we've been told we should take food to Leh, but I'm not sure.) We hire a Shakari from 3:00 till 8:00 for 5 rp, and paddle all around Lake Dal - the boats are like punts. It us hard work paddling but so nice, the lake, the houseboats, the mountains. There are many rich tourists here, American and German.
India is so expensive with the bad exchange rate. 1 rp equals 5 1/2 pence - one tiny chapati costs 25 paisa, in Pakistan one twice as big cost 12 (where there were 24 rp to a £ instead of 18 rp). Rice is 1 rp, curry is 1 rp, tea is 30 paisa with hot milk and sugar. Cake is really too expensive, a loaf of bread is 1.25 rp, a bottle of honey 3 rp.
30 August, Sonamarg
SUPERB SCENERY - WALKING AND GLACIERS
Santana wakes us as promised at 6:00 and we pay our bill (26 rp) - he rows us to the shore. It is a long walk to the bus station, but it is cool in the morning. We pay 4 rp for a 50 mile ride - but all the good seats are taken; the bus stops every five minutes; and it gets exceedingly crowded. Really beautiful scenes of jagged mountains and pine forests nearly rising to their peaks - I tell Friedhelm it's the most beautiful scene I have ever seen - the mountains are so alive. There are many military trucks on the road which hold us up often. Fields of maize and grass - stepped to hold the irrigation water - picturesque. Sonamarg is no more than 20 or 30 wood huts with corrugated iron rooves. There are six tea stalls and restaurants, so we home in on one for beans and rice and tea. We meet two New Zealanders who have been living in the hills and are also on their way to Leh, but they have a lot of money. In three hours we see no lorries, but lots of tourists taking horses to see the glaciers. Just before 4:00 we set off on a well worn path to walk to the glaciers. Friedhelm insists it is impossible to go to the glaciers and that he has seen them any way - but I insist on trying. Half running, half walking I try to make it there and back before dark.
This beautiful valley has four glaciers - one is enormous, just rolling over the mountain like a steam roller - and three frozen snow drifts in the rifts of the mountains. I make for the nearest one, it looks near but it takes longer than I think to approach. The water in the valley is very very cold, there are several tents, sheep and cows. I stumble over rocks and make it to within 100 metres of the narrow crevice through which water falls and just above which is the snow. On the way I see this red and brown funny-looking animal shaped like a beaver. The sun is going down really fast so I run down to the valley to find Friedhelm. We make it back to Sonamarg for dinner before dark. I read a while and then go on down by the river to sleep in my bag. But, when rain comes in the middle of the night, I rejoin Friedhelm under the parapets of the post office.
31 August, Kargil
A RAINY MORNING - DESPAIR FOR NOTHING - KARGIL
It's cold in the morning - we warm our hands by the fire that makes us tea. We sit around all morning, asking lorry drivers for a lift to Leh - we eat curried cauliflower. Eventually someone tells us that truck drivers are forbidden by law to take tourists; and it's clear that army vehicles aren't going to give us a lift. The New Zealanders go back to Srinigar to change money - we really should do this too. The two brothers who run our eating place promise to find us a lift - but they don't. At around noon a bus pulls in - the driver takes us for 27 rp - we have bad seats but are glad to be on our way. Going up to the high pass from Sonamarg we stop long and often because of the long line of military trucks - the rock-covered mountains are still superb - in the valley, a long way down, there is an army camp site and a little greenery. Near the top of the pass the valley is mostly covered in snow - the river races under it, more than a metre thick in some places, and very dirty looking because there is a lot of grey sand and rocks and rubble. In Drass we have to stop and sign a paper for the police - they say that Drass is the second coldest place in the world next to Siberia. In Kargil we are greeted by many staring people and a happy policeman.
Paul K Lyons
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