The author at Ahmad Shah Massoud’s tomb in the Panjshir Valley – September 2012
The Minaret of Jam
The Central Route through Afghanistan from Kabul to Herat was the Holy Grail of travel adventures. In 2006 I traveled with Paul Clammer when he was writing the Lonely Planet Guidebook to Afghanistan. One of my photographs of the Minaret of Jam appears in that book.
July 1972, I was standing on University Avenue in Berkeley with my thumb out, and a cardboard sign in my hand reading: AFGHANISTAN
It took a week to hitch to New York, then I flew Icelandic Airlines to Luxembourg. Another 9 days to reach Istanbul by thumb. I met a couple of travelers just back from crossing the Sahara when I stayed a few days in Geneva on the way, and we had arranged to meet at the Pudding Shop. Together we crossed the Golden Horn on a ferry, touched land in Asia for the first time, and headed to the train station. The once a week train to Iran – 2nd class. We had to disembark at Lake Van, then fight our way into a new compartment on the other side. It took seven days to reach Tehran, and we stayed at a cheap hotel on Amir Kabir Avenue until we could catch a local bus to Mashhad. From there it was two days and four local buses to the border. Islam Qala – Afghanistan at last.
That was the notorious Pilgrim Trail to India: hitchhiking, 2nd class trains and local buses…The ‘Hippy Trail’; the Magic Bus from Amsterdam to Kathmandu, was for tourists pretending to be ‘hippies’ – a mythical creature created by the media in order to demonize the counter-culture. Pay $250 and have your sorry ass hauled to Nepal, see the same tourist-hustler shops, hotels and restaurants the whole way, but don’t get off the bus – you might meet some local people who weren’t after you wallet.