Ahmed Shah Massoud’s Tomb

The author at Ahmad Shah Massoud’s tomb in the Panjshir Valley –  September 2012

Minaret of Jam

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.

In The Beginning…The Pilgrim Trail

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.