Section 1: Driving to India
The collection begins with two articles I wrote for the British Ford magazine in return for two complete tune-ups and parts for my Ford Anglia that I drove from London to New Delhi in 1951. Their editors were not interested in the politics or culture of the countries through which we drove, only the road conditions and how the car performed. I have added some notes about the trip to provide more color and interest.
After completing my dissertation research on independent Indian’s first elections and parliament, my husband Mil – acquired in New Delhi – and I drove from Mombasa, Kenya, to London: a much harder journey. My book on the trip, Crossing Centuries: A Road Trip through Colonial Africa delves into history and tribal relations, interviews civil servants and politicians about plans to become independent; Mil kept the car running while I interviewed everyone I could. After my NYC agent turned it down in favor of a breathless account of a young woman’s fling with the Prince of Morocco, I finally published the same manuscript in 2010.
As Students – From London to India in a Ford Anglia, The Autocar, December 5, 1952 & December 12, 1952t
As students – American or not – we didn’t have much money to spend on the car that was going to carry us the 10,000-odd miles to India; it would have to be small and inexpensive. I wrote to the Editor of The Autocar asking him if he thought a small English car would last on all the bad roads we should encounter. “Why not?” was his reply. It might not be the most comfortable way to travel, but we’re still young. And the only alternative was a motor bike.
We were going to India because I had to do some on-the-spot research for my doctorate degree from the London School of Economics and had decided that it would be much more fascinating and certainly more educational, to drive overland. And, most important, as it turned out, the trip was hardly more expensive than the usual method. My first recruit for the trip was a young lecturer at the L.S.E., Alan Day. He had been in the R.A.F., in India, and had always wanted to see what lies between there and London, besides water. The third member of the group was another post-graduate student, Dean Warren, whose geography was worse than mine, and who wanted to correct this fault at first hand.
None of the new cars was within our price range, but eventually, in Paris, which accounts for the red TTOX license number, we found just the thing: a Ford Anglia, 1949 vintage. It had left-hand steering as it was an export model, and, though it had done some 15,000 miles already, it seemed in good condition. Moreover, it was of an “international” make, so spares would be fairly easy to find.
Before we left London we had a new engine put in and a water pump attached, to keep the unit cool in the deserts. We took some chains along for sand traps, but never used them, which was just as well, for we found out that they were army truck size when we tried to sell them in Delhi. The extra spare tyre which rode in the back seat the whole way was never needed; for, although we had innumerable punctures, we never had a blow-out, in spite of the fact that the tyres were the same ones as had been on the car when it was bought. The spares kit that Ford puts up for foreign travel has all the little things such as a fuel pump or a piece of tubing that we might need for repairs; all except extra springs. I have lost count of the number of leaves we broke all told, but the front main leaf went twice. Luckily we had been told to carry an extra main leaf, which we did. I suggest that anyone who drives through Afghanistan should carry a full set of front springs – or prepare to drive under 20 m.p.h. all the way.
Jerricans were an absolute “must,” and we had some trouble finding them. Water jugs, a Primus, cans of food, are also necessary on a trip of this sort. Even if you don’t plan to do your own cooking, it may be necessary at times. We laid in a supply of food in London, then again in Athens, and in Beirut, where all varieties of tinned food are available. With some misgivings, we decided there would be no room for camp beds and took only our sleeping bags. All this, and our suitcases, had to go on top or inside the baby car.
It took us some days to solve the problem of packing it all. On the day we left London it took the help of all the friends who came to jam us in to enable us to catch the 4 p.m. Channel boat – with only minutes to spare. That was on June 28. We found out that we could not drive over 45 m.p.h. on a smooth road, loaded the way we were. At least, we imagined the critical speed was 45; the speedometer gave up the moment we crossed the Channel; seasick, perhaps. But if we went at all fast, the road seemed like jelly; you could not drive in a straight line. I’m sure the people behind us thought we had had too much French wine.
Our first theory was that the instability was caused by a very high centre of gravity, so we transferred some of the weight from the top to the back. But the swaying was, if anything, worse. A new theory was needed. Maybe the weight in the rear lifted the front tyres just enough to affect the steering. So we piled more things on to the roof. This seemed to work; at least the swaying was a little less.
The first night out we wined and dined in the very French town of Hazebrouck. (In all the excitement of leaving, we had not found time to eat until we got on the boat, and then we only had tinned food.) A muscle-bound girl was performing on a trapeze in the square; French music drifted over to the café. Only then did I realize we were actually on our way – all the way to India.
But the glamour soon wore off. All we could find for a camping spot was a lane between two farms. A horse watched us as we bedded down in damp grass, then went madly galloping off to rouse the world to our existence! We could not get the fire lit for coffee in the morning. Rawish eggs, cold bacon, and water to drink, hardly start a day well.
Since we had only a limited time in which to make the trip, for the boys had to be back in London for Michaelmas term, we rather scooted through familiar Europe: Calais, Rheims, Basle and Zurich. At the last–named place we stopped to buy currencies of the countries through which we would be going. Of course, we also carried travellers’ cheques, but you need some local currency whenever you enter a country in case the banks are closed or you need petrol. Already we had run out of French francs just outside Basle; but we also ran out of petrol. Counting all our change, we had francs enough for two litres – just enough to get us across the Swiss border. But French pumps measure in terms of five litres. Only the good nature of the attendant got us our petrol, and we vowed this must not happen again.
Snow in July
It was the first of July by the, but still the St. Gothard Pass was blocked with snow. Most people took the train into Italy, missing all the breathtaking beauty of the Alps in the summer. We heard of an alternative route, longer but open, and decided that then was as good a time as any to test the car. So we passed the queue of cars waiting for the train, and climbed high up the main road to Andermatt. There we left the paved road for an excellent graded crushed stone road through the Oberalp and Lukmunier passes into Lugano and thence to Italy. The longest climb was right outside Andermatt, going up the hill where skiers break legs in the winter; but even this climb was no more steep than the main road to the town. The scenery was wonderful once we passed the avalanche-wrecked mountain huts, where the snow was still 6 or 8 ft. deep on each side of the road. Many cars and motor cycles were making the run, all carrying Alpine roses bunched by the head lamps for luck. Maybe it was because of the Alpine rose that our car behaved so well, but we were up and over the mountains with no trouble at all.
The autostrade in Italy are wonderful, but petrol coupons are a bit confusing. As a tourist you are allowed 30 litres a day at a reduced rate – if you have bought the coupons in advance. Then, when you leave the country, you just sell back any extra coupons. Yes, the coupons were valid in Trieste. But what we were not told is that though the coupons are valid in Trieste they cannot be sold back there! This we found out only at the Trieste-Yugoslavian border, and had to go back some 20 miles to the Italian border at Malfacone to get our money back.
The whole annoying day we wasted chasing around to get the coupons cashed back – for the tourist agent in Malfacone was out to lunch when we got there, and we were fuming by the time he got back. The whole thing was our fault. We were trying to be clever. For we had heard that petrol was terribly scarce in Yugoslavia, so we planned to fill up with all the Italian petrol our jerricans would hold. Then, in Trieste, we thought we’d better check, just to be sure we didn’t have to pay an enormous duty on petrol we took into the country. We were assured that there was no duty, but that petrol was cheaper in Yugoslavia as long as it was bought from foreign exchange.
This was hard to believe. Everyone else had told us how expensive Yugoslav petrol would be. Still, we didn’t want to load the car if it could be avoided, for the roads, we knew, were none too good in Yugoslavia. Besides, the weight on the roof of the car had already bent the door frames so that the doors closed only with the greatest difficulty. Whenever we got mad at them and slammed them, the windows would “pattern” a bit more. We’d bought the car with a fan-shaped crack in one window, but this crack had long since melted into the general array. Any more weight on the roof and we feared we should never be able to close the doors and still keep any part of the windows intact. Should we take a chance on the cheapness of Yugoslav petrol, or fill up with Italian? This we mulled over as we camped on rocks above the gorgeous coast north of Trieste. At least we decided to send a reconnaissance man across the border to see how much petrol did cost there. That is why we arrived at the border with so many extra Italian coupons.
Much later in the day, our early start messed up by our own attempts at cleverness, we finally crossed the border into Yugoslavia. The customs check took no longer than in any other country, and soon we were in strange lands. It did seem strange, after Italy. No big, ugly petrol stations (the only new building in Italy it seemed) glared at you, no cars honked madly, and people did not walk in front of your car. Immediately you knew that cars were few here; this was the most obvious difference. The horses shied away as we passed, and the children stared. I tried waving at them, for they seemed so frightened. Some responded with imaginary bullets from a make-believe machine gun; others still stared; but most broke into an incredulous grin and waved back.
As far as Planima from the border town of Sesana the asphalt road held. Then we met our first road that had seemingly been treated with a curling iron. It meant a slower, more uncomfortable, horribly dusty, ride; but we reached Ljubljana in a few hours. Here we really knew we were in a very strange land, for we could not find a place to eat. We got out and walked. Ljubljana is really a charming town, more Austro-Hungarian than Serbian, built around a river. But we were getting so hungry. One place, which looked like a cafeteria, seemed promising until a hulking peasant appeared in our way saying something that could have been nein. Later we learned that workers and students have their own government-subsidized restaurants to which the public is not admitted. But, at the time, this refusal to let us eat seemed unfriendly in the extreme. We were on the point of desperation, if not starvation, when we found the town’s hotel. Inside, in a courtyard, was a bit of old Vienna, apfelstrudels, beer, and all. With great relief, we sat down to one of the most pleasant meals of the trip.
The café was so pleasant that we sat listening to the waltzes far too long, and it was dusk before we left Ljubljana for Zagreb. The fertile farm lands continued for miles and we began to worry about finding a place to camp. Quite unexpectedly the road wound up into wooded hills. We bedded down on fragrant pine boughs for the night.
As a city and as a capital, Belgrade was disappointing. Its modern buildings lacked both tradition and warmth. Such a city could have been anywhere in the world. So could the autobahn that carried us smoothly if boringly from Zagreb to Belgrade. Carts drawn by horses, by ugly water buffalo, or by bullocks, were the only other traffic on this concrete road; the only other cars we saw were in Brot when we stopped for petrol.
By the time we reached Kragujevac on the main Belgrade-Nis-Skoplje route we were tired of unending plains. So we took off toward Pristina on an alternative route, which proved to be more mountainous, extremely picturesque, and terribly bumpy. In many places the road was nothing but hunks of concrete set in sifting sand to keep the route from washing away. At times we drove on the bumps; at other times on the soft, dust-cloudy shoulders. Silt settled all over the car, inside and out, and poured up from the luggage compartment on to the back seat, under the doors and on to the floor. Occupants and equipment soon matched the dusty-tan colour of the car. Only the adhesive plaster round the suitcases kept the sand from our clean clothes inside.
The road did not noticeably improve, except in patches, between Skoplje and the Greek border. Indeed, after Tito Veles most of the bridges were still “out” as a result of the guerrilla fighting; the river beds rivaled the roads for bumps. It was like this on both sides of the border. Only when we were some miles outside Salonika did the road take on the appearances of civilization: smoothness, a line in the centre, even roadside advertisements.
Grimy from the roads and the continuous camping out, wet from the heat of the car and the sun, we decided that, more than anything, we wanted a bath. So we went to an hotel in Salonika and spent some glorious hours soaking ourselves and our clothes a bit cleaner. A luxury, too, was our dinner of fresh fish, which we ate outside along the seawall while the full moon flirted with the fishing boats in the harbour.
A smooth road sped us south toward Athens, first stop on our 1,500-mile circular tour of Greece. It was full moon when we arrived, and the glory of the Acropolis by moonlight made us forget the trials of the journey and the inconvenience of Athens in the summer-time. We escaped all these problems the next day by piling ourselves and four other students into the car and driving to Sunion for a swim in the shadow of a lovely classic temple. After a few more days in Athens we continued our quest for the famous ruins of Greece.
Corinth, our first stop, is easily reached by a metalled road. From there to Mycenae the gravel surface of the road was as rough-based as the deserted city itself; we were glad to be back on the gulf road hading toward Patras. The excursion to Olympia from Patras takes a full day over a road that is in bad repair. But the sights are well worth the discomfort. The cool sublimity of ageless Olympia impressed and humbled me far more than any of the other ruins we saw.
In Patras we camped in an old ruined villa near the edge of the town. It belonged to a friend of ours, but the constant requisition by the city’s several conquerors during World War II, plus the repeated raids by guerrillas, had destroyed the building beyond repair.
There were wild fruits in abundance, and a caretaker who supplied us with fresh eggs, tomatoes and melons. A swift bubbling stream gave the final touch of luxury to the camping site. Since we had left the Alps we had been unable to camp by clean water. Thus washing, especially at night, was a limited affair; in the morning we would sometimes have to drive miles before we found a spring or a petrol station where the dishes could be washed or the boys could shave. Those three days in “our” villa were certainly a camper’s delight!
An old landing craft serves as a regular ferry across the Gulf of Corinth hear Patras. Buses use the ferry , mainly, but there were many of them, and we had to queue for an hour. Once across the gulf, we sped ahead of the could-raising buses on a fairly smooth gravel road. But the smoothness held just long enough for us to pass the leading bus. Soon we were tacking up the road like a boat in a stiff breeze in order to miss some of the worst holes. This was guerrilla country until 1949; the farms and the villages, as well as the road, were poorly kept, and the destruction in the pleasing hill village of Lidhorikion has been left untouched as if the guns had blazed only yesterday.
For all the bad roads, we reached Delphi by tea time and climbed over the mountain top until sunset. Formality was evident in every building, and the carefully patterned ground-plan reminded me more of Bath than any place in Greece. The theatre, with the distant valley as its only backdrop, is so well preserved that it is still used for an occasional performance. As we sat there and watched the sun go down, we were at the end of our excursion into Greek history.
Next day we “discovered” the delightful harbour of Kavalla while driving from outside Salonika to Alexandropoulis on a road that was alternatively metalled and gravel. An ancient Roman aqueduct dominated the city and ran from the steep hills inland out to the lonely near-island hill where the old city crowded. Adding to the scene were the remains of a Venetian castle crowing over the city. At the foot of the hill in a sheltered cove fishing boats brought their fresh catch to the sidewalk restaurants. As usual in Greece, we walked into the kitchen and pointed to the food we wanted. Fried shrimps, broiled fresh fish, were as delicious as the city was charming!
The A.A. routing information suggests taking a train from Alexandropoulos to Edirne, in Turkey. To us, taking a train for any distance, even 86 miles, seemed defeatist. Besides, the road outside Alexandropoulis was fine – for a few miles. Then, to our horror, at the small village of Ferrai the road seemed to end completely. We stopped to ask the villages if we were not on the wrong road. People crowded, giving us advice in un-understandable jabbered Greek. Finally an old chap came up who spoke some French, and he assured us that the lane to the left was indeed the main road.
Part II Last week the author described how she, with two companions, bought a 1949 Ford Anglia, installed a reconditioned engine and left for India – as simply as that. With a little trouble they made their way through Europe to Greece, and then set off for Turkey – a section of route over which the A.A. recommended the train. Sure enough, the main road “disappeared” in the village of Ferrai, and they were assured that “the lane on the left” was their highway to India.
We bounced out of Ferrai a few miles and then struck camp. Next day the road continued to be terrible. The smoothest part was a detour we took by accident, for the road was unmarked. The detour was nothing more than a cart track, and in fording one stream we went deep in the mud and spent several hours digging ourselves out. In the end, however, we reached Turkey.
The charm of Istanbul is more pervasive, more modern, than anything in Greece. Indeed, in some ways the city is uncomfortably modern, for the screech of taxi tyres racing on the steep streets, and the blaring of American jazz, tend to drive out the more subtle attractions of the East. Yet for the most part the blend of East and West, with its endless permutations, is bewitching.
Dominating the city are the minarets of the mosques. Most of them are in good condition, although the youth schooled by Kemal Ataturk do not use them as often as their elders did. And the food is a gourmet’s delight. The Greek food was remarkable for its repetitiveness, and our Primus-cooked dinners never satisfied us. So we ate and ate and ate of the various kebabs and pilaus, and of the sweet, rich desserts.
The two-day drive from Ankara over the Taurus Mountains and down to the Mediterranean is over a bumpy gravel road. However, this road is now under construction, and promises to be in excellent condition in a year or so. On the high plateaux we saw our first camels and our first nomads, roaming about on the dry hills. But for all the dryness we were warned that it might be a malarial area, and we began to take our Aralon.
From Adana along the coast to Beirut in the Lebanon is a lovely run. We camped one night in a fragrant pine forest, all but forgetting the rigours of the Turkish roads. Though we were refreshed, the car still needed a good overhaul in Beirut. It looked like a first-aid victim when we took it to the garage. The oil filter had broken in Greece and the air filter broke in Turkey. Both of them were taped on with adhesive and held in place with gauze from our first-aid kit. Somewhere in Turkey we had broken the second leaf on the front spring, and had weakened the main leaf, so that when we drove over a kerb in Beirut we broke the main leaf, too. This breakage of springs became our most constant worry of the trip.
Beirut served as a “breather” for us; we had clocked just half our mileage when we entered this clean, modern resort-capital of Lebanon. Our mode of travel changed to some extent after this half-way point. Up to then we had camped out when we were traveling, and had stayed in student hostels in all the cities except Belgrade. After Beirut we were told that camping out would be sheer folly. En route, then, in Iran, we stayed at pilgrims’ hostels; in Afghanistan we stayed in the only place available, the government-run hotels. In Damascus and Teheran we found reasonable second-class hotels, and in Baghdad we all stayed at the Y.M.C.A., which has for a long time been a coed institution there.
An excellent road runs from Beirut to Damascus. The side road to Baalbek is also all right and should most certainly be taken. The Roman temple of Bacchus in Baalbek has the most beautiful Corinthian columns that I have ever seen; the work on the capitals is more intricate and lighter than most early Gothic. The whole group of Roman temples was built on the site of an older sun temple. Later the Arabs used the buildings as a fort. But amazingly little damage was done to the temples; they certainly rate a visit.
In Damascus the East has subtly maintained its influence, although many parts of the city are completely Westernized. The goods displayed in the multitude of covered bazaars are, just like the city itself, somehow a little more East than West. This mingling of divergent cultures is nowhere more evident than in the Grand Mosque. This lovely mosque, in a simple Byzantine style, contains a shrine of John the Baptist.
The straightest way from Damascus to Baghdad is cross the desert. Radio-guided, air-conditioned buses do this run several times a week, and cars may follow them. But since the buses will not wait for a stranded car, the somewhat longer route over a metalled road is suggested. You take the Damascus-Amman road as far as Mafraq and then turn off on the “pipeline road” which runs in a much-too-straight line (for you must drive it at night) as far as Rutbah Wells in Iraq. Since the pipeline is not currently in use, neither the road nor the pumping stations are kept up. But at Mafraq you can still buy petrol, and possibly along the line. The rest, of course, you must carry.
The distance from Mafraq to Baghdad is 537 miles and took us 17 hours to do, including three half-hour stops along the way. Once we stopped to drink the mint tea offered to us by the hospitable customs men at the Amman border. The other times we stopped to run about and drink coffee to help keep us awake. After Rutbah the pipeline goes north, while the road goes east and then south to Baghdad. It is no longer straight, and is in great need of repair. So this part of the journey was slow, hot and distinctly uncomfortable.
The drive from Baghdad to Teheran takes two days, and it is usual to spend the night in a pilgrims’ hotel in Kermanshah. We arrived there rather late at night, for although we had left Baghdad at 5 a.m. we had had some trouble with our steering gear and had to return to Baghdad for repairs. This made for another long, hot day, one of the worst in the trip, and we longed for a good night’s rest.
Since the buses also stop-over in Kermanshah, the hotel was jammed, which is to say that nearly all available space on the roof was covered with cots. Though it was certainly cooler on the roof, the snores, the barking dogs in the street and the consideration that we might be able to sleep a little longer in the morning if we were out of the sun, made us decide to use a carpeted room on the first floor. One communal washbasin in the hallway and one surprisingly clean lavatory were all the amenities provided by the hotel for its many guests. Since almost everyone else was already asleep, we were able to have a good wash before we unrolled our bedding on the soft carpet and slept.
Between Teheran and Meshed the road was alternately gravel and tar, but in fairly good condition. Indeed, we often saw men “repairing” the road; that is, sweeping or shoveling the sand and gravel back evenly on the main track. The police check was more and more frequent as we got farther away from the capital. In one place, where there seemed to be some rioting, a police guard rode with us through the main part of town.
Several bus lines run from Teheran to Meshed, for it is the sacred city of the Shi’a sect of Moslems, and pilgrims travel far to pray at the shine of Imam Reza. Therefore, there are many chai khannas (tea huts) along the way. Since clean water is extremely scarce, tea becomes the only safe liquid readily available. We stopped over in Shahrud, where there is another pilgrims’ hotel.
Meshed is a picturesque town. Its nearness to the Russian border is emphasized by the horse-drawn carriages, called diroshka, which look like stage property for a Chekhov play. The tree-lined canal serves as bathtub for men and beast, washtub for clothes, and well for drinking water. The bazaar, which at one time must have had a more international character, still abounds in turquoise and silver. But above all, the sacred mosque dominates the city physically and mentally.
From Meshed to Herat, 263 miles, looks like an easy day’s drive. But the road gets steadily worse as you approach the border. We had to drive very slowly because for the first time on the entire trip we were carrying a full load of both petrol and water. For a while, the Russian atmosphere in the villages continued. Then, at Turbat-Shaik Jam, it seemed that we were in a different country, where Turkoman was the major influence. By the time we had struggled to the border town of Karez, it was already getting dark.
Road or Riverbed?
Not far out of Karez that next morning we crossed a dry riverbed. From there into Herat we were never quite sure when we were on riverbed and when on road; they were almost indistinguishable. Somehow, during all this bumping, a stone hit the water pump and it began to leak. Under the hot sun in the midst of this semi-desert we piled out for repairs. At least, the leak was circumvented by cutting out the pump from the water system. We pushed on past ancient castle ruins and into the town of Herat. A trading centre during the silk route days, Herat now boasts a population of 50,000, a large town for this part of the world. Greeting us as we neared the city as an avenue lined with pine trees, the first trees we had seen all day. Five minarets stood sentinel guard, and in the late afternoon sun we got out to take our first pictures in Afghanistan.
The bazaars in Herat were gay with flags, and the insistent rhythm of drums pervaded the air. The terrace of the government hotel, the only one in town, was laid for a banquet. We settled into our rooms still wondering at the reason for the celebration, for the manager spoke no language that we could. We communicated to him in our carefully memorized phrase-book terms.
As we watched the preparations for the banquet, set as it was on the soft carpet floor, we became more and more curious about it. Outside, the drums had grown louder and were now challenged occasionally by the strumming of an unfamiliar string instrument. We went outside. On the spacious lawn of the hotel sat a circle of bearded turbaned elders, a few in chairs, but most of them cross-legged on carpets. They were smoking hubble-bubbles or talking (with hands as well as mouths) while the musicians played on. Not a woman was to be seen, so I carefully kept out of sight.
Eventually we learned that the celebration was in honour of Independence Day, and would last for three days. The elders were men of importance in the surrounding area; many of them came into Herat only once a year! No wonder they outdid themselves that night and the next! We saw yet another version of provincial gaiety the following night in Ferah, too.
Afghanistan being a rather conservative Moslem country, women are forced to observe purdah. This means that inside the house and out a veil must be worn. In addition, they must don a tent-like garment called a burkah whenever they go outside. Yet, for all their reserve about their own women, the men in these parts do not seem to resent the presence of an unveiled foreign woman. Still, a little care should be taken by women passing through the villages, though in the cities sun-backed dresses and low-cut blouses are perfectly all right to wear.
The track from Herat to Kandahar takes two long days with a night spent in the very plain rest-house in Ferah. The road varies from a packed surface to soft sand to no road at all. The yearly floods, caused by the melting snows, have ruined most of the bridges. After miles of dust and brown hill upon hill, the greenness of Kandahar is unbelievable. The day after we arrived we followed a channeled stream to its source. Here there was a pavilion set among flower beds and spacious lawns for picnicking. This is the country for fruits; we devoured sugar melons and cantaloupes and grapes, both green and purple. The pomegranates were just bearing, but the season for apricots and plums had already passed. Seen from the height of the “Forty Steps” on the far mountainside, the valley of Kandahar, with its well-laid-out orchards and square fields, looked smugly content – in extreme contrast to the existence of nomads whom we had seen camping on the shifting sands of the half-desert to the west.
Traffic on the Herat-Kandahar road was almost nonexistent. The first day of traveling we did not see another car or lorry; the second day we may have passed four or five. From Kandahar to Kabul, over a road that was more obvious but hardly much smoother, the number of lorries increased tenfold. Always they carried as many tightly packed men as they did bags of produce. But we did pass one proper bus, the Afghan Mail. In a country without a mile of railroads, and with an airfield only in Kabul, the bus is the only form of mail transportation. When the spring thaws make the road impassable for months, the mail simply piles up.
A recently constructed road following the Kabul River makes the drive from Kabul to Jalalabad the most pleasant in all Afghanistan, from an aesthetic as well as a physical point of view. The gorge is rugged, yet green in relation to the desert-brown hills. Even more of a contrast is the series of white sandstone wind-carvings, each one of which is a proud monument to Afghanistan’s undeniable natural beauty.
We rushed on, trying to get to the Pakistan border before the 5 o’clock closing hour. It is possible to spend a night at Jalalabad, but our time was running out. If the good road had continued to the border, the 210 miles or so into Peshawar from Kabul could easily have been done in a day. As it was, we pushed hard over a road which, after Jalalabad, got so bad that we were convinced we had taken the wrong turn. We retraced our way for some ten miles to check. Having been assured that this was the road to the border, we turned around again and drove on, too quickly. A bump, and the exhaust pipe fell to the ground. Precious time ran on as the boys did first-aid and tied the exhaust up somehow. No sooner was this accomplished then we hit an even larger rock, which resulted in yet another flat tyre!
Still, it was only five past four when we bumped up to the Afghan customs station some miles from the actual border. For 45 minutes we stewed, unable to explain our desire for haste to anyone there. At least we were careering down what looked like a cow path. Grass grew between the tyre ruts. The whole land looked as though in the rainy season it became a sea; the washes of sand were so prominent. Perhaps at that time of year the brown hills took on a different hue; but now their only vegetation was forts which sprouted from each hilltop.
The road began to climb; the number of forts increased, and on occasion looked inhabited. The sun was disappearing fast behind the higher peaks when there, ahead of us, was a barrier. Beyond it a paved road ran through Pakistan right down to Delhi. We had made the drive to India! A B.B.C. broadcast of a Beethoven symphony floated across the tree-lined garden of the customs house. For us the adventure was over.