My Travelogue

Tales of my first time
Trans Asia 1975

Turkey to Afghanistan

A collection of stories about my years of overland travel, holidays and short breaks, around the world.

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Into Asia for the first time

We crossed the Bosphorus by the new bridge, [1>] and arrived on the continent of Asia.

This was a significant milestone but I don't recall any celebrations.

We were still in Turkey of course, but on a different continent.

Below is a map showing our approximate route form the Bosphorus in Turkey to the Afghanistan / Pakistan boarder just before the Khyber Pass in Pakistan


View Trans Asia 1975 - Turkey to Afghanistan in a larger map


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If memory serves there are three primary routes across the Asian part of Turkey. The pretty southern route. We took that route on the Encounter Overland trip in 1978. The northern, Black Sea route, which we took in 1977, and the central route. The central route is the main thoroughfare, used by the international trucks. Or should I say intercontinental trucks. The central route is the one most likely to be part of the Grand Trunk Road and may have been part of the Silk Route centuries before.

Populations tend to congregate and develop around water. Not surprisingly the Black Sea coast and the Mediterranean coast are more populated than the somewhat desolate centre.

We chose the Black Sea route.

The road to Samsun was a dirt track, but without pot holes.

Another extract from a rare letter home, from Kabul dated 14 July 1975;

The sea was perfectly clear and very refreshing as it is now beginning to get rather warm. We spent 4 days edging our way along the coast and then headed inland across the mountains. We crawled up a rutted almost washed out dirt road for 25 miles to over 11,000 ft [2>] and then down for 20 miles. Eventually we met with the notorious central road.. A very bad road, a little good surface followed immediately by gravel and pot holes.

We rejoin the central route at Erzurum. The mountains were lovely, the central route, whilst still mountainous, less so.

No diversions, no traffic signs, no cones

Trucks dominate that route, large trucks. Rules of the road are very much based on size. Just because it is the main road across a continent does not mean it is all metaled either. Sorry, getting technical. There is a noticeable absence of blacktop, with large lengths of road still being dirt. Pot holes abound. You know we complain about delays and 'cone city' when there are roadworks. Not a problem in Turkey. No diversions, no traffic signs, no cones, just a grader Motor graderin the middle of the road coming towards you. Now I say middle, which may give a sense of size which is not necessarily correct. Frequently, you have to drive off the road to avoid said oncoming grader. And then there is the queue of trucks behind the grader, either not able to get past, or choosing not to as a re-graded road is so much better.

In the UK, in 2013, there is a crises in road maintenance. So little maintenance has been carried out on the minor, non trunk routes that the roads are becoming severely potholed following a number of severe winters. The surface starts to break up, and more frost adds to the damage. A quick surface dressing at this stage will generally cure the problem. On a dirt road, life is so much simpler. Potholes get very large and frequent. Send out the man and his grader. A few passes and all the potholes are filled, the surface re-cambered and dressed. The traffic provides the compaction, so no need for a roller. All sorted.

Just to give you a idea of what a grader looks like, below are some images from Caterpillar or Cat as it is more normally known as these days. The graders in 1975 would have been made by Caterpillar, older versions of those shown, but fairly similar.

Motor GraderMotor Grader from CAT

A CAT promotional video about graders

With so many trucks travelling from Europe to India and back, full of exotic and expensive goods it is not surprising that they start to become the target of thieves. The result is a number of camps sprout up along the central route. Safe havens, for a good nights sleep. They are little more than a field with a fence around it, a pair of wide gates and a hut for the guards to stay in. The compounds are spaced at about a days drive. Restrictive driver hours and tachographs were not high on the addenda then, so days were set by sunrise and sunset. We followed suit and camped overnight in a compound, paying the fee for the security, not the facilities. Night temperatures in Eastern and central Turkey can plummet well below zero. Below zero is a significant problem when you are living in the cab of a truck, or in our case slightly less, in the back of a truck. In the dead of night, with not a sound to be heard, oh, apart from the truck engines left running all night, or the chiller motors keeping the goods frozen.

drivers starting fires under their trucks is somewhat disconcerting

Then comes the morning. The first time you see drivers starting fires under their trucks is somewhat disconcerting. Then you notice that the fires are directly beneath the fuel tanks. What is going on? Ah, some of the drivers are more organized. They have set up a primus stove and are making a brew. (still under the fuel tank).

Then there is the realisation. I don't know if you know, but diesel fuel is prone to waxing or gelling in cold weather conditions. Winter fuel was not available so some people pre-heated the fuel before starting their engines, by having fires under their fuel tanks. Logical, yes. Safe, ? Some drivers would add petrol to the diesel when they filled up. Not recommended these days. It is generally sorted with additives now.


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Iran was under the rule of the Shah [3>] at this time, in 1975.

Mohammad Rezā Shāh Pahlavī was the last Shah (King) of Iran from 16 September 1941 until his overthrow by the Iranian Revolution on 11 February 1979. He was the second and last monarch of the House of Pahlavi of the Iranian monarchy.

At the Iranian border they did not want to let the lorry in as we did not have the correct papers for a lorry, but we eventually persuaded them it was a mobile home and they then let us through.

There were no apparent undertones of revolution on our first visit. Tehran was busy and bright. Some of the women wore a yashmak in public. The names and meanings of the different outerwear escaped us at the time. Frequently you could see the bright makeup and fashion shoes beneath the plain black of a burqa.

In Tehran we went to the only camping site and found it was full of British lorry drivers swimming in the pool and generally lazing around in their 'units' waiting for their loads to be cleared by customs and unloaded. After a couple of pleasant days there we trundled up to the Caspian Sea which we found to be filthy.

We were told that the reason the Caspian Sea is filthy is because the Russian's dump their waste in it, and it floats across, allegedly!

When we allowed the locals to get close we found them to be amazingly hospitable.

Stayed at a motel for the night at Sari. The owner befriended us so we stayed a few more days in total luxury with servants, iced drinks on the patio, etc. One afternoon the owner, also a local landowner, took us to the "brother of the King's beach villa" for a swim and laze followed by a huge dinner. Very nice. Oh, Iranian roads are as good as British ones (A/B class).

Tourists were very rare in that part of Iran, and were fussed over accordingly. Very pleasant.

Further inland the aspect become more rural. Towns and villages of mud huts. It became difficult to guess which were homes and which were restaurants. Choosing food again became a case of walking into the tiny kitchen and pointing to a stew pot. I must admit that they seamed quite happy with this arrangement. I can't quite imagine it being welcomed in the UK, irrespective if you could speak the language or not.

Cow dung drying on the outside walls of the houses

Cow dung drying on the outside walls of the houses facing the sun, for later use on their fires, as fuel did not seam as strange as the bright shiny TV aerial glinting in the sunshine. Just a little incongruous, at the time. Now, decades later, mud huts are not so much of a historic building practice, but more of a good use of local materials and the weather conditions of the location.

Why bake clay to form bricks, to withstand our weather when you can miss several steps and go straight to building the wall. Furthermore, when it is time to maintain the wall, just spread another layer of mud, and let the sun bake it hard.

We stopped at a roadside cart in the middle of nowhere, where the owner was selling watermelons. We received an interesting and valuable lesson. I asked how much (Not in his language however), we worked out that we are both talking about price per kg. We negotiate. Eventually we agree on a price. All done? Far from it. Next I point to the watermelon that I want. He picks an older one from somewhere out of sight. No, I point again. Another alternative offered, but at least from the display this time. No, that one. We agree. It is put on the scales and weights added slowly to the other side of the scales. As soon as a balance is found, additional weights are quickly added. I remove the extra weights and we agree the weight of the Watermelon. This is the end of the ritual. The deal is done. The price calculated, money changes hands. A shake of hands, and all is well, everybody is happy. When time is not important, and you don't get stressed out by the process, it is a pleasant enough way to spend quarter of an hour. Glad we don't do it at the supermarket here though.

Defensive driving

Now imagine this. You are driving along a long and winding road in rural foothills, on a gentle downhill. Minding your own business as it were. You are on the right hand side, which is not natural, but correct for the country. You round a bend to confronted by three Macks, hauling full loads of re-bar, struggling up the hill, but wait, wait, line abreast. That's right three of the massive beasts, side by side, on a road made for two.

Fortunately they were going relatively slowly. I had time to stop as far off the road as I could and hope they would avoid us. They did.

There was a saying that the local divers would pray to Allah at the beginning of the journey, with something to the effect of "Praise be to Allah, for the day is written". I don't know the truth of this or not, but it could help explain the caviler attitude to life and limb sometimes encountered with their driving technique. Lots of the ravines beside the road had wrecked cars and trucks in them. Some obviously there for a long time, others newer. I don't think there was a policy of recovering the vehicles which had plunged off the road. I assume that people were extracted though. It was sad to see so many. I am sure each had a story, possibly never told.

We adopted defensive driving to try to avoid becoming one of those statistics. If a truck was going to pass us, as soon as their cab was past ours, we braked hard, even if we were going up hill. Trucks would often pull back in before they had fully completed the overtaking maneuver. Yes, they would cut you up, in UK vernacular. The consequences could be very sever, with nowhere to go but off the road in some places. And off the road could mean a drop of 500ft or more. Better to break, loose momentum, than risk the mountainside drop. Even a collision would be bad news, as it would be the foreigners fault, irrespective of actual cause.

Not running the locals down, or making judgments. Just stating how it was then.

Abject poverty

Is this the time to start talking about the abject poverty of the region? (Apparent financial poverty) No, I don't think so. It is not the subject matter of this travelogue. There are plenty of other sites that will discuss the poverty, politics, and religion of the region, without me adding another.

Dead dog trick

Another thing we heard about was the dead dog trick. There are some very disturbing versions of this con, which I won't repeat hear. The con consists of a number of people across miles of dry and dusty roads. First group throws a dead dog, or animal bladder full of blood at the front of the truck and shouts gesticulates at the driver. You are therefore persuaded not to stop amongst an angry crowd, but have, unbeknownst to you, acquired blood and guts to the front of the truck.

pay up, just to get away

A few miles on, perhaps at the next village, another group become excited, towards riotous. They claim you have just run down and killed their, .... (insert animal, or person) lets go with dog. On the outskirts of the village, or perhaps the next village, you are stopped by police. They talk of prison, big fines, restitution. Lots of pain. The family arrive. You have killed there .... There is talk of their loss, and their grief. They want allsorts. Eventually, it gets down restitution, down to money. They want a lot of money. They will push for what is a fortune to them, but just expensive to us. Eventually it will seem like the only way out of the situation, which by now feels as if it is life threatening, is to pay up, just to get away.

Fortunately, we were never caught out.

We had fitted a pair of very large and loud big truck air horns before leaving Hatfield. The string pull was beside the drivers door, above the window, which gave the traditional action for sounding off.

Stay alert. Drive defensively, not aggressively. Drive with respect through villages, they are more used to people and animals, and roads are poorly defined. The exception is if you think you are about to be splatted. Drive towards the group with the horn blaring. The con will become less important to them than running for their lives. Please don't do this willy nilly, it will give us a bad reputation. But if you are fairly confident about their intentions, go for it, but make sure you don't get anyone. The object is to scatter them, not run them down. If you are splattered, don't stop. Don't stop at the next village. Don't stop at the police station. Just keep driving. If it is just a con, they will shrug it off, the next one will work.

But what if you do run over an animal. Same advice unfortunately. Don't stop. Don't stop at the next village. Don't stop at the local police station. They can become very exited very quickly and there are stories of crowds getting out of hand very quickly.

Even worse, what if you run over a person. Again, same advice unfortunately, if there are other people around to help them. Don't stop. Don't stop at the next village. Don't stop at the local police station. The crowd can become very exited very quickly and there are stories of crowds getting out of hand even more quickly. The situation deteriorating at an alarming rate. Not always in the best interest of the person run down. Guns are frequently carried. Occasionally, according to the stories, drivers are killed by the crowd, there and then. DON'T STOP! Keep driving to the next big town, where the size of the police force will be sufficient to control the crowd and protect you. Go to the police station and tell the them what happened. Better to be alive and charged with not stopping.

you can buy the following;- kill a local £20; kill a westerner £100; steal a real British passport £300

All of the above sounds really stupid, especially on re-reading it in the cold light of day, but in context, life is cheap. This applies to the region and not just to the country I am telling the story. Mortality rates are high. Live is difficult. In India we later found out that you can buy the following;- kill a local £20; kill a westerner £100; steal a real British passport £300. No need to go in to the details of the pricelist. Just note how much more valuable a passport is than a life!


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Afghanistan, date 1354...

Entering Afghanistan was like going back in time

Entering Afghanistan was like going back in time. Using data from the internet, their calendar was 676 years behind ours, The source of the calendar year shall be based upon the migration of The Prophet (PBUH). Accordingly, 1975 was 1299, or more correctly, ١٢٩٩. not sure which is correct. I will have to check my passport.


He then through her passport into a rubbish bin

The boarder was also a shock to the system. (I think it was this boarder and this trip.) We entered a small waiting room. There were a number of other travellers already in the room. Sat at the desk near the far wall was a kid, about 13, in an oversize uniform. He was immigration. He had a machine gun on the desk to reinforce his position of authority. He may have only just been into his teens, but he knew, that day, he ruled the room, and the boarder. It was his decision if you came into Afghanistan or not. Boarder crossing could take several hours, and this was set to be no exception. A half an hour queue at Heathrow due to the shear number of people would have to be considered a pleasant luxury, VIP treatment even. Back to the room. There was a party of travellers in front of us. There was no queue or line, you just had to work out your position and wait patiently or try your luck at hassling the queue and the kid to get through quicker. If you were obviously from the region, that might work. A foreigner, no chance. One of the people in the party, I can't remember if it was a magic bus, Top Deck Tours or an overland truck, was a young woman, I guess in her early twenties. It was her turn to approach the desk. She handed over her USA passport to the kid. In broken English he said, "Passport, not driving license". He then through her passport into a rubbish bin in the corner of the room. She went to pick it out of the bin. He banged the gun down on his desk. A reminder of his authority. She was in tears by now. Passport in bin, no way forward, no way back. Fortunately she was with a group, not an independent traveller. Not just safety in numbers but at least a little pressure. Even so it was over an hour later before he called her back to the desk for another attempt. He relented. She was told to get her passport. He checked it and her visa. Stamped her passport and waved her away. The whole group of twenty or so left the room and hurriedly left for the next hurdle, the barrier.

It became our turn, there was only two of us, no leverage in numbers. British passports, hard covers. He checked them and our visas. Stamped our passports and we were on our way. Despite the long wait, for no apparent reason, it could not have been simpler. With only two passports to show the barrier was not a problem, and we were on the road to Herat. It took us 3 hours in total to pass through the Afghanistan side of the border.

A quick note about boarder crossings in general, to give some context to the barrier. Frequently the boarder post have an area of 'no mans land' between them. It can take hours to get through the two boarder posts. In fact, on another trip, we had to camp in  'no mans land' as the receiving country refused to process us, and just said come back tomorrow. There are known to be some boarder crossings that you allow three days for. Following the road through 'no mans land' there will frequently be a compound of sorts with many buildings of different sizes and ages. You have to work out which buildings you must visit, and the sequence. As these are arranged around the parking area, without any clear progression, there is a barrier at the very end of the compound. The barrier will have its own building. Here you present everything again to prove that you have been to all the correct offices and received the correct stamps and entry permits. The gate is opened, and you are physically allowed out of / into the country. Some countries also have check posts along the road.


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We had been slowing down since we got into Asia, but Afghanistan was another step change. We did not feel the need to finish breakfast, pack up, and get back on the road everyday.

I suspect part of this was the company we kept. We stayed at a small hotel in Herat. It must have either been the only suitable hotel or had a reputation, as a number of overland travellers congregated there.

You then just have seconds to assess the meat before the flies return to cloak it in a black seething mass again

We went shopping for food daily, and learnt that haggling is part of the culture, part of the ritual of the transaction. We even bought some meat. Meat was hung up outside the shop. This appeared to be normal practice. There were many butchers together as with other types of shop, they were clustered together. This makes life easier as a customer, as all the competition is in one place, it is easy to compare. But how do you compare one butchered animal with another, without the benefit of any form of refrigeration, when every carcass is so covered in flies that you literally cannot see any flesh. That is easy, you gesticulate to the butcher, stand back, and he hits the carcass with a big stick. You then just have seconds to assess the meat before the flies return to cloak it in a black seething mass again. Was it killed that day? Does it still have meat on the bones? Does it have any maggots on the surface? All OK, then the haggling begins. If a price per kg is agreed, a lump of meat is hacked off the carcass. And there you have it, a nice cut of meat, probably goat, for dinner. Never, ever eat salad. I'll expand on that when we get to Kabul.

We happily wandered the streets without fear. There were lots of different craft shops / workshops.

I had a leather passport and money pouch with a strap and belt made for me, costing about £1.

We had a look around a massif fort. Again mud built, but with what was left of a covering of blue tiles.

built by the son of the petty adventurer Genghis Khan

Looking for a photo of the Herat Citadel, I found the photo below at this website. I hope you enjoy visiting J West Hardin's website, but please come back. Photo acknowledged with thanks.

Herat Fortress

According to the guide book of the time, Herat Fortress was built by the son of the petty adventurer Genghis Khan. Alexander the Great is also part of it's history, ranging from the 4th Century, B.C, with further works between the 13th to 15th centaury's. It is looking a little run down it the photo. It became more so during the numerous wars of the region. It has recently been restored.

We also found out about a particular rouse being adopted by some of the locals. Particularly at petrol stations. It was to do with sight of hand and paper currency. 50 and 500 Afghani notes are similar in colour and design. Fill up with diesel and pay with notes including a 500 and they may swop the 500 for a 50 already in their palm and require payment of another 450. We dealt with this by making a show of me counting the notes to Pete and then Pete (or vice versa) to the local. On the occasion that I recall it happening we stuck to our guns, told them to call the police if they wanted to. After a short stand off, all smiles, and we were on our way again, with the correct change.

Whilst we we in Herat we were approached by the driver of an overland truck. I think it was an Encounter Overland truck, but currently I have no way of confirming that. He wanted to give his punters a special treat. By going through the centre of Afghanistan. The overland drivers do tend to have a bit of natural explorer in them. Crossing Afghanistan using the central route would definitely be an adventure. He may have also said that it would be the first crossing using that route.

So what's so special about the central route.

It's a lot shorter, just straight across the middle. But probably takes longer. The majority of the route consists of little used mountain tracks more accustomed to a string of donkeys than a truck. The local inhabitants were an unknown. Were they going to be friendly? Would the presence of twenty extra mouths to feed put an unfair burden on them? The route was un-proved. Could a truck actually get all of the way across the middle? What would happen if there an landslide, or the track petered out, too narrow to traverse. If there was an accident or illness, were would the support come from?

But what a view.... Mountain passes through a high range called the Hindu Kush. Tight curves, assents, then the descents. splendid view after splendid view. Running out of superlatives, before being halfway across. True wilderness. Such an experience. It would most probably be one of Top Gear's best roads in the world, that is if they classified it as a road.

And to top it all of, seeing the Buddhas of Bamiyan in the rocks, before getting into Kabul.

We were very tempted. However, they had a fully equipped expedition truck with all wheel drive, fundamentally designed for off road. We had a road truck which used to belong to Kraft. Their truck had extra clearance, stronger suspension and a short wheelbase. It also had a good angle of departure. Our truck was much stronger than we needed, for on road use. How would it fair totally off road?

The combination of a longer wheelbase, bigger tail overhang, and lower ground clearance could easily be the difference between getting along a track and not. And what 'if not'. Reverse for miles until we could turn around, whist they continued on their adventure. Then back to Herat, without a support vehicle? Part of the reason that they asked us to go with them was to be their support vehicle, each supporting the other. Traveling in convoy for safety. Not safety form the locals, but accident, incident, breakdown, tow and anchor, that sort of safety in numbers.

'This brings us to the cardinal rule of off-roading: Never go alone.'

We discussed our concerns with the driver of the overland truck. He thought it was probably all navigable, with the possible exception of a narrow mountain pass which had a large rock protruding into the road space which might make the wheels / cliff edge very close. The Bedford TM has single wheels, whereas our TK had twin rear wheels. Conceivably, we could hang one wheel in fresh air, relying on the inner wheel to keep the truck on the road. Little did we know at that time that we would be doing exactly that in Nepal, in the Himalaya. Our truck also had a hard, fixed side, his a soft top, more flexible when trying to navigate past boulders on one side, without dropping off the road on the other. Have a look at this photo to get an idea of the issue.

On the whole we decided that there was more against than for, so declined his offer. I am not sure, but I think he may have gone for it anyway. He may have been the first overland truck.

Do I regret that decision? I think it was the correct decision, but it would have been good to have travelled the Central Route from Herat to Kabul before all the destruction, including the Buddhas of Bamiyan and to see the Band e Amir lakes. Our next trip definitely had vehicles incapable of making the journey.

So our route was to be the southern ring road. Rumored to be build by the Soviets using 'tank construction' specifications.

Set off for Kabul at 3am. Saw some mirages driving through the Desert of Death, 150-200km of absolutely flat nothingness. It took 22hrs to drive the 1050km from Herat to Kabul including stops.


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Desert of Death

On, into the Desert of Death. See photo at National Geographic.

The desert was not kind to us, in an unexpected way. You may recall that we changed the clutch plate in front of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. Well, we did not do it perfectly. The clutch release leaver pivots on a single near spherical headed bolt. It worked loose and came out in the desert of death. Where, we had no idea. It could have been hundreds of miles between gear changes. Then just when you want to change gear you find yourself without a clutch.

Crawl underneath. Does not take long to find the problem.

What to do next. I can't remember if we were past Kandahar or not. Kabul was a long way off. We could not get there before dark. It gets more mountainous after Kandahar. Is there anywhere we can get parts in Kandahar?

All the questions. We talked, and we decided to go on to Kabul. We thought it would be a better place to get the truck fixed, and we would hold up less traffic if we continued.

Decision made. But how do you get a truck moving without having the ability to disengage the drive train whilst starting the engine. Well you just hope that the starter motor and battery are up to moving the truck and stating the engine at the same time.

1st gear is too low, the engine starts but the jerky movement provides to little momentum to make progress. A few more attempts, and then try second gear. More of a struggle for the starter motor but better momentum when the engine has started. But we can't drive all the way to Kabul in second gear.

Driving a seven and a half ton truck as if it were a racing car or go-cart, is not for the faint hearted.

A few more experiments. Fortunately we could both double declutch. It was a full manual box with no synchro on 1st. Eventually we were able to get the vehicle up to a speed, pull the gear stick hard to get the gearbox into neutral, let the engine speed fall off using the accelerator, and then put the gearstick into the next higher gear. Eventually we became reasonably proficient at this, matching engine and gear speeds. Get it right and it becomes smooth and easy. The road became more mountainous and we should never really be driving at night, especially without proper control of the gears. To change driver, we would just do it on the move, without stopping of even slowing much. Headlights only go so far into the dark. Bends jump at you out of the dark. No power steering, but thank goodness for air brakes. Driving a seven and a half ton truck as if it were a racing car or go-cart, is not for the faint hearted. I would not recommend this course of action anymore. Getting a feel for it yet. Have a look at New York Times article On Afghan Road, Scenes of Beauty and Death and the video. Not the same stretch of road but it does give an insight.


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We arrived in Kabul, eventually.

Parked in a strange place which may have been a hotel. I have looked on Google Maps but have yet to locate it. I will describe it instead. Mud colour, the same as most places, with walls over six feet thick. It was a huge place, possibly previously part of the citadel. Windows were small and infrequent. Doors, old solid wood, no or little paint. The corridors were long and dark. It did have some electric lighting, but the power was only on intermittently. This was throughout Kabul not just this particular hotel. And if the power stopped, so did the piped water.

We paid a fee for parking and that gave us access to the loos and shower. I don't recall seeing into a bedroom. It took a while but we eventfully found a shower room which worked. Now I know this is going to sound strange, but I will attempt to give you an idea of the expedition to have a shower. Armed with towel, soap, torch, shorts and tee shirt, Pete and I would set off along the dark corridors. Because of the very thick, nearly 2m, walls and the lack of windows, the temperature was considerably colder than outside. It was a natural thermal regulator due the the massif thermal mass. Warm in the winter and cooler in the summer, than the ambient temperature. It was very hot outside, hot and sweaty, inside cool and goose pimples. The water was only heated occasionally, was it the right time? We found the room. Pitch black inside. Hence the torch. The room was bigger than most hotel bedrooms by a significant margin. Furniture was sparse. An old wooden chair, a white wash hand basin and a pipe with a tap and old fashioned shower head. No sides to the shower nor a shower tray. Water would just fall onto the hard dirt coloured floor. Torch on and you could see various insects scuttling away. Not all of them were that bothered though. The ants just kept on working, taking no notice of us. One of us holds the torch, the other gets ready and bravely turns the water on. It gurgles and slowly starts to flow. As the first drops to fall directly to the floor, the ants scatter. The water colour starts to clear, and the floor has a circle, with a black boundary, clear of ants. The flip flops come of and bravely step into the circle, not knowing if the water will be cold or tepid. Never actually hot. Then swop over. The water just flows off towards one of the walls an disappears through a hole. Does it ever get to a drain? The corridors now appear to be much brighter, and warmer as well. Open the outer door and step back into the oven, that is the outside world.

That's just a flavour. Such luxury. Seriously, a shower becomes a very welcome luxury, however weird.

Back to the problem with the truck. It was worse than we thought on the road. I don't know if it got worse as we drove through the mountains, or we just missed it when we looked the first time. The casting around the clutch had cracked as well as the pivot bolt falling out. It was cast iron. Difficult to repair. We found the motor district of town. One of the nice things about a lot of foreign towns and cities is that the same trades congregate into the same part of the town. This is not, or was not, an English trait. Part of the reason for buying a Bedford to travel with was the perceived availability of spares around the world. We were proved right. We located a pivot bolt without to much trouble but not a replacement clutch bell housing. However, more good news. Despite it being cast iron, they said that they could weld it. It would have been difficult to get a garage to attempt that in England, but the more behind the times, or poor societies seem to be, the more resourceful they become. On another trip in another country, they rewound a failed rectifier, by hand. In England, and many other countries, the old one would be in the bin and a new one slotted in its place.

Back underneath the truck, this time in the hotel grounds, instead of in front of the Blue Mosque, Istanbul. We dropped the gearbox to the ground, took the bell housing off and took it to the selected workshop. It would be about a week.

This gave us time to get to know Kabul, and to write home.

We have had 1 day of rain since leaving England ... My suntan is developing nicely, and I have not even peeled once.

Simple things, like buying food became something of a ritual.

There are two good times to buy, in the early morning, and just before closing. For food, early morning is best.

After looking at a few stalls / shops, we decided where we would by our tomatoes. It was a staple food. Every day we would get up early and go to the market. There we would start the process of buying the tomatoes. After a few days the trader got to know us and we could have a bit of a joke, albeit in different languages. His asking price reduced as we were early morning regulars and not just one day tourists, who sometimes would not 'play properly', and just pay the asking price. It got to the point that the asking price was always the same and the final negotiated price was always the same. It could not be ignored nor circumvented, it was part of the culture, part of the ritual. It continued until the bargain was struck. We both became quite experienced at it.

after years of travelling and bargaining for everything

Later, after years of travelling and bargaining for everything, down to an individual vegetable, I would be invited to visit. Quite openly, not just for my company, but to help them go shopping for expensive items. This would include white goods, which were normally fixed price in England. You paid the price on the price tag. But with half an hour or so to spend, and the audacity to ask, and go to the store manager, some reduction could be negotiated and a bargain struck. Everyone's a winner.

Right, don't read the next paragraph if you are about to eat. It may put you off your food. You have been warned!

I mentioned earlier about never eating salad.

I mentioned earlier about never eating salad. Here is the reason. The streets of Kabul are not the most hygienic. There is not a universal drainage system, and that that does exist is old, decrepit, and poorly maintained. Also factor in the other relevant snippet of information I gave you earlier. The water is only turned on occasionally. When the water is not turned on, and for the complete picture, not being pumped from the reservoir, there is no pressure in the pipes. No pressure to keep the water table from seeping back into the pipes. But the water table is contaminated with sewerage because of the lack of drainage. Human and animal sewerage mixed together flows into the ground an contaminates the water table. This in turn gets into the water supply whist the water pumps are turned off. When the water is turned back on, the potable water from the distant reservoir becomes contaminated and is no longer potable. On some of the streets the sewer is in a covered trough between the road and the path. but a lot of the covers are broken. Some people use the broken, open sewers as open air toilets. That's right, just there, right on the street, in public, squat down and do a poo or a pee. A little dignity is maintained by the type of normal clothing. But few are under any illusion as to what is happening. Disease is rife. Loose bowels appears to be the norm. Hepatitis and cholera are endemic. Further downstream, the vegetable and salad stalls are beside the road, on the path. In the heat of the sun the salad starts to wilt, and not looking good will not sell at the right price. It needs a regular splash with some fresh water to keep it looking good. The problem is there is no fresh water on tap. But there is a supply of water just there. Just by the stall. In the trough is the only nearby water in a very brown and dusty environment. Yes, it is used to keep the salad looking fresh, and the vegetables if necessary. But we know what is in that water. NEVER, EVER, eat salad, as salad. Always cook everything. The tomatoes I described buying earlier, we always cooked them. The same rule applies to ice cubes in your drinks. Don't even think about it, however hot. Some places will boil water before serving it to you, but the likelihood of getting somebody to boil something and them cooling it, it just goes against logic. This is not just Afghanistan, it applies to lots of countries.

Remember this was 1975, and it will have changed by now.

Hope you enjoy your tea.

I mentioned cooking, through cooking of all food. Surprise, surprise not all is well.

Kabul is located between Latitude 34-31' North and Longitude 69-12' East at an altitude of 1800 m (6000 feet) above sea level, which makes it one of the world's highest capital cities.

Water boils at a temperature of 94deg C at that altitude. That is not a high enough temperature to kill all the germs in the water and on the food. Answer, the pressure cooker. It is an essential piece of kit. Even camel or goat tenderises nicely in a pressure cooker, and the water boils at 100deg C or more. Enough to kill the bugs.

It is fascinating shopping in Kabul. There is a lot of skill within the artisan community, often shown working on the street, or in the shop. Whereas perishable produce is best bought in the early morning, most other things, late evening provides the best opportunity for the lowest price. The locals are good salesmen and good at bargaining. If they feel there is a sale in the offing, they will keep you talking and stop you leaving the shop until you have bought something. Knowing this, the best price is gained after you have expressed sufficient interest in an item, is to start to leave the shop without having bought it. The stopping you leaving the shop is obviously not physical, but is by talking about the item, and dropping the price to keep you interested. If you leave the shop, that is a sale lost. That could be dinner!. So if you are there as they are packing up, you are the last sale of the day. Even more incentive to ensure you buy something. Accordingly the price drops further. Having said this, they know both the cost and the value of an item, and therefore there is a price below which they will not go. And there you have it, the best price to buy. The negotiation can last for days if you keep going back to the same shop for the same item. You have to get really immersed in the culture, and the sense that time is of no importance, to enjoy this.

The welding was done. We put the truck back together. Next job was to test it.

We drove out towards the reservoir, which was apparently the place to get good water. Allegedly, the Embassies came out here for their water supply.

Having mentioned Embassies I must record that they are a wonderful resource. Having found the British Embassy we visited it most days during our stay in Kabul. It was a green oasis in a desert of brown. Looking at a satellite image / map does not match the memory. Perhaps it has moved, or expanded. As soon as you walk through the gates, you can feel the difference. The gardens are well tended, and the lawn immaculate and vivid green, as you would expect. No water shortage here. You step inside the building and the air conditioning is quietly doing it's allotted job. You don't need a purpose, you can just sit in the leather armchairs and read the newspapers if you wish, they are only a couple of days old. Elsewhere the papers from the UK would be at least a week old.

We decided to drive up to the Buddhas of Bamiyan. This may have been sight seeing or another vehicle test. The morning came to set out and Pete did not want to go for some reason. We went anyway. We were not in the best of sorts, and we both became irritable. Shortly after we left Kabul we arrived at the dirt road going north. The surface quickly deteriorated. It was the main highway north, an arterial road, but was more akin to a rural dirt road to a single house. I was driving, as Pete did not really want to be there. I pushed the truck hard. Getting there and back in a day was ambitious. As the driver, dirt roads and other poor terrain are more confortable because you have a steering wheel to hold on to. The passenger is just left to bounce around. We found a junction to the left. Towards the West was correct, but was this the right road. There were no signposts so we just hoped. An hour or so later, still out of sorts and argumentative we agreed it was a waste of time going anywhere as we were not enjoying the journey and had little chance of enjoying arriving, it the current mood. We gave up and turned around. More pummeling for the truck, all the way back to Kabul. We will never know how close we got to seeing the Buddhas, or even if we were on the right road. And now they have been destroyed. What was the argument about, I have no idea. The following day all was fine again. We did not stay much longer in Kabul.

We restocked the truck and made ready for the Khyber Pass.


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The Khyber Pass

We had been told that border post closed at four pm to ensure that any vehicle crossed the pass before nightfall. Otherwise it was a night at the boarder post. So we left early for Jalalabad.

In Jalalabad, there was a roundabout with a policeman in the middle, directing precious little traffic. I was bad. We had to go left at the roundabout. Driving on the right meant 270 degrees around the outside. I took a short cut, with no traffic, and went around the wrong way. The policeman blew his whistle repeatedly. I acknowledged him, shrugged, and waved in a friendly way. He blew his whistle a few more times, then smiled and waved back.

were being robbed at gunpoint!

Jalalabad was the last town before the boarder. We were doing well with plenty of time to spare. Along the road, in the middle of nowhere, with not another building in sight, there stood a lonely police station. The road had a barrier across. It looked like a check point. We left the road and pulled into the police station yard as required. A policeman came out and checked our papers. That was normal enough. Then it got a bit strange. He wanted the back opened up to inspect the inside. Up went the roller shutter and he jumped in. That is unusual. Normally a quick look in is enough to establish if there is anyone travelling / hiding in the back. He demanded to look into boxes and bags. Saying he liked this or that. He saw Pete's watch. "That is a nice present for me" We refused. He kept on making us open things and tip contents on the floor. He had a gun and a side arm. The side arm came out and he pushed home his advantage. It dawned on us that we were being robbed at gunpoint! By now it was very very hot in the back of the truck. It was past midday and the sun was beating down on the white painted box. Inside, all three of us were sweating profusely. We both drank our water, collected from the reservoir. We did not offer any to him. He continued to search our stuff. Turning over things he had already seen. Asking for "present". Picking on different things, hopping to find something we would be prepared to give to end this ordeal. He picked on Pete's watch again. "You have many things, something for me" Again the threat with the gun. He was getting more irate as we continued to refuse him. We had some more water. It was unbearably hot in the back now. We became more stubborn. He become more annoyed. We don't like corruption and bribery. We don't respond well to coercion. The whole of the floor was covered with layer upon layer of our junk. A teenage boy's bedroom, plus some. Suddenly, he gave up. Jumped down and waved towards the boarder. We did not need to be told twice, jumped down, pulling the roller shutter down with us, locked it, and we were off.

That was a close call.

It could so easily have had a different outcome.

We were now late for the boarder. It was going to be touch and go for today. We lost a lot of time at the check point.

We arrived at the compound on the Afghanistan side of the boarder. Busier than when we entered Afghanistan, and a little more organized. Still going from one office to another. The customs officer wanted to see inside the back of the truck. This is a reasonable enough request normally, but following the recent experience, less than welcome. We threw up the roller shutter with a passion. He just glanced inside, saw the total chaos, said something about the check point and gestured for us to close up again. The Afghan Customs Officer obviously knew about that sort of activity at the check point. We were so pleased that we had not tried to find time to tidy up and repack everything. The speed of that inspection was probably the difference. We made the last convoy of the day. Into Pakistan, and toward the Khyber Pass.

With the benefit of hindsight, over the years, was the check point really a police station? Was the man in uniform who searched the truck, a policeman? Yes, probably but not in use at the time, and no, he probably was not a serving policeman. Just a thief.
Could we have come to harm? Most definitely, we were very lucky not to.

Could we have come to harm? Most definitely, we were very lucky not to.

Brave or foolhardy? You decide.

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Key Dates

Turkey (Asian)  
Afghanistan ??/??/1975 to ??/??



Samsum to Tirebolu 4 days for 245 km
Herat to Kabul 22 hours for 1050 km
Kabul 14/7/1975



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[1]   The Bosphorus or Bosporus Strait
Bosphorus from space by NASA

Istanbul, Turkey: The Crossroads of Europe and Asia This digital camera image was taken by the crew of the International Space Station on April 16, 2004. When this image was taken, strong currents carried turbid coastal waters from the Black Sea through the Strait and into the Sea of Marmara. The rugged uplands to the north of the city are forested and contain vital reservoirs. Note Ataturk airport southwest of the city near the bottom of the image, the picturesque Prince Islands in the Sea of Marmara, and the sinuous waterway and harbor on the western shore known as the Golden Horn. Astronaut photograph ISS008-E-21752 was taken , with a Kodak DCS760 digital camera equipped with an 200-mm lens, and is provided by the Earth Observations Laboratory, Johnson Space Center. The International Space Station Program supports the laboratory to help astronauts take pictures of Earth that will be of the greatest value to scientists and the public, and to make those images freely available on the Internet. Additional images taken by astronauts and cosmonauts can be viewed at the NASA/JSC Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth.


View Trans Asia 1975 - Turkey in a larger map

We when to the Black Sea and had a pleasant 4 days edging our way along the coast.


[2] I have checked the original letter and it does say 11,000 ft, however, this is a little optimistic. I have also checked a contour map which suggests that I should have written 2,440m. An entirely different result of about 8,000 ft. Assuming the route was along Trabzon Gümüşhane Yolu / Bayburt Gümüşhane Yolu / Erzurum Bayburt Yolu. The highest peak in the area appears to be Abdal Musa Peak at 3331 m, or 10,928 ft, which is close to 11,000 ft. [<2]


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View Trans Asia 1975 - Turkey in a larger map

A photo of the area, albeit in winter, very pretty. Another by 'tucar' which shows the road as it was recently and an altitude sign is shown below.



[3] Iran was under the rule of the Shah from 16 September 1941 until his overthrow by the Iranian Revolution on 11 February 1979.

Mohammad Rezā Shāh Pahlavī
(Persian: محمد رضا شاه پهلوی, [mohæmˈmæd reˈzɒː ˈʃɒːhe pæhlæˈviː]; 26 October 1919 – 27 July 1980) [<3]


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View Trans Asia 1975 - Iran in a larger map

We Stayed at a motel for the night at Sari.










Wendy Tanner's photos of Afghanistan

Whilst searching the internet for a photo of Buddhas of Bamiyan in the rocks I found Wendy's wonderful photos of the area. I recommend that you click on her photo below to take you there. Remember to come back though.

market in Kabul - All rights reserved by Wendy TannerThis is how I remember Kabul





More of other peoples photos;

1970 A1 Kabul-Jalalabad Kabul River near Surobi

Torkham border between Afghanistan and Pakistan

Torkham Custom, Afghanistan

The old road at Khyber Pass