Overland to Bangladesh 1973 – Part 5: Mashed to Kabul
Mashed to Herat
I fell in with a number of other travellers en route from Mashed to Herat. Our fellowship developed in the face of obstructive officialdom at the border. We travelled for four hours to the Iranian border point, which was in the middle of nowhere. We felt we were being ripped off over the bus fare from there to Herat and did not take the first bus. However, we had to take the second bus, which left just before 5pm to cross No Man’s Land to the Afghan border post at Islam Qala. There the officials dragged their heels and we were not through until 7 pm, at which point the police closed the gate for the night and we had no choice but to stay there. We decided that this was a ruse on their part to get us to stay at the on-site hotel and made a point of camping in the porch of the Customs House. I awoke around 6 am after a fairly decent night’s sleep – which was not the case for everyone! – and was fortified by tea and newly-made bread from the restaurant.
The bus drove straight into the courtyard of the Sharq Hotel in Herat. This advertised itself as ‘Cheap. Modern. A lot of fun.’ It was on the Butterfield list, the rooms looked good, the manager was helpful and it was indeed cheap – under 20p a night. So we stayed.
Although I did not spend long in Herat, I liked it. The mosque was beautiful and the bazaar fascinating. I bought a light mauve cotton outfit and a turban and had karaye for lunch (fried eggs, meat and onions) – it was delicious.
Herat to Kabul
We bought food for the journey – a very good melon, grapes and cucumbers – I got my trunk onto the bus, the group settled into their seats and we departed. After 200 yards, the bus stopped and we were told we had to transfer onto another bus. There followed an aggravating misunderstanding over seating. The bus conductor spoke no English but spoke urgently to us and then gave us to understand that the bus would not move until we complied with his incomprehensible instructions. Tempers frayed on both sides, but we eventually realised that they did not want the European and Afghan passengers sitting together. Having arranged ourselves into a segregated group, the bus left an hour late. It was an uncomfortable journey to Kandahar with Afghan passengers standing in the aisles, crammed up against us. We arrived there at 3 am and were told we were staying there for three hours so that the driver could rest. I took a short stroll with John, one of our group, accompanied by the eerie howling of dogs. We did not go far. I kipped down in a porch way until the bus was ready to depart.
The journey to Kabul took us through a flat arid landscape with occasional sightings of nomads with camel trains. We drove for over five hours without a break, stopping for lunch in Ghazni where I had another good karaye and tea. The bus made a final prayer stop in the hills approaching Kabul. It was an attractive spot with a cold spring.