Overland to Bangladesh 1973 – Part 6: Kabul
We reached Kabul at 4 pm and were immediately beset by hotel touts. The advantage of numbers meant that we could take a taxi into the town centre where some of us could stay with the luggage while others checked out hotels. Euen and I did the latter and decided on the Helal Hotel for a modest 25 Afghanis each a night (i.e. less than 20p).
Kabul represented a return to the comforts of civilisation. Good, clean food; hot water not just for showers, but to shave in and catch up with one’s clothes washing. There were even roof–top views from the hotel! So twentieth-century was it that I had my wallet stolen from my shoulder bag (I had forgotten to zip it up), but there was only £3.50 worth of local currency in it.
Not only were there creature comforts, there were even musicians who performed at our hotel, accompanying a singer on the tambura, sitar, tabla and harmonium. ‘Marvellously expressive face, he would throw his head back and sing from the back of his mouth, holding long quavering notes with a shaking tongue.’
There were a number of bureaucratic encounters to be endured. Reserving seats on the bus to Peshawar was the most straightforward, but the soonest we could travel was three days hence. Changing traveller’s cheques at the bank involved an hour of form filling, queuing and waiting to have one’s name called. We also had to have permits from the Pakistan Embassy to allow us to leave Pakistan by road and travel into India. This took a day.
Ramadan started while I was in Kabul, making finding meals during daylight hours more difficult. But those were more relaxed times and we found a hotel opposite ours that served breakfast and lunch. We walked to Babur’s Garden on the other side of the river. It was closed, but the walk was worth it. We saw women washing clothes in the river and plantations of poplars. That evening we found a cinema showing The Great Bank Robbery, starring Zero Mostel and Kim Novak – definitely not worthy of an Oscar but a welcome fix of western escapism.