AFGHANISTAN – 1974 … part one!

I was 21 years young when I took off together with a friend to a great adventure – we drove an old VW-bus from Munich/Germany to Afghanistan, crossing Austria, former Jugoslawia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Iran – and Afghanistan.

I know, it sounds kind of crazy but I can tell you in all honesty, I don’t regret ONE SECOND of the trip as it gave me priceless memories about people and places, experiences I would never have gotten anywhere else – and lessons which no college nor university can possibly provide … lessons for life! It helped me to widen my horizon and to become much more tolerant, to understand that each one of us is only one of many, equal to others, a speck in the universe, to confirm we are in essence all the same, have the same tears, suffer from pain and loss the same way … that we all are humans!

I always loved adventures, the unknown, to explore, discover – that didn’t change till now and I am afraid, will always remain this way so if someone tries to preach, with the years people become more calm or inactive – don’t believe it, it’s a myth!

I amost forgot to mention – my 22nd birthday, toward the end of the trip, I celebrated in the desert of Afghanistan …

I want to share with you some of the memories I so highly cherish, memories of beautiful Austria, gorgeous ex-Jugoslawia, of wonderful people and places in Bulgaria who I will never forget, splendid places in Turkey, fascinating Iran still under the rule of the Shah Reza Pahlavi and breathtakingly wild but fantastic Afghanistan at a time before the Russian invasion … the two latter don’t exist anymore the way I saw them, have radically changed – but I remember countless situations, wonderful people and places and consider myself most fortunate to have seen them the way they were … years back!

All stories I will tell you are true, I vouch for them. They won’t be in chronological order of countries and so I will start “upside down”, with Afghanistan. It was of course LONG BEFORE Osama bin Laden, NO Talibans, apparent hatred and oppression … in which people lived with dignity though immens poverty. The women were partially veiled wearing the “burka” which covered not only the body but as well head and face while having a kind of mesh in front of their eyes for to be able to look out. Back then I remember they were called as well “tshadoree”. They came in all kind of colors and looked fascinating to me … that they were a symbol of suppreesion of women didn’t really dawn on me back then. Mostly married women wore them, the younger ones and girls either wore a “regular” tshador” or only a head-scarf.

We had entered the country coming from the holy city of Mashad/Iran and reached after a while the first city, Herat! I do not recall a lot about Herat in particular except houses made from clay … at least what appeared to me to be clay! It is said to have many historic buildings though and is in particular famous for it’s beautiful “Friday Mosque”. It is situated favourably on the ancient and historic trade routes of India, China, the Middle East and Europe and had back then a population of roughly 240,000 people.

We were hungry after the long ride and stopped at a “restaurant”. It was a simple place, the people very friendly and hospitable and very apparantly not used to Western travellers – and the food very tasty! We ordered camel-steak … to the best of my memory the only one available! I recall in particular it’s BIG size which made the already large plate look small. On top of the breaded and well done piece of meat which reached over the edges of the plate was a friend egg … and a handfull of french fries. During the years I thought often of this meal … don’t ask me why – I assume because it was strange for me at that time to eat part of a camel .. but it tasted good, a wee-bit on the sweet side – not bad at all though! I was and still am always eager to tast new foods, typical foods of a country – and this was for sure a FIRST for me!

Soon we were back on the road for to reach our next goal … Lashkar Gah. You can find it easily on the map … just follow the street from Herat to the south. There is only one … we were told back then that half the street from Herat (in the West of the country) to Kabul (in the East) Americans had built – and half, Russians.

Lashkar Gah (which literally means “Place of the soldiers“) were mainly historical places with ruins from close to a thousand years ago attesting to former beauty and fascinating architecture. The great fortress of Bost, Qala-e-Bost, remains an impressive ruin at the convergence of the Helmand river, a half hour’s drive south of Lashkar Gah.

Qala-e-Bost is famous for its decorative arch, which appears on the 100 Afghani note (Afghan currency). The drive from Lashkar Gah to Qandahar lasted about two hours at most. We didn’t stop to sightsee because we wanted to reach Kabul the same day and as Herat-Kabul was at least a 12 hour drive, we didn’t want to lose time and – after a short break – headed on.

I remember having started to think in strange terms in order to convince myself it would not be long … I remember one sign showing the distance left to Kabul .. it was, if I recall correctly, around 500 km and my first thought was .. “only another five hour drive”. The “only” was relative of course, I guess I was “building bridges” for myself, trying to convince myself we’d be able to make it. It was not especially dangerous to drive at night – apart from the hightened danger of having an accident of course and being out in the middle of nowhere – back then there was no particular security concern.

Sure enough we did safely reach the capital the same night … but about that and much more I will tell you next time.

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