Wanderings in the Hindu Kush. Introduction… In the winter of 1984-5 I and a girlfriend swanned off to see Pakistan and India, and had some excellent adventures in unusual circumstances. Quite hard travelling then, and in retrospect. Still, you have to pass the time somehow !
We spent months wandering in Baluchistan, Northwest Frontier Provinces and Swat, loving and hating it by turns but survived to tell the tale. At least, I’m still here. My girlfriend at the time was Ceri, a spirited and lovely person who, though that relationship foundered, remained a part of my life, in particular the last 10-12 years.
Ceri died in 2015, aged only 53, in recovery from an operation to make yet further corrections to one of two life-limiting illnesses she bore with equanimity. October 21st is her anniversary and I have recreated these, some of her most treasured memories, as my own small tribute to her. In many ways she was the love of my life, clever, quirky, blessed and damned with adamantine stubbornness and a bloody good laugh all round. Cheers Ceri ! Not forgotten, ever. XX
After escaping the pandemonium of Karachi and heading for the hills for some tranquillity, we found ourselves in Quetta with rather a lot of time on our hands, which only became apparent after our arrival by minibus. We found it outrageously cold after the sweaty heat of Karachi, and walked off to the train station, only to discover we would be unable to get a train out, (surely a safer mode of transport), to anywhere for 9 days.
This incredible work was compiled by postcards, letters etc sent from everywhere and makes fantastic reading even today – if you can find a copy. It was a precursor to the type of information we now take for granted on the internet, masterminded among others, by Geoff Crowther
We had booked in to a hotel near the town centre with a two bar electric fire (connected via bare wires poked in the plughole), over which we huddled, planning which excursions we should be able to survive ! Once we had acclimatised a little over Christmas, we decided on a walk up to Chiltan Hill, a viewpoint high above the city.
The next day we found ourselves chugging up toward the Afghan border town of Chaman, with the later stages almost at walking pace in the snow, with a steam engine at each end of the train, labouring uphill virtually all the way. We were under the impression that we could find accommodation in the Railway Rest House, but things changed, as they do, and our experience was, er, character building, and chilling in the ordinary sense.
What larks, though ! We were sitting on the doorstep of a country where hundreds of thousands of Russian soldiers were deployed against a ragbag of hill tribespeople who were, quite simply, tougher than the Russians by a mile, and more determined to drive the interlopers from their country. Of course, we all know what happened next, but our reality was that these feudal tribal groups had a break from their normal internecine strife to fight a common enemy. People should read history more. . . .
As we both kept diaries at the time, I have reprinted the actual extracts from Ceri’s and my own, perhaps showing differing reactions and perceptions. I remember reading accounts by Peter Fleming (News from Tartary) and Ella Maillart (The Forbidden Journey) of the travel they shared through Southwestern China to Kashmir in the early part of the 20th Century. You would scarcely believe they had been within spitting distance of each other for months, so different were the stories. Ours are not quite like that but they do illustrate our preoccupations and perceptions at the time.