The first book I remember reading that involved travel to far flung locations was one written by an old colonial hand, Fred G Merfield, with the alluring title ‘Gorillas were my Neighbours’. Looking back, I now see it as the memoirs of a casual racist, (amazingly quite acceptable at the time), with caricatures of tribal rituals, cannibalism and bush meat in Equatorial Africa. However, it was a considerable eye-opener for an eleven year old boy and certain phrases from it still loiter in my mind.
The BBC recently broadcast a series of one or two hour films on #slowtravel, one was a canal journey, another a reindeer sleigh trip in north Norway and another entitled ‘The Country Bus’ featuring a local bus journey through the narrow lanes and wide landscapes of the Yorkshire Dales. They recalled a time not long past when travel wasn’t really about timetables, or at times, even specific destinations ! The early forerunners of modern adventure travel almost all operated on the basis that the traveller was not guaranteed to get to, or to see all the sights along the way, but they would do their best to attain a final objective. Thus, London to Kathmandu, Cairo to Cape Town became ‘routes’ followed by a steady stream of buses, converted trucks filled with hopeful wayfarers happy just to take things as they came.
Collecting STUFF. We all do it in some way or another but collecting passport stamps as a pursuit in itself, rather than incidentals that just happen from time to time always veers a bit close to braggadocio for me. Nevertheless just as train and car number plates fascinate some people, so do passport stamps. It takes all sorts ! (I have to admit my own peccadillo is collecting CAA airport significator codes – LHR, DEL, MCW etc).
Podcast version here
I visited Pakistan in 1984-5, at a time when the military ruled the country via the harsh and unpopular General Zia-ul-Haq. Just across the northwest border the Russians were embroiled in a war in Afghanistan that would be fatal to the failing USSR. I travelled with a girlfriend from Karachi up to the tribal areas around Quetta, Peshawar and Swat in winter time. Read more . .
Train to the Afghan border. The big adventure, the first of 1985, began the next day, on Weds 2nd. We’d had the idea to go to Chaman, a small village about 70 miles away, very close to the Afghan border.
Podcast version here -see also written content of Bob’s story
Hotel Sarfaraz, Madyan, Swat, Pakistan. Well, after all the humming and haaring over where to go we’ve ended up in Swat – the accommodation in Gilgit, we found out, would be too expensive, coupled with the cost of getting there – and back, probably by plane, which is highly dependent on local weather and we might be stuck for many days, eventually put us off.
Also, although the mountain scenery would be spectacular, the valley floors would be very bare at this time of year, and very, very cold. The alternative we came up with was to take the bus to Swat, costing a mere 80 Rupees (about £4.50) for a pretty interesting journey of some five hours or so from Rawalpindi.
Podcast version here
Quetta, New Years day walk, Chiltan Hill, – Bob’s story. Ah, yes, as I was saying, our New Year’s day walk. This involved getting a bus out along Brewery (pronounced Biroori) Rd for perhaps 5 miles or so, 1½ Rupees in a bus we unexpectedly found was divided by a curtain hung across the middle, one end for women, one for men. Read more . .
New Year’s day walk to Chiltan Hill, Quetta – Ceri’s story. Diary entry 3 January. The people at the PTDC (Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation have all been very nice and helpful to us. We go there every day, have tea and talk and generally disrupt the smooth flow of business, although i don’t think they’re rushed off their feet at any time. Read more . .
We arrived at Saidu Sharif which was the terminus, because it was the local office of the PTDC – (Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation), also the poshest hotel in Swat. Despite the manager offering us discounts, saying breakfast and heating free, it was still Rs 220 – three times the price we wanted to pay. Read more . .