Introduction for Afghanistan
My wanderlust and curiosity about the east kept taking me further and further into Asia. I had immersed myself as well in reading all accounts of the life of Alexander and managed to follow much of the route his Macedonian army had taken when they left the Mediterranean coast.
On my first trip to Afghanistan I was alone. That would have been in 1975. It was a very peaceful place during the years before the Russian invasion/takeover. The second trip was with a young Canadian (Michael Bailey) with whom I had a 3 year relationship. If I remember correctly, we had gone to India through Pakistan, but needed a more direct route heading back West. Michael’s health had deteriorated in India and our funds were running low. We heard about the Russian invasion of Afghanistan and were told the border was closed. Given our situation, we decided to approach the Kyber Pass border and we were allowed in.
I have two especially strong memories of Kabul. One was my visit to the Kabul Zoo. It may well have been the only zoo in the entire country: it was a small zoo and certainly a poor one. An elephant was tethered to a post by a rope, so I decided to go over and touch him. The marvelous beast wrapped his trunk around my waist and lifted me into the air.
After a couple of minutes, he gently put me back on the ground. I remember reading in the news that when the so-called ‘coalition’ armies of the West were fighting in Kabul, the animals were either slaughtered for food or let go. My second memory was of a visit to the National Museum where many of the country’s art treasures were on display. I distinctly recall the lack of lighting and security. It seemed that anyone couldjust walk off with these priceless objects. This is apparently what happened about the same time as the events at the zoo.
The portraits of men are particularly striking. They all look so dignified, each with a distinctly Afghani character. In some of the Herat pictures, you can see the mature Aleppo pine trees that lined the main roads of the city. Someone about 100 or 200 years ago, had the intelligence to plant these hardy shade-giving trees by the hundreds. The result, so many decades later, is these trees offering a continuous cool, shaded corridor through the city … their beauty gives the city its unique character.
Except for long distance buses – themselves something out of a fantasyland – I do not recall seeing any motorized vehicles on the roads. Horse drawn carriage was the main form of transport.