The Salang Pass

I seem to have selected rather too many pictures to tell the story of our journey from Mazar-e Sharif over the Russian-built Salang Pass and back into Kabul but they are full of Afghani atmosphere and so I have left them as they are. They show such sights as the work of the Halo Trust (“clearing mines, one village at a time”), traditional decorative truck art, the ubiquitous portraits of Ahmad Massoud, the Lion of Panjshir, and the sometimes startling effects of a traffic jam at thirteen thousand feet.

Before we began the climb we took the opportunity to visit Tashkurgan, the sprawling ruin of a village where once stood one of the largest covered bazaars in Asia (pictures 06-12). It flourished as a manufacturing and trading centre in this remote portion of the Silk Road for centuries until being comprehensively flattened during Russian reprisals of the 1980’s. The mud brick remains were quite pretty in the dawn light and life seemed to be going on as usual, although I did wonder whether the puppy in picture 10 would be allowed to grow to adulthood with his ears intact.

Pictures 18-27 show the wonderful Buddhist rock-cut stupa and monastery of Takht-e Rostam, where our arrival was greeted with the enthusiam normally only granted to VIPs. Well, I suppose that we were important enough being the only visitors that had passed that way for some time. The poor functionary on the gate snoozed through our entry to the site and then flagged down a passing farmer to drive him up the hill after us, frantically waving his little book and asking for our passport numbers. It is a lovely site in a peaceful location, reminiscent of the monasteries at Ajanta and Ellora in the Indian Deccan but without any of their exquisite detail.

The high pass was relatively incident free when we traversed its alternating stretches of tunnels and hairpin bends; the main fear that we (I) experienced was that we might be caught in one of the frequent traffic jams that can cause hold ups of several days. Mechanics with the most basic of equipment have set up makeshift stalls all the way to the top and seem prepared to take on the most grievous of breakdowns. Soft drink stalls abound and I was very pleased to notice that a number of the drivers seem to have taken on board the Ramadan dispensation given to travellers that allows them to take fluid instead of carrying out a complete fast. There seem to be as many different interpretations of the rules as there are people to comply with them but it is very hard to sympathise with anyone who chooses to endanger others by driving one of those great big trucks over the mountains for fourteen hours while consuming nothing but dust.

Dull as Kabul looked after the attractive cities of Herat and Mazar-e Sharif, getting back there seemed to bring us a step closer to home. Although it was still Ramadan, a definite festival atmosphere had begun to permeate the town as shops filled up with Eid produce and families prepared for the holiday. A couple of days had been left at the end of our itinerary as a safety margin and filling them was going to prove problematic, particularly as I had totally run out of cash and could not find a functioning ATM anywhere despite guide book instructions to the contrary. Luckily (?) I had such a bellyache by this stage that I couldn’t have eaten much anyway but I did find myself longing for home with a passion that few travel adventures have inspired to date.

Categories: Central Asia

2 Comments

  • Elisabeth says:

    Anxiously awaiting your blog report. ET

  • Nicola Ainsworth says:

    Elisabeth,

    It’s not much, I’m afraid. Like you, I was glad to be coming home by this stage. Although I saw more sights with “Bucephalus Travel” than you did with Afghan Logistics I can’t say I actually enjoyed much of it. There are some conclusions in the final post (next) but I guess I am old enough to take the responsibility for my own travel choices. My mother says I would definitely have preferred Uzbekistan though!

    Thanks for your continued interest.

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