[The trip up to Bamiyan was one of the most memorable of the whole journey. We glimpsed Afghan village life among stunning mountain gorges as we climbed up 11,000 ft to the valley of the giant Buddhas. Having stood for thousands of years, they are now gone – destroyed by a puritanical Taliban regime in retreat. But we saw them in more tranquil days in the dazzling winter sun. It made a lasting impression. My novel THE VANISHING OF RUTH begins in Bamiyan when two passengers go missing from a bus trip …]
TUESDAY 23RD NOVEMBER, 1976
“Up early – left packs at hotel and left for Bamian. Wearing all our winter clothes! Left tarmac road fairly soon and too to dirt road – incredibly dusty. Wound way along valleys by mountain sides – really beautiful striking scenery, with dark green fast flowing rivers, delicate skeleton trees, some still golden.
Stopped for breakfast at little village – went up to cay shop – small pot each (about 4 glasses worth) for about 8p. Locals sitting about on the raised platforms covered with carpets – big stove with boiler above in the middle.
Stopped at another village further up valley and walked through it; busy workshops – meat, bread, drapers etc. Food mostly big mounds of grain and nuts. Me and Jan took “ethnic shot” of men weighing something on mansize scales!
Walked up hill beyond village – good view back down of mud type houses set on mountainside.
Traffic jam further on! Small bridge over river had collapsed slightly under weight of a big truck. Villagers all gathered round watching truck being hauled upright again – very precarious position. (Later we heard that the truck had gone right over into river the day before and had been there until we arrived!) Had a lunch stop while we waited – nice grass bank by bus with houses above – women sitting around on small platform by house;
lots of inquisitive kids sat with us and demanded their picture – “Mister! Mister!” to the girls as well. Lots of dead sheep piled up at side of river. Finally big cheer and truck pulled out of the way.
Road began to climb after that to the Shiba Pass – hairpin bends, very dusty tracks. One hair-raising moment when bus couldn’t make hairpin bend because slipped on ice! All piled out and pushed because bus going nearer the edge all the time! Not too bad after that.
Passed Red Fort in the evening sunlight (sacked by Ghengis Khan), some of mountains so brown and creased, looked like huge sand dunes. Reached Bamian late afternoon.
Had wander up village as it closed up – little lamps outside each shop, shimmering through the dust. People here had marked Mongol features. To one side were the big cliffs with the big and little buddhas (175ft and 115ft) and the caves of the buddhists, and to the other were trees and snow capped mountains. Really lovely clear still atmosphere.
That night we all piled into one of the “hotels” – really a cay house – and sat around on carpets with shoes off, with a stove in the middle of the room that kept the room really warm. Various other Western people in too – off the local bus. We all ate in there – went through gallons of lovely yoghurt – some with raisins, honey or apple. (Had nice Kurie Kebab too). Drank lots of cay.
We spread out foamies on the carpets and all slept in the room – boiled because of the stove! (Outside freezing – Heidi’s contact lense liquid froze!) Some people got bed bugs! All very friendly at the hotel. Some classic signs: “Please dont smoke hashish in this room” and “To the very good toilet.”