Kyber Pass to Kabul
Trip Start Nov 15, 2006
228Trip End Jul 15, 2008
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The legendary Khyber Pass follows a gap through the Safed Koh mountain range separating Pakistan and Afghanistan. We thought this was the path taken by most of the ancient invaders from the west seeking the riches of India, but according to Pakistani historian Dr. Ahmad Hasa Dani, in his book on the History of Peshawar, the Khyber Pass only gained importance after the city of Kabul came into importance. According to Dr. Dani, the Mughul emperor Babur seems to have been the first major invader to use the pass as a route to India around 1510. So that means Alexander the Great did not come through the Khyber, neither did Darius, nor Timur; and neither did the Huns nor Mongols. It is disappointing to learn that the Khyber Pass only so recently came into use, but that is what Dr. Dani says. We picked up his book in Islamabad, it’s printed in Pakistan, but strangely it has a fold out map of Peshawar hand drawn by a man from Toledo Ohio
The thought of crossing the Khyber Pass has been a worry, but as we have gotten closer we began feeling more assured. After all, the entire pass is nominally in Pakistan, although under Afridi tribal control, and we’ve had a good reception in Pakistan. What has really comforted us has been Rosahan, our driver from the Greens Hotel. He’s an old hand at this and has even taken reporters and photo journalists to Bora Bora in Afghanistan during the US invasion. Well that’s what he says, and we are beginning to take him at his word, especially after he pulled off the road this morning and called Johnston Meyers, a Time Magazine photo journalist living in Hong Kong, and handed over his cell phone so Arvid could talk to him. This gesture was completely spontaneous, unsolicited and gratuitous. An American expat, Johnston has developed a Hong Kong-Aussie accent; sounding very professional and competent he told Arvid that we couldn’t be in better hands than with Rosahan. Our first stop this morning was the Khyber Rifles’ station in Peshawar next to the Khyber Political Agent’s office. The Khyber Rifles are armed Afridi tribe’s men who for a tip will get you safely through the pass which crosses their tribal land. Rosahan told Arvid to take two copies of our Khyber Pass Permit and pick up our armed escort. Rosahan and Irina stayed in the car. After being directed from one guarded gate to the next Arvid finally ended up in a room with half dozen uniformed men lounging on rope beds with rifles leaning against the wall. They passed the copies of our permit around, apparently deciding among themselves whose turn it was to go; finally a short gnome of a man got up with a set look on his face, slung his Kalashnikov over his shoulder and taking our last copy of the Khyber Pass Permit, motioned for Arvid to follow him back to our car
It was a leisurely drive and we stopped often to take photos. Frankly though we’ve seen lots more scenic mountains, but none more interesting as we imagined Afghanis in their mountain fasts picking off straggling British soldiers, and long camel caravans loaded with spices heading for Samarkand. Finally we come out of the pass and coasted down to the Durand Line that marks the border of Afghanistan before Torkham town. The cost of our trip through the Khyber Pass is hard to compute because Rosahan included his services for driving us around during the three previous days. The Great Rosahan charged us a whopping $350, $50 of which was supposed to be for the Khyber Rifle, but he spun us on that at the end when he asked us to tip his friend another 1500PR. But Rosahan had provided good service. The big benefit in our mind was his aid in selecting a trustworthy taxi driver for our ride from Torkham to Kabul. He negotiated with the Afghan driver a price of only about $80 for that trip. A month ago we had made contact with Afghan Logistics, which is one of the few reputable tour companies operating in Afghanistan. They offered to transport us in what sounded like a four wheel drive land cruiser type vehicle with an armed escort from the border at Torkham to Kabul for $300. At the time that sounded expensive for a 3 hour drive, but then what price can you put on your safety in a war zone? So we said we would contact them when we were ready to cross the Khyber Pass
The trip from Torkham to our hotel in Kabul took about 4 ½ hours. We were stopped at least six times at road blocks. Twice our driver had to pay bribes to armed soldiers at the road blocks. Only at the last, just outside Kabul, were we warned about traveling without an armed escort. On those instances where bribes were demanded of our driver his demeanor changed to extreme submissiveness, his shoulders drooped and his tone of voice was whiny. When the bribes were paid and we were on our way again he returned to his normal self. Our driver made one rest stop for us to relieve ourselves in a grove of trees and he took the opportunity to get his prayer rug out to perform his afternoon prayers. Our driver spoke not a word of English so there wasn’t much conversation. There were some great sights along the way especially through the Kashmund Mountain range of the Hindu Kush which we entered after Jalalabad. Otherwise the trip was uneventful and we arrived at the Mustafa Hotel in downtown Kabul at around 5 PM.