National Geographic : 1960 Jan
National Geographic, January, 1960 attracting pilgrims from the length of the Moslem world. Though the city has spectacular mosques and market places, we spent little time sight seeing. We were far too eager to get on with the next part of our journey: a flight into Afghanistan. That wild and long-isolated country was still a new land to travelers from the West, a land without railroads and with few paved roads.* At the time of our visit it lacked even an airline, though several now serve the country. The difficulties facing us were considerable. For one thing, our American air maps were none too accurate. There were no radio bea cons to guide us, and there might be no search and rescue should we be forced down. Desert Fuel Dump Saves the Day Aviation gasoline was almost impossible to find, and Charlie didn't quite have range enough to carry us on our planned route from Iran to Pakistan by way of Kabul without refueling. We would have been stymied, but for a remarkable stroke of luck. Earlier, at Beirut, Lebanon, we had met one of the few people in all the East who could help us. He was an American, manager of a two-plane airline that once had flown Afghan Moslem pilgrims to Mecca. And he said we were welcome to some tins of 100-octane gasoline he had stored at a desert airstrip near Kandahar. Over the 500-odd miles from Mashhad to that ancient Afghan city we followed a white ribbon of trail across dry brown plains and timberless mountains of red rock. Here and there we saw ruins of some old fort or cara vansary. Charlie's shadow flitted over trav elers on the trail-travelers who must have been conscious that whatever law existed on this road rested, at least in part, on the rifle slung over each man's shoulder or the knife thrust into his belt. This has been a high road since the dawn of history, churned to dust by one army after another-Scythian, Persian, Mongol, and Durani, 18th-century founders of the Afghan nation. Alexander the Great, out beyond the known bounds of the Greek world on his way to India, came by much the same route we were taking. At Kandahar we found our gas. We also visited the headquarters of the Morrison Knudsen Company, an American construction firm working for the Afghan Government. Its engineers had just completed two enormous dams on the Arghandab and Helmand Rivers north and west of the old city (map, page 77). Later, on our way back from Kabul to Karachi, we visited reclamation and resettle ment projects made possible by these two dams. In the Registan desert to the south, hundreds of nomad families were taking up new lives in villages of mud brick linked by networks of irrigation canals (page 79). Now, however, we wanted to reach Kabul. We flew northeast this time, angling more and more deeply into mountainous Southwest Asia. As we went, the barren earth kept ris ing, until at 9,000 feet above sea level we were barely skimming the trail. For hours the road below held scarcely a sign of life. After a time, however, we saw in the distance something that looked almost like an invading army-a long column twist ing over mountain trails and passes. When we caught up and swept over it at 500 feet we found that it was a migration-a river of nomads, with flocks of sheep and goats and heavily laden camels. A little later, through a notch in the moun tain wall ahead, we caught the glitter of sun light on windows-Kabul! Forbidden Land Opens Its Doors Kabul's old quarter is most definitely of the East, the narrow streets crowded with camels, veiled women, and men who look like tur baned descendants of Tamerlane. But, despite Kabul's undeniable appeal, one thought was foremost in our minds: to visit, if possible, a band of migrating tribesmen. During an interview with the Prime Minister of Afghanistan, Sardar Mohammed Daoud, I asked for permission. Somewhat to my sur prise, he thought it was a fine idea. So it came about that a few days later we flew southeast from Kabul to the town of Khost near the Pakistan frontier. With us we took Amin, a young Afghan Government of ficial, to act as interpreter. Khost lies in a region normally barred to foreigners, for it is the home of fierce, almost independent Pushtun tribes that wander back and forth across the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, paying allegiance to neither country. (Continued on page 88) * For a safari on wheels through Afghanistan, see "West from the Khyber Pass," by William 0. Doug las, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, July, 1958.