Note: It has been very interesting to re-read these letters with a modern perspective and understanding, and it has led to some consideration of whether to retain certain sections, which show our (to modern eyes no doubt surprising) lack of knowledge of other cultures. However I include them here because they are a genuine glimpse into life in 1960s Britain. After all, we were two intelligent, well educated British men with a passion for travel, and yet we clearly arrived in Afghanistan with no prior knowledge of the Muslim religion, culture and custom. As a result, we were completely surprised and fascinated by the differences we discovered. This ignorance would not be the case for British travellers today! We very soon fell in love with this amazing country and the people that we met there.
Kabul, Afghanistan, Friday 9 June 1967
I received your letter at the embassy the day before yesterday. It had only taken six days but I have obviously missed one as I know nothing about Jack Woods having written, or Nigel’s bad back.
However, it was great to have this very long and newsy letter, and it was even better to hear that your energy seems to be returning and also that you are putting on weight again. What if you were a buxom woman? You looked OK to me.
How nice of Nigel to come down just to see how you were. He’s quite right of course. You will never tell anyone if you are ill, so he’s doing the right thing. What a pity you are having such a lot of rain. It seems crazy when they are praying for rain in India. Still, let’s hope you will have some sunshine soon, and that you will be able to put in some time on the garden.
We’re still in Kabul, it’s a nice place and quite cheap, and there are loads of fellow ‘overlanders’ and they are all very pleasant company. We have spent a lot of time with a crowd in a Land Rover. They have all paid a lot of money to get to India but the company seems to have gone broke (in London). The driver is seriously thinking of selling the Land Rover and splitting the money to cover their losses.
There is another vehicle of the same company stranded here, but they are on their way to London. Half the passengers have flown home, and the vehicle is a wreck, so it can’t be much of a company.
Well, the war is still raging in the Middle East, and we have even had trouble here. On the day it broke out, there were demonstrations and riots outside the USA embassy. We were quite worried, as our car has USA number plates and a USA sticker on the back.
So we hurriedly left town and went up into the mountains for a couple of days, and when we returned, it had all quietened down. This trip into the mountains was fantastic actually.
We drove north 80 miles to the Salang Pass – this is a new road built by the Russians and goes to the Russian border, and there is a tunnel which goes through the mountains, and this is at a height of 11,000ft and is the highest tunnel in the world. It is a fantastic engineering feat and it was a great thrill to go through it.
It was a real struggle to get the car up to that height, because the air gets so thin that the engine will hardly go. However, we made it and it was very cold, and there was lots of snow up there.
We stayed up there all afternoon, just admiring the scenery and a camel train came through the tunnel as we were having our lunch, and we were able to take some good photos. I even got up on one of the camels and had a ride.
Up at that altitude we were able to get perfect radio reception and got all the news of the war. This country is very pro Arabs. We have been advised on the best route to take now and are now busily planning this new journey.
We are both terribly disappointed that we can’t go to the Middle East but we are thankful that is has happened now, and not a few weeks later, when we would have been there.
This Land Rover crowd were there only two weeks ago, and they are thankful that they got out in time. I hope you had a nice birthday – as I said, I went out and got a present for you. But you will have to wait a while for it.
You asked when we are due home. Well, we did plan to be there about the middle of September. But don’t change your plans at all, we can either get home before you go, or probably better still, after the 16th September. It is more likely to be the latter, I think.
We heard on the news all about Chichester’s arrival home, and then later, the sad news of his illness. We were in Sydney when he left, and it’s amazing to think that he’s home already. *<Sir Francis Chichester>
Did I tell you that the parcel was found? However, the customs won’t release it so I think it has to wait until we get home. It seems as though the British red tape is as thick as ever and it makes us mad to think that they are being so pompous about it all, but I suppose we have forgotten what Britain is really like – one of the worst things is going to be coming back to class distinction – how I hate that now.
Today is Friday, which is the Muslim Sunday, so we all went out to a lake, almost nine miles outside Kabul and had a very pleasant day in the sun and swimming. Tomorrow, we have to get a visa and then we continue on our journey and head for Teheran.
Part of the way is very rough roads, the first we will have experienced, and we will go very slow, as we don’t want to shake the car to pieces. Tomorrow, there is a birthday party at the embassy in honour of the Queen’s birthday, but we have not been invited!!!
There is a very strange custom here. All the Muslim women are completely covered all the time. They must not be seen by anyone so they wear a garment which is like a bell tent, it fits snugly over the head and then, just like a tent, goes right down to the ground all around them.
Where their eyes and nose is, they have a small ‘grille’ so they can breathe and see where they are going. Today out at this lake, there was a whole group of them, staring at a woman in a bikini and it was a very strange contrast.
Occasionally we see one sat at the side of the road with her ‘gown’ up over her head, having a breath of fresh air (they think there is no-one around). It must be murder under there in a temperature of 105F.
Another strange custom is that all Muslims have to face Mecca and pray five times a day. And they do this wherever they are, and we even saw a policeman in the street suddenly go down on his knees and start praying. They are a very religious people.
We actually plucked up courage and went to a butchers shop and bought some meat today. It was crawling with flies and the block he cut it up on was revolting and had never been cleaned, I’m sure.
However, we cooked it for one and a half hours and it made a delicious stew, and so far we have no ill effects. So we may even do the same thing again. I never thought I would ever be able to buy meat in one of these places, but it is amazing what you will do after you have been in these countries for a while.
When we first arrived in Indonesia, I wouldn’t touch a thing, after having seen the awful places it was prepared in. But I soon realised that it was either eat it, or starve!!
I wonder what Jack Woods wants, do you know? I went to the post office in Kabul but there was no letter. I have left a redirection, so maybe it will catch me up in Teheran. Well, I shall have to end now.
I was glad to hear that you get one letter a week regularly. Keep writing to the main post office Teheran, Iran, for a little while longer.