The Road to Utopia Overland from London to Dehli 1974 (Budget Bus) charles wright

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MONDAY 23rd DECEMBER

At eight next morning we set off from Herat, some of the guys still stoned. We headed for the city of Khandahar, Situated in the far south midway between Herat and Kabul. We travelled through desert on a dusty road built by Russian and American aid, every hundred yards there was a gap where the paving stones had been layed. Mile after mile these paving stones were placed which certainly slowed the bus down. Nothing could break the monotony of this desert road. Although every so often we would come to a check post, this was a wooden post across the road that an official would raise after paying the road tax. A symbolic barrier, as it would have been easy for George to leave the road and simply drive around it.
Suddenly a voice from the back of the bus broke the silence. "George I want to go to the bathroom?" it was Patricia in her American accent. "There is no bathroom out here," George replied in an angry voice. But he pulled the bus to a halt and Pat got off the bus to take piss. Later Sculls also wanted to take a leak but was afraid to ask George to stop again. So Steve pissed in an empty Coke bottle and then emptied the contents out the window.

At twelve we stopped at a small oasis where we had lunch. I took photo's, there were small clay houses one of which operated as the so called restaurant, two men chopped vegetables, a kettle was being heated for hot water over brushwood and camel dung. The hygiene here was much to be desired. Was available and it was interesting to see the Nan being made, the oven was a hot pit in the ground. The bread was stuck against the side and when it was ready it was peeled off with a long cloth that the man held in his hand.

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The bread was piping hot and tasted beautiful; at least the heat from the bread kept the flies away.

Just a short distance away was some black nomad tents; my eyes caught the sight some nomads in their Afghan coats. I stared without reservation, they seemed to move with grace, and they were a free people who travelled the regions of Asia. No passports just following the old trade routes and moving with the seasons. An ageless caravan heading off soon across an ageless land with its goats, camels and sheep. That afternoon after crossing the desert we arrived in Khandahar and stayed at the Aira Hotel. This is the point where the main road stops going south and heads north towards Kabul.

We left shortly after dawn the next day and we headed off towards the capital Kabul 499 km away. We made an impressive two-bus caravan heading north. The bumpy road and the rattling of the bus kept us all awake. By early afternoon it began to snow hard, but George pressed on. We passed Ghazni just before dark, 150 kilometres to go. Ghazni was at its peak a thousand years ago. The Ghazni kingdom stretching from Persia to India. Mahmud who ruled at that time is buried here; it is reputed that he invaded India 17 times. From the bus we could see the Minarets of the mosque and we headed off into the darkness.
We rumbled through the streets of Kabul it was four in the afternoon, and we were to stay at Sina's Hotel. We did not know that he owned a hotel here in Kabul. There was a rudimentary bathroom with cold running water, two toilets. Russell and I shared a bedroom; the beds were narrow and hard. I unrolled my sleeping bag ready for the cold night ahead. It was snowing gently, George iterated again not to leave anything on the bus that stood outside the hotel. It was Christmas Eve and here I was in a country that I had never heard of before let alone imagine that I would spend Christmas in its capital.

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Russ came back from a walk to get some fresh air, while the rest of us had been relaxing on our beds.

"Guess what I saw?" "Don't know" came a reply from the back of the room.

"I saw George and Sina unloading boxes of pornographic magazines, Sina must have bought them in Germany." "No wonder he did not want those customs officers to search the bus." I said. "That’s not all, there were rifles too!" "So by carrying us hippies in the bus was just a front for these gun runners and pornographic couriers."

"What a cheek," said Steve. "We could have all ended up in an Iranian gaol."

That night we headed off to Sigi’s restaurant for dinner. Some went to the Green Hotel. It was a lavish affair with thick Afghan and Persian carpets on the floor, large cushions to sit on, giving a warm feeling compared to the cold outside. The food was nothing short of wonderful after the trying cuisine of Iran. After dinner they served unlimited amounts of mint tea as Bob Dylan echoed through the loud speakers. It was late by the time we left, walked the courtyard and into the street past the Pakistan Embassy and back to the hotel. It was snowing heavily now and the two buses looked cold and bare as the snow gathered around them.

WEDNESDAY 25th DECEMBER (XMAS DAY)

Well we all slept in quite late, Christmas lunch was a late start at the Kabul Steak House there was Russell, Kiwi, Barry, Janet, John, Mick, Betty, Helen, Graham, Val, Maureen and finally me. It was steak all round served with white and red wine. The others had gone to the Istanbul Restaurant. We later met up at Sigi's for cake and coffee. It was still snowing heavily. Steve arrived late and said that he had found a bar called Club number 9. So it was late into the night that we celebrated Christmas. It was on Christmas day that we realised that George had a heart of gold and was human after all; he bought Amanda, Patricia's daughter a beautiful Afghan coat. She looked so cute dressed in that coat, it was good to see that she had a nice Christmas too. Christmas is really for children and Amanda was really enjoying herself.

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Boxing Day was spent walking around; we went to Zarghuna Street the main Tourist Street in Kabul. Other wise known as Chicken Street since it was once the centre of the poultry market. Fine carpets, jewellery and samovars were also for sale. The bazaars were wonderful but with that added smell of excrement and sweat. When we got back to the hotel there was no one around. Damien’s door was slightly ajar the crack emitting a dim light. As I opened the door Val and I went inside. There was some bleary eyed young men looking at us. "What's that ghastly smell?" Val inquired. "Hashish," Damian whispered back, happy Jack was in the corner of the room on the bed completely stoned. He could not stand up, now he had finally lived up to his name of "Happy Jack."

The weather was still pretty grim, it was snowing again. At half past nine George told us that we were suppose to leave tomorrow but due to the heavy snow our departure would be delayed. Kiwi was now getting worried as he wanted to be in Delhi by New Years Eve to attend this party with the girl he knew at the New Zealand Embassy. It was half past one in the afternoon and the weather was now worse than ever. Kiwi after spending half the night being as sick as a dog on the toilet, finally made up his mind to press on alone by public transport. That afternoon we said our farewells and wished him a good journey and a Happy New Year, he did like wise although he was still suffering from acute diahorea. Happy Jack seemed to be continually stoned from the hashish. He was cold, it was winter, it was snowing and it was cold. “How did you find Kabul” I asked Happy Jack? He said that “the water pipes were no good, but we smoked lots of joints and so I was stoned all the time.

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SUNDAY 29th

We left at 08.00am bound for Pakistan. George made one of his famous announcements. "If you have any dope you better get rid of it before we get to the border." Happy Jack had heaps but rather than throw it out of the window he decided to eat it. Soon we passed through the Kabul Gorge, an incredible scenic and steep gorge where there were sheer cliffs. The narrow road was littered with stones, we were speeding as George put his foot on the pedal, and one driving error by George and the bus would plunge over the edge into the river thousands of feet below. I looked down over the edge of the road, into the grey churning waters below. The river seemed to be the same colour as the mountains, which were the same colour as the sky. It was in this gorge that the British soldiers were slaughted by the Afghans during the Afghan wars.


After descending from the Kabul Gorge the road levelled out and the land turned green. This lush oasis of green was so startling compared with the bland grey of Afghanistan and it's rugged terrain. We came into the last town before the border, Jalalabad. There was nothing much here except an Afghan garrison for its soldiers whose heads were sloppily swathed in white turbans. The weather had improved and was now warm and sunny compared to the icy cold of Kabul. George did not stop but drove directly to the border crossing. It took us three hours to go through customs, they wanted to search every one, even the bus. George did not mind this as the booty he had been carrying had been dropped off in Kabul. As soon as the customs officers were happy that we were all clean we boarded the bus and George drove us into Pakistan.

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CHAPTER 5.
PAKISTAN

We entered Pakistan by way of the Khyber Pass a name famous in British army folk law. From the bottom of the pass is the Khyber Railway built over seventy years ago by the British just after the third Afghan war. It is considered an engineering marvel; it has 34 tunnels, 92 bridges and climbs 3,600 feet to the top of the pass. To go through the pass we had to pay a toll of 10 Rupees, this was suppose to protect us from the bandits and tribes people who command the pass. This was tribal area, and the Pakistan government does not have much control over what goes on there. George led the charge and drove like a maniac up the Khyber Pass; the road wound its way up the barren landscape often with a sheer 1,000-foot drop to our right. I craned my neck to look down the steep drop below, as we passed very close to the edge on many occasions with nothing there to stop us from careering over the edge to our deaths. We passed fort after fort; many had large cemeteries outside of them, a grim reminder of when it was the frontier outpost of Britain's greatest colony.

As we came into the market town of Landi Kotal a famous smugglers town in the Khyber Pass, we passed the largest fort of all with a memorial to the Khyber Rifles. Many a lancer or fusilier at the turn of the century would have paid in blood by a bullet from a Pathan tribesman. George stopped briefly at Landi Kotal, before driving on. The Pathans with big white turbans and fierce looking beards sat about staring at us. Soon we came across a check post with a barrier across the road. There was a Pakistan officer waiting to greet us, he looked so smart in his khaki drill uniform and shinning boots which made a complete change from his counter part in Afghanistan.
This officer's attitude towards us seemed dignified and proper, a legacy from the British Raj, a symbol of a stable and democratic system that Pakistan had. George gave him his passport; the official looked at it closely.

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"Where is your visa?" he demanded. "I don't need one" George replied, "we have been through immigration already." "Where is your visa?" the official asked again. George gave him a startled look and then, he repeated firmly, "the passport is in order, we have been through immigration" "You cannot pass," said the officer "you have no visa." There was dead silence for a minute then George pronounced. "I am a British subject and it states here in the passport that;

Her Britannic Majesty's Principal Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Requests and requires in the Name of Her Majesty all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance, and to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary."

At this the officer had no reply, "pass" he said in a rough voice, and gave the signal for the soldier to raise the barrier, which was stopping us from passing. As George drove through the checkpoint, we all waved to the officer to show our approval. Peshawar was only 15 km from the eastern end of the Khyber Pass and is the capital of the North West Frontier Province. Peshawar was much of a frontier town as I have ever seen, yet it was a place of many changes from modern high rise to the romantic back lanes of the bazaar, where men smoked their hookah pipes and cooked curry in large pans on open fires. Beggars mingled in the bazaar wanting backsheeh.

Arrival in Peshawar was at 5 p.m. it was all exotic and strange, we checked into the Park Hotel at 70 Rupees a double. Some of the guys decided to stay at the Rainbow Guest house two doors down which charged only ten rupees for a wooden bed called a charpoy, which used crisscrossed strips of webbing in place of mattresses. Horse drawn carriages seemed the main mode of transport, just like in Herat. I could see some Pathans holding their rifles, while observing us unloaded our luggage from the bus. They are a proud people and looked very distinguished in their white turbans and baggy pants.

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That night we eat in the restaurant downstairs, sheikh Mutton curry seemed to be the main choice with plenty of chapattis had thrown in. George told us not to drink the water as we could end up with a bad case of diarrhoea. Jamie and Esau had gone in search of more "hash" although George warned them that it was illegal here. They came back later with some morphine that they had bought in the bazaar, they had bought it for eight pounds.
The topic at the dinner table that night was what were people going to do once we arrived in Dehli? I wanted to go down to Agra to see the Taj Mahal while Russ and Steve would continue on to Australia. Helen was also going to go on to Australia as were Val, Maureen and Aussie John and Mick. Barry and Janet wanted to go to Kathmandu. Betty did not know he wanted to do. We understood that Jamie and Esua were down to sixty pounds each and their dream was to go to Goa to smoke dope. Who knows what would come of them after that? Russ suggested that I go to Thailand as he and Steve knew this travel agent called Subraj in Dehli.

He had promised them a favour, as they had smuggled some currency into India for him when they had met him on a plane from Burma to Calcutta. "I'm sure that he would give you a good price on an air ticket Charles." said Russ, it all sounded very exciting. We didn't see much of Peshawar; most travellers just seem to skip through Pakistan, preferring to get to India as soon as possible and we were no exception.

Next morning we were woken by Pakistani down the hall throwing a volley of throat-clearing sounds. Other splashing and gargling noises wafted up the hall. Ablutions are an important and apparently enjoyable occasion for many people on the subcontinent, Phlegm is cleared from the throat, noses are blown, and wind is broken. Every part of the body that can be cleaned, modestly, without removing a charwal chemise, is cleaned, particularly, for some reason, the back of the ears. Teeth are scrubbed with a twig, and then picked with a toothpick. Finally the beard is combed and trimmed.
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I had an English breakfast of cornflakes followed by fried eggs and toast; I was going to like the Sub Continent. We checked out of the hotel and left by nine, driving past Pashawar's Anglo Muslim Mansions spread along broad avenues before joining the Grand Trunk Road and driving towards Lahore. No one was in a hurry in Pakistan unless he was inside a motor vehicle. Then they seemed to become maniacs. Careering towards each other, passing on blind curves, going through red lights, swerving to avoid Buffalo, horse and carts, women, and children. At twelve we stopped in Rawlpindi for lunch. Rawlpindi is the colonial city of northern Pakistan with the newly built but planned city of Islamabad close by. We passed a shop with a huge sign, "Internationally Recognised K2 King Size Filter." This famous brand of cigarette is named after the second highest mountain in the world K2, which is right here in Pakistan.


George said, "One hour only, kids." Steve, Russ and I set off to find somewhere to eat; soon we found a small restaurant where the menu read. Veg Stue

Coinflakes

Bens on Toast

Scrimbled Eggs

Fish Stue

Tost.

We asked, "What did the locals eat?"

"Mutton Curry," so we had mutton curry with rice. After forty minutes we were back on the bus, George and Ram soon were ready to go. Everybody was back except Pat and Amanda, where were they? Suddenly the bus leached forward as George put it into first gear, "you cannot leave," said John from Exeter. "Pat and Amanda are not back yet". "I gave them plenty of warning," said George. "But all their gear is here, their packs and coats. You cannot leave George," said Maureen. "Please wait for them?" "No, we are going," and after this statement he drove off down the road leaving Pat and Amanda somewhere behind in Rawlpindi.

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The mood on the bus was solemn, how could he do this? To leave Pat and her daughter in the middle of Pakistan with hardly any money and all of her gear still on the bus. We thought that George had a heart of gold after he had bought Amanda that coat for Christmas, in Kabul. Now this same coat was on the empty seat where Amanda should be sitting, yet Amanda was left behind with her mum Pat. I wonder what they will do? I wonder what I would have done had it been me, one could only wonder.


At five thirty we arrived in Lahore and checked in at the Asia hotel on Macleod Road just down from the main railway station. A small hotel of a medium standard, better than what we had been accustomed to staying in. Beautiful double rooms with air conditioning costing 60 Rupees for a double (£3.00). If Pat and Amanda did manage catch us up, how would they find us in this huge metropolis of a city with over two million people.
A few of us had not showered or washed our hair since leaving Teheran, so it was so good to feel clean after using the hotel showers. At about seven we all went down to the restaurant for dinner, I was sat with Russ, Steve, Barry, Janet, Maureen and Val. Everybody from the bus were there in the hotel restaurant sat eating or waiting

to order.


We had just placed our order of Chicken Biryani and Mutton Korma, with Lassie as a side order to drink when to all of our amazement Pat and Amanda walked into the restaurant. Pat walked straight up to George and in a loud American drawl said, "George, can we please come back on your bus?” He just looked at her in amazement Yes," he said, and at that Pat and Amanda went and sat at a table in the corner.

Every one now wanted to know what had happened and how she had managed to get to Lahore, and finally how did they find out that we were sat in this restaurant.

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The story of what happened is;

After she arrived back from lunch to find the bus gone, Amanda had started to cry. Pat had asked at a local restaurant the directions to the American Embassy. After listening to Pat’s story, the restaurant owner had taken them to the railway station and bought them a ticket for the train to Lahore and wished them luck, so they boarded the next train. On arrival at Lahore railway station, they had walked into the concourse and had taken the first main road they saw which happened to be Macleod Road.
As they walked down the road they saw the two buses parked out side the hotel and so they discovered where we were. How lucky they so were, other wise who knows where they may have ended up?
TUESDAY 31st December 1974

That morning at breakfast in the hotel restaurant, the waiter asked. "Where are you going today?" "We are off to India," said Maureen. The waiter replied with, "If you get constipated in India, just drink the water or eat the food, you will get instant diarrhoea." At this we all bust out laughing. "India is such a dirty country, you will not like it," the waiter told us. "Have you been there?" asked Russell. "No," and with that he disappeared. Lahore showed many signs of British influence, the Stately homes on the outskirts, an era long gone. As we headed out of the city, we left by passing the Shalimar gardens and joined the Grand Trunk Road to India; we passed rickshaw wallahs waiting for a fare. It was only twenty miles to Wagah the Pakistan border town; we crossed the border to, Atari in Indian

from here we drove to Amritsar the first large city in India.

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