On October 16th I was in Qala-i-Nao in north-western Afghanistan.
Qala-i-Nao was quite a lively place, when we arrived the night before, with most of the centre strung along the main road. There was a hotel where we were able to camp outside and a restaurant where we sat on a carpeted bench and had good stew and soup for pennies. We met a teacher who spoke decent English and had tea and cake followed by melon with him.
In the morning two boys from the teacher's school took us south-east of the town to the spring they called Khardasi. The road was earth and very dusty, but the valley was fertile, and there were many Uzbek or Turkmen yurts in the little villages along the way. The spring was something of a beauty spot, if that makes sense in such a remote part of the world. For us it was interesting enough to be even further off the beaten track: the Northern Route was scarcely mainstream, but we would have believed it dangerous to take detours like this off the road on our own. Hans had a fishing rod I don't think he had used since leaving Alkmaar and so we had fresh fish to go with the bread and melons we had brought. Meanwhile flocks of fat-tailed sheep and goats were brought to drink water at the spring and its little stone and earth dam and reservoir.
This was incomparable richness after the difficulties people were having on the Herat side of the of the Sutzak Pass the day before, where there was a full scale famine in progress. Groups of children came up to the car with swollen bellies with their hands out for food, most of them coming from black tents of nomads camping by the streams from the pass. We knew about the famine as we had met an Afghan general in Herat who was trying to alleviate the problem along with some young American Peace Corps volunteers. Unfortunately the bread shops had been closed in Herat that morning, and we had nothing more than old bread to give which quickly ran out. The top of the pass is very beautiful and richly forested and the land at the foot seemed richer.
Robert Byron recounts in "The Road to Oxiana" how he crossed the pass (he calls it Sauzak) three times, all with different means of transport, all with spectacular difficulty, in 1933 and 1934. The road was newly built but carried trucks. In November 1933 he got stuck in Qala-i-Nao with dysentery and the onset of winter; he returned to Herat and came back in the spring.
At The Spring. Photo by H van Riel, in my possession
Noor Khan took interesting pictures along this road in 1978, in a much wetter season.
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