Istanbul to India by Bus
(Page 4 of 5)
Back on the hot bus to Herat, it dawned on us "Yes, this is completely different — and it's starting to look good." I punched Gene playfully on the shoulder and said, "OK, now our trip begins!" As our guidebook predicted, Herat was hard not to like. We checked into the best hotel in town-the place where the locals celebrate their weddings. The hotel menu featured marked-down prices and a note: "Since the People's Revolution, all prices are lowered by 10 afs."
Standing on our balcony, hair fluffy, teeth clean, stomachs filled, stools nearly solid, we surveyed Herat. Flower bedecked horse drawn chariots charged through the streets past soldiers and police safeguarding the recent revolution. The elderly cleaning man stood on the next balcony. I told him we needed some toilet paper and he said dreamily, "Yes, it is very beautiful." We stood still, as the sun melted into the purple mountains.
Like good girls save themselves, I had proudly never smoked anything illegal in the USA. But Afghanistan seemed like the time and place to lose this virginity. Gene had stumbled onto some marijuana and, in the privacy of our room, he stuffed it into a tiny wooden pipe. He took a drag, immediately remarking "Good stuff." I sucked in, not knowing what to expect and hoping not to get a mouthful of ashes. Nothing happened, but it felt fine. I had inhaled. Smoking more, we had dinner and took a walk.
Now the kaleidoscope of Afghanistan invited us in. Colors and objects were more tangy. Torch-lit chariots charged through the darkness, men carried lanterns, shopkeepers and their work boys squatted around soup and bread, the wind howled but the night was warm. Mingling was intensified. Local life was suddenly carbonated with little scenes. A man weighed wonderfully back-lit tomatoes. The call to prayer rode its carpet without the harshness. Street urchins still bothered me, but as nieces and nephews rather than money-grubbing strangers. And passing time became, by definition, productive. I don't know if that was because of the marijuana or because I was in a very good mood. I really didn't feel "high." I was swimming in Afghanistan and liking it.
We crossed Afghanistan by bus, didn't like Kabul (which fits the country like a tin can in a terrarium), and readied ourselves for the Khyber Pass. Crossing this romantically wild and historically dangerous pass was high on my life's checklist of things to do. Now I was sitting in a brightly but badly painted old bus. I had a panorama window which opened as wide as the countryside. The bus was filled with Pakistanis and western "freak road" travelers. A wide-eyed Pakistani school girl and her mother, face covered by a blue woven veil, sat across from us. For four hours they stared at me as if I was a TV and this was their first look.
After an hour-long sit at the border, ignoring persistent black-market merchants pedaling out-dated (and therefore worthless) paper currency and vials of cocaine, we crossed into Pakistan and began our climb up the much-fought-over Khyber Pass. Hanging out the window, I tried to take in everything, every wild turn in the road, every fortress-crowned hill, every stray goat, every gaily-painted truck and every mud hut pimpling the landscape. Dry rocky graveyards with wind-tattered flags littered the hillsides, clouds threatened, and life-worn people crouched atop tiny stone fortresses. If ever the world's most wanted man wanted to hide out...this would be the ideal place.