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124 THE CENTRAL ROUTE •• Practicalities

A few of the chaikhanas are little more than pitched tents, where for the price of dinner (or 100Afg, according to the mana- ger’s whim) you can stay for the night. Bring warm clothes and ask for an extra blanket. A short walk from the tents is a latrine block, dubbed the ‘Taliban House’ by local wags.


There are direct minibuses to the lakes from Bamiyan on Thursday, Friday and Saturday mornings (150Afg, three hours), as well as a large bus every Friday morning (40Afg, 3½ hours). Hiring a vehicle from Bamiyan should cost around US$60. Pub- lic transport sometimes stops at the hamlet of Qarghanatu, two-thirds of the way from Bamiyan, for breakfast. The chaikhanas here serve kimak, a type of dried salty sheep’s cheese. Band-e Amir is a further 15km after the

turn-off from the Bamiyan–Yawkawlang route: note that there are several stretches where the verges of this road are mined, although not in the immediate vicinity of the lakes. Band-e Amir is largely inacces- sible during the winter, although the frozen lakes would be a tremendous sight.


ﺰﺮﻣ ار

Crossing the centre of the country along the spine of the Hindu Kush is one of the most remote and adventurous journeys it’s possible to do in Afghanistan, but one that rewards travellers with a continuous parade of stunning mountain scenery. Travelling from Bamiyan, the route travels through the Hazarajat over a series of high mountain passes to the heart of the medi- eval Ghorid empire. This is a land of tiny villages, marginal agriculture, and nomad caravans with their camels and yurts. At its centre lies the fabled Minaret of Jam, hidden from foreign eyes for centuries, and even now is accessible to only the hardiest of travellers.


Some commercially available maps of Af- ghanistan mark the road from Bamiyan to

Herat as a highway, a classification to be taken with a large pinch of salt. The road quality ranges from poor to painfully bad, all plied by seemingly indestructible HiAces and Kamaz trucks.

Public transport runs the length of the central route, although connections can be erratic and there are several bottlenecks. The two trickiest sections for onward trans- port are west from Yawkawlang ( opposite ) and travelling onward from the Minaret of Jam ( p128 ). Squeezing into public trans- port on long journeys can be particularly uncomfortable on this route, so one popu- lar option is to buy two spaces instead of one. Expect to get out and walk some steep stretches, or put rocks under the vehicle’s wheels to help it ford rivers. With nonstop travelling, perfect con- nections and no problems, it’s just possible to travel across the centre from Kabul to Herat in four days, although you’d need a week in bed afterwards to get over it. In practice, allowing around six or seven days is more realistic. Hiring a vehicle allows you to make the trip in something approaching comfort, as well as allowing stops for the myriad photo opportunities you will find along the way. Expect to pay around US$100 to US$120 per day for a 4WD. Prices depend on your starting point: Herat is the most expensive place to hire vehicles for this route, with Chaghcheran the cheapest. A 4WD is es- sential, although in 2003 we did meet a Citroen 2CV that had somehow made the traverse having driven all the way from Paris! If there are only a couple of you in the vehicle, don’t be surprised if the driver stops to load rocks into the back as extra weight ballast. When making your plans, be explicit as to whether fuel is included and whether you are hiring the vehicle for a set period of time, or just to get to a certain destination. Politics and recent history can also play a part: Hazara driv- ers in Bamiyan we talked to were reluctant to drive all the way past Jam, as it meant them returning on their own through non-Hazara areas. That said, a local driver who knows the region is almost always the best option. Between Bamiyan and Herat, fuel is

available at Yawkawlang, Lal-o-Sar Jangal, Chaghcheran, Chist-e Sharif and Obey.


Britain and Russia were the main drivers of the Great Game, but there were plenty of lesser-known actors on the stage, often playing for their own stakes. One of the most notable was the American adventurer Josiah Harlan, the probable inspiration for Kipling’s classic story The Man Who Would Be King. Born in Pennsylvania in 1799, Harlan fled to India after being jilted by his fiancée. After working as a surgeon for the British East India Company he made a brief journey to Afghanistan before finding service with the Maharajah of Punjab, Ranjit Singh, in 1829. Seven years later he switched allegiances to the Sikh’s great rival on the Afghan throne, Dost Mohammed. In 1838, Harlan led Dost Mohammed’s army from Kabul via Bamiyan to campaign against the Uzbek warlord and slaver Murad Beg. As they breasted the Hajigak Pass, he became the first American to fly the Stars and Stripes on the Hindu Kush. On the march, Harlan became close friends with the Hazara ruler, Mohammad Reffee Beg, who crowned Harlan the Prince of Ghor in perpetuity. Soon after the campaign, Dost Mohammed was swept up in the upheaval of the First Anglo-

Afghan War and Harlan was ejected by the British. Having immersed himself in the Afghan culture, Harlan became a fierce critic of British policy in the region, and published a fiery memoir that was quickly banned in London. Returning to the USA, Harlan later served as a Union colonel in the American Civil War and died in 1871 en route to China, in search of one last adventure.

The central route can normally only be

tackled between May to October, although bear in mind that early snow or a late- spring melt can still cause problems outside these dates. Local transport tends to start winding down for the winter in November, when the high passes start to close. Babur recorded making the trip in the winter of 1506 – but only just, recording snow reach- ing past the stirrups of his horse. In terms of facilities along the central

route, only Jam’s new guesthouse offers any form of comfort or modern amenities. Accommodation is at chaikhanas through- out, with their limited washing and toilet facilities. Diet is equally restricted and we found even rice hard to find in some places, until descending to the Herat floodplain. Chaghcheran, as the regional centre, is the only place west of Bamiyan with any kind of phone coverage until you reach Obey. If you need to stay in touch a Thuraya phone is essential.




Travelling west from Bamiyan past Band-e Amir, the land becomes increasingly barren until you reach the small town of Yawkaw- lang, where a river becomes bound with splashes of green irrigated land, leading to a tidy and newly built main bazaar. It’s almost too new and tidy. Possession of Yawkawlang was regularly contested

between the Taliban and Hezb-e Wahdat, with the local population being the main losers. In January 2001, after a final attempt by the Hazara to hold the town, the Taliban massacred over 170 of Yawkawlang’s male residents and destroyed the bazaar. There are two chaikhanas posing as hotels

in Yawkawlang, standing opposite each other: the Pak Hotel and the Newab Hotel (west end of bazaar, 100Afg). Neither are great and both lack bathrooms, but the former at least has a private room for sleeping. Yawkawlang tends to be the final termi- nus for transport from Bamiyan (200Afg, five hours), and westbound transport can sometimes be tricky to arrange. Hi- Aces only go irregularly to Chaghcheran (650Afg, one day), so usually the best op- tion is to take a minibus to Panjao (Panjab on some maps; 100Afg, 2½ hours), which leave most mornings. Panjao is at the junc- tion of the road going west to Chaghcheran, and east to Kabul via the Unai Pass, and has more plentiful transport connections. Read the risk assessment box ( p114 ) before considering continuing to Kabul this way. Yawkawlang has an airstrip, used by regular Pactec flights.

Lal-o-Sar Jangal

ﻞﮕﻨﺟ ﺮﺳ و ﻞﻌﻟ

The road from Yawkawlang climbs steadily as it heads west, through a series of passes. After nearly three hours it crosses the grand- est in the mountain chain, the Shahtu Pass

THE CENTRAL ROUTE •• Bamiyan to Chaghcheran 125

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