Back to Table of Contents
To Pakistan, India and Nepal and overland back to Europe
To the Pakistan border
Between Kabul and the Pakistan border town of Peshawar is the famous Khyber Pass. This is a natural boundary between the cool highlands of Afghanistan and the hot, lowlands of Pakistan. In the 19th century the British once tried to invade Afghanistan across the Khyber Pass from Pakistan. After a terrible defeat near Kabul, only one person was let go to bring the news and the rest were all slaughtered.
Before the Afghan border a German hippie girl on the bus was wondering what to do with 10 grams of hashish. We advised her to throw it out of the window. However, as we crossed the border, she started to look very dizzy and high and it turned out she ate all the hashish not to waste the precious stuff and we had to guide her through customs as she was very stoned.
After passing the Khyber Pass from Kabul we entered the "Tribal Area", tribes related to the Pathans of Afghanistan. This area is totally independent of Pakistan and ruled by tribal leaders and much wilder than Afghanistan. Tribes men carrying riffles is very common, no where else in the world you see this.
Here you can buy anything, from American cigarettes to fine Scottish whisky, from hand-made old riffles to modern Uziís. Hippies driving their private cars should not stop here overnight. The next morning the car tires could have disappeared if not more. We were convinced that you would risk your life in this area although this may have been exaggerated.
Between the border and Peshawar there are several check posts where the bus driver needs to pay road taxes and papers of the Pakistani are checked. The number of people along the road is now notably higher than in Afghanistan and we clearly entered a densely populated country, the Indian sub-continent.
Peshawar in late June is a hot town with temperatures soaring to 40 degrees Celsius and very humid. The streets are crowded and this is clearly a wild town. Any trade is possible including drugs.
We checked into a hotel frequented by travelers and Pakistanis, an old, large building with several floors and a large inner courtyard. It had a reasonable shower and for the first time only toilets with a water tap but no paper. Now we had to adhere to the custom of using water for cleaning with the left hand on a toilet and eating or shaking hand with the right hand. The rooms had large ceiling ventilators, which were needed at night, as the temperature was high.
For the first time I saw large cockroaches, up to 3-4 cm long, and all the beds had the typical bulging legs to prevent them climbing up. These bed legs are similar to what our grandparents had and I always thought it was simply an ornament but it turns out to be very functional.
Counting my money I decided my remaining traveler checks would last for another 2 months: a dollar a day for the hotel, a dollar a day for food and 2 dollar a day for other things and travelling. Travelling by bus and train to India and Nepal and back to Istanbul would be roughly 100 dollars. A risky guess but you could always send a cable to your parents to wire some extra money when you ran out.
Going out for dinner in a local restaurant in the busy streets was interesting. We would have a small meat dish with chapatis (resembling pitas) and dose the extremely spicy food with the local water. Contrary to a general believe that spices are used to activate sweating, the real reason is keeping the food from spoiling, especially meat. Eating this food was a big mistake, within days most of us would develop a severe diarrhea that could have been dysentery but we believed that your stomach could get adapted to the local food although we had little choice given the budget. It took me 5 days to recover. The first few days were scary as you were shitting undigested food and water and by a strict diet of tea without sugar and rice.
Many of the French and Italian hippies would stay here for months for only one reason: drugs. A morphine shot was only a dollar and you needed only 3-4 a day. The quality was excellent as you could buy it in pharmacy stores through some sort of Pakistani contact. Selling it without a prescription was illegal. A French hippy in the hotel was taking 12-13 shots day and we figured this would kill him within 3 months. I still remember his face, hollow eyes staring in the distance with tiny pupils. Antonio also tried one shot from him and felt great. One night we decided to go to an opium place. Here an old person was preparing us an opium pipe. Soon I discovered he was not in his sixties but much younger. We would only go once and I figured smoking was safer than using needles. It did feel very good and you also had the feeling of just having a fantastic very balanced meal so we did not eat that night. After this experience I decided that this stuff, including all other hard drugs, was very tricky. If you have trouble creating a pleasant sensation, hard drugs are definitely not the answer.
The next place to go would be Chitral to the North. Travelers who went there were describing it as a medieval, peaceful paradise, so unlike the tribal area. There were also Greek descendents living here from the time Alexander the Great passed by with his army in the 4th century BC. There was a plane going from Peshawar it was too expensive for us, and the bus would take 1 or 2 days. After the 10 days in Peshawar we decided to take the bus to Rawalpindi (Islama Bad), to get a visa for India.
To Rawalpindi and Lahore
The night bus to Rawalpindi was full and we could buy a cheaper ticket by travelling on the roof for the 8 hours trip. Never done before so this sounded exciting and cooler than being cramped up in a bus with 100 persons that should take only 50. The road was winding through the hills between Peshawar and the Indus River and the wind travelling at 50-60 km per hours and dust made this trip into a nightmare. We were constantly hiding behind the luggage, trying to hold on the ropes as you ran the risk of dropping of the roof in one of many curves.
Rawalpindi is similar to Peshawar, busy and chaotic, but lacks the charm of Peshawar. Nearby Islamabad, the capital city of Pakistan and having all the embassies, was very clean. Here we got the Indian visa and carried on after a day.
We took the day bus to Lahore, near the Indian border. A young Pakistani man on the bus invited us to his parentsí home somewhere before Lahore on the countryside. He was well educated and had a university degree but was unemployed. Only if you were from the right family, you could get a job. He lived with his parents and they offered us a feast, including a precious entire chicken and we spent the night here. They were very hospitable but there was still a clear hint of making contacts for economic reasons. For the next year he corresponded with me on coming to Holland for work as he needed a sponsor but I couldnít offer him this as a student. The royal invite to his parentsí place did put me in a position that I felt I should try to help him, an ON position, it was my turn to give.
Lahore is a big city but the only interesting spot was the recently built giant mosque with a courtyard of roughly 500 by 500 meters and tall minarets. Antonio was feeling great here, very spiritual and relaxed.
The first town you enter in India is Amritsar, roughly only 100 km from Lahore, but as the war between India and Pakistan just ended the a few years before, crossing the border was done by only a few persons, mostly hippies. Few Indians and Pakistanis had permission.
Entering India was a relief. Although just as crowded as Pakistan, women moved around freely exposing their belly button and face freely and for the first time since Iran we could drink alcohol. Although devote Hindus do not drink they will not impose this to other people.
Amritsar is the Holy City of the Sikhs with the well-known "Golden Temple". Many Indian restaurants in the West carry the name. The visit to the Golden Temple was an absolute highlight. We entered a large walled courtyard mostly occupied with a big square pond and a small island with a tiny gold covered temple. At the entrance we removed our shoes and after entering the atmosphere was suddenly very quiet, peaceful, rich and very organized as if you entered the private home of a wealthy person. Still being high from 3 weeks of smoking hashish (it takes weeks for this stuff to disappear out of your system, unlike the 8 hours for alcohol), we sat down and started drifting with our thoughts and felt very calm and relaxed. The hippie peace of mind, we also experienced in the mosque of Lahore. This worked but possibly for the wrong reason. Being 7 weeks on the road, a bit tired and undernourished, just recovering from severe diarrhea and still semi-stoned, any feeling of comfort of surroundings or mind would feel great.
Travelers were telling us about the privilege you had as a tourist by claiming a vacant government seat at the Rail Road Office. As the trains are extremely busy in the 2nd and 3rd class, the government claimed 2nd class seats on every train that would only be given up on the day before departure if not used. This saved us a long wait at the normal counter plus a guaranteed seat, and the visit to the office was very comfortable. We had no problems getting a reserved seat and even got student discount paying around 3 dollars for the 12 hours and 400 km trip. The office was full of dossiers closed with ribbons of different colors, many were red, a bureaucratic system introduced by the British and possibly meaning "in progress" or, as we call it, "red tape".
The overnight steam train to Delhi was slow, travelling at 30 km per hour, although you do get used to the speed. Near Delhi we were overtaken by a diesel express train at high speed and our train was just about standing still. The outskirts of Old Delhi had many open fields with mostly man squatting down with their skirts covered and having social talks. These turned out to be the "shitting fields", and seem to have a social function.
Normally you only see New Delhi on a map but Old Delhi is just next door. The Indians seem to have a reason for hiding this place and we were about to find out. Entering the station, it was extremely busy. The streets were old and we had a hard time finding a hotel and hassled by various Indians trying to serve as a guide and by numerous beggars asking for money. Antonio was getting very nervous and shouting them to "go away" and abusive Italian words. The hotel we checked in was somewhere in the narrow streets and we had a roof top room with a large terrace with a nice view at the city.
The place was very interesting. Small sidewalk restaurants in the narrow streets with a large variety of Indian food and after the dysentery experience in Peshawar, we gave preference to vegetarian food. Fresh mangos, roasted corn, very sweet Indian desserts, mango milk shakes and Lassi (a milk drink) were our favorite food in the stalls on the street. Big white cows walked on the street looking for food and hampering the traffic.
I never forget the old beggar on the street who just died and lied on the sidewalk in a stressed posture exposing his very skinny limbs. Ironically, the money was piling up, given for the costly cremation but would have been sufficient to buy food for a year. Life in India is a real struggle and it seems they encourage you to depart if you have trouble surviving.
We took a trip to New Delhi to get a visa for Nepal in a tuktuk, a three wheel taxi scooter with a smoky exhaust but it was cheap. New Delhi is very clean and not so interesting as there are only government building and other high rises.
At night we often went to the parks and were always approached by Indian for discussions. One night we were invited to join the company of a Sadu, a "holy man" in the Hindu Religion comparable to beggar-monks in Christianity. Sadus smoke hashish using chillums, simple stone pipes, to get inspiration and we joined in for a puff while a young Indian tried to translate the Saduís words from the Indian language. I understood very little but the experience felt very good, to be able to talk, not understand but communicate using body language and a feeling. There is more to communication than just talk, non-verbal methods seem more powerful. Several young Indian tried to join the conversation but were sent off by the policemen watching us. Asking our translator if it was okay to smoke he replied that this fine for Western tourist but the government did like to see Indian civilians smoking. I now donít trust my fantastic experience anymore as my passport picture taken in Delhi clearly showed a tired and stoned hippie [India, July 1974].
Here we also met a young white boy of around 14 who spoke the local Indian language fluently and his young Indian friend. The boy was born in India out of white parents and was already travelling for several months. I got the impression they both ran away from home and were drifting as they had very little money and lived on donations from tourists.
Most travelers in the hotel were either Italians or French and already were staying here for weeks and most were taking hard drugs. Within a few days Antonio was having a shot of morphine a day and become totally incommunicado. After a week, I did not see anyone who was not hooked to hard drugs and had the feeling I needed to get out of this place. Time to move on to Benares. Antonio came along reluctantly but he knew he had to move on if he wanted to reach Australia.
Benares and Bihar
After a 12-hour train ride we reached the holy city of Benares on the Ganges river. We visited the riverside where Hindu pilgrims took a bath in the river but soon the visit was dominated with endless disagreements with Antonio. He was fed up with me, called me a kid, and wanted to travel by himself again. He may have had a point as he was 6 or 7 years older but his conversations were very distant and aggressive showing that he was still affected by the hard drugs. I parted in tears and took another hotel. The next day I left Benares taking the train to Bihar and heading for the Nepal border. India was too aggressive and Nepal, my final destination, was known to be a very peaceful state. I later meat Antonio in a restaurant in Kathmandu and already a week later he was like a stranger to me but looked okay.
On the train to Bihar I met several travelers in the sleeper, from France, Germany and USA. Arriving in Bihar in the early morning we got stuck on the train station, as there were riots. We saw a train ready for departure totally full with people trying to go home after a festival. Passengers were on the roof and hanging on to the doors outside. Many did not have a ticket and the authorities decided that this train couldnít leave which caused a cat and mouse game with the police armed with wooden sticks only but in large numbers for the rest of the day. All trains were stopped and we had to spend the night on the station. The German was smart, he had a mosquito net but I got bitten during the entire night and did not sleep much.
The next day we took the train to the Nepal border and spent the night in a simple hotel. All through the trip, I ensured to wear plastic slippers in showers. This once instance I forget them and thought it would be okay for once, but the next day athlete foot developed between my small toes on both sides and it started itching but I did not yet pay attention as I experienced this before in Holland and never used any cream.
At the Nepalese border we took the bus to mythical Kathmandu, only 200 km and we did not believe it would take 12 hours. The one lane road was winding through the mountains with panoramic views at the kilometer deep valleys and the road had very few safety bars. Our bus could only pass upcoming traffic on the few wider spots and several times had to back up. Our speed must have been around 25 km per hour.
At midday we stopped for lunch in a local restaurant and here we had rice and vegetables, dahl bat, eating with our right hand, although you could ask for spoons but we again tried to honor the local customs.
Departing at 6 in the morning we did not arrive until 6 at night. It did take 12 hours and the trip was very tiring in the crowded bus and had 3 seats instead of 2 next to each other.
In 1974 Kathmandu had only a half million people but 25 years later this has grown to over 2 million. I spent a very pleasant 2 weeks here, peaceful, relaxed and the traffic was very mild compared to now. The number of tourists was still small and many went on a trek in the mountains, the first time I heard this word and now carrying the name of the my web site (www.treks.org). July is still in the middle of the Monsoon season lasting from June to August. Trekking was impossible although it looked very inviting. I quickly bought an umbrella for the heavy rains that could last for 8 hours a day.
I visited the Monkey temple and Durbar Square and did a lot of shopping around in the narrow streets. I wanted to buy a light colored woolen Tibetan carpet but they were too expensive but years later, in 2000, I finally bought a large carpet for $400. I only bought a small stone Ganesh figure, the Hindu elephant god. The sales man on the street promised this was an original one, old and used in religious ceremonies. He started with 200 Roepies and although he was very insulted with my response of 20 we settled for 30, around three dollars.
One day in a restaurant I tried the local yogurt and developed diarrhea that luckily stopped after a few days. I already stopped eating meat after seeing how Nepalese butchers chop and present the meat on the ground but even eating diary products was a risk in Nepal. In the mean time I developed small cuts between my toes from the severe athlete foot infection and bought some cream and Dettol, a disinfectant liquid, that stopped the itching but it did not disappear. In fact, this severe Indian strain kept on bothering me for the next 25 years and at times even spread to foot soles and groin. After trying creams and powders medical specialists were telling me it might never cure. Recently, a combination of 9 months of Daktarin pills, that make you windy and applying the age-old green or soft soap as a cream on the infected parts it finally seem to have disappeared. I now keep it under control by applying green soap and powders but it is the green soap that really kills the fungus by forming a disinfectant and protective layer.
After two weeks I went to Pokhara and I was already on my way home. Pokhara was a small town and I had a nice hotel in the rice fields. Walking around was very pleasant and bridges were made of slabs of natural slates. One night when I was having a dinner in a local restaurant and I experienced the excellent taste of banana fritters, an excited Englishmen coming back from Australia was trying to teach me the right pronunciation of bowl, something like "boÖo..(l)"
Only once I saw the over 8000 meter high Annapurna mountain appearing through the constant cloud cover and with the help of a local kid tried to walk up in the hills one day. The muddy road was extremely slippery and wearing Indian sandals this made it worse. After a few hours I reached a small settlement and had a meal in a typical very simple Nepalese restaurant, with an open fire in a small simple house, unclear who was a guest, a neighbor or the family running the place. It was a very peaceful and friendly place and I decided I should go back some times for a trek in the right season, in March-April or October-November, so I did years later, on average once a year since 1997. After visiting a lot of nice places, the mountian region of Nepal is still very special: peaceful, splendid scenery, good food, no traffic, just mountain paths, and very friendly, cultured people, possibly enhanced by the Buddhist religion.
A few young men showed me hashing plants on the street and at that time the government did not yet remove them. They gave me a bag full of dried leaves and said that in their culture only old men were allowed to smoke. I tried it at night and never was so stoned, walls changing from square to round and any sense of time or distance faded. This lasted for the entire night and I decided not to touch the stuff anymore.
A group of Dutch middle to old-age rich tourists was on a 3-week guided tour through India and Nepal. One of the men proudly said that last year they went to Indonesia and that such trips would cost around 3000 guilders. He asked me how long my trip was and the costs. I replied that I was somewhere in my third month, had another month to go and the total costs would be 1000 guilders. This abruptly stopped the conversation.
It was now early August and it was time go home to start classes at the University in early September, estimating it would take 3-4 weeks overland, mostly travelling with only a view rest spots. I do not remember much of the trip, except that it went fast.
Back from Nepal to Europe overland
The bus south to the Indian border took 12 hours, being delayed by landslides washing out the road. In several spots we had to get out and the driver carefully drove the empty bus across a partially repaired bumpy and narrow track. I was lucky the road was not closed which does happen during the monsoon season.
At the border I bought a 3rd class ticket to Delhi, the lowest class as I had no time to wait for the office to open to book a reserved seat. This was an overnight trip and the two 3rd class carriages were packed. I spent most of the trip in a corner of the corridor, all other seats taken as well as the luggage racks, by people, not luggage.
Before we left, the police checked white tourists for hashish and marihuana from Nepal. They briefly looked in my rucksack and I got very nervous that they would turn me in for the Ganesh statue as a Nepalese boy in Pokhara explained that buying used religious statues was illegal. The Ganesh figure did have the red stains of religious ceremonies and did look used. I hid it somewhere deep down in a newspaper and they did not spot it but now I doubt if the story was correct as I bought it on the open market in Kathmandu.
During the frequent stops, there would be the usual turmoil, people shouting, and pushing luggage through the open windows and even crawling through windows to get in quickly and conquer a spot. Around midnight during a stop a big metal suitcase suddenly came through the open window and my Indian neighbor got hit. Angrily, he pushed it outside and shouted something abusive.
Starting from Delhi I remember very little. Using the past experience in finding the most comfortable transportation, the travelling went very smooth, stopping an extra day in only a few places like Delhi and Kabul. I did not try anymore to hitchhike and always took the most comfortable, long bus ride paying a bit extra. In Pakistan I met an English traveler, clean-shaven and relatively young, without a hippie look. We stayed together until the Turkish Ė Iran borders where we split accidentally in trying to catch the right bus to Erzurum.
In Afghanistan a Dutch hippie joined our company. He spent around 6-7 months in India and tried to make it home. He had very little, just a small cotton bag and his money was running out, had just enough he hoped to reach Istanbul and needed the company of others pay for his food. Between Meshed and Teheran he forgot to take an extra leak at a stop before midnight and the bus kept on going for the next 4 hours. In the early morning he smelled terribly. He wet his trousers and decided to pee in the back entrance of the bus as the driver refused to stop. Wearing his only pair of trousers and no underwear he could not clean this up until we got to Teheran.
The highlands of Eastern Turkey near the end of August were now cool, around 18 degrees Celsius and rainy. We passed Mount Ararat, which had a snow cover, and the landscape looked hostile in the cool August rains. Erzurum was muddy and cool.
In Istanbul I parted from the Dutch hippie, as hitchhiking is easier on your own. We had no money for the train or bus as travelling was now at European prices, roughly 100 dollars to Holland. His money ran out and I still had 20 dollars needing only around 10 for food for the next 5 days and we split my money. We would live mostly on bread and tomatoes and hope to get a hot meal from drivers.
It was recommended not to hitchhike through Bulgaria unless you had a through ride so I headed for Thessaloniki in Greece. The first day did not go well, and I spent the night on the beach somewhere half way. Reaching southern Yugoslavia on the second day, I was not able to get a ride. The next morning, after spending the night in bushes near the road, I spotted a parked van with young, cleanly dressed French tourists and started talking to them in French asking for a ride. They were impressed with my French and reluctantly gave me the long ride to Lubjana, all the way through Yugoslavia, presumably by my persistence or possibly the hippie look and the big story, "I cam from India". They were "so bourgeois!" but I needed the ride badly. After 10 hours we reached Lubjana where I spent the night in a park, feeling a bit cold as my thin sleeping bag was not suitable for cooler Europe.
On the fourth day, outside Lubjana a German gave me a ride to Munich. At the Austrian-German border traffic was cueing up for the customs check and moved slowly. I spotted a Dutch car with a single Turkish driver and shouted if he went to Holland. He replied he went to Eindhoven, and I said that this was my destination as well and if I could get a ride. No problem he said so I quickly changed cars. Passed Munich I spent my last money on sauerkraut with bratwurst feeling hungry and comfortable I would be home soon but the heavy food made me feel very full and a bit sick. The Turkish man said he had been driving constantly for 2 days, keeping awake eating fruits only and believed this worked fine. He wanted to reach Eindhoven in the early morning and I should keep him awake. We did reach Eindhoven in the early morning but several times at night he dosed off and I had to wake him up. Near Cologne, around 3 AM we had a close call driving off the highway as I fell asleep as well.
The last rides I took from Eindhoven to my parentsí place nearby during the quiet early morning. My parents were very surprised to see me after almost 4 months arriving in the early morning end of August of 1974. I was looking skinny and with long thin bleached hair, clearly undernourished. Eating potatoes to gain weight but being used to light meals of rice and vegetables I quickly developed diarrhea and had to live on porridge and rice for the next ten days.
School year already started, already missed the first week and the next Monday I was taking Geology classes at the University. The few pictures I have from the trip are a passport picture taken in Delhi early July [India, July 1974] and for my Student Card early September [Back from India, Sept 1974]. On both pictures you can recognize the hardships of the trip, with thin hair and a stoned look.
A memorable trip, remembrance of interesting and positive experiences forgetting the hardship and negative experiences, made a very big impression at the young age of 19. I kept on talking about it all through my study years impressing fellow students and some would try this until years later.
Written 28 years later, March 2002.
David Tomory, 1996. A season in heaven. True tales from the road to Kathmandu. Lonely Planet Journeys.