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India to England Overland 
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Elisabeth Dening's Travel Journal

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Week Four: Lahore, Pakistan to Kandahar, Afghanistan
Map here

Day 22: Wednesday, May 16th 1979
Lahore, to Islamabad (Pakistan) 350 miles
Map here

Three weeks today since I left Selsey. Tim was up at 5.30 am. We made our own breakfast in the room. At 6.15 am the bathroom was awash. This may be an explanation of yesterday’s mystery visit by the plumbers. Also yesterday, we had to fight off 5 men armed with an air conditioner who wished to install it in our room against our wishes. As it was 6 pm, we felt we could do without having a hole knocked in the wall just then and it would also have put up the already enormous bill. Won the battle with the help of the Under Under Manager, Tim having withdrawn from the fray. We were away through the city by 7.30 am. With a map, we found the way reasonably easily to Islamabad. It was a main road. We had no desire to sightsee although it was redolent of Indian Army days and Frontier wars. Pleasantly cool.

Impressions on the road, which was wide and good, although we were nearly killed twice; once by a lorry pulling out and nearly sending us into a bus and once by another lorry contemplating a U-turn where no U-turn should be, actually in Islamabad new city.

1. Many nomads in tents by the way with their flocks.

2. Nearly all vehicles are horse-drawn carriages, quite smart and nice animals pulling them.

3. Many dead dogs. They are poor neglected things here.

4. Very highly ornamented buses all painted in silver with most elaborate friezes. Some have phrases such as ‘Good Luck’ and others ‘God be with You’ - he needs to be the way they drive! Lorries are also highly decorated like carnival floats.

5. Canals full of lethal but very pretty masses of Water Hyacinth.

6. Villages composed of square, beautifully flat mud houses without windows, only a wide door.

7. Tolls at all bridges Chenab Jhelum.

Bridge tickets.

8. Long camel trains with decorated head dresses. Saw my first baby camel.

9. Real red rock desert area containing some fabulous ruins of an old city, but with the general atmosphere of tension, we felt it better not to sightsee.

And so on into Islamabad. A new city reminiscent of *Lilongwe but much bigger. It was impossible to find anything, even from a map. The city was laid out in squares, very green and obviously unfinished. Finally fell into **Sue and Eric Yendells. They did not expect us, but knowing Sue, we knew she would open her house to the weary. We were welcomed by Zenab, her very attractive Ceylonese Muslim Au Pair for the boys. She rang Sue and told her there was an old couple come to stay! The boys have grown nicely.

Islamabad Sue arrived home and made us wonderfully welcome.

Their home is a typical luxurious ‘Sue’ house in the Canadian compound.

We had toasted sandwiches for lunch and then a very frustrating two hours trying to find the Iranian and Afghan Embassy. Gave up. Eric and Sue were out for the evening so we went to bed after an early dinner. It was a double bed - Quelle horreur!***


* Lilongwe was the newly built capital of Malawi, where Tim and Betty lived for some years.
** Friends from Tim and Betty's time spent living in Sri Lanka.
*** Too small!


Day 23: Thursday, May 17th 1979
At Islamabad

Did not sleep well! Tim went off with Zenab as his guide to try and fathom the mysteries of finding a particular building in this Ghetto. I got the washing done by Ishmal. Lunch with Tim and talking to Zenab of her experiences in this country as an emancipated Muslim living in a country where Purdah was still the rule. She had had many unpleasant experiences whilst travelling around and flying home and back to Ceylon.

Everyone here is most respectably dressed and we all went very well covered. Trousers were de rigeur with head scarves and dresses hardly ever worn. In the evening, we went to the *Priestleys for drinks. Irene was the same as ever. Mike was very concerned over our prospects and did not think much of them, although he went to great lengths to get reports from long distance lorry drivers and found that the borders were open. This was to be a significant threat on our journey as the borders could suddenly be closed for anything from a few hours up to weeks, which could present grave problems.

We had a pleasant dinner with the Yendalls and so to bed.


* Friends from Tim and Betty's time spent living in Northern Rhodesia (Zambia), then living in Pakistan as part of the U.N.


Day 24: Friday, May 18th 1979
At Islamabad

The Muslim Sabbath and holiday. Did a round of the shops with Sue. I bought material to have a Shawal Kamiz made up. (This is a local loose-fitting top and baggy pants, very cool and comfortable.) Sue found a tailor who would do this in 24 hours. The shops were well stocked by Ceylon standards, but everything is very expensive.

We had lunch and a swim at the Canadian pool. The temperature was 100 0C, but it was dry and pleasant. Drinks at 6 pm at Zenab’s invitation, at her boyfriend’s house. He was called Nikal and was also from Ceylon. Sue told us that Zenab had been married according to her father’s wishes, very reluctantly, but had divorced her husband and left home. She was a curious mixture of great sophistication and childishness.

Aerial view of Islamabad The city should one day be beautiful as it has been well laid out with plenty of ornamental parks and gardens.

The main hotel is a vast Holiday Inn.




Day 25: Saturday, May 19th 1979
At Islamabad

We both have runny tummies again. Tim traces his to drinking coffee in the Lahore hotel. We now realise that tea (having to be made with boiling water) is a safe drink, but coffee, especially the instant variety, is NOT. I cannot stress strongly enough the importance of drinking water being from a reputable supply.

Shopped again with Sue in Islamabad. Rawalpindi is 23 miles away, but a real wild, bazaar atmosphere prevails there and it is very anti-West at this stage, so it was not worth venturing there. They are very sensitive of criticism over Bhutto’s death. Everything is available in the shops, but at a price.

Paid a visit to the Australian Ambassador and his wife, who did the same trip as us in a camper van and gave us lots of information. It sounds pretty grim, even without the worsening political scene. There is civil war in Afghanistan. We shall just have to press on and see. Tim is so absolutely set on going that nothing will stop him and if I had not fancied the idea, I should not have been with him, so I thought I should stop undermining his confidence.

We had lunch with Brigadier and Mrs Came-Penny, who gave me a Union Jack drawn by one of her Brownies to wave in adverse conditions. Very nice Koftas for lunch.

Union Jack flag to advertise nationality.


Finished washing and rested. We are both taking Sulphaguanidine. Eric left for his monthly trip by road to Kabul. It is possible that we shall meet there. We had dinner with Sue and talked about old friends and times in Sri Lanka.



Day 26: Sunday, May 20th 1979
Islamabad to Peshawar (Pakistan) 115 miles
Map here

One of the oddest Sundays I have ever spent. It is a full working day here. Friday is Holy, Saturday is a holiday for the Brits.

At 7.30 am we said goodbye to Sue, who left for school. We owe them both so much, for if they had been our own children, they could not have done more for us. We had a leisurely pack up, for the day’s run is not a long one. Said goodbye to Cook Peshawari and Zenab. Cook does not approve of Zenab but tolerates her. Left by 10.30 am. We had some difficulty finding our way out of town but eventually got back on the Grand Trunk Road. Rather flat, houses concealed in small cliffs looked very dark and cool, just a door.

Passed Taxila. We should have looked, but our minds were on sterner matters than sightseeing, though in retrospect this was a mistake. This was Alexander’s (the Great) city, also Moghul gardens. The driving of all vehicles, especially buses is 100% unpredictable. Wedding cars all decorated with tinsel.

Passed over the Indus River, a unique crossing as the rail bridge is carried in suspension over the top. There was a large and impressive Moghul fort running down to the River Attok. Obviously a well defended spot now and in the past. This marks the border of the Punjab and North West Frontier Province. We chose a good picnic spot in the shade by the Indus River. Noticed a tyre was flat and changed it. I actually managed to spend a penny - no doubt there were many hidden eyes, but I was past caring. They have an ingenious system of road labouring. There is a rope attached to a shovel - one person pulls and the other digs. This also applies to raking.


Chowk Yadgar Memorial Square, Peshawar




Into Peshawar. There is a huge old fort in use which dominates this sprawling city, full of bazaars and very bloody history.



Chowk Yadgar Memorial Square, Peshawar.


We drove past Flag Staff House where Tim stayed with *Roland and Clare in 1941 and all around the very large cantonment. Stayed at the Park Hotel. It caters for the overlanders who do the trip by bus. The air conditioning was very dirty but working, really dirty room.

No-one seems to understand boiling water**. Used the gas stove for first time to boil water, as we were sick of having runny tums. Would like to have seen more of this ancient city. There was a call to prayer from a Muezzin right outside window.


* Roland refers to Major General Dening, a cousin of Tim's father who was in the Indian Army. Clare was his wife.

** (To kill bacteria.)


Day 27: Monday, May 21st 1979
Peshawar (Pakistan)to Kabul (Afghanistan) 175 miles
Map here

A most exciting and surprising and rewarding day! Left Peshawar at 7 am. One irritating thing about Pakistan is the meatless days by Government decree. Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Why? No-one seems to know.

Lots of traffic. Donkeys everywhere, the country arid and dry. We are heading towards the mountains. All the villages are mud and composed of small fortresses, large outer wall and huge double gates capable of admitting lorries. Passed Jamrud Fort and then on to Khyber Gate.

khyber.JPG (196824 bytes) To the border, but first passing through the Khyber Pass. Stopped at Khyber Gate to get petrol and buy a postcard.

The place is full of absolute brigands, Pathans and Afridis all swaggering round armed to the teeth. This was the first time I have actually seen a bandolier worn. They all looked ripe for murder and no doubt had a few under their belts.


Toll Ticket for the Khyber Pass, Pakistan.

Toll for the Khyber , Pakistan


One wonders how such barren, arid country supports life. There is a railway winding through the pass to the border. We went in a small convoy of our German friends and two other campers, bur we soon left them behind. On the rock walls are all the regimental crests of the regiments which have served in the Khyber. On past Shagai Fort. Every little hillock has a fort or lookout on the top. It needed very little effort to conjure up all the blood, sweat and tears which had gone into the past.

Finally the border and we are really committed. Had an easy passage through both customs posts. We had an amusing interview with a man selling third party insurance, who told us we would always be in the wrong and if we had an accident, we would be there forever.


Pointers for motorists new to Afghanistan!


The country is now very wild, but the road is still fast and fort-ridden, with river valleys and gorges. Saw a long line of donkeys threshing wheat.

Mountains in Afghanistan. Beautiful snow capped mountains to the right. *The Pamirs now appeared.

There were citrus and newly planted olive orchards. Saw a dog with cloth boots being led on a rope. We had a pleasant stop by a dam for lunch. Quite a strong army presence now making itself felt. Saw at least 6 camels packed in the back of a truck being extremely unpleasant to each other!


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There are friendly, polite policemen who really know and show you the way. I had been interested in seeing Jellabad, home of the Somerset Light Infantry and remembered from the barracks in **Taunton, but we were through it before we realised where we were, as they had changed the name.

Rather a pleasant town, although renowned for its stone-throwing youths - I think because we are driving in a saloon, they do not recognise us as foreign until we are past. In a camper, you would be fair game. Passed a big dam on the lovely Kabul River, also hydroelectric schemes. We had a beautiful wild climb up 300 feet through tunnels and snow sheds to Kabul.

Maiwand Monument, Kabul Maiwand Monument, Kabul.
Bala Hizar, Kabul. Bala Hizar, Kabul.

What a pleasant surprise. A lovely modern city interspersed with old mud buildings, dominated by the ancient fort, with lusty bazaars and markets like Hong Kong. Found the Park Hotel, which was excellent. Clean, comfortable, helpful and modern. Tim is not well. He started taking Guanamycin hopefully.

We found a shop for watch mending. Went out and bought postcards.  We were to have met Eric***, who was staying at the Hilton, but on the other side of town and with Tim not well, we felt we could not face the effort. We were unable to ring him, so we hope he does not worry over us. Had dinner in the hotel and so to bed.


* The Pamirs are a range of mountains.

** Betty grew up in Taunton, Somerset.

*** Eric Yendalls, the friend they had stayed with in Islamabad, who was also staying in Kabul at the time.


Day 28:   Tuesday, May 22nd
Kabul to Kandahar (Afghanistan) 308 miles
Map here

Everyone stresses the vital necessity of getting into your destination well before nightfall. It is suicidal to be caught on the road after dark. Got up at 5 am, but left frustratingly late at 10 am due to Tim’s watch not being obtainable. The shop was closed, although the day before, the shop keeper had vowed he would be open by 6 am. We should have been so silly as to believe him. We considered staying another night but were assured we had time enough to get to Kandahar. Tim’s tum is better. He was rooked of 100 afghanis at a petrol station (quite brazenly) but we were not looking for trouble.

Very *Che Gui as we left town. We were stopped twice at road blocks. Two tolls and more Che Gui. Scrubland interspersed with fertile land, valleys and green corn. All fortified with ancient mud castles and forts. There were dust devils all over the place and large flocks of very dark brown, woolly looking camels. There were nomad camps made of patched cloth but very distinctive in shape. These are the real bad men for the traveller - would murder you for 5p.

Endless flocks obviously fattening after a very hard winter. Lovely silky goats and sheep, very, very handsome. We gave out our first 'Baksheesh' cigarettes to a soldier at a road block. He was not greedy and shared them around. Nearer Kandahar, there were pools of water all along the road side. No idea what the source was, but it was obviously used as flock watering places. Finally straight into Kandahar. The usual Che Gui carry on!

Kandahar Chowk, Afghanistan. Largish town with a big mosque. We found our way with difficulty to an exceedingly grotty hotel, but at least it was cover for the night.

We bought delicious caraway seed rolls here.



Kandahar Chowk.

I arrived with a migraine and flopped out for 3 hours. On waking, I found the room was not so bad! Huge beds, which were clean and comfortable. We were able to cook own supper in the room for the first time. (Spaghetti with cheese and soup.) The little gas burner worked well. Our gadgets are so useful - stopper for wash basin etc.

There was no water in the bathroom of course, but the hotel came up with a large bucket and a tea urn full of water. We are left alone which is all we need for the night. It was a fantastically good road here. We did 60 mph all the way. We have a fan in the room and have shut the French windows for security sake. There is a guard on the hotel and the car is right outside the window. Early to bed.


* Where Che Gui is mentioned, it is a secret reference to the militia, in case they ever asked to see what Betty was writing. (Taken from Che Guivara - it seemed suitable at the time!!)




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ŠE.G.L. Dening
Images and text are copyright E.G.L. Dening 1979/ 2008