In 2006 I took unpaid leave from work to do some travelling around northern India and Pakistan. I travelled solo, using public transport and avoiding the classic back packer haunts. It was an amazing journey and I had a particularly warm welcome in Pakistan where I found visitors to be treated like long lost family friends. One of the places I visited was Peshawar, in the North West Frontier Province. While there I was lucky enough to make a short visit to the Khyber Pass – the infamous route to and from Afghanistan.
I flew into Peshawar on a Pakistani Air force Hercules, we sat on canvas seats and were handed bottled water by the uniformed load masters. I’d been booked on the PIA flight from Chitral but it turned out the plane had crashed the day before in Multan and so the military had stepped in to help.
On arrival I shared a Rickshaw with a friendly local and he dropped me at a cheap hotel close to the imposing Bala Hissar – the massive fort that overlooks the city.
After a good sleep I went to explore the Bizarre (market), it was very similar to those I’d seen all across the country. I was struck by how many women I saw who weren’t wearing Burkas and openly showed there faces (it was 2006 so I wander if that is still the case?), I was also surprised to see five or six Sikh men out and about including one working on a construction site. That night I had dinner with a Dutchman and a German who were travelling across Asia on Motorbikes. They told me that they had crossed Iran and then entered the Balochistan region of Pakistan – the local Police had been so concerned for their safety that they gave them an escort all the way to Peshawar and had placed armed guards outside their hotel room every night.
The next day I hired a car and driver from the Pakistan Tourism and Development Corporation for a trip along the Khyber pass. As we drove out of town we passed a sign that read: “Welcome to the Khyber agency – no foreigners beyond this point.” After this we had to collect our armed guard who travelled with us. It was a free service but I made sure to tip him well.
We passed the Jamrud gate and cruised past huge walled compounds that I was told were the homes of wealthy smugglers.
The road wound slowly higher into the hills and we had to negotiate our way around the brightly painted “jingly” trucks that plied this route, carrying all sorts of goods to Afghanistan.
At Ali Masjid I saw the concrete Dragon’s teeth of anti-tank defences that I guessed had been built in WW2 in preparation against German success in central Asia, my guide also told me that the British had built an underground military hospital here though I couldn’t see any signs of it.
Finally we reached the Michini Check point which is as far as I could go without an Afghan visa. The views were spectacular and it was fascinating to be stood at one of histories great transit points, a place steeped in tradition, culture and history.
On the whole I found the journey to be straight forward and fairly relaxed. My guide was sensible though and we didn’t stay at any location for more than five minutes. I’m not sure if the route is still open to travellers like me, I’d love to hear from you if you’ve been recently.