Kabul, 25-4-73 (Anzac Day)
Dear Father and Mother,

Pakistan is a thing of the past and Afghanistan is a present reality. I was unable to get to the Aust H Comm in Islamabad. You had better let me know if anything was sent there and I will write to them.

The said Islamabad is a planned capital but, as yet, is decidedly less than beautiful: the buildings are squat and drab and the open spaces are bare and uneven. The Afghan Embassy would not give us our visas in less than four days, so that day (Sat.) we drove on to the border town of Peshawar, crossing the Indus River (the Indus Valley civilisation we found there couldn't even supply us with food).

There are quite a number of old castles or fortified towns in this area of Pakistan, though I was unable to determine from which period. The constant feeling I had in both India and Pakistan was that I would have liked to have seen these places in the days of the British Raj. My impractical view of history is a romantic one - distance lending enchantment to the view - and I had always imagined "India" to be full of maharajahs, nabobs and elephant-back tiger-hunts. I found it to be all too concerned with the mundane, unromantic daily scrabble for existence. Illusion is so much easier to bear than harsh reality! Perhaps I should not go to Baghdad and shatter the Arabian Nights image??

It seems Sunday is observed by the Afghan consulate in Peshawar, as we had to wait over until Monday to get our visas. On the other hand, the local Protestant Church showed absolutely no signs of Eastertide life - in fact, no signs of any sort of life. I wonder if they've had a revival recently? Spurgeon said there is nothing so dead as a church after a revival.

The Pakis in general seem more prosperous and finer-looking than the Indians, though they really lost out in the war. The logistical situation can't have been every general's dream, however. The aftermath of the war is still felt. The question of POWs still rankles. Impartial question from a young Pakistani in Rawalpindi: "As a neutral mind, would you say Pakistan is much better than India?"

After finally getting our visas about midday Monday, we set off up the Khyber Pass. Sitting on the roof was exhilarating, but at times disconcerting or downright dangerous. The locals on the Pakistani side threw, and pretended to throw, stones at us - apparently it is the fun thing to do. There were notices advising us not to photograph military installations or tribal women and to reach a town before dark. The mountains were grand, rugged and barren, set off by fortifications (of mud?) on every available hilltop, mostly crumbling to ruins. I couldn't make out whether they were centuries-old relics or modern Pakistan's notion of "military installations".

After spending the usual hours at the border (on a sort of plateau) and slipping the officials the usual baksheesh of a bottle or two of whisky, we changed to the right-hand side of the road and traversed some very beautiful Afghan countryside with lakes, lush pastures, dim snow-capped mountains, fine tree-lined road, tent-dwelling nomads and camels in abundance. We stopped for shish kebab (skewered meat), bread (in enormous slabs) and tea (weak and black) in Jalalabad, then continued on through the Kabul Gorge to Kabul. Although it was dark by that time, its grandeur was not completely lost upon us.

We checked into the Mustafa Hotel, where I am sharing a room and paying 50 Afghanis/night (about 75c US). This makes me feel very prodigal, but at least I have sheets (real flannelette sheets!) and a hot shower. Also I spent well over $1 on food yesterday, but enjoyed it - especially the yoghurt, rice with meat, ice cream and donuts!

(Old) Kabul is squeezed between two large, undeveloped barren, rocky mountains and a snow-covered mountain is visible at the end of the street I'm staying in. The place is an odd mixture of what look like old mud dwellings and modern buildings, just as the people wear a mixture of traditional flowing robes with turbans and modern business suits. Altogether the place rather appeals to me. Wandering alone through the bazaars and eating native brings back some of the magic that has been missing in the bus crowd.

Jack the Swiss paid nearly $50 yesterday for three sheepskin coats and a fur cap - now he has to worry about getting them home. I would like a souvenir of Afghanistan but transport is my problem (as well as money). Perhaps a small rug for Af 300 or a fur cap for Af 400? Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision...

I'm afraid I'll feel sorry later that I haven't been taking photographs but one gets sick of the bother, forgets, or finds it socially unacceptable. This is a very large aerogramme - it's taken me ages to fill. Stamps for postcards are wickedly expensive - would buy a big meal for two!