The Triplegem Afghan Expedition: Road to Herat Part 1
17 August 2005 – Mazar-i-Sharif to Maimana
The paved road ended in Sheberghan. The taxi hung a sharp left and we were off through the rolling steppes, with no single road anymore, just myriad shallow paths through the grassland. I’d first traveled this road in the spring of 1975, sitting sideways in the back of a Russian-made 4WD truck with a bunch of Turkomen and sick as a skunk. This trip I was packing plenty of Dramamine. Off-road in Afghanistan, finally, I was back in time – the camel caravans to get water, the flocks of goats and sheep, the fierce kuchi dogs chasing the taxi and barking. Nomads! This was one of the few places in the world where the nomadic lifestyle was still practiced.
I had no idea where to stay so I just had the driver ask for a good hotel and I ended up at a great place, the Municipal Hotel, called Dawlaut in Dari. It was set back on its own grounds behind a high, mustard-colored mud-brick wall. There were gardens and the style was that funky old classic Afghan, high ceilings and thick mud walls. It was only 500 Afs, about $8, for a room with three beds. I asked the old graybeard at the desk where to get a ride to Herat, and he pointed down the road and told to me to look for Saddam Yoush. It was a straight walk, about three blocks, so I knew that I could do it quite easily while carrying my pack early the next morning. I found the office and bought a ticket to Herat. I even talked with a few Afghanis I had met along the road to Maimana, as well as a few cute kids to whom I gave some four-colored pens for their schoolwork. 1,000 afs for a two-day ride didn’t sound too bad. It was going to be a 4WD Toyota HiAce with about 15 passengers. I knew it was going to be a hard ride – little did I know how hard it was going to be. The van was scheduled to leave at 5:00 a.m. the next day, so I planned another early night.
Once in the bazaar, it didn’t take me long to find Rafi’s friend. There really weren’t any tourist-oriented shops, but there had never been many visitors, even in the ’70s. The jewelry shops were for the locals, but I did find two glass beads, probably Venetian from the mid-1800s, and I bought them for 200 afs. I ate at street stalls along the way as I rambled about the town searching for my hotel. I eventually found it and sat in the garden and gazed at the nearly full moon for awhile before turning in early. I really enjoyed sleeping on the charpoy – traditional rope beds used in the region.