The Triplegem Afghan Expedition I – Peshawar, Pakistan
The Triplegem Afghan Expedition: Peshawar
5-7 August 2005
Early on the 6th I walked over to the bank and took 40,000 rupees out of the ATM. On the way I met a guy from New Zealand who was also staying at the Regal Internet. We shared breakfast – channa dal and paratha – and talked. He was traveling to Europe and I was headed for Afghanistan. Then I caught an air-conditioned bus to Peshawar. I left Lahore at 11:00 a.m. and arrived in Peshawar at 6:00 p.m. The Grand Trunk Road – better and faster – was much improved compared to three years ago.
I checked into the Rose Hotel, in the Khyber Bazaar, and they gave me the same room as before – even the door still stuck – room 402 at 450 rupees per night. It was 100 rupees more than the last time because a tiny TV had been added to the room.
The 7th was Sunday, which is the legal holiday in ‘secular’ Pakistan, rather than the Islamic Friday, so the Afghan Consulate was closed. I walked from Saddar to the Peshawar museum – a very hot (over 40Âº C) walk. The Raj-era museum houses an excellent collection of Gandharan art, though it’s still hot and sweaty inside despite the thick wall and high ceilings. The fee was 100 rupees for a foreigner, only 10 for a local. They have an excellent collection of old seals and coins and several rooms devoted to ethnic crafts. Before looking at the ‘new antiques’ in the bazaars it’s always a good idea to see what the authentic pieces look like for comparison. The Lahore Museum is even better, but I wasnâ€™t there long enough this trip.
I then walked to the Spogmay Hotel in Namak Mandi – the Salt Bazaar – and trudged up the six floors of winding marble stairs, but the metal gate to the top floors were locked. They informed me at the reception desk that my friend Attaullah was in Afghanistan. Then I strolled the backstreet bazaars and saw some nice, but very expensive, old beads. I drank a mango shake and returned to my hotel by 12:30. There I relaxed, showered and washed my clothes.
I went out again at 5:30 to buy naan and pakoras from a street stall for dinner. As I was walking, I noticed a familiar side street. I took it and discovered the Namak Mandi gem-cutting bazaar, one of several places that I had been looking for in the morning. It was half closed because it was Sunday, but I still saw some nice specimens. Vowing to return when more shops were open, I strolled back to my hotel in a very good mood. I had another mango milk shake, bought my dinner, then returned to my room. I ate and relaxed, and then came a surprise visitor. It was Ruhaullah, Attaullah’s son. He told me that he still had the killims and sozeny I had left with them to be repaired three years before. We made arrangements to meet for dinner at the Spogmay the next day.
8 August 2005
I was at the Afghan Consulate when it opened at 9:30, but they only take visa applications on Tuesdays and Thursdays. To get it you need one photo, a photocopy of the main information pages of your passport and $30 US cash. I had everything ready for the next day. I stopped at a cyber-cafe but still couldnâ€™t get into my .mac account, so I used Hotmail – bummer! This only ever happened to me in Pakistan, both this trip and the one before. Next I returned to the Namak Mandi gem bazaar and spent 12,000 rupees on gems and specimens. When I went to the Spogmay to meet Attaullahâ€™s son, no one was there! Weird.
I must have eaten something bad, because I woke in the middle of the night puking and shitting. I had a slight case of food poisoning – bacterial dysentery – which was the usual malady in Pakistan. I took some golden seal and homeopathic nux vomica, and went back to sleep.
9 August 2005
That evening Stephan came by with Jacque, a Vietnamese Australian, and a tall, bearded and ponytailed American guy from Florida. We talked about the trip to Afghanistan, then went out at about 9:00 p.m. to a great little side street restaurant for Kabuli pillou and green tea for dinner.
10 August 2005
After breakfast (a Pakistani omelet, naan and milk tea), I caught a three-wheeler back to Mall road in Saddar Bazaar and finally was able to use the ATMâ€¦ What a relief. I took out 40,000 rupees (about $350). I walked the short distance to the Belour Plaza – the ‘Akihabara’ of Peshawar – and used the cyber-cafÃ©. Finally, I could use my .mac account. I could use my Hotmail account anywhere, but the Apple account was always difficult in Pakistan. It took me two hours to catch up with five days of back email. But good news – I had my reservation at the Mustafa hotel in Kabul for a $15/night room. Three years before they had not only cost $35 for all the rooms, they had also been full. So on that trip I’d stayed in the Kabul River area at the old government hotel, the Spinzar – $20 per night. My friends John and Kim were going to fly into Kabul for their latest Wakhan trek for the Aga Khan Foundation on the 11th. That was perfect timing. That’s when I’d get there as well.
I caught an auto-rickshaw to Chowk Yadghar, where the moneychangers had their places of business. I compared prices, played them off against each other for a bit so that I could get the real exchange rate. I changed Pak rupees for $100 bills, I also changed 20,000 rupees for 16,240 Afghanis (100-123). From the moneychangers, I caught a ride to Namak Mandi and the Spogmay Hotel. I talked with a Japanese guy named Shen while I waited for Rahaullah to return. Shen had studied Urdu at Peshawar University for a while and was an old friend of theirs. We had a pleasant chat until Rahaullah returned. I arranged for the kilims and suzeny I had left three years before to be cleaned and stretched. I returned to the Rose hotel to rest during the plus 40Âº C (100Âº F) heat of the afternoon.
I arranged for the taxi for the Torkham border to leave at 8:00 a.m.
|Peshawar Market Vendor|
Yahoo! Kabul, here I come!