The Kyber pass which links Pakistan to Afghanistan has long been a significant trade and invasion route. It is the scene of various historic battles. The Kyber pass is one of the routes once known as “the Silk Road”
Friday afternoon we piled into Doris’s SUV with Haji at the wheel, Kim in the front seat with guidebook in hand, Pippa, Doris & Yvette in the backseat and yours truly packed in the back with the luggage and food for the weekend. [I volunteered] There was actually was a seat back there which I believe was designed for either a child or an adult without knees.
Well the Silk Road is not is so silky. It was more like a washboard highway most of the trip from Islamabad to Peshawar. We bounced along for about 2.5 hours including 5 diversions (detours) for road construction and got into Peshawar just before dusk.
Pippa had hired a local guide for the journey up to the pass. Seems there is much paperwork and permissions to arrange which would boggle the mind of a westerner and is best left to a local. He arrived with his driver and van Saturday morning. We had extra room so invited Haji (Doris’ Pakistani driver) to join us for the trip.
The first stop was to get permission papers from the local authorities and collect an armed guard with his Kalashnikov AK-47 to accompany us. While some think the armed guard is an appropriate safeguard, others presume it is effectively a “tourist tax” to fund the military which has become quite a “business”. Anyhow he sat in the front alongside the driver until we returned.
We wound our way through Peshawar which turned out to be a teeming city crammed with people, cars, carts and little shops selling everything imaginable. Eventually we found ourselves at a large stone archway/gate where we stopped to get permission to enter. While we were always in “Pakistan” we were leaving the government controlled land and entering into a tribal area which is still “administered” by the tribal leaders.
Alongside the road were acres and acres of mud huts. This is where the tent cities for the Afgan refugees once stood and have been replaced by more permanent housing. Some refugees reportedly move back to the Afgan mountains during the summer and return to the refugee camp for the winter.
We expected the pass to be desolate but were surprised to find it heavily populated. The “houses” all had walls 15-20 feet high and made of reddish mud brick. They were usually the size of a city block and had watchtowers in the corners with gun ports all over. Seems there is a history of raids and violence. When the men are away the women in their burkas’ stand guard with their Kalashnikov AK-47’s. Now I understand in a new way how someone could disappear in this region and not be found. And.. the mountains and caves are in such rugged and desolate terrain that just finding them is a major chore.
All was brown… hardly any greenery to be seen and no gardens in sight. A few pipes bring water to the area, but how do they survive???
As we wound our way up we saw lookout posts (brick huts) on top of most of the hills high above us. The pass narrowed to barely wider than a two lane highway at points. We stopped and looked back at the highway winding up from Peshawar behind us. Eventually we crested a hill and found ourselves overlooking a valley ahead. The guide jumped out and a short while later we were invited to climb up to the garrison of the “Khyber Rifles” for a spectacular view of the pass winding down the last 5 kilometers to the border.
From here we could see the Afghanistan border and what it must have been like to climb up through this pass for invaders whether they had horses & elephants like Alexander the Great and the Moguls or tanks like the Soviets
After descending to Peshawar (at a rapid clip) we spent the afternoon wandering the bazaars in search of gifts and bargains and ended the evening eating dinner sitting on cushions on the floor at the Khan Klub.