Memories of Kabul


This month, I stumbled across an old business card. It belonged to Timur Shah Hamid, who when I met him was a twentysomething sales and public relations manager for the InterContinental in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Now, it's two weeks later, and I am reading that the U.S.--in an effort to counter terrorism--is dropping bombs on that country. This does not produce an especially hot industry story when it comes to travel to Afghanistan because no one much goes there from here anyway.

But I did. In 1970. (Coincidentally, at that same time Travel Weekly's Washington bureau chief, Fran Durbin, was living there, but we did not know each other then.)

The memories I collected in Kabul always spring to mind when I read about that weary land. I entered the country by car through the Khyber Pass. I met Timur, named for the fabled conqueror Tamerlane and a grandson of an Afghan king, because I stayed at the InterContinental.

Over dinner, he told me a story of being raised in exile in India because his grandfather had been dethroned by the British and replaced by another family member. The family returned to Afghanistan after promising their cousin not to make a run at his throne. I have never known what happened to Timur in all the turmoil of the last 19 years, but I have feared the worst.

During my days in Kabul, I strolled the streets but did not have to worry about avoiding photos of women (a ground rule) because I did not see any. However, mobs of children attached themselves to me and begged to be photographed. A few men asked for photos, too. One shot, of 10 men in turbans and other traditional garb sitting in front of a carpet shop, has hung on my wall all the years since. When I stopped to take that photo, those 10 men literally froze for me so I could get my shot.

I also could have had a small rug for $10 to $20. I did not buy a rug (dumb kid), but I still have the sheepskin-lined slippers that I did buy.

Finally, I had known that the first of the Moguls, who ruled India beginning in the early 1500s, was buried in Kabul. I aimed to visit other Mogul emperors' grave sites later (the Taj Mahal being the most famous) and I set out to find this one.

That founding emperor was Babur Shah, so I told my "English-speaking" cab driver I wanted to visit Babur Shah's grave. The driver seemed not to know how to find it. He would stop first at one store and then another and say, "Here?" I would say, "No, Babur Shah's grave." Finally, we found someone who really did speak English. He was a barber, and my cab driver had thought I was looking for a barber shop.


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