When I first started travelling nearly fifty years ago, I made a habit of sending a picture post card every week to my parents just to let them know I was alive. There were no smartphones in those days, and even an ordinary phone call was troublesome. Often one had to wait for hours at a telephone exchange to get a line, and it was expensive. Way beyond my budget at five dollars a day. My mother kept all these postcards, and after she passed away a few years back, I got to keep them. I’ll share some of them with you.
Afghanistan – October 1976.
Before arriving crossing the Afghan border for the first time in my life, I was by many travellers told that toilet paper was a commodity in scarce supply. In a way it reinforced my preconceived idea of Afghanistan as a backward country. As soon as the immigration procedures at the land border travelling towards Herat from Iran was completed, there were actually tens of makeshift shops selling – toilet paper. I am still wondering why these false rumours were spreading around travellers at that time. Afghanistan was the highlight on the overland trip, whether you were looking for “goodies and necessities” as a sign in our hotel reception announced, or if you wanted to dive into the history and culture of this proud nation. A post card with the famous Buddha status from Bamiyan I though being an appropriate image to send to my mother.
These Buddha statues were once the largest standing Buddhas in the world, until the Taliban in 2001 blew them apart and left everything in rubble. They are from a time before Islam travelled to the central Afghanistan region. The message on the back of the card was not so much about the art and the history of the Afghans, but much more about the recurring stomach upsets that limited my adventurous ideas of tracking out to remote areas of the country.
Built in the 6th century, before Islam had travelled to the central Afghanistan region, the two Buddhas of Bamiyan were famous for their beauty, craftsmanship and of course, size. The taller of the two Buddhas stood at more than 170 feet high, with the second statue at nearly 115 feet. They were once the world’s largest standing Buddhas. In March 2001 Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar ordered the Buddhas destroyed. They were subsequently blown apart and left in rubble.
Bijapur, Karnataka, India – January 1978
In the northern part of the Indian state of Karnataka I arrived one day in early January 1978 at the city of Bijapur. A medieval city from the 11th century with a city wall, minarets and mosques, and a lively commercial area with shops and bazars. Located six hundred meters above sea level, the temperatures during the winter evenings are pleasant for a European. There were hardly any western travellers around and wherever I walked my white face called attention. If you had problems people staring at you, India was definitely not the place. Wherever you went in India, there were people everywhere. People pushing their way around trying to survive the day. Although the population of India in the late seventies were only half of what it is today, it was still over crowded – or at least it felt that way.