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Note: Although this article is filed under: Travel, neither Wendy nor I have travelled in Afghanistan. The nearest we have both been is to Tajikistan on the northern border and Wendy has travelled in Iran to the west. 

 

The harrowing scenes (27th August 2021) of people blown to pieces while struggling to get to Kabul Airport in a futile to catch a flight out of mortal danger recalled scenes from the withdrawal from Vietnam but also brought into focus the terrible suffering of that benighted land, going back to the massacres of the Saur Revolution that prompted the Russian invasion in 1979.

Afghanistan has seldom been a stable place.  It has a two-and-a-half-thousand-year history of invasion. The population is correspondingly diverse, ranging from Persians to Arabs to Mongols to Chinese, harbouring age-old enmities and grievances, with residual population left over from each invasion. Tribal leaders and residual families jostled for power.

Kabul is correspondingly ancient. It's mentioned in the Hindu Rigveda, composed between 1500 and 1200 BCE. Around 2,700 years ago it was part of the Persian Median Empire; annexed by Cyrus the Great; conquered by the Greeks under Alexander the Great; then by the Arabs on their first Jihad; then by the Mongols under Genghis Khan; then again by Timur (Tamerlane) who would use the trade route provided by the passes from Afghanistan to conquer India. His dynasty would install the Islamic Mughal Empire, famed for the Taj Mahal. Afghanistan in turn became part of the Mughal Empire through to the 18th century. 

 

Even before Alexander the Great the only practical trade routes, by land, between the Indian subcontinent and Europe were through a handful of passes that traverse the Himalayas from northern India (now Pakistan) into Afghanistan. The most famous and easiest to traverse of these is the Khyber Pass but the Dorah Pass is one of four or five more challenging alternatives. These trade routes would come to be called the Silk Road. In the past two decades we have travelled to many locations along this ancient trade route and can read a lot more about the Silk Road and its history on this website:

 

Central Asia map

 Elsewhere, (in Travel) on this website, I've described places along the Silk Road, from Beijing to Venice. 
Along this 'road' are northern China; the 'stans'; India (and on to the spice trade); the Caucasus (the sea route to Venice); and Turkey (Constantinople)
Visited cities, appearing on elsewhere on this website, that also appear on the map above, are marked with a red dot. 

 

 


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Travel

Malaysia

 

 

In February 2011 we travelled to Malaysia.  I was surprised to see modern housing estates in substantial numbers during our first cab ride from the Airport to Kuala Lumpur.  It seemed more reminiscent of the United Arab Emirates than of the poorer Middle East or of other developing countries in SE Asia.  Our hotel was similarly well appointed.

 

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Fiction, Recollections & News

The new James Bond

 

 

It was raining in the mountains on Easter Saturday.

We'd decided to take a couple of days break in the Blue Mountains and do some walking. But on Saturday it poured.  In the morning we walked two kilometres from Katoomba to more up-market and trendy Leura for morning coffee and got very wet.

After a train journey to Mount Victoria and back to dry out and then lunch in the Irish Pub, with a Cider and Guinness, we decided against another soaking and explored the Katoomba antique stores and bookshops instead.  In one I found and bought an unread James Bond book.  But not by the real Ian Fleming. 

Ian Fleming died in 1964 at the young age of fifty-six and I'd read all his so I knew 'Devil May Care' was new.  This one is by Sebastian Faulks, known for his novel Birdsong, 'writing as Ian Fleming' in 2008.

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Opinions and Philosophy

The Prospect of Eternal Life

 

 

 

To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream:
ay, there's the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause:
… But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover'd country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;

[1]

 

 

 

 

When I first began to write about this subject, the idea that Hamlet’s fear was still current in today’s day and age seemed to me as bizarre as the fear of falling off the earth if you sail too far to the west.  And yet several people have identified the prospect of an 'undiscovered country from whose realm no traveller returns' as an important consideration when contemplating death.  This is, apparently, neither the rational existential desire to avoid annihilation; nor the animal imperative to keep living under any circumstances; but a fear of what lies beyond.

 

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