It was the summer of ’69 (in Kabul)

A colleague sent me this collection of photos from Afghanistan during the 1950s and 1960s (facebook login required), when Kabul was known as the “Paris of Central Asia.” It is introduced as, “the Afghanistan that my parents lived in.”

The author of the album has this quote on his facebook page:

“Religion does not require women to veil their hands, feet and faces or enjoin any special type of veil. Tribal custom must not impose itself on the free will of the individual”
King Amanullah Khan, King of Afghanistan from 1919-1929

Afghanistan was neutral during both World War II and during the Cold War, and was a fortunate beneficiary of the rivalry between the USSR and the United States during that period. Both vied for influence by building Afghanistan’s main highways, airports and other vital infrastructure, which became part of the “hippie trail.” No one could have predicted the mad fanaticism, war, and destruction of holy and historic sites that came in the decades that followed.

As it happens, Curzon’s mother took this hippie trail overland from Great Britain to India in 1969, and these photos inspired me to ask her to recall her trip, shared below:

It was the summer of 1969. We drove through Herat, Kandahar and Kabul. In Herat we met the peace corp volunteer who was held up there over 6 months as he had accidentally knocked a cyclist (an old man) off his bike and ended up going to court every day, but they never got to his case…. and they’d confiscated his passport. He was a good tour guide of the back streets and he took us to the slaughter house, which was very old world (would not have complied with our local department of agriculture standards!)

We were in Kabul when American astronauts walked on the moon (yes, that was August 1969). Some of our group were invited to the American embassy and saw movies of the landing there.

The landscape was dotted with nomad tents, black goats and white sheep and their herders. Brightly painted trucks traveled the main route, which was an unpaved, dirt road, and had passengers in an open air top I remember on our return trip how very cold it got at night in the desert, yet it was still so hot by day.

I also remember the chai – hot black tea in small glasses…

About Curzon

Lord George Nathaniel Curzon (1859 - 1925) entered the British House of Commons as a Conservative MP in 1886, where he served as undersecretary of India and Foreign Affairs. He was appointed Viceroy of India at the turn of the 20th century where he delineated the North West Frontier Province, ordered a military expedition to Tibet, and unsuccessfully tried to partition the province of Bengal during his six-year tenure. Curzon served as Leader of the House of Lords in Prime Minister Lloyd George's War Cabinet and became Foreign Secretary in January 1919, where his most famous act was the drawing of the Curzon Line between a new Polish state and Russia. His publications include Russia in Central Asia (1889) and Persia and the Persian Question (1892). In real life, "Curzon" is a US citizen from the East Coast who has been a financial analyst, freelance translator, and university professor; he is currently on assignment in Tokyo.
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3 Responses to It was the summer of ’69 (in Kabul)

  1. I took that road in 1964 on my 150cc 2-stroke Vespa motor scooter. The road from Herat to Kandahar was being built by Russians, Americans from Kandahar to Kabul. I ran out of gas on the Russian stretch. A Russian road crew gave me my 1.5 gallon fill up and refused to accept any money(!) for it. There was a steady flow of Australians in the opposite direction providing reliable information of the route ahead.

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  3. Hotels were all full in Kabul in August 1964. There was a big national festival having to do with horsemanship. There was a big park with a big pond. In the middle of the pond was a tiny island. You could walk to the island on a narrow pontoon bridge. At the entrance to the bridge stood a couple soldiers who would not allow passage to any woman in full-body cover garb. It seems they were an embarrassment to national pride.

    (As hotels were full I got into an American compound and thought I would sleep on a chaise by the swimming pool. At night it got freezing cold. A guard came around and asked me who I was. Then he suggested I sleep in the back seat of a van near some warm generators.)