Afghanistan by Motorbike –
was 5 in the morning in the little Asian town of Herat,
which lies just inside Afghanistan on the western
border with Iran. It was the dawning of a clear day,
and I was itching to get out on the road.
My Norton 750cc Commando motorcycle, nicknamed ‘Demeter’
(after the Greek Goddess of Life) stood in the morning
sunlight ready to roll out into the Afghan Desert.
She had already carried me from England, through France,
Monaco, Italy, Austria, Yugoslavia, Greece, Turkey
and Iran. But there was somehow a mystery about today’s
trip, 400 miles through a pure desert on a concrete
road built by the Russians.
I had been advised to go in a convoy through this
stretch en route through Helmund Province to Kandahar,
but I was in no mood to wait for other travellers
to rally together, and anyway I was used to being
on my own now, and kick started the bike feeling a
Demeter and I purred out of town into the wilderness.
The feeling of ‘freedom ‘was overwhelming.
The desert sun was warm and welcoming and I decided
to pull over and redress for the occasion. I took
off my shirt and shoes, and set off again wearing
only a pair off shorts and a big set off headphones
atop my mop of crispy hair … George Harrison‘s
album “All Things Must Pass” rang out
as I pressed the button on the cassette player strapped
on top of my canvas back on the back rack.
This was what it was all about, Afghanistan at our
fingertips, not a care in the world, with the mystery
of the unknown out on the road ahead. On we strode,
Demeter and I into the desert.
after hour we hummed through the desolate, striking
beauty of the empty brownness of the desert. Sometimes
the road was Romanesque, and as straight as a dye,
disappearing on the far horizon through a lightly
rolling sand-scape. Then it would suddenly change
into a craggy rockscape and wind up and down through
the lowly cliffs of jagged rock terraces. Then without
warning it was back to the straightness of an open
space as endless as eternity.
The sun got hotter, and the road ahead shimmered
in the haziness and the mirages of water pools, which
became an entertaining way of conjuring up hallucinations
controlled by the mind, but definitively ruled by
nature. My body was by now a dark chocolate brown,
having followed the summer sun continuously through
months of travel. Dressed down to only a pair of shorts
was no problem even in the scorching midday Afghan
heat, since the breeze of forward motion was soothing,
even in the dryness of the hot desert air.
The cassette played on and I was just settling down
to a new track as I came down and out of a rocky crag.
There in front of me was a ‘dead’ man
lying across the roadway. Another man, evidently distressed
was throwing his hands to the heavens and sort of
dancing a lament, rhythmic like a Morris dancers jig,
although he had no bells around his ankles….hang
on a minute, it all seemed rather controlled, and
his jig was looking quite professional. Demeter sprang
into their view, and the growling classic sound of
the Norton triggered an unexpected reaction. The jigger
glanced, pranced then ran like hell for the edge of
a split second the ‘dead’ man was also
up and running and they ran hell for leather into
the deep desert sand. Speaking of leather, as Demeter
and I cruised past I noticed the dancing man had a
rather large leather camel whip gripped menacingly
in his hand. Then the vision struck me, they were
a couple of desert-muggers! A ‘dead man’
lying in the road would have stopped many a traveller
eager to help in a desperate situation, but on this
occasion a large yellow motorcycle swings around the
corner, thunders towards them, and having had no previous
knowledge of growling two-wheeled machines, they freak
out genuinely and run for their lives.
warm flood of emotion filled my body, and I heard
my gasp for air as I realised that I had just flipped
through a potential disaster…avoiding the probable
end of my dream to travel from England to South Africa
on a motorcycle!
I then found myself laughing out loud, rolling the
bike from side to side, shaking my head, pinching
the air with my fist, and then singing along with
Demeter, George and I had just had a lucky escape.
I pulled over after another 10 miles and danced my
own jig at the side of the road. The feeling of ‘freedom’
was overwhelming, and I cupped my hands and screamed
a call of delight and breathed a deep breath and called
again – I was alive and the world was all before
me! Then my body shook uncontrollably in retaliation,
just as my screeching call echoed back off a craggy
rock face, and caught me unawares. The hairs on the
back of my head crackled and stood on end. I cringed
then felt fulfilment. Life was indeed great!
I filled the petrol tank with the fuel in the reserve
can, checked the luggage straps, and then cast my
eye over the bike to ensure all was well. Demeter
kick-started first time, and we were off again through
the Afghan desert. George Harrison lent us his voice
with “Plug Me In”. Demeter and I struck
out for our destination to the town of Kandahar in
the deep south of the Afghan Desert.
As we motored on I saw something quite unbelievable
on the road ahead … but that is for another
This story was kindly provided by Bruce Curran.