Kabul to Jalalabad

Jan 12, 2011   //   by peretz   //   long, photos, taj  //  4 Comments

The ride from Kab­ul to Jalal­abad was long and adventurous.

I saw a dog being killed in Kab­ul. They are con­sid­ered pests here.

A dead dog

Most of our dri­ve time was spent sit­ting in traf­fic on the windy seg­ment of the Kab­ul Riv­er Gorge (also called Tan­gi Gharu).

Part of the rea­son for the bad traf­fic is that peo­ple tend to dri­ve on both sides of the road in both direc­tions. At first it seems like a good idea, you get a lit­tle bit ahead of your neigh­bor. But local opti­miza­tion can some­times lead to glob­al cat­a­stro­phes. Such deci­sions cre­at­ed grid­locked jen­ga puz­zles on nar­row roads with pre­car­i­ous drop offs and small mar­gins for error. Each one took hours to resolve.

Gridlock on the Kabul Jalalabad Highway

Had we left much ear­li­er in the morn­ing (say 6am) we would­n’t have expe­ri­enced this traf­fic. And so we sat in the car, or got our to stretch our legs, or to take pho­tographs of war debris from var­i­ous wars, such as this Russ­ian tank:

Soviet Tank Lays in the Valley beside the Kabul River

When­ev­er we’d show our faces, a crowd would appear. The younger ones talked to us. Some­times they asked for “ener­gy” = soft drinks.

Law Students, Future Bureaucrats

I met a boy named Pamir who is studing law, on the right. He’s gonna be a bureau­crat some day. On his stu­dent card, you could see his blood type.

Student Card has Blood type A+

Jin­gle Trucks from Park­istan con­sti­tute a large frac­tion of the traffic:

Jingle Truck

Todd Jingles

Out of the gorge we were out in broad open val­ley swept by opaque dust storms, bend­ing trees horizontally.

The road had warn away in parts, and you have to be ready to stop abrupt­ly when you spot a pot hole. This caused our acci­dent. A truck in front of us stopped. We stopped right behind it, and many cars stopped on our bumper behind us… So far so good. But the truck in front start­ed back­ing up. We honked. It did­n’t care. It ate half our hood before it final­ly stopped.

Accident Post-Mortem

Thank­ful­ly, its clear­ance was high enough that the dam­age was only cos­met­ic. Since there is no insur­ance and no pro­to­col for how to resolve acci­dents oth­er than by talk­ing. Our dri­ver (on the right) got out and start­ed a long nego­ti­a­tion direct­ly on the high­way. (Truck dri­ver is on the left.)

Post Accident Negotiations

This is one of the main rea­sons why for­eign­ers are dis­cour­aged from dri­ving. All of the NGOs and even the secu­ri­ty com­pa­nies now hire local dri­vers. This is the kind of advice we get: if you hit some­one, get the hell out of there. If you stick around, you will get clubbed. (And if you see some­one dead/wounded, look out for boo­by traps. This one applies not only while driving.)

One amaz­ing thing about Afghanistan is the jusx­ta­po­si­tion of the past and the future, and how one caus­es the oth­er.  There is no postal ser­vice, for exam­ple.  You have to rely on email.

Solar Power

There will prob­a­bly nev­er be a wired tele­phone net­work here, but every­one has a cell­phone. Cell­phone tow­ers (when not pow­ered by gen­er­a­tors) are pow­ered by solar.

We did see con­struc­tion crews lay­ing fiber optics cable along the high­way. Sad­ly, I missed the pho­to op. Maybe Lou or Todd got it?

Much of the coun­try’s hydro­elec­tric facil­i­ties are locat­ed along this stretch of riv­er, so the fact that the Kab­ul riv­er is but a stream, presents a problem.

Approach­ing Jalal­abad, we pass the Darun­ta Dam and afte­wards is Nan­ga­har Uni­ver­si­ty whose ini­tial build­ings were used to house the Sovi­et engi­neers that built and oper­at­ed the Darun­ta Dam.

Right before you breach the perim­iter of Jalal­abad city prop­er, take a left down Awe­some Tod­d’s road (see Open Street Maps).

Wel­come to the Taj. This has become our home (Lang­ton Annex 😉 More about the Taj and its occu­pants in anoth­er post.

For now, a teaser:

This is part of the longer nar­ra­tive blog series, that start­ed with What is Nor­mal any­way? I will try to have this sub-series fol­low a lin­er nar­ra­tive, while the gen­er­al post stream will jump around.