Welcome from Jan

Hi there!
This blog is for those who love both books and travel. I'm starting by travelling back in time to the 1970s and the overland trail to India which I took as an 18 year old. Have a look at my daily diary entries and photos. Some of these places are impossible to visit at the moment, but I can give you a flavour of what they were like in the golden age of the hippy trail.

The experience has inspired my new mystery novel, THE VANISHING OF RUTH, which is out now as an ebook. Find details and extracts at The Vanishing of Ruth

To buy: The Vanishing of Ruth

Also take a look at Facebook Page Overlanders for more memorabilia.

Cheers, Jan.

Saturday, 28 November 2009


Afghan fat-bottomed sheep at Bamiyan

[For mountain roads, they don't come much more spectacular than the Kabul Gorge with its death-defying drops and smashed cars left as warnings to drivers.  Geoff our laconic driver took it all with his usual deadpan calm demeanour and delivered us safely to the mild plains below - so mild that we slept out under the stars.  Even a bloated stomach didn't prevent me enjoying the beautiful, noisy Afghan night.]


"Up 7.30.  Packed to noises of front street below window - music blaring away.  Got Neva to help me chose another padded jacket from our little friend [for my Mum]  Then had toast and coffee.
Bus cleaned - nearly choked with dust!

Soon left plain and into Kabul Gorge!  Really spectacular cliffs and drops, tunnels and winding roads.  Dizzy feeling looking up at massive rocks.  Wreck of a van left at one corner as a cautionary tale. 

After gorge went along by blue green rivers and pale mountains.  Down to valleys, becoming more cultivated.

Jalalabad surrounded by trees and irrigated fields.  Couldn't get through border before sunset so camped on Afghanistan side.  Didn't bother putting up tent because so mild (and ground of the peg bending type!)

Have got real gut ache - had some of Geoff's liver salts - ugh.  Stomach swollen, can't do up trousers!

Great lying out under starry sky - went to sleep listening to Supertramp.  Woke in night to hear dogs barking, donkey braying, someone singing in wailing voice and a guard shouting his head off (probably for lack of something better to do) and Janice snoring!"

Friday, 27 November 2009


[FOOD!  On the road, camping wild, we cooked up an awful lot of vegetable soup and stew - cabbage featured heavily and seemed to grow bigger the further east we went.  So eating locally was usually a treat - and the sweet pastries and puddings from Paris to Kathmandu were reason enough to follow the hippy trail.  I don't think I've tasted such good yoghurt as in Bamiyan - and the cake in Kabul  - I couldn't resist even when feeling sick.  Read below for a tasty idea!]


"Woke to the sound of one fella stoking the boiler and the pleasant sweet smell of woodsmoke.  People began to stir and order tea.  Had a "bolled" egg for breakfast!  Lazed around foa a while because so warm. 

Then went out for a walk with Jan and Sue. 
Really beautiful clear crisp morning.  Walked up by cliffs - followed solemnly by 3 sheep with huge swinging backsides.  Someone hammering in village caused an echo which sounded as if someone was working inside the cliff - really weird.
Gorgeous sun spilling over snowy mountains - a line of horses strapped to open carts, eating out of bags.

Met women and kids asking for matches - one carrying little baby wrapped in tight cloth - eyes clogged with black dust.

Went back to hotel and had a yoghurt with nuts and raisins!  Left mid morning, with extra passengers for Kabul.  Back down same road - lovely views again.  Hit a wall trying to avoid hole at side of road!  Saw line of goats coming down almost sheer cliff side.

Stopped for lunch late on, at the village on hill again - had cay at side of tiny square.  People off a bus at side of road got out and prayed.

Back to Mustafa hotel for welcome shower after dusty ride - still coughing from dust.  Went with Diane and Marie to Sigis Restaurant - nice setting around an open courtyard where a huge game of chess under floodlight was set up.  Sat on floor at tiny tables listening to Cat Stevens and Deep Purple.  Nearly deserted - were eventually only ones left - turned off heater too.  Had rather cold omlette.
Then went to Istanbul Restaurant for sweet.  Had gorgeous big chunk of cake (sponge with chocolate type topping with raisins and grapefruit segments)  Two musicians playing away with waiter contorting his hands!
Felt sick (did before meal).

Back to hotel - listened to Dylan in dining room before went to bed (cup of coffee)."

Thursday, 26 November 2009


[The trip up to Bamiyan was one of the most memorable of the whole journey.  We glimpsed Afghan village life among stunning mountain gorges as we climbed up 11,000 ft to the valley of the giant Buddhas.  Having stood for thousands of years, they are now gone - destroyed by a puritanical Taliban regime in retreat.  But we saw them in more tranquil days in the dazzling winter sun.  It made a lasting impression.  My novel OVERLANDERS begins in Bamiyan when two passengers go missing from a bus trip ...]


"Up early - left packs at hotel and left for Bamian.  Wearing all our winter clothes!  Left tarmac road fairly soon and too to dirt road - incredibly dusty.  Wound way along valleys by mountain sides - really beautiful striking scenery, with dark green fast flowing rivers, delicate skeleton trees, some still golden. 
Stopped for breakfast at little village - went up to cay shop - small pot each (about 4 glasses worth) for about 8p.  Locals sitting about on the raised platforms covered with carpets - big stove with boiler above in the middle. 

Stopped at another village further up valley and walked through it; busy workshops - meat, bread, drapers etc.  Food mostly big mounds of grain and nuts.  Me and Jan took "ethnic shot" of men weighing something on mansize scales! 

Walked up hill beyond village - good view back down of mud type houses set on mountainside.

Traffic jam further on!  Small bridge over river had collapsed slightly under weight of a big truck.  Villagers all gathered round watching truck being hauled upright again - very precarious position.  (Later we heard that the truck had gone right over into river the day before and had been there until we arrived!)  Had a lunch stop while we waited - nice grass bank by bus with houses above - women sitting around on small platform by house;

lots of inquisitive kids sat with us and demanded their picture - "Mister! Mister!" to the girls as well.  Lots of dead sheep piled up at side of river.  Finally big cheer and truck pulled out of the way.

Road began to climb after that to the Shiba Pass - hairpin bends, very dusty tracks.  One hair-raising moment when bus couldn't make hairpin bend because slipped on ice!  All piled out and pushed because bus going nearer the edge all the time!  Not too bad after that.

Passed Red Fort in the evening sunlight (sacked by Ghengis Khan), some of mountains so brown and creased, looked like huge sand dunes.  Reached Bamian late afternoon.

Had wander up village as it closed up - little lamps outside each shop, shimmering through the dust.  People here had marked Mongol features.  To one side were the big cliffs with the big and little buddhas (175ft and 115ft) and the caves of the buddhists, and to the other were trees and snow capped mountains.  Really lovely clear still atmosphere.

That night we all piled into one of the "hotels" - really a cay house - and sat around on carpets with shoes off, with a stove in the middle of the room that kept the room really warm.  Various other Western people in too - off the local bus.  We all ate in there - went through gallons of lovely yoghurt - some with raisins, honey or apple.  (Had nice Kurie Kebab too).  Drank lots of cay. 

We spread out foamies on the carpets and all slept in the room - boiled because of the stove!  (Outside freezing - Heidi's contact lense liquid froze!)  Some people got bed bugs!  All very friendly at the hotel.  Some classic signs: "Please dont smoke hashish in this room" and "To the very good toilet."

Wednesday, 25 November 2009


[Today's entry on haggling in Kabul's shops conjured up the Life of Brian episode where the prospective buyer just didn't get the hang of it!  I ended up with leather soled socks that reeked of animal till their dying day.  Our meal with the students that evening was one of those golden moments on the trail where you stumble into the local life because of the friendship of strangers]


"Felt better!  Had hot shower, heated from old boiler.  Jan, Pam and I dashed around looking for open bank.  Got money eventually (tried apple pie - not very good). 

Went jumper hunting - instead bargained for thick leather soled socks from barrow in the street (didn't really want them but boy was so aggressive I was determined to knock the price down!)  Then helped Jan knock down price of carpet saddle bag from 600 afghans to 340.  Still felt we'd been ripped off because they seemed so pleased and sat us down, gave us cay, chips and sweets!  Somehow I don't think we've got the haggling touch.

Went back to buss and met Fred - went to hotel for coffee and lunch.  Neva bought 2 nice quilted jackets, so dragged her out to help me buy one.  Went to shop in Chicken Street - Neva had had an argument in there already with stroppy little boy - tried to buy one but he wouldn't bring down price.  Then he got other boy in different shop to refuse us entry too!  Really sick of this haggling lark! - some of them don't seem to want to even sell their stuff.  Went to arcade by hotel and got one there!

Paul, Julie and Neva had met 2 Iranian students the night before who had arranged to meet them next evening.  They asked for another girl and so Julie asked me.  They took us in this taxi, quite far out, to a suburb of Russian built flats, where one of them shared a flat with a medical student.  Sat us down in small bedroom with carpets on floor and fed us grapes and pistachio nuts and cay while they cooked an Iranian meal for us.  Both very lively.  Third one came in later.

Hassan taught us this card game.  The meal was lovely - kebab meat (delicious) with chips, cauliflower and raw onion (medic said that it was an anticeptic to prevent bad stomach) and beautifully made rice - they burn top with oil.  More cay.  They were very amusing practising their english with us - medic was the translator.  Hassan positioned Paul so he could see out of the window at Afghan girls in opposite flats.  Others teased Hassan that all he did was watch girls - he's in love with the medic's sister!

They walked with us until we got taxi (driver was wrapped like a monk - blanket over head - Hassan said it was a woman driver!)  Drove like a maniac - passed a crashed taxi and truck!

Had sticky cake because Neva was fed up with their comments about being fat - so made her feel like eating more!  Coffee in hotel then went to bed.

(Graveyards in Afghanistan - rough stones, many with big poles over them with coloured flags at top - purple ones supposed to denote violent death - lots of them)"

Tuesday, 24 November 2009


[A queasy stomach and a letter from home telling me that my chief, Dame Flora MacLeod of MacLeod had just died, combined to make me feel blue and missing home.  I had visited my nonagenarian chief in Scotland before leaving; she had lived in India as a young woman and was excited about my trip.  You can read more about her and my childhood trips to the Isle of Skye in BEATLES & CHIEFS]


"Headed for Kabul - felt really sick.  Stopped at small village - wandered up wide main street, hailed by breadmakers, so went in and saw bread being made in dark boiling room. Several of them making it; slapped loaves onto side of oven (set in the floor) and picked off before they fell into cinders.  Gave us some to taste, asked for photos as usual.

Reached Kabul late afternoon - low lying houses up side of river, with houses up side of hills either side of river.  Fairly grubby tatty town - more Western dress than in previous places.  Drove past prison - terrible looking hole (people die of exposure, dissentry etc. - where drug pushers end up).

Our hotel (Mustafa) was near Chicken Street - tourist bazaar area.  Settled into hotel (3 letters).  Went out in evening to wander round.  Freezing cold.  Went into fur shop with Heidi and Di - had great time drooling over coats, hats etc - given cay and cake (but I felt too sick to have any).
Went into clothes shop further up - very friendly.  (Clothes etc looked nicer at night, shabbier in daylight).

6 of us went to steak house - very cheap, lots of bus tours etc use it.  Couldn't touch any of food.  Went back to hotel early - electricity off, so room dark and freezing.  Sally and Fran slept on floor of our room.
Felt homesick and unwell."

Monday, 23 November 2009


[This day saw our arrival in Afghanistan via the high Khojak Pass at Chaman - an age-old trading, smuggling and invading route.  My first impression of Afghanistan was of the starkly beautiful landscape and evening skies.  I remember entering Kandahar after nightfall and being entranced by the rows of open-fronted shops lit up by oil lamps; horses eating and snorting contentedly in the chill evening air.  We stayed at a cheap, hotel with groovy music where the friendly staff lent us heavy black woollen blankets - I've never come across such warm ones again.  Over the years I've watched the news of Kandahar being bombed, captured and reduced in parts to rubble, and grieved for this place and the people who were kind to us.  I still hold onto my memory of a magical winter evening there - my first night in Afghanistan]


"Left Quetta early, headed for Afghan border.  Had breakfast on outskirts of small village.  Shirley was shown round the prison!  Climbed to Spin Boldak - stark hills covered in shale.
3 checks on Pakistani side of border and 2 on Afghan side - had to fill in loads of forms, while officials scribbled what we'd declared into our passports. 

A real character of a moneychanger - very bossy but rather friendly and open - was in charge of stamping forms and made a mess rather like a big thumb print (must be stuck for things to say in mine!)

Afghan scenery - flat plains surrounded by dark barren mountains - really impressive in the evening sun - dramatic clouds with bright yellow sky behind grey-purple hills.  Then a fantastic crimson sunset across the plain.
Reached Kandahar - six of us dossed in a room (a floor same as camping rates).  At the moment am sitting in the eating room of hotel listening to Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits and writing this (obviously!)  Room decorated with streamers and pop posters - quite a few young Europeans etc eating here.  Neva and I had a chat with 2 American girls - next to them were some Dutch blokes.  Chatted with an Irishman, Italian and Frenchman!
Super warm night on floor of hotel room."

Sunday, 22 November 2009


[We stayed an extra day in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan - Pakistan's biggest province.  In a letter home, written in Quetta though not posted until Rawalpindi a week later, I give it the thumbs up. "We reached Quetta yesterday - fantastic place - funny mixture of Eastern and old-fashioned British ..." 
I remember feeling that the town was strangely familiar - after the kebabs and flat breads and Persian script of Iran, Quetta had omlettes and milky tea and English spoken in the shops and cafes.  After the desert dust, it buzzed with life and colour and commerce and noise.  I had a curious sense of homecoming.  This was on the fringe of the old British India where my grandparents had lived and worked - my grandfather was employed by the Indian Forestry Service - and where my mother had spent her childhood.  I was drawing nearer to all that.  And shopping for hippy gear in the bazaars - that was my kind of shopping!]


" Lie in !!!  (10 o'clock).  Had leisurely breakfast at Metropole after taking 1 and half hours to get up.  Lovely omlette and chips.  Had mad time in clothes shop looking at embroidered waistcoats and tops - in one shop about 6 of us had half the stock out to try on - turned shop upside down - I bought a gold velvet dress!
Saw a lot of men praying in lines outside mosque in bazaar, between 12 and 1.  Lot of stalls close down then.
Wandered through cloth market.
Tonight went to Liberty Cafe for meal (I only had tea and pud) Others had curry.
The Pakistanis from last night came in again - apologised for any offence.  Tried to get involved again but we left (Dr gave Sally prescription for voice though).  Waiter rushed out after us, very flustered, trying to tell us that they were bad men!
Hurried home past armed guards!
Adrian had tried to get some hash - had nearly asked 2 men who turned out to be plain clothes policemen!  When he finally got some, no one was interested in smoking it!"

[Quetta features in my mystery novel of the hippy trail, OVERLANDERS - it plays a pivotal role]