The Places in Between
Harvest, 2006 (2004)
Read an Excerpt
Reviewed by Hilary Williamson
n January 2002 Rory Stewart walked across Afghanistan, from Herat to Kabul, following the route taken by Babur, the first emperor of Mughal India (quotes from Babur's diary add depth of interest and historical context to Stewart's own journey, and the author's regular sketches of people and places and set of black and white photos, make it all more immediate and real).
hy did Stewart travel on foot at such a dangerous time (he arrived in Herat six weeks after the Taliban's departure from power)? His walking expedition through Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and Nepal had a section missing after he was barred from Afghanistan in 2000, so he returned at the first opportunity to fill in that gap. Readers might be inclined to agree with the Special Forces team who called the author/adventurer a
, but they reap the benefits in reading this fascinating account, that is destined to become a classic in travel literature.
n Herat, Security Service officials forced the author to make the first part of his journey (to the frontier of Ghor) with an escort - Qasim, Abdul Haq (carrying and occasionally shooting automatic rifles) and Aziz. Stewart explains local customs, telling us that '
In both Iran and Afghanistan, the order in which men enter, sit, greet, drink,, wash, and eat defines their status, their manners, and their view of their companions.
' He also discusses lost cultures (like the powerful Ghorid dynasty, and the lost city of the Turquoise Mountain) of the regions he walks through and seeks for traces of them.
t each stage of the journey, Stewart makes contact with local dignitaries, offering letters from those in power at previous stops, and seeking introductions for later ones, as well as directions (oral maps are passed down through families and shared). Many people he meets have lost family members to the endless war, as often killed in local feuds as by invaders. He sleeps in people's homes and in mosques, and is often offered escort to the next village. A retired fighting dog is also pressed upon him, a mastiff he named Babur, who beomes a valued companion, though also somewhat of a problem.
ood is often only bread and water and, as travelers inevitably do, the author suffers badly from diarrhea. He walks through snowstorms, avoids land mines, is threatened by the Taliban, and his dog is regularly attacked by village curs, but Stewart walks all the way to Kabul, and even arranges to ship Babur back to Scotland (this ends sadly, unfortunately).
he Places in Between
is the best of travel literature, covering not only the journey but also wide ranging topics like history and archeology (sites pillaged by locals who sell invaluable items for a few dollars to the illegal antiquities market), travel, political and economic (the poppy trade) insights, comments on various ethnic groups in Afghanistan (like the Hazara of the central mountains), and a discussion of Western misunderstandings of the Koran. Don't miss it!
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