Peshawar was the seat of activity for Afghan Mujahideen fighting across the border in Afghanistan. When they weren’t fighting and dying in Afghanistan, they were roaming the bazaars of Peshawar. Bombings and political intrigues were the norm. It was a time of aid-wallahs, ex-pats, journalists and spies, living mostly in University Town (simply called ‘Town’) outside of Peshawar City (old city) on Jamrud Road, leading to the Khyber Pass and Afghanistan. Heroin factories abounded just outside the city in Tribal Territory and across the border in neighboring Afghanistan.
This story takes place in this environment and in this time, but only has passing concerns with these matters. I lived in Peshawar City, in Hashtnagri, with Bibi Ji (a local PPP* leader of a respected and prominent Sayid family) and her family. One could say this story is about Pakistan, though parts of Pakistan most travelers don’t get to tread—a diary, a travelogue of sorts.
It covers from January 1988 to November 1991, starting with a visit to Hira Mandi, the famous red-light and nautch district in Lahore, and prayers in the Shrine of Data Baba and at the majestic Badshahi Mosque (also both in Lahore). It tells of a five month 1000 mile horse expedition through the Hindu Kush, the Hindu Raj, the Karakoram, and Himalayan Mountains from Peshawar to Chitral, Kalash (Kafiristan), Gilgit, Kaghan Valley, and Azad Kashmir. Witnessing the world’s highest polo match on the Shandur Top, delayed by road blocks in the Karakorams, crossing the Babu Sar Pass, and intermingling with migrating Gujars and Koochies.
I was involved in the Pashtu music recording scene in Peshawar, though only bits of that come out in these journals. Running through this story of life in Pakistan is my ongoing relationship with a Pathan courtesan and her family in Lahore—afternoons spent lounging on a charpoy visiting friends at a Pathan ‘house of pleasure’, an evening shootout with Punjabi pimps, smoking charras with malangs and policemen. All roads travelled brought me back to her side in Lahore.
In the second half of the story there is an entertaining brief interlude taking place in Thailand and a wild month abroad fringing on insanity staying with Waziri taxi drivers in the desert outside of Dubai on a crazed search for her after her disappearance. Back home in Pakistan my ongoing search for a wife, including chaperoned meetings with several girls on the Frontier.
Finally our relationship caused me to be kidnapped to Bajaur Agency (Tribal Territory) where I found myself miles off the paved road in a mud fort a short walk from the Afghan border, tied to a charpoy with her.**