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Himalaya

Day 1: Up the Khyber

Michael Palin - HimalayaThe Durand Line made no sense, then or now, to the Pathans who live on either side of it, nor does it appear to have made much sense to the generations of British squaddies sent to guard it, who accorded this bleak spot a memorable place in Cockney rhyming slang. Khyber Pass, Arse. (Khyber is locally pronounced with a soft 'K', so 'Carry On Up the Khyber' would, with Pashto inflection, become 'Harry On Up the Hyber'.)

But the Pakistan army of today takes the border very seriously, and they have provided an ambitious plaster model that mirrors the terrain ahead of me: the dark shadows of the mountains, the low brown hills, and the long and winding road that twists and turns between them.

'Such a river of life as nowhere else exists in the world', is how Kipling described the road that crosses the Khyber Pass. It was first laid nearly 500 years ago by the Afghan Emperor Sher Shah Suri to connect the extremes of his territory, Kabul in Afghanistan and Dacca in Bengal. In those days it was said that an unaccompanied woman could travel its 1500-mile (2400 km) length without fear or hindrance.

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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 1: Up the Khyber
  • Country/sea: Pakistan
  • Place: Khyber Pass
  • Book page no: 11

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