Back to Index Page

August 2013 Club News

Overland | Swimming | Dirt | Disc | Oz | Bowls | Route 66 | Melbourne | Planes | Newdegate | Calendar | Membership

Overland through Afghanistan

by Kenny Gawenda
pics by Clement Salvadori

I thought I would send some pictures of my first big ride on my first big bike, a R60/5 BMW. The pictures were taken in Afghanistan in November of 1973 by Clement Salvadori, a lifelong friend that I met in Tehran, Iran on a R75/5 BMW. 

BMWs and camels - both ships of the desert.
This picture is of a camel train along the Russian border near Mazar-e-Sharif in Northern Afghanistan.

At the Khyber Pass animal/vehicle split.
This is the Khyber Pass - camels one way, vehicles the other.

Notice the 5 litres of avgas hanging off the back of my bike by the loop of the cap (bottom pic). I still have that license plate hanging in the shed!

The ride to Mazar-e-Sharif was a side trip from Kabul. Clem and I had thought about going to Bamian to see the Buddhas carved out of the mountain (I think the Taliban have destroyed those now Kenny) but at the turnoff, we decided to stick to the paved road.

The Russians had built a nice new road and there was zero traffic since they hadn't invaded yet. It was a steep ride up into the mountains with first gear switchbacks all the way. The high altitude caused the engines to run rich and lose power.

We were running out of puff fast when the mouth of the tunnel came into view. This was the tunnel through the mountains where all those Russians died of exhaust poisoning when they were on their way to liberate Kabul. The tunnel was treacherous. Slippery with oil on the road and thick with fumes. There was no ventilation or light and the smoke reduced visibility to nil. We were happy to see that pinpoint of light at the other end. After that it was downhill to the steppes near Mazar-e-Sharif.

We stopped to take the picture of the camel train and a few minutes later I saw my first Russian Mig jet skimming low along the border having a good look at us.

Mazar-e-Sharif was wild in those days so we didn't stay in town for more than a few minutes. It didn't take long before we got the message to get out of town fast. They didn't like the cut of our BMW's! We camped at an old Buddhist monastery near some ruins of an old silk road fort. It was recommended to us by an Afghan shepherd walking along the road.

The next day we had a look around, bought a few trinkets from the guy and blasted back through the tunnel to Kabul.

In Kabul we met a Kiwi, Barry Crump, a BMW rider on a 71 R60/5 who had been trying to catch us since Iran and wanted to ride together. So the three bikes set off for a fantastic ride through the Khyber Pass to the Pakistan border. We made Rawalpindi, Pakistan that night where we celebrated my 21st birthday.

Back to Index Page