x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

On the road to Afghanistan

In The Cruel Way, Swiss adventurer and writer Ella K Maillart chronicles her road trip from Geneva to Kabul in 1939.

The Cruel Way: Switzerland To Afghanistan In A Ford, 1939
The Cruel Way: Switzerland To Afghanistan In A Ford, 1939

“What were the urges that lived in the men who hacked such symbols of their faith in those worn-out cliffs? What were the thoughts, prayers and meditations of these thousands of monks who once upon a time were headed by a Grand Lama?” the Swiss adventurer and diarist Ella K Maillart asks as she gazes upon the monumental 6th-century Buddha statues in Bamiyan in central Afghanistan.

The year is 1939, 42 years before the Taliban leader Mullah Omar declared war on idolatry and ordered them to be blown up, which makes her richly detailed account of her visit to the doomed site during an epic road trip from Geneva to Kabul with fellow Swiss writer Annmarie Schwarzenbach particularly valuable.

Maillart’s beautiful prose, keen eye for physical detail and academically deep knowledge of regional history make The Cruel Way: Switzerland to Afghanistan in a Ford, 1939 a dazzling read for anyone wishing to vicariously experience what travel was like before advances in technology and globalisation began to make the world depressingly homogeneous.