What a 1970s ‘Lonely Planet’ travel guide said about Afghanistan

December 13, 2012

Afghan Prince Ahmad Shah and his wife Khatol visit a Kabul public health facility in this photo from sometime in the 1970s. (AFP/AFP/Getty Images)

Afghanistan's history since 1979, when the Soviet Union invaded to prop up a sympathetic government, has been dark and often violent. The Soviet army's 1989 withdrawal was followed by a civil war and domination by warlords. That in turn gave rise to the Taliban, which seized power shortly before it was toppled by a U.S. invasion in retaliation for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

But, before all that, the country was a remote and poor but not-so-bad place. Attesting to the pre-1979 Afghanistan and how much it has changed is this excerpt from a 1970s Lonely Planet travel book, which described the country as "vastly appealing." The country's biggest problems at the time, according to the excerpt unearthed by a Reddit user, were slow travel, "aloof" locals, and "banditry." Here's the travel guide's introduction to Afghanistan:

A vastly appealing country – endless empty deserts, soaring barren mountains, historic old towns and ruins and best of all the aloof and detaches Afghanis. How else can you describe them, they clearly realise that no amount of money or mere material possessions could ever compensate for the unfortunate handicap of not being born in their fine country. Unhappily Afghanistan is one of those countries where the collision between a long established lifestyle and a new influx of tourists has not always been harmonious. It is place where some of the dregs of the overland trip (and there are some) seem to settle. It is also a country to be careful in, banditry still runs in many veins.

Afghanistan analysts have sometimes told me that the country used to be a major world destination for hiking and nature sightseeing, which may explain the "influx of tourists" that the guidebook describes. If you're looking for more of pre-1979 Afghanistan and its very different, surprisingly Western feel, you can do little better than this great Foreign Policy slideshow, "Once Upon a Time in Afghanistan."

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Max Fisher · December 12, 2012