The Places in between

Discovering Afghanistan Through “The Places in Between”

Rory Stewart

As an Iranian living in close proximity to Afghanistan, my curiosity about this neighboring country has always been piqued. Despite the presence of many Afghan people in Iran, there remains a significant gap in our understanding of their rich cultural diversity and complex history. It was this curiosity that led me to Rory Stewart’s “The Places in Between,” a book that promised a deep and intimate look at Afghanistan through the eyes of a traveler determined to uncover its soul.

Rory Stewart: A Journey Interrupted and Resumed

Rory Stewart, a former British diplomat and adventurer, embarked on an ambitious journey to walk across Asia from Turkey to Bangladesh. However, his plans were interrupted by the Taliban government, forcing him to bypass Afghanistan. After the fall of the Taliban in 2001, Stewart seized the opportunity to complete his journey through Afghanistan. His aim was to walk from Herat to Kabul, tracing the footsteps of Babur, the first Mughal emperor, who made a similar trek in the 16th century.

The Journey: From Herat to Kabul

In “The Places in Between,” Stewart details his trek from Herat to Kabul, covering approximately 1000 KM on foot. The journey took place in early 2002, a period of great uncertainty and transformation for Afghanistan. Stewart’s path led him through the heart of the country, exposing him to its diverse landscapes and cultures.

Encounters and Experiences

One of the most compelling aspects of the book is Stewart’s encounters with the Afghan people. His journey introduces readers to a wide array of characters, from shepherds and villagers to former Taliban fighters. Each interaction provides a unique insight into the lives and resilience of the Afghan people. Stewart’s narrative is marked by moments of profound kindness and hospitality, as well as the harsh realities of a country emerging from decades of conflict.

Cultural and Historical Insights

Stewart’s background as a scholar and former diplomat enriches his narrative with historical and cultural context. He draws parallels between his journey and the historical route of Babur, providing readers with a deeper understanding of Afghanistan’s past. The book also sheds light on the complexities of Afghan society, its ethnic diversity, and the intricate tapestry of traditions and beliefs that define the nation.

Challenges and Reflections

Stewart’s journey was fraught with challenges, from navigating difficult terrain and harsh weather to dealing with the remnants of war. His perseverance and determination to complete the journey on foot highlight his commitment to truly understanding the country. Through his reflections, Stewart offers a poignant commentary on the nature of travel, the importance of human connection, and the enduring spirit of Afghanistan.

Conclusion: A Bridge to Understanding

“The Places in Between” is more than just a travelogue; it is a bridge to understanding a country that remains enigmatic to many. For someone like me, with a personal interest in Afghanistan, Stewart’s journey offers a window into the lives, struggles, and beauty of the Afghan people. It is a testament to the power of travel to foster empathy and awareness, reminding us that even in places marked by conflict, there is humanity, resilience, and hope.

Reading Rory Stewart’s account has deepened my appreciation for Afghanistan and its people. It has inspired me to learn more and to continue seeking connections and understanding with the old neighbors. For anyone interested in a profound and personal exploration of Afghanistan, “The Places in Between” is an essential read.

I read most of this book at a campsite in northern Italy, surrounded by people enjoying their vacations in a lush, green area beside a pool. It moved me deeply that Rory Stewart left his safe zone and faced so many challenges on his journey. I admire his modesty, especially when he concludes the book by saying, “I know nothing about Afghanistan and…” This humility, coupled with his extraordinary effort, makes his story all the more powerful and resonant.

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