Cycling in Afghanistan.

Pelotome –
around Afghanistan on a bicycle.

~ Around The World on a Bicycle, Thomas Stevens (1888).

My Life and Times

by Jerome K. Jerome

From £4,75

April 1886 – Published 1888.

Around the World on a Bicycle.

“From Teheran to Yokohama” was the second illustrated volume of Tom Steven’s pioneering ride around the globe and covers the second half of his journey on a fifty-inch Pope “Columbia” high-wheeler, from Persia to Japan.

After leaving Tabas-e Masina – “nothing less than the boundary-mark between that portion of the water-pipe smoking world which blows the remaining smoke out and that portion which inhales it” he crosses “the frontier of Afghanistan”, in April 1886, over the Dasht-e Naomid desert- dismissing the warnings of his three guides and protectors, – struggling across the Harut River on his way to “Ghalakua” (presumably Doqal’eh Qal’eh-Ye Kah, or Q’ala-i’Kah), and “Mahmoudabad” (Barīmālābād?), crossing the broad Farah Rud river to the city of Farah, with the intention of travelling south east to Gereshk, Kandahar and Quetta.

Detained at Farah by the suspicious British-aligned authorities, for insisting on ignoring their warnings that he is “sure to get killed” if he continues as planned on to Zamindawar – or his alternative suggestion of Lash wa Juwayn on the nearby Baluchistan border (now Pakistan), – instead, “only out of consideration” for his own safety, he is escorted north by armed soldiers to Herat.

Frustrated at being limited to the speed of the walking horses, he persuades them to let him go faster with the “promise not to go too far ahead,” making regular stops for the troops and water carrier to catch up, before staying overnight at Sabzawar – “the only inhabited place, except tents, on the whole journey.”

After another dangerous crossing of the Harut River, “the only great obstacle for a wheelman” ahead is his escort’s “abnormally suspicious minds” and the fear of him “taking wings and outdistancing them.” As a result, the bicycle is disassembled and distributed among the horses, with the large wheel strapped to the “spare pack-horse” which, “owing to this uncontrollable pugnacity,” “is habitually led along at some considerable distance from the party, generally at the rear” by “a young negro as black, and proportionally powerful as himself” – whom Stevens goes on to describe in incredibly racist terms, even for the time; not helped by the fact the spokes are badly damaged in his possession.

At “Rosebagh” (Guzara?), he is handed over to different British-aligned local soldiers who detain him as “on no circumstances”, can” “an unauthorized Ferenghi invading the country against orders, be permitted to Herat.”

While detained, exactly a year to the day after leaving Liverpool, he learns that the fame of his bicycle ride has long reached Herat, thanks to pilgrims returning from Mashhad, however the story being told was of him travelling at speeds of “fourteen farsakhs (fifty-six miles) an hour, and nothing said about the condition of the roads”, with “many a grave, turbaned merchant in the bazaar, and wild warrior on the ramparts,” indulging in “day-dreams of an iron horse little less miraculous in its deeds than the winged steed of the air we read of in the Arabian Nights.”

Three local gunsmiths spend six days rudely but skillfully repairing the bicycle, reminding him “this is Afghanistan, not Frangistan” (Persian for Western Europe). and managing to insert six new spokes, which he head carried with him, and straightening the wheel, a feat made only possible by “the handy little spoke-vice which I very fortunately brought with me.”

After nine days in detainment, on 8th May 1886, he finally receives confirmation that he is not permitted to continue along his planned route, “for the reputation of the country,” as the authorities can not promise him safe passage and, if he is killed on his journey, “Afghanistan will get a bad name”.

Despite arguing that “so far as the reputation of Afghanistan is concerned, there can be little difference between forbidding travellers to go through for fear of their getting murdered, and their actual killing,” he is immediately escorted back to Persia, passing though Kafir Qala (today Islām Qala), and across the border to Kariz, from where he instead heads to Turkmenistan on his route to Japan and back to the United States.

  • By Thomas Stevens.
  • Published by Sampson, Lowe, Marston, Searle and Rivington, London.


‘Sowari neis,‘ replies the khan; and he tries hard to impress upon me that our crossing the Afghan frontier is a momentous occasion, and not to be lightly regarded.

~ Around The World on a Bicycle, Thomas Stevens (1888).

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