Holiday in Afghanistan offers taste of danger

Simon Calder@SimonCalder
Tuesday 17 February 1998 01:02

AFGHANISTAN, at the top of the Foreign Office danger list, could soon be welcoming British tourists again. An adventure travel company has begun canvassing for clients for an "exploratory tour" of the country. Staff at the Foreign Office have condemned the move, but the organiser says the plan is simply responding to demand.

The tour is being proposed by Hinterland Travel, based in Surrey. Its director, Geoff Hann, has been running overland trips since 1969, initially catering for travellers on the "hippie trail" to the East. For a time he was a frequent visitor to Afghanistan - a country described in the first edition of the Travellers' Survival Kit to the East (1979) as "picturesque ... a strange mixture of the Middle Ages and the Wild West, with the 20th century fast infiltrating". Though the nation has been off limits to tourists for a decade, Hinterland's brochure invites interested travellers to enlist for an exploratory tour.

Mr Hann last visited Afghanistan 15 years ago, after the Soviet invasion but before its disintegration into civil war. He feels the time is right to return. "I'm aching to go again. Last November I met a couple of Germans who had just come back. They had no problems."

The holiday is likely to last two weeks, entering overland from Pakistan instead of flying in to the capital, Kabul. It will use local transport rather than an overland vehicle.

Mr Hann plans a group of around five - "safety in numbers, but not too large" - but warns people he takes no responsibility for their welfare. The Foreign Office yesterday condemned the plan as "foolhardy". British travellers should not visit Afghanistan under any circumstances, a spokesman said.

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