Time Patrol. Afghanistan 1953

Kabul, 1953. Long before the many wars. My father Cyril was Air France General Manager in Pakistan. Karachi was the road to the Far East. Paris sent him to Kabul to investigate the possibility of opening a line to Afghanistan. My parents had lived in Pakistan for 6 years already. They spoke Urdu fluently. He knew the region. He took my mother’s 8mm camera. Shot a film which my mother edited, and I recently digitized. Converting the analog 8mm movie to a digital piece, plus music and so on and so forth.

The following is an introduction to the digital movie below.

My father Cyril. Kabul, 1953.

Come along. We will show you Kabul, with the horse drawn carriages. The sheep and the donkeys. The mountains of the Hindu Kuch.

We will take you to the Kabul Bazaar to meet the Pashtu, the Tajik, the Uzbek and many others.

Life had changed little in centuries.

We shall buy a few carpets. Persian carpets. Remember: always look at the other side of the carpet, to see the thread.

This carpet is a Bukkhara. The gentleman is from the French Embassy.

You will see the little boys, dressed as princes, walking around with their fathers:

Come. Come with us. We shall take you to the lost Buddhas of Bamiyan, carved into the cliff around 600 AD. The sculptors had learned their trade from the Greek craftsmen Alexander the great had brought with him. Some say Roxanne was an Afghan princess.

The Buddhas had been defaced by the Moslem conquerors at one time or the other. I’ve read conflicting accounts. But you will see the frescoes and the Apsaras, the divine dancers painted above my Lord Buddha’s head.

You will meet the nomads of the North, herding their goats, sheep and camels in caravans that roamed central Asia for millenia.

You will see the crystal-clear waters of the Band-e-amir lake:

And meet the little Hazara Princess in her tent made of Persian carpets:

Just click below (on my new Youtube channel). Equinoxio’s flying carpet will take you back to a world long gone.

122 thoughts on “Time Patrol. Afghanistan 1953

    • Hi Gigi. I wasn’t quite born yet. Not until December. 😉 That’s probably the reason why my mother didn’t go. She must have been pregnant. With me. LOL. She was the one who normally filmed. My father took photos. But I saw the movie so many times…
      Did you have a chance to see the full movie? I’d love your feedback.

  1. It is amazing to me that you have so much footage to worn with ! Many folks do not have this much stuff from their past or family’s past!
    Your dad was so handsome and liked those little prince out fits for the boys and the beautiful water of Band-e-amir lake

    Enjoyed this post

    • Thank you Yvette. Yes, I’m lucky to have so much material. Part od what I’m doing is preserving it for the future. The old 8mm films are fragile. They break easily. Colours fade away. I’m keeping them in the dark. Transfering to digital helps give them another life. And sharing them. All well?

      • You do? How wonderful. Let me know when you’re ready to take the steps. I can give you a few tips and maybe avoid some mistakes I made… Whenever you wish. You have my mail.
        How many reels do you have? Are they ” mounted together? Or the standard few minutes reel?

      • Hi / oh I shave the video cassette tapes that are 8mm

        Sorry for any confusion – and thankfully we saved two recorders that can play them – one was my original from 1990 – anyhow – we converted some snippets to digital back in late 2000s and have some footage my nieces and nephews would love / but have not been in the mood to start that (sigh)
        Anyhow – I am glad you are able to extract your content and get it into a more universal format

      • Oh yes. Those were 8mm too. I suggest you digitize them soon. The images fade and blur out. The magnetic support was not very good. It’s easier than th 8mm movies. And many places can do it for a moderate price.
        Yes, it’s nice to have a more universal format. Also to share it. One never knows who might have a particular interest, for Afghanistan in that case…

      • yes – we might hire out to have the tapes transferred but not sure –
        some of the content it “tossable” or just not worth keeping –
        anyhow, I hope you have a great day

      • I will keep you posted –
        and one thing I need to do BEFORE I open up the 8mm bins… I have some digital videos that I need to give to folks –
        like Jennie’s 40th bday party footage – and some misc leftovers – so I plan on doing that in summer – not sure –
        oh and one more thing

        – I meant to email you but will just say it here – doing the interview with you last fall was a highlight of the year for me –
        I just enjoyed the timing of it, the content you gave, the comment sharing it led to –
        and it was a bit of a fun blog high!
        Yu are so pleasant to work with and thanks again for joining me with that ice adventure.

      • Nice plan for the summer.
        As for the interview, the pleasure was all mine. It’s nice to work with you too. Also made me meet new bloggers, which is also nice…
        Thank you ma’am…

  2. Superbes lacs Band e Amir. On aurait envie de s’y baigner … sauf que l’eau est toujours froide et sale. Merci pour le voyage, Brieuc, parce que je n’y mettrait pas les pieds.
    PS. Pour un film amateur de 1953, la qualité est très bonne !

    • Toujours un connaisseur cher ami. Oui, mon père me disait que l’eau était très froide. Ça se voit à la couleur de l’eau d’aileurs. Merci pour la qualité. Mon père était plutôt le photographe, ma mère filmait. Je crois qu’ils avaient pris des cours…
      Il y aura d’autres voyages… Ils avaient fait bcp de films… 😉

    • Thank you. The process is quite painstaking. But fortunately with today’s resources one can easily the right music. Of course those 8mm cameras did not have mikes, so it’s a “reconstruction”. Thanks for visiting.

    • Thank you Derrick. Though it takes a while to produce one single piece like that, the technology does wonders now. And it serves as multi-layered memories. I always wonder what happened to the little boy in the Bazaar… “Take care”.

    • Thank you Nilla. It’s an ongoing project. My parents photo files are all digitized now. 99%. The movies? I’m about 40%-50%. A bit time consuming. But I will get there. My idea is to share the most “relevant” bits and pieces.
      (Have you left yet? Can’t remember the date…)

  3. Such was the simple life back then that we modern people so quickly forgot… Great insight into the past.
    A friend of mine has been to the “modern” Afghanistan, about ten years ago or so. Even brought back a traditional men’s outfit (which should be among other stuff he left here at my house).

    He said main occupation of soldiers displaced from various countries in the world – ours included – was to guard the poppy fields. The opium business seemed to be flourishing in the “modern” Afghanistan. Still is probably. Families back home were/are so proud of their sons guarding world peace… What a joke!

    I wish life were simple and easy again. And I wish those thriving on the drugs industry would be forever out of the picture – literally and figurately.

    Thank you for all this work, my soul was there and then, completely!

    • Simple ,life, yes. Despite the misery of sickness… But that is another issue. yes, Afghanistan at one point was -o still is- the world’s largest heroin producer. Hence the constant fighting between the war lords. sigh…
      The jackets with the wool inside were popular in the 70’s. We all had some which my father brought back from Afghanistan… Mine was for a 4-5 child… 😉 All those were lost in one move or the other. Hang on to your friend’s jacket. Quite useful in the winter.
      I’m glad your soul was “taken away” for a few minutes. it means the film works…
      Take care Dragos.

      • Oh it’s not a woolen jacket – it’s a summer robe, very light, white with some models. Actually forgot what it looks like exactly, only seen it once years ago. There’s a round cap (?) too. Somehow similar to this one here:

        Yep, the film works, totally. I’m a sucker for pictures and films of old days gone by, even those I have not lived through. Reminiscence from some past life, maybe…

      • Yeah, this oversimplification of everything – which paradoxically actually obfuscates the complexity of certain technological means – is killing me. Mankind has lost a wealth of precious knowledge in favor of the machines, to which we all practically became slaves. what will be of the future generations? I dare not imagine.
        Oui, A+.

    • Viel dank. I am a bit of a curator of all that. I store the films in the dark. Away from dust and light… And the process of slowly digitizing them is part of conservation. Those films do have historical value. I have one on Singapore, c.1952, which I will eventually donate to the National Museum of Singapore. After showing it here…
      All well I hope?

    • Thank you. I have edited a bit of the landscapes. The original 8mm movie is about twice as long. But times have changed. One needs to compact things a bit. But yes, the landscapes are quite unique… Thanks for coming along…

    • I ownder the same thing about most of the countries I’ve lived in. Most have fallen prey to civil war, imported war, dictators, etc. The older people have died surely. The younger men might have been 20 in 1953. They’re gone now. between the R*ssian invasion, the constant civil war that followed, the Americans and the Talibans… The little boy in the bazaar would be around 73-75. He probably spent most his life in war…

  4. Much of your post feels so familiar. I suppose I’ve seen similar visuals in our old Bollywood films and I remember the tanga (horse carriage) rides from my childhood. The pictures of Bamiyan Buddha were an incredible surprise. These work of art had survived more than a lifetime in a remote area and then there were no more. You have a treasure in hand, Brian.

    • I can imagine those scenes. (Wait till I release our old Pakistan movies. Complete with Bollywood music… LOL.
      And yes, Bamiyan is no more… Those images are a testimony. A treasure indeed.
      All well I hope?

  5. You did a fantastic job with the video. I was surprised by the clarity of the images. Was the original footage shot in black-and-white? I think the music added a great deal; I had the feeling I was there. Just the footage with no sound wouldn’t have been nearly as engaging.

    • Thank you Liz. I´m glad you like the “clarity”. The original is in colour. My mother only shot a couple of B&W. Colour movies were already available. I was just afraid the transfer would alter definition. Now, the music: my mother had mounted all the movies and she and my father had recorded music for most of them. Not this one. But nowadays you can find just about anything you want on the Internet, if you know what you’re looking for…
      What I did not do was an “off-voice”, that I feel is not necessary…
      Thanks for watching…

    • Well, from what I read, women are having a very hard time there now.
      But yes, moving around was much easier then. I remember not so long ago, check-in could take a quarter of an hour. Everything is more complicated these days. (I’m getting old. LOL)
      Nice to see you around. Hope all is well?

      • Not sure about “Mieux”. I only remember less violence. Anywhere. Today teachers are stabbed in the school room…
        Yet, we must go on. Il n’y a qu’un seul chemin… devant… 😉
        Bonne nuit…

  6. Fascinating look into the past. Your mother captured mundane, every day shots and each one speaks of a story. Interesting to hear that about buying carpets then – to look on the other side to see the thread. Definitely have to make sure it’s functional as much as it is put together well. So much to learn and rediscover when you go down memory lane. Hope all is well with you 🙂

    • All well thank you.
      Glad you liked this trip into the past. Yes. Everyday shots. Simple lives. All a story of their own. My parents always wondered where that lonely man came from at the end, and where he was going. In the middle of nowhere…
      About the carpets, I was taught that from a very early age. Turning it around allows you to see how fine the threads are. Thus the quality of the work. (I still have many of those carpets… LOL)

      • Sometimes, you don’t have to be going anywhere in the middle of nowhere. Wandering can do the soul quite some good. Great you still have many of those carpets. Must be ancient artifacts of some sort now 🙂

      • Very true. And here’s another concept for you: “The sample of one”. Statistics (which I have used a lot) tell us about the necessity of large samples, about 1000 individuals, to minimize margin of error. Fine. But I know that a “sample of one” is also very important. If one person says or does one thing, others will. many or just a few, but others will. So a “sample of one” gives us an idea of some trends in the population… Ha! Enough rambling. Take care.

      • Yes, just one person can have a big influence on many others. That is, one person can change the world. Sometimes statistics can be puzzling and there is more than meets the eye. Then again, there’s always more to meets the eye to everything.

  7. I am amazed at the talents within your family. You inherited very creative genes. Sérieux… suis abasourdie 🙂
    How wonderful the film not only exists (must be a very different place today) but that it is in colour. I love that your father took the video and your mother edited it and then you transformed it to digital. Un vrai travail de famille.

    • Myabe it’s genes. or culture. Or both… Nature and culture? 😉
      Most 8mm movies were in colour already. ONly have a couple of B&W films.
      Yes, it’s all a travail de famille. I’m lucky my mother showed me how to mount the films. They’re so old they tend to break. Fortunately I still have the little mounting-gluing machines.
      Merci. ravi que ça t’ai plu. Biz.

  8. This reminds me so much of my time in Adana, Turkey in the early 80s. Same horse drawn carriages, same rug merchants in the streets. I spent two years there. The images from the recent earthquake haunt me. I love that you were able to digitize your mom’s movie. 1953, huh? Were you born there?

  9. What a fascinating post, Brieuc. Thank you for this incredible trip to the past, into a world I know so little about. The still photos show much of a great life and are a perfect introduction to your film. What an experience this must have been for your father… I can imagine his excitement when Paris /Air France asked him to go to Kabul and investigate the possibility of opening a line to Afghanistan. Add to this the fact they spoke Urdu fluently and knew the culture and region. Magnificent.

    The film then brings all this to life ~ and it is pretty cool to see your father within those scenes as if it were today ~ this is the magic of “Equinoxio’s flying carpet” 🙂 It must be something else to see your Dad in this environment. The older I get, the more curious I am about my parent’s history and stories of the past, and this film must be such a treasure for you. Well done, and I wish to visit Afghanistan, although I think the change would be a bit disheartening.

    • Thank you Dalo. I’ve working on those movies for a while. The phtographs and most slides are digitized. About half the films… Which I plan to post. (One step at a time).
      There are slides and film about Bangkok in 1957. When I eventually went to Bangkok 60 years later, I knew I was placing my feet in my parents exact footsteps… (I was too little, only 3 or 4. Stayed in Phnom-Penh…)
      (I wouldn’t recommend Kabul now, sadly)
      And yes, as we go along, our family’s history “catches up” with us… What did your parents do?

      • This is the beauty of being able to look back in time, either from stories of the past or, better yet, from your ancestors 🙂 As for Cambodia and Phnom Penh, you’d love it ~ the history, colonial buildings, and the kind people.

      • Exactly. Though some say History doesn’t repeat itself, I think it does, in a way. Therefore we need history to understand both present and imagine other futures…
        I enjoyed Amngkor and siem Reap very much. My eldest daughter went to Asia (including Cambodia) on her honeymoon. It was strange to see their photos by the Mekong…
        Take care…

      • The history of Asia is in such stark contrast to Europe; it makes for so much to see and experience ~ such rich history. As for goodbye in mandarin, it is “zai jian” 再见。

  10. I traveled to another time and place today! Thank you for this journey. The lake is so beautiful. You speak Urdu also? I will remember that about the rugs! I love the goats! 😊
    I watched the video through and I’m glad to have your channel now.

    • Glad you liked the journey…
      I learnt Urdu before French or English. The cook and the Ayah taught me. Sadly I have forgotten all of of it. I only remember a handful of words. Plus the ones I “collect” from my Indian friends…
      I’ll hop over to Youtube…
      (and I do have many edited movies about Pakistan, India, Africa, which I will post from time to time…
      Be good. (Or bad…)

  11. This is really fascinating, Brian. Loved the images and the movie. Your father was a handsome man. You surely take after him. Will check out your YouTube channel. Take care and more please. 🙂

    • Thank you Terveen. I thought you might realte to those images. They are neighbours after all.
      More to come. I still have a few films to digitize and edit which is a somewhat lengthy process, but I do have quite a few done already…
      A bientôt.

    • Thank you Paul. You’re right. “Centuries ago”. One has to read Churchill’s account of his “stint” in Afghanistan…
      First of a series. I have plenty of material from those days, Asia and Africa. need to work on the second one…
      Be good “Mate”.

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