In 1958, Michael Alexander and his partner Diana (pictured here) journeyed from Istanbul, across Turkey and Iran and into Afghanistan. Alexander published the tale of their journey in the book Offbeat in Asia: An Excursion in 1960.
Although there is precious little practical information in the book — none of the detailed information about motivations, vehicle, sponsors, gear, etc. that one finds in other expedition accounts — the nature of the tale suggests they took a rather casual approach to the trip, viewing it more as a “jaunt” than an “expedition.”
Their vehicle was a 1951 Land Rover, purchased “in the upper reaches of the King’s Road for £265,” and appears to have been quite reliable but for the need to repair tires at regular intervals (in contrast to the Oxford-Cambridge Expedition Land Rover which, if memory serves, used only one set from London to Burma).
The book starts where the expedition does, at the Istanbul Hilton. Alexander calls this “the best hotel in Europe,” and the first chapter goes on at some length about its wonders:
All this and more inside was heady stuff to two ingenuous travellers just in from the dusty. bumpy road through Yugoslavia and Salonika, an eight-day journey from England that might have been accomplished in six had we not lingered by the blue Agean. Finally installed at the Hilton we were tempted to surrender body and soul to so comfortable a cathedral of materialism…”
The tale finishes as it started, at the Istanbul Hilton, and closes with a note about the trusty Land Rover:
The only thing that failed to recover was the car, owing to its being driven from Greece with a holed radiator and a broken fan. It was a total wreck by the time it reached Dover, where it was ignominiously pushed off the boat and sold to a scrap dealer for £50.
While perhaps not as useful as other books for those looking for practical expeditioning advice, the book’s casual, breezy style does allow a interesting look at everyday Iran and Afghanistan; on arrival in Kabul, for example:
The social life of the town seemed to be centred on, or rather in, the rapidly drying-up river that ran through the middle: it was lido, lavatory and laundry — women washed, boys bathed, animals drank and performed their natural functions in its festering shadows. Behind was the bazaar, hiding as if ashamed behind the more pretentious buildings that line the three main streets.