by Simon Calder, The Independent, February 22, 2017
“The journey is rough at times, the food, at times, a little miserable.”
It may not sound like the best advert for a holiday, but it hasn't stopped people booking with Hinterland Travel, a tour operator that has its own paragraph in the Foreign Office travel advice for Afghanistan.
“On 4 August 2016 there was an attack on a convoy of vehicles carrying tourists (including eight British nationals) in Herat,” explains the bulletin.
“The group were on a tour organised by a company based in the UK.”
They were being given an escort by the Afghan military when the Taliban used a rocket-propelled grenade and small arms fire to attack their vehicle.
“Five tourists and the driver were injured in the attack.”
Fortunately, they all lived to tell the tale, though some of the participants who paid thousands of dollars for a trip into the danger zone are still upset that they lost all their belongings and the trip was abandoned.
The narrow escape has not prompted the tour leader and proprietor of Hinterland Travel, Geoff Hann, to slow down — even though he has just entered his ninth decade. Afghanistan, Iraq and the disputed territory of Kashmir are in his sights for 2017.
When Geoff Hann was born on 20 February 1937, not two decades had passed since the Great War, and Hitler was expanding his power base in Germany. Yet the parts of the world where he now takes tourists were significantly safer.
“Should we be going to these areas? What should we be doing? How do we do it? All of those questions are very much at the forefront of my mind too,” he says. And the answer he keeps giving: “Yes.”
Geoff Hann is doing more or less exactly what he was doing four decades ago, when travel was so much easier.
Aleppo, Damascus, Baghdad and the Khyber Pass were all on the itinerary for his “Austin Midi-bus” tours between London and Kathmandu. “After a journey through Kandahar and the Desert of Death, we make Herat and eventually the border of Iran,” trilled the mid-1970s publicity for Hann Overland.
Some in the adventure travel industry with long memories are still a little sore about the failure of Hann Overland, which they say left a number of creditors empty-handed. But he has few rivals for the title of “World's most extreme tour guide”.
Hinterland Travel warns that customers face “possible problems caused by banditry, war or terrorism” in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Kashmir, and insurance for such places is usually “impossible to obtain”.
The assessment by the Foreign Office underlines the manifold risks: “Foreigners have been the victims of violent attacks, including armed robbery and rape. Don't display any obvious signs of wealth, or carry large sums of money.”
One of the rules most strictly enforced on Hinterland Travel trips is that no one in the party should share details of the group’s location or plans on social media.
Even with precautions like this, the great-grandfather concedes that he is probably top of the Foreign Office list of unpopular people, for putting himself and other visitors in harm’s way. But he has nothing but praise for the care he and his clients received six months ago after the Taliban attack:
“The Foreign Office really came to the top, they really behaved wonderfully and looked after us completely and utterly, nothing but highly recommended praise for them.”
But perhaps to the disappointment of the Foreign Office, he has no intention of retiring.
“I've not got any money really unless I earn a living, so I'm working, it's fine. As long as my health stands up, I'm okay.
“I know what I'm doing, mostly, and I know how to look after people, mostly.”
This article was written by Simon Calder from The Independent and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.