London to Kathmandu - 1987
We were on our way up to Peshawar (Pakistan), having just left Dera Ismail Khan, which is well into the northern territories. The official title for the area is the North West Frontier Provinces, which to me sounded remarkably like straight out of a western.
I'd never been here before, but was looking forward to visiting this wild city. The leader of the trip said we might as well call into Darra on the way up as passengers usually have a good time there.
"Darra, I thought, Hmmm, that's where they make the guns isn't it?" As if the driver had heard my thoughts he said, "we'll only stay a short while as the authorities don't really like us to be around here, and keep a sharp eye on the passengers". Well there it was, I was getting to visit Darra, a town that made its fortune by boasting that it can manufacture any kind of gun you want within a few days (and they mean any).
The Mujahadeen got a lot of their weapons here and the type of gun you owned was definitely a status symbol. On our arrival, we all disembarked and I gave my instructions to the passengers about not wandering off, don't buy anything etc. There I was standing next to the truck trying not to attract too much attention, and having about as much luck as a millionaire handing out £50 notes, when a rather battle-worn veteran made his way up to me and asked if I was interested in buying? Rather naively I wondered what he meant as there weren't any shops around here except gun-shops. As I didn't give the customary "Go away", he obviously interpreted that as a 'Yes he wants to buy!' He then proceeded to drag me towards a shop on the opposite side of the street (much to the other Driver's amusement). Inside the shop was the most incredible array of arms I'd ever seen, and I couldn't help but be impressed. Unfortunately for me though, the shop owner saw the glint of excitement in my eye. I was then given handguns, rifles, semi-automatics and sub-machine guns to look at before he announced that I should test them. Mmm, now I'm not adverse to firing a gun, but I wasn't quite sure I was in the mood to fire a few rounds of an AK47, especially after telling the passengers not to.
However, the shopkeeper took me around the back of the shops to a neatly prepared firing range and began to coerce me into taking a few shots. All this time, the other driver was chuckling away at the truck, for he knew that they would let me loose off a few as I was bringing the 'tourists' into town and they just wanted to butter me up. So there I was, AK47 in hand, feeling like something straight out of 'Dogs of War'. So I loosed of a couple of shots and it didn't seem so bad, although I did have a tendency to shoot up and to the right a bit. Anyway, the locals seemed to think this was fun, so they hemmed in on me leaving a narrow pathway (between heaving bodies) all the way down to the target. The owner then decided to flick the switch onto 'auto', which in layman's terms means to empty the clip as soon as you pull the trigger.
Now I'm no expert, but I know that unless you do really know what you're doing, there's no chance of emptying a clip at a target without possibly hitting something else (and these people were close). So I was cajoled, pushed, shoved and howled at because I wouldn't fire the weapon.
Eventually, I thought better of it and returned the weapon to it's owner, saying " erm, I think the one or two shots were fine thank you" and the owner (who obviously sensed my unease) looked at me knowingly and said soothingly "It wouldn't have mattered anyway, they're not buying either"
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