Theodore Roosevelt Jr. visits Afghanistan in 1933


After the election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt Jr. proffered his resignation as Governor-General of the Philippines. Usually a polite formality after an election, the Republican Governor-General found his resignation immediately accepted by his Democratic cousin.

Theodore Roosevelt Jr. Visits Bali, Singapore, and India

Theodore Roosevelt Jr. found himself unemployed and he decided to take advantage of the down time and visit some exotic locales. Soon after leaving office Roosevelt and his wife, Eleanor, took a boat to Bali and then reversed course, stopped briefly in Singapore, then travelled to India. While in India, they applied for a visa to visit Afghanistan.

While they waited for their visas to be approved, the couple were guests of the British Viceroy of India, the Earl of Willingdon. The Roosevelts stayed at the summer palace of the British Raj in Shimla, a city in the Kashmir district of India. Soon the Roosevelts received their visas along with a personal invitation from the King of Afghanistan.

The Roosevelts Travel to Afghanistan

Soon the couple arrived in Peshawar, where they rented a Chevrolet touring car, a truck to haul their luggage, and two bearers to do all the heavy lifting. They journeyed through the Khyber Pass and passed Landi Kotal, the last British post before the border and the location where the railroad ended.

At the border was a sign saying entry into Afghanistan forbidding entry. However, the Roosevelts were guests of the King and an honor guard greeted them at the border checkpoint. The Roosevelt entourage arrived in Jalalabad after driving across the scorching desert. A soldier escorted the group to a small bungalow for their very brief stay. Later the commandant of the Jalalabad District, Prince Mohamed Daud Khan received the Roosevelts and presented them with a gift of a beautiful box crafted by the locals.

Nimlah and the Gardens of an Emperor

After tea with the Commandant, then freshening up, the Roosevelts took off again and in a few hours settled in for the night in the town of Nimlah. Once again, the government of Afghanistan supplied a bungalow for the guests. The host for the Roosevelts was the assistant to the Prime Minister, Zul Facar.

The Roosevelts took tea with Facar and then Facar showed them the Oasis gardens. The Emperor Nur Jehan laid out the garden for his Empress in the seventeenth century. Eleanor described the gardens as slightly rundown but still immensely beautiful. The gardens consisted of a series of long rectangular pools connected by tiny cascades. Cypresses and masses of irises surrounded the pools and wide paths intersected narrow paths that led to flowering orange trees. In the distance were snow-covered mountains.

Kabul and the Palace of the Forty Columns

The next day Facar gave the Roosevelts a huge Buick for their trip to Kabul and they sent the Chevy back to India. The Roosevelts rode with Facar and once they stopped to greet some locals, tribesmen with rifles sling over their shoulders. The tribesmen offered Eleanor a sheep as a gift. Theodore told Eleanor to pat the sheep on the head and offer thanks and the tribesmen were content.

Around sunset the entourage arrived in Kabul. Facar took them through the city and then four miles away from Kabul they arrived at the Chehel Sitoun, or Palace of the Forty Columns. Facar explained that no foreigners had ever stayed at the Palace and the King was honoring them. Behind the palace was a crag with a monument to Alexander the Great. Supposedly, this was a site that Alexander the Great stopped to rest and view the land.

No Women Allowed At Muslim Parties

Facar wanted to show the Roosevelts the state building in Kabul, however Eleanor insisted upon visiting the markets. Eleanor commented that of the few women they met in the market, all were covered from head to toe in draperies of white or light blue cotton, and they all wore veils. The Afghans were not used to seeing tourists and soon groups of curious onlookers accompanied the Roosevelts. A police officer accompanied the Roosevelts and kept them safe, although Eleanor said the people seemed happy.

The Roosevelts attended a dinner given by the King’s brother, his Royal Highness Mohamed Hackim Khan. Khan also was the Prime Minister of Afghanistan. There were twenty guests at the dinner and the Roosevelts were the only foreigners. Eleanor was the only woman at the dinner and indeed, there were no women present at any of the parties hosted by Afghanis. Women did not attend parties as the Muslim custom of complete separation of sexes existed in Afghanistan.

Attack of the Afghani Mountain Tribesmen

Upon their arrival back at Chehel Sitoun, the Roosevelts found the guard doubled and all the gates and doors barricaded. Facar told them that if they heard shooting during the night it was only target practice and not to worry. The couple did hear sporadic firing during the night. Theodore asked a British friend about the shooting and he was told, “Well, there was a bit of a dust-up last night with some mountain tribes, and the government was taking no chances of your being killed or captured.”

Roosevelt had a private audience with the King, Nadir Shah, and they discussed educational and governmental problems for an hour. Roosevelt told his wife he was impressed with the King’s common sense. A few months after their visit a man assassinated the King, a fate all too common for Afghan rulers.

Roosevelt’s Visit the Buddha Statues at Bamian

Facar accompanied the Roosevelts to Bamian to see the giant Buddha statues carved into the side of a cliff. Bamian was an ancient Buddhist monastery carved from soft rock nearly fifteen hundred years ago. There were two statures, the Greater Buddha, a hundred-seventy feet high, and the Lesser Buddha about fifty feet smaller. Both Buddha statues had sustained damage from Moslem troops who had used them as targets. (Later, in a crime against humanity, the Taliban destroyed both Statues)

A few days later, the Roosevelts left with Facar to Kandahar. Once again, Eleanor decided she wanted to visit the marketplace and they found the crowds no less curious then in Kabul. Foreigner visitors were almost unheard of in Kandahar and Eleanor’s short hair was a sign of disgrace in the Muslim culture. Eleanor to no avail, tired to find a veil, but failed, and she cut short their time in the market.

The following day the Roosevelts set out for Quetta (modern day Pakistan), before travelling into Iran.