It’s probably not the best time to be travelling around Afghanistan — but it’s a fascinating country with stunning scenery and a broad array of cultures. If not for the current unrest, it would probably be on most peoples’ top 10 lists. I was here in 2014 and the situation on the ground has changed quite a bit since then. Be sure to check travel advisories before planning a trip! Also, keep an eye out for minefields, which are usually marked with appropriate triangular signage or red-colored rocks.
Kabul is a lively city! I was impressed with the beautiful and diverse range of mosques in Kabul, as well as the bustling street markets (with delicious melons and sometimes pomegranates). Traffic can be crazy, so plan enough time to get wherever you’re going! Some parts of town have rolling hills (mountains) with houses built all the way up. Kabul University has a nice mini park and is a respite in the middle of the city. I never made it to the Babur’s Gardens, or the remains of the Mausoleum of Nadir Shah, but I hear they’re well worth a visit. Chicken Street in Shahre Naow (new city) is the spot to go for carpet shopping.
The Bala Hissar fort was the former royal seat of power, and I’ve included a photo of the old city walls going up the side of the mountain in the photo below.
I also recommend visiting the Organization for Mine Action and Rehabilitation (OMAR), which has a museum on demining and clearing explosive remnants of war. They’ve converted an old airplane into a theater to teach children about the risks of unexplored ordnance. It’s a highly informative museum and well worth a visit!
Coming from Kabul, the flight into Mazar-e-Sharif is spectacular — passing over gorgeous snow-capped mountains and plains until finally reaching Mazar. I was surprised to see small villages nestled in the valleys of some remote mountain chains — I wish I could’ve made the drive instead and explored various towns along the way!
Mazar is another lively, bustling city with plenty of open air markets and restaurants. I understood the governor of this Balkh province had a competition where people could adopt / sponsor traffic roundabouts, which led to a proliferation of interesting and decorative traffic circles (one with a globe, one shaped like a birthday cake, etc). It definitely makes navigation easier! Driving around Balkh province (outside Mazar), I passed the occasional rusted husk of old Soviet tanks and several billboards of famed resistance fighter Ahmed Shah Massoud.
If you only see one thing in Mazar, make it the Blue Mosque! Its elaborate, blue-tiled architecture is very impressive! If you’re lucky enough to be here in March for the Nowruz (spring) celebration — I’ve heard the festivities outside this mosque are great. Nearby the actual mosque, there’s a small museum with interesting curio items, including a goat skull with multiple horns, the world’s smallest Qu’ran, and other items of note.
There’s so much to see in Afghanistan — when circumstances permit, I hope to return and visit the Herat citadel, the caves of Bamiyah where the Buddha statues use to reside, and hike around the extreme mountains of the Wakhan corridor near China. Maybe I’ll do a quick lap on Chicken Street for good measure. Until then…