Afghanistan is not the first country that comes to mind when you are thinking about a travel destination. Likely you may associate it first and foremost with images of bearded men blowing themselves up in the name of religion. But it was not always so . . . Back in the heady 60’s and 70’s the country was an integral part of the overland trail to India. Kabul was on par with Kathmandu as a destination to hang out and chill for a while on the long journey to the East.
And then it all collapsed. The tragic story of the last three decades is well known to all but the most ignorant: coups, invasions, civil wars, terrorist camps, more wars, western intervention and, voila, we come to the present. Afghanistan is not peaceful, but neither has it descended, yet, into the complete anarchy of the nineties.
The obvious question as a traveller is of course: is it safe? No! Can it be travelled? Yes, but only if you come very well prepared, know the risks and are prepared to accept them. If you are dead set on visiting this country be aware that this is not a “normal” country. When I say be prepared, I mean you should know and check and re-check the current security situation. Visit Afghanistan forums, security platforms and, if possible, talk to people who have been there recently or are there currently. Listen to the advice given and be prepared to give up on your plans if it turns out they are unfeasible. Be flexible. The situation in the country is fluid; safe areas turn dangerous, dangerous areas can become more secure.
But if you go, or if the situation changes for the better you will be well rewarded. Below are some of the highlights of Afghanistan.
Highlights from Afghanistan
- Watching the sun set over the Musalla Complex from Herat Citadel, after strolling through the bazaar and visiting its impressive Friday Mosque
- Visiting the enigmatic Minaret of Jam deep in the Hindu Kush mountains, it’s tall, it’s impressive, it’s in the middle of nowhere!
- Being awed by the mirroring, blue jewelled lakes of Band-e Amir, aptly named the Lakes of Awe.
- Contemplate the causes of religious fanaticism as you gaze at the empty alcoves in Bamiyan
- Stroll along the bazaars of Kabul, or visit the famous Kabul Museum and marvel how the curators managed to save so many pieces from destruction by hiding them
- Watch the devout pay homage to the son-in-law of the Prophet, at the shrine of Hazrat Ali in Mazar-e-Sharif (aka Mazar-i-Sharif)
- Feel like Indiana Jones in Balkh, once called the Mother of Cities by the Arabs because of its great age
- Hike in the only (relatively) safe part of Afghanistan, the Wakhan Corridor (aka Vakhan Corridor)
- Discover the famed hospitality and friendliness of the Afghans!
Hints and Tips for Afghanistan
- Where to start? This is a war-zone, be aware of that! As mentioned earlier, do your research on the country and the current situation before even contemplating going there. I can’t stress this enough!
- Unless you are totally certain that the road is safe, fly! Take internal flights to get to where you want to go. Roadside bombings are a real risk, as are kidnappings, firefights and landmines.
- There are no safe places anywhere in Afghanistan, only “safer” places. As a general rule, the north is slightly more secure than the south. Again this means nothing as insurgents can and do strike at will even in the north, and sometimes it can seem that the north is more dangerous than the south. The safest part of the country is probably the Wakhan Corridor, which can be reached via Tajikistan, but even there, get the latest information on the security situation before going!
- Grow a beard, wear traditional clothing, and blend in as much as possible. Not everybody does it, but it probably will make you feel safer and it does reduce the risk. Standing out makes you an easy target. If somebody intent on doing harm has to look twice to recognize you as a foreigner you have already halved your chances of it happening.
- The main languages spoken in Afghanistan are Dari and Pathan, and everybody will love you if you speak a few words of either.
- Lastly, be wary, but don’t be too wary. Not all Afghans are terrorists; in fact Afghans are probably the friendliest folk in the region. Talk to them and get to know them, you won’t be disappointed!