Vacation in Afghanistan does not have to be completely pointless thing even if it seems to be in the beginning. I enjoyed it - I mean really enjoyed. No, I am not crazy. I know that the reality is many times different from the picture that media are showing to us. And visiting Afghanistan was unforgettable (in a good way). I will never forget Nabi´s care, the most honest smiles of children, amazing charisma and intelligence of locals, hospitability which I think I never experienced before, nature, time spent in relax in parks, roundabouts, motorcycles, with a waterpipe etc., But let´s start from the beginning.
Vacation in Afghanistan
I do not want to describe this country as a source of terror and attacks like we are used to see it. I would like to speak about the country which left the deep and positive impression in me.
Surprisingly, visas were given to mi without any problems in embassy in Vienna. I could not believe it. It looked like I will travel to Afghanistan. Many months before a journey I intensively learned new things about the country, but I made the decision just few weeks before departure. I will go there!
The journey by plane from Vienna to Istanbul and from Istanbul to Kabul lasts around 9 hours with waiting. We were flying during the night.
Fatigue with nervousness and expectations grew stronger inside me. It came back to normal after few days because there was nothing to worry about. I enjoyed Kabul mostly by walking. My friend Nabi called me on special meetings many times. These meeting was the best experience during my visit in Afghanistan.
Lucky in Kabul
I was lucky. Nabi worked for president´s office and he had very good connections. One day I went to the Friday picknick near the lake Qargha, were the people sang, danced, feasted and of course discussed politics. I did not really feel like it was the politic meeting. I talked to the governor of the province Wardak, which I have seen doing interview for the television after few days (what a surprise!)
Nabi came up with the idea that I did not like from the beginning. We were supposed to visit one of his schools and I will be telling my story to the pupils and they will introduce themselves to me. Of course, in English, in which I am not an expert, not even intermediate.
And this idea became reality. I was kind of difficult for me, but the children were grateful and beautiful.
My stay in Kabul was not about the sights, but mainly about people. But despite of that I was able to visit few interesting places like Darulaman palace destroyed by Mujahideens (holy warriors) in the 90´s.
Wandering in Herat
My next stop was the city called Herat - pearl of the civilization and cleanest city in Central Asia according to the locals. I was looking forward to calmer atmosphere and different environment. Kabul is unique, but it is the city for stronger personalities.
I have found a good connection in Herat too. I talked to one guy at the airport and he invited me to his home. He looked like a serious and grateful person, so I did not refuse. I was honored to spend a first night in the Afghan family. But the best part was, that my host Ayat had a motorcycle for driving around the city and it was just perfect.
It is a shame that you can´t get to the place where you want in the city. When I wanted to visit a citadel in the center, they had to give me a permission from the Ministry of culture. But try to find this institution if you do not speak Persian. It took me quite a long time, but I found it because I am smart.
Soldiers let me in immediately after one call from the ministry. I spent around three hours in the citadel and apart from soldiers I was completely alone here.
I have really enjoyed it.
Djihad museum on the suburb of the city could not stayed without my attention. I would say that it is the second must see place after citadel in Herat. It have not looked like they would let me in (the museum is officially closed for the tourists) but the finally let me in after I begged them. You can find the various weapons and heavy vehicles inside and outside of the museum. They were used during the Soviet-Afghan conflict. I tis a pity that guards did not let me alone for the moment, I really like hanging out around these places.
Otherwise, Herat looks like pleasant and firendly city. I was not afraid to walk around here even after sun went down. The feeling of strong connection was not that strong here as in Kabul, but this visit was worth it.
I had few more days to spend in Afghanistan. I have spent these days meeting and discussing life in the West and the East or about life with locals.
The strongest from the Mujahideens
I came up with a great idea two days before departure. I will visit Pansir valley 100 kilometers from Kabul, which was recommended to me by my roommates in hotel. They said that the valley was beautiful and safe. But you will have a really hard time in Afghanistan without a local. Frequent checks, unawareness of environment and language requires a reliable partner. I found the guy called Zaref who guaranteed me safety during the whole day spend in the valley.
Thanks to him, permission was granted to us quickly. Weather was good, road accessible. Let´s go!
The person who will go there has to know Ahmad Shah Massoud. That was the guy who fought against Russians and Al-Kaida. Al-Kaida finally killed him in 2001. But his legacy lives in this valley. You can find the pictures of him almost everywhere, even soldiers guarding the valley had his portrait on their vests. We ended our journey with a visit of his tombstone.
Back in Kabul. Last days I spend wandering around the city again. Because of dust, I tried to find some cleaner and calmer place. Finally I did it. I have found Gardens of Babur where locals enjoying the green and company of their friends and family. Babur was a first Mughal emperor and his body is resting here. When I walked here alone, many people were surprised from my presence - like in the most place of Afghanistan. Some of them spoke with me, invited me to their company but I just wanted to walked by myself. I have noticed many students - young men and female like they taught together - it seems it was only excuse to enjoying each other without control of adults.
My stay in Afghanistan is approaching to its end. It is hard to sum up all my impressions from two weeks to the one article. The surprise of the difference between the picture of Afghanistan from the media and real Afghanistan is still present. Most experiences with Afghan people is very good. It often happened to me that heavily armed soldiers smiled and waved to me. Despite of this fact I am warning you that the visit of this country without solid preparation, respecting of local customs and knowledge of safety situation in country is very risky. But if you go there with open mind, you will gain way more than you can imagine.
Safety is controversial thing in this country. If you meet the
tourist, he will be moving in the bigger cities that are well secured
(which does not mean, that the attack cannot happen). You need to
consider that this country is still at war and Taliban units are
still active. Therefore, it is impossible to visit southern provinces
(every place south from Kabul and Herat). The cases when the tourists
decided to visit these territories ended up badly (the case of
Japanese tourists who decided cross the border from the Pakistan to
city Kandahar ended up with the tourists missing - they found just
their skeletons after few years). It is possible to visit Kabul,
Herat, Mazar-i-Sarif, Wakhan corridor, Panjshir Valley, Bamyan - and that´s all. You
need to move between cities by plane, not on the ground! The safest
option is to always be with the local that you trust. Always return
to the place where you are staying before sun goes down.
VISAS: During the time of my visit (2013) they were given to me easily and quickly in Afghan embassy in Vienna. They did not even require invitation lost or bought air ticket.
TRANSPORT AND ACCOMODATION: The most important thing is not to use buses for long distances but local aero lines. In the cities you will always find taxis or rickshaws. The simplest is to just walk - you will immediately get to know local culture. It is good to book an accommodation in Kabul before you will go there - the safest are places out of the center or on the streets without a name and dozens of soldiers in front of the gates.
Date of trip: april 2013
Author: Peter Gregor