As the year 2016 emerged, our world remained involved and effected by conflict and confusion.
Few things are as inspirational as an almost unwavering faith, a curious mind and good set of gonads. As destinations go, Afghanistan has all of that, and more. Despite being confronted by overwhelming fear, instability and uncertainty, the extraordinarily historic land of Afghanistan is beginning to thrive, opening the door to travel paths that, just years past, were controversial and unimaginable.
My most basic rule of travelling, wherever you may be, is ‘leave no trace’. Personally, I would also add ‘do no harm’ to the mantra. No matter the destination, I am a staunch believer that respect is the single most important item (aside from your passport) to pack.
Admire a city, Kabul
Miraculously, Kabul has survived much of the carnage and there’s still plenty to admire in the ancient Afghan capital. There are beautiful parks, the ancient walls of the citadel, Bala Hissar, and several newly restored museums.
Celebrate a city recovering
Though the museum’s contents have been dramatically depleted over the years and its walls have felt the tremble of mortar fire, the beleaguered Kabul Museum still has a good amount of artefacts on display, including Greco-Bactrian Buddha statues, and a marble basin from Kandahar often referred to as Buddha’s Begging Bowl.
Visit Ka Faroshi bird market
The carpet hub of Kabul. A great place to waste a morning bargaining over carpets and trinkets and lumps of Lapis Lazuli from the ancient mines in Badakhshan, which provided the pharaohs with blue dies and paint. Tucked behind the Pul-e Khishti Mosque in Kabul, there is a peculiar nook carved from the city’s walls quite literally, for a song, find birds of all shapes and sizes, including kowk (fighting partridge), which are made to fight on Friday mornings with bystanders betting on the winner.
Wander around Babur’s Gardens (Bagh-e Babur)
This striking and historic garden in Kabul was created under the first Mughal ruler Babur in the 1500s. Inside the high walls, visitors can explore 11 hectares (27 acres) of greenery, assorted flora, a pavilion, a marble mosque and Babur’s tomb, the inscription on which reads: “If there is a paradise on Earth, it is this, it is this, it is this!”
Donkeys and the snow
In 2011, whilst corralling five tourists and The Times, one man led the charge in to Afghanistan’s revival and hope. In the absence of a cable car, a chairlift or even a passable road, the man, Mr Rollando, commandeered a donkey and proceeded to pepper the pure white pistes of the Hindu Kush mountains with skiing aficionados. While Afghanistan might lack the normal trappings of a ski resort and shy away from the celebration, pride and pomp of mountains and ski hotspots, its folk hold it dear.
Scale the Bibi Mahru Hill
It was at the top of Bibi Mahru Hill that Moghul ruler Babur first looked over Kabul. This is a popular spot for walking and for the views of the lands around. There’s also an Olympic-size swimming pool atop it, but problems with pumping water up hill mean that it’s rarely full.
The scars of this extraordinary land, will, as with all, fade in time. The greatest legacy that they can leave is one of defiance, hope and pride.
I’ll see your race and I’ll raise you a nation.
This autumn, the second in the Bamian province, amidst the mighty mountains of the Hindu Kush in central Afghanistan. The astonishingly beautiful valley, a UNESCO world heritage site, is recognised as one of the safest provinces in the country and remains almost completely untouched by violence.
The second edition of the marathon will take place in autumn 2016. It was the first international marathon that was run in Afghanistan.
History is, all too often, destined to repeat itself. And, in Afghanistan’s vast tapestry, I will be ever enthralled.
Any and all travel plans should only be made after discussions with the FCO and UK Embassy: https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/afghanistan.
Edited by Sophie Walker