Daring feat indeed
Contrary to what most foreigners expect from Afghanistan, one will see less of deserts and more of breathtaking scenarios all around. It is a land of...
Contrary to what most foreigners expect from Afghanistan, one will see less of deserts and more of breathtaking scenarios all around. It is a land of stunning and exquisite beauty
Dr Pranab K Bhattacharya
As per the New York Times December, 2012 (feature, p. 28) report, Afghanistan ranked ten out of “The 25 least Visited Countries in the world” and drew about 18000 tourists last year. Traversing through my academic assignment apart which is, however, not an easy job in this country, I would love to take you on a scintillating touring experience that will certainly add a colorful feather in your life for sure. Would you like to give a chance to Afghanistan or your next tour itinerary?
Yes, if you are seriously dreaming of a fascinating and thrilling trip in Afghanistan, great surprises are in store, to take your breath away. A war-torn country for over last three decades now, besides offering the world its vast historical treasures, also gave birth to one of the bravest and dreaded people on the earth, the Taliban.
Is it only the Taliban factor that really restricts tourist inflow, or there is something else? This something could be a non-committed government mechanism, a highly corrupted bureaucracy, mismanagement in tourism sector and also apathy of the common people.
Contrary to what most of foreigners expect from this country, one will see less of deserts and more of breathtaking scenarios all around. It is a land of stunning and exquisite beauty. The largely diverse culture of this country is really praiseworthy. The behaviour of its common people residing in the country, Mashallah, is exemplary, very hospitable and interesting too.
Tourist destinations in Kabul
Built in 1920, Kabul Museum, also known as Afghan National Museum, boasts of the finest collections of over 3000 artifacts including treasures of ivory and antiques from early Buddhism and Islam, glorifying the Afghan history and its rulers. However, a large percentage of invaluable collections were looted in the 1990s during Taliban rule after the upper floors of the museum were bombed. Many of the early Buddhist treasures were also destroyed by the Talibans at the same time as they bombed the world famous Bamiyan Buddhas. Many of those looted items are still found around the world at various auction places.
The historic landmark of Bala Hissar (high castle) fortress, near the southern town of Gardez, is also known as the ‘Alexander’s Castle’. Presently it is the Headquarters of Afghan National Army, controlled by Afghanistan defense ministry and for all security reasons is now banned for public entry.
Babur’s Garden, earlier known as Bagh-e-Babur, was laid by the Mughul Emperor Babur himself in the 16th Century. It is now a famous picnic spot to spend a lazy afternoon. Inside, there is a swimming pool, a small mosque and a small museum among other things. The tomb of Babur, surrounded by the beautiful garden, bears the legacy of the great ruler, the founder of Mughul dynasty in India. Though he had wished to be buried here, he was initially buried in Agra (India) and later moved to this spot. From the top of the terrace in the garden, the majestic look of the entire Kabul city is magnificently visible.
ARG citadel was built by Amir Abdul Rahman in 1880. Salam Khana (Salutation Hall) and Dilkhosha Palace (Palace of Heart’s Delight) are central attractions here. The Amir who ruled the country from 1880-1901, built this citadel to operate the Bala Hissar fortress.
Kabul Zoo was founded in 1967 and demonstrates the aura of Afghan flora and fauna. It is situated at the bank of Kabul River. Presently this is being maintained by the government of China and North Carolina Zoo authorities. Abdur Rahman Mausoleum is situated in the heart of the city at the picturesque Zarnegar Park. This grand building, with a bulbous red dome sitting atop a whitewashed drum and octagonal surmounted by tiny minarets presents one of the finest example of the 19th Century baroque architecture.
Timur Shah Mausoleum, built in 1816 is an octagonal red brick structure, surmounted by a plain brick drum and shallow dome. Timur Shah Durani had inherited a united Afghan kingdom from his father Ahmed Shah Durrani in 1772 and moved the capital from Kandahar to Kabul. He was the King of Afghanistan until his death in 1973 and was the second in line of the famous Durrani dynasty. This monument faced extensive damage during the civil war and is now being renovated by the Aga Khan Foundation.
Nadir Shah and Zahir Shah Mausoleum, situated on the top of the Teppe Maranjan Hill, is one of the cardinal attractions of Kabul, built in white marble stone overseeing a large blue dome. It is the place where King Naidr Shah and his son Zahir Shah were buried.
Band-e-Amir, the cluster of five lakes, also known as ‘the Lake of Jewels’, was formed naturally with extraordinary geological formations, having deep blue coloured waters. The Minaret of Chakari, was built in the 1st or 2nd Century AD as a Buddhist pillar. Now the area is known as Flower Street and Chicken Street. It is one of the biggest shopping areas in Kabul.
Afghan National Gallery in Kabul is one of the most famous art galleries in Afghanistan and had more than thousand world renowned paintings including European and Afghan landscapes, portraits of famous Afghan writers and kings and also portrait of the French writer Victor Hugo. But over 50 per cent of these precious collections were either looted or destroyed. The gallery is housed in a charming old Kabul house that has been carefully restored. Afghan National Archives is situated near famous Farshgah market which is used for collection, preservation and exhibition of historical and governmental documents.
Bibi Mahroo Hill is a magnificent hill with exotic landscape view. Chahr Chatta Bazar was built in 17th Century. It consists of four covered arcades that are exotically linked by open squares centered with colourful fountains. The walls too are colourfully painted with floral designs.
Chihlsitoon Gardens is a more spacious one which surrounds a state guest house called Chihlsitoon, meaning forty pillars.
Darul Aman Palace was built in 1920 by the famous reformist King Amanullah Khan for his accommodation. It is situated at the end of Darul Aman Road, south of the city, next to Kabul Museum. The palace was destroyed during the Taliban rule and despites initiating many attempts for renovating; it is still in a state of crumbling disrepair and is on the verge of collapse.
Bagh-e Janana is a vast garden exclusively meant for the use of women and young children below the age of twelve. It was designed as a place where women could sell their own products and merchandize directly which as per Islamic tradition cannot be done in areas where men do business. There are also female run restaurants inside. The shops and other mobile trading activities are performed by women only.
Bagh-e Bala is another exotic large garden made over a huge mountain in the heart of the city. This was founded by Amir Abdur Rahman in the early 19th Century. It accommodates a majestic palace which the King used as his summer resort. The much of its original interior has still been preserved.
Lake Qargha, popularly known as Kabul’s lake-district is situated at a distance of only 9 km from Central Kabul. Besides a luxurious restaurant serving international cuisine, there are arrangements for swimming, boating, water-skiing and also jet-skis at the lake.
Daoud Khan Memorial is built on the top of a hill behind Darul Aman Palace, offering a serene view over southern Kabul. On June, 28, 2008, the body of President Daoud and those of his family were found in two separate graves in the Pul-e-Charkhi area in Kabul.
Kabul Wall, situated at a good height provides rewarding views of the city. It is still in a pretty good condition, running west-east from Babar Gardens over to Bala Hissar.
The beautiful mosques of the region include Eid Gah Mosque, located in Shar-e-barq, built by King Abdur Rahman Khan in 1893; Shah-do-Shamshira Mosque, meaning the King of Two Swords, as per a legend was to commemorate the advent of Islam in Kabul and was built in 1920: Pul-e-Khishti Mosque, standing at the center of old Kabul, has a mix internationally acclaimed modern style punctuated with traditional Afghan tiling and Sherpur Mosque, also locally referred as the Masjid-e Haji Yakub, at Chahrari Haji Yakub
Afghanistan is renowned for its rich and diverse wildlife credentials. Some of the rare species of animals that can be spotted are Altai weasels, Asiatic black and brown bears and Eurasian Otters.
From this country, one can buy a range of exotic presentable gift items like Turkman Hats, Kandahar embroideries, Istaff potteries, local glass wares from Heart, nomad jewelry, handmade carpets and rugs and Nooristani woodcravings, besides products of silkware, brass, copper and majestic silver works.
The sophisticated areas of Sharh-e Naw has some best buy opportunities and one can pick his requirements at i) Kabul City Center ii) Majid Mall, iii) Roshan Plaza, iv) Chicken Street, v) Spinneys, vi) Chelsea Supermarket, vii) Supreme Supermarket etc. However, for budget purchase, there are some excellent choices at Farshgah market, Bush market etc.
The capital city of Kabul takes pride of its Afghani dishes that resembles Indian cooking, thus obviously one should expect some very hot and spicy tang in the menu. Tourists can also have a taste of world famous Afghani bread, the Naan, which is a perfect soup-mate. Added to it, one should also savor the grand homemade wine and some unique fruit mix drinks. Most of the restaurants in this country do serve the following special sumptuous Afghani dishes: Qabli Pulao, Uzbeki Pulao, Barbeque Kabaab, Dam-pokht, Safed Gohst, Manthu (packed with beef keema minced with wheat flour), Veg. Burani and Haft Mewa
Afghanistan may have secured a dubious distinction in the world history because of the decades of war in the country that shattered its tourism potentials. But more than the damages the war has unfortunately caused, it is the gross mismanagement which took the shine away from its deserving place.
(The writer is Senior Professor,
Dept. of Management Studies,
Kardan International University, Parwan-e-doo, Kabul, Afghanistan)