Afghanistan’s history and culture both date back to the Middle Paleolithic Era. Strategically located along the Silk Road, it has a connection to the cultures of the Middle East and other parts of Asia.
Afghanistan is in the Greater Middle East. It has a population of approximately 32 million, making it the 42nd most populous country in the world. Pakistan is both south and east. Iran is west, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan are north, and China is also in the far northeast. In term of size, Afghanistan is the 41st largest country in the world.
Note: Currently, it is not safe to travel to Afghanistan, including the border areas. If you are a journalist or if you must visit, please check the USA Travel Warnings and seek government and UN protection and guidance.
Things To Do In Afghanistan
While the tourism is little to none- existent in Afghanistan, there are still refreshing places for every tourist to visit. The Band- e-Amir National Park is a natural attraction in the country with six lakes, amidst the drab sandy landscape. Other than the natural beauty there are numerous mosques to see like Minaret of Jam, Herat, and Mazar-i- Sharif. There is also a Buddhist structure which is in ruins now because of the ongoing war, but what remains of Buddhist Sculptures of Bamiyan is magical.
Despite being considered a poor country full of terrorism and potential threats, Afghanistan has still managed to preserve many places that can be a huge attraction for tourists.
If one is into hilly terrains, nothing beats the beauty of the mountain peaks in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is the bed of the Hindu Kush Mountains. There are various hiking and trekking routes in Afghanistan, like the Wakhan Corridor. However, these are considered to be highly unsafe.
The National Museum of Afghanistan in Kabul is a beautiful display of the historical culture of Afghanistan in a very elaborate manner.
There are various companies that offer tour packages to Afghanistan. That is a simple way to leave the entire itinerary, lodging, planning and other time-consuming things to them.
The entire country is filled with beautiful and remarkable mosques, and every city has at least one. Afghanistan also holds several of UNESCO World Heritage Sites; The Minaret of Jam north of Herat is a famous one among them. Also, there are Buddhists scriptures at Bamiyan. However, these have been vastly destroyed by the Taliban.
Afghanistan is a country in the middle of Asia, landlocked from all sides. Historically, being on the silk route, Afghanistan has a rich cultural heritage. The countries bordering it are Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. China borders it too but the border has an inaccessible terrain.
Even though the country is so culturally rich, and has an exquisite inheritance, it has been unfortunate in the recent years to be a victim of terrorism and political strife, due to which the local population, as well as the tourism in the country, has suffered considerably. Most countries advise their people not to travel to Afghanistan.
Presently, the situation in Afghanistan isn’t very stable, breaking the hearts of the global population, due to its rich scenic beauty and rugged terrain. There are a lot of threats to tourist including insurgency, explosions, robbery, kidnapping, murders, etc. The country is occupied by international anti-terrorist forces and NATO troops. However, the country is going through a rebuilding phase with international effort, and in the future might become a popular tourist hub.
When To Go
Afghanistan is a country of extremes. In summers the temperature can soar up to 50 degree Celsius, and in winter the temperature becomes a freezing zero. To tackle the extremities, a traveler must come in weather which he/she can cope with. During April and May, the weather becomes pleasant, which is probably the best time to visit.
What To Wear
Non- essential travel in Afghanistan is a risk many dare not take. But if you must travel, then please prepare to dress according to Afghan culture and weather. In the scalding heat, it is better if you wear loose fitting clothes to let your body cool.
Women should cover themselves from head to toe if you do not want to provoke any male’s attention. Keep scarves with you to hide your face from the sun and also the prying male glances, wear full sleeves (tops or tunics) and avoid showing off your skin. No off-shoulder, crop top or tank top, please.
Almost 50% of the population speaks Dari which is a Persian Dialect. Pashto is another Persian dialect spoken, but it is hard to understand these languages. Though locals do not use English, the road signs are in English. Hence it becomes easy for a traveler to figure out where he/she is going. English is now taught in schools from 4th grade, but very few people know to speak English. You might face trouble communicating.
Currency & Money
The currency in Afghanistan is Afghan Afghani (Af). And its exchange rate according to stats in January 2017 is Af 65= $1. Check for the latest exchange rates online before you leave the country. Credit cards are not acceptable.
There are several ATMs available in Kabul which dispense both in USD & AFs. However, many of them are in military camps and hard to access.
When you pay for anything, remember, vendors of Afghanistan always haggle, and you can often buy things for considerably less price than they demand initially.
Local Afghan Cuisine
People in Afghanistan love their food. That is why they have made an effort to elevate basic dishes to knock out dishes. If you are here, please try the rice dishes like Palao and Biriyani. There are also different kinds of flatbread, among them the best is naan. For snacks, nothing in Afghanistan beats a spicy Afghan Kebab. You can find it in outdoor vendor stalls or restaurants. Lamb is the meat used for most of the dishes in Afghanistan.
The country is divided into various ethnic groups like the Pashtuns, The Hazaras, Tajik, Uzbek, etc. People are strongly bound to their own cultural ethnicity, and speak their own ethnic dialects and follow different customs.
The food, however, is not divided ethnically. Afghan dishes like Naan, Obi-non, and Lavash are a delicacy you shouldn’t miss if you get into the country. Other than those, rice dishes are considered to be the king of all dishes. Afghanistan has a lot of variety in rice dishes, and some of these are Chalao, Palao, Yakhni Palao, Qorma Palao, Bore Palao, etc. Try them and you wouldn’t look at rice the same way again!
Other than that, there are a variety of desserts and those spicy kebabs that would be an absolute fantasy of yours. If you are in Afghanistan, be sure to eat as much as you can, and if you can, try to learn the recipes too!
Wi-Fi & SIM Cards
There are no restaurants or hotels in Afghanistan that provide Free Wi-Fi. But you can buy a new sim card from the Airport. Make sure it is a prepaid Sim card with 3 G internet connection because the 3G Network is pretty fast in Afghanistan. Etisalat and Rohsan are best providers.
How Much Will It Cost
If you have meals at an inexpensive restaurant, your least cost will be $10 -$15 per day. Travel charges or the cost of getting around is not much, and a taxi ride for 2-3 km cost 50 AF ( approx. $1). The hotels in Afghanistan are not of international standard but are okay for 2-3 days stay. It will cost around $20. So for a day in Afghanistan, the cost will be around $40- $50.
How Many Days To Travel
Afghanistan has sights like Mazar-I –Sharif, Herat, Kabul, Bamyan and taking a trip to all these sights will take no more than twenty days. So you do not have to spend more days in a place where you think you are not safe.
For all the major tourist destination in Afghanistan like Kabul, Herat and Mazar-e Sharif flights are operating between these places. So Getting around in between the destinations is not a problem. But once you get out of the cities, expect dirt roads.
There are no metered taxis in Afghanistan, so you will have to negotiate the prices before you get into one. You can also take buses, or hire a jeep with a driver.
Note: Please avoid the military convoys when you are on the road. Do not overtake them, or use mobile phone near them. They will see you as a threat and might open fire on you. The prices of fuel are pretty high, so better stick to public transport.
The roads inside the cities are Okay. A new road runs from Kabul to Mazar-I- Sharif, which is in good condition as it is new. Once you get outside the major cities, there will be nothing more than dirt roads. Paved roads are a rare thing in Afghanistan. So, better do not drive here.
Left Or Right Driving
Afghanistan follows the Left Hand Traffic Rule. You need to be careful if you are driving on the dangerous roads of Afghanistan. Travel before dark and take a guide with you, to ensure you know where you are going is safe. Roads you should be careful on are- Kabul to Herat via Ghazni, Herat to Yakolang. The road to Badghis Province is not safe.
Rent Vs. Public Transport
The best way is to stick to Public transport for shorter distance and for longer distances take flight or rent a car with driver. Driving in Afghanistan is not a Kid’s game, so a local can drive like a pro in his country’s roads. But renting a vehicle costs a lot of money because the fuel here is expensive.
Electricity & Plug Type
The electrical sockets in this country are of types C and F, as used in Europe. And the standard voltage is 220 V.
Getting Into Afghanistan
Anyone who wishes to travel to Afghanistan should get his visa in advance. Getting a Visa to enter Afghanistan is easier than you expect. The Kabul International Airport is the one which operates flights from Delhi (India), Islamabad (Pakistan), Frankfurt, Istanbul, and Tehran.
You can also get into the country via roads from Peshawar, Mashad. Do not even think about using the Khyber Pass as you can get arrested by government officials or killed by the Taliban.Visas to Afghanistan are very easy to obtain than expected. You can fly into Kabul International Airport in Kabul. it is the main entryway people use to enter the country, and various airlines cater the services to Afghanistan.
If you plan to enter the country through a car, there are a couple of entry points in the Pakistan-Afghanistan Border, i.e., Peshawar and Quetta, one from Uzbekistan and one from Tajikistan. However, the safety level on these routes is still considered highly dangerous. There are bus services to Afghanistan from Pakistan and Iran.
How Safe Is Afghanistan
We recommend, even if you travel to Afghanistan, you stick to the local tourist places. Do not go on roads that are unsafe, Stick to cities, follow the traditions( women cover your heads with scarf) and live like you are a local. Then you won’t be facing a problem. Any place is safe if you find friendly people, the locals are warm and welcoming. But we can’t say anything about the Taliban who drive around with arms.
Lodging isn’t something hard to find in Afghanistan. There are various hotels and guesthouses available everywhere. These may start from as low as $10 to a few hundred dollars. You can sleep comfortably in a simple and cheap place. Make sure to check its safety before you get in. Mud houses are common in throughout Afghanistan, especially in the remote areas.
If you are in Afghanistan, there are several things that are sold here that you MUST take home. You would absolutely love those. The Afghani rugs are famous worldwide. These are full of absolute beauty and gorgeous patterns and come for quite cheap a price. Check out the quality of the rug before you buy it. All of them are hand woven by the Afghan tribes.
Culture Of Afghanistan
Poetry continues to be a large part of Afghans’ culture, as it has been for centuries. Thursday nights in the city of Herat, women, men, and children gather to share poetry. People take turns sharing old and new verses of poetry in this rich tradition.
The proper name for Afghanistan’s people is Afghans. This name is often confused with Afghanis, which is currency. Though it is a frequently occurring error, tourists often make this mistake. The official and therefore most commonly spoken languages are both Dari and Pashto. However, there are many other spoken languages including Persian, Uzbek, and Turkmen, to name a few.
Like its neighbor, Pakistan, Afghanistan also has a large Muslim Community. There are also many Hindus of the Sindhi, Punjabi and Kabuli sect. The brutal War going on for generations has made it difficult to rejoice in the culture of Afghanistan. But you need to know that people here are extremely religious. Respect their traditions like covering your head when going to a Mosque, wearing decent dresses.
Women in Afghanistan play a secondary role in the family, do not try to be too smart for your own good.
The tourism industry was developed in Afghanistan in the early 1970s. However, since 1979, due to political instability and permanent military conflicts, traveling to Afghanistan has become a risky thing to do. At the beginning of the XXI century, the US-led military campaign against Taliban and Al-Qaeda has restricted the opportunity for tourism in the country. However, in 2014 the number of adventure tours to Afghanistan has doubled, in comparison with the previous years.
Overall, Afghanistan is a culturally rich country. It has a diverse and warm-hearted population of people.
May 6, 2016 12:00 am