Tourists Return to Kabul

Wow. I figured it would be a long time before Kabul made it back into the travel section of American newspapers but when I opened up the New York Times on Sunday, there it was!

The Mysteries of Kabul, by Joshua Hammer, is your typical travel article if you overlook the fact that Afghanistan was the site of a major war somewhat recently and today still remains rather unrestful. And yet, travelers are returning according to the New York Times.

Last year 5,000 western tourists made the trek. Sure, this is a far cry from the 1970s when Kabul reigned as one of the most popular stops on the Central Asian Hippie Trail. But, it is also a great improvement over the absolute dearth that was brought on by the Russian invasion, civil war, and the post 9-11 military action.

Sure it’s still dangerous at times. And yet, as Hammer points out rather soberly, “with a few spectacular exceptions, the capital has remained violence free.” Spectacular exceptions?!?!? Not something I’d care to run across on my travels.

Nonetheless, Hammer’s account sounds very intriguing. He traveled with the Great Game Travel Company Afghanistan and explored not just the capital city, but the countryside and mountains as well. He writes fondly of expat cafes, welcoming locals, bustling bazaars, and the remnants of the Silk Road. The journey becomes slightly more depressing with a trip to the National Museum of Afghanistan (which has suffered recent lootings and destruction) as well as a visit to the OMAR Mine Museum (which better explains why there are so many missing limbs in the country).

I have to admit, I’m impressed. I had planned a trip along the Karakoram Highway and into Pakistan and Afghanistan in 1995 but was not able to go at the last moment. With all the history that has occurred in the region since then, I thought my chance to visit this corner of the world may have passed me by forever. I am happy to learn it hasn’t.