For The Intrepid Traveler: The Top 5 Destinations In Kabul

Kabul might not be the world’s number one tourist destination, but there’s plenty to see in and around the busy capital that boasts 5 million residents. Hire a driver and check out some of the city’s top destinations.

Babur Gardens

This historic park, locally called Bagh-e Babur, is a calm respite from the rest of busy and congested Kabul. The gardens, situated on the western slopes of Ser-e-Darwaza Mountain, just south of Kabul, were laid out by the Mughal dynasty ruler, Muhammad Zahir al-Din Babur in the early 16th century. At about 27 acres, they are the largest green space in the city, and with their roses and poplar trees, arguably, the most beautiful. Ruined during the civil war, the gardens have since been restored, laid out on the classic charbagh (four garden) pattern. High walls, giving it a very protected and peaceful feel, surround the garden and it’s popular with local families who come to picnic and enjoy the natural space.

Kabul Zoo

A camel and a Ferris wheel all in one place, the Kabul Zoo is an opportunity to enjoy Kabul as locals do. The zoo and its accompanying mini-amusement park are popular with families, but this is no Western zoo. The cages are small and protection between wild animals and spectators minimal. You will, however, see a few colorful birds, lions and bears up close, so for the curious it’s worth the visit.

Shah-e Doh Shamshira Mosque
Located just off of the Kabul River in the city center, the Shah Shamsira Mosque is a central place of worship that’s also well known for its yellow walls and popularity with birds. It has more of a European feel than Afghan, and its two-story structure and bright color make it stand out against the other surrounding buildings.

Royal Palace of Darul Aman

Built in the 1920s, Darul Aman Palace was once a bastion of grandeur. Today all that is left is a gutted skeleton of a structure, reminiscent of the mass destruction that Kabul has seen over the past few decades. Surrounded by a border of barbed wire, it’s off limits to visitors and protected by a crew of Afghan National Army, but if you’re lucky and have a good translator, you can manage to let them give you the full tour and show you around.

Afghan National Museum

Until 1992, the National Museum of Afghanistan was home to over 100,000 arts and cultural artifacts from two millenniums of Afghan history. That all came to an end during fighting in Kabul in the following years, leaving the museum looted and destroyed. The museum staff managed to hide the best pieces, but of the ones that remained, they suffered the policies of the Taliban, which ordered all art objects depicting the human form to be destroyed. The artifacts that made it through, however, provide an intimate look into Afghan history. Thanks to contributions from other museums and archeological efforts, today the museum spans 50 millenniums of Prehistoric, Classical, Buddhist, Hindu and Islamic history. The museum is open everyday of the week except for Thursday and Friday afternoons.

At the end of October, Anna Brones spent two weeks in Afghanistan with nonprofit Mountain2Mountain working to produce several Streets of Afghanistan public photo exhibits. This series chronicles the work on that trip and what it’s like to travel in Afghanistan. Follow along here.

[Photo Credits: Anna Brones]

Afghanistan wants you, but you might want to wait

A Tourist Information Center was just erected in Afghanistan’s Bamiyan valley. Customer service lessons are in progress – already making the region friendlier than most airlines – but it may take some time before Afghanistan is ready for regular visits. After all, seven U.S. soldiers lost their lives in the war there yesterday. If you think Afghanistan is ready for western tourists, you are out of your mind. Even if the fighting doesn’t stop you, look out for landmines and hand grenade fishing.

In the Bamiyan region, which is not where the recent fighting involving U.S. soldiers took place, the locals are eager to transform their province into a destination for tourists interested in history. At present, 20 people are receiving customer service training to convey the marks of the past on this region to any guests who may be interested.

And, it might actually be working.

This year, more than 400 foreigners did visit the region (likely not including those in uniform), with airport and hotel reservations up more than 100 percent from 180 for the same period in 2008. If these sites are cleared of landmines by October, as expected, the draw could be even greater. Fortunately, there will be a pizza place ready to serve when the rush comes.

Kite Runner movie opens this weekend

The much-anticipated movie “The Kite Runner” about an Afghan refugee and his childhood experiences in his war-torn homeland finally opened this weekend. It’s the latest in a slew of Afghanistan movies, following on the heels of “Lions for Lambs” with Tom Cruise and preceding the Christmas thriller, “Mr. Wilson’s War,” with Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts.

The only movie I’ve seen of the three is “Lions for Lambs,” and I’ll save you the $10 bucks by just saying it’s a rather terrible movie. There’s lots of political drivel and lackluster action scenes, but nothing that gets us beyond the veneer of 24/7 news broadcasts and psuedo-political commentary. That’s why I’m hoping “Kite Runner” will delight me. Though apparently most of it was shot in China …

Post if you’ve seen the movie and whether you liked it or not!

Word for the Travel Wise (01/14/07)

AfghanistanI’m not a collector of anything really. I have a couple of scrapbooks, old letters from friends across the globe, and my DVD’s which I’ve slacked on buying new ones recently. Nothing I have is of any value (at least now) and if I were ever to start putting together a collection of something that is, I’d go after stamps. First off, they tell so much about a place in such tiny space. They reveal history, national flowers, popular sports and religion. This web collection of Afghan stamps was fun to click around for a few minutes. They have two of Buzkashi, Islamic stamps and some depicting the Communist takeover. Good stuff and though today’s word isn’t stamp, I offer a closely related one that could be off help when mailing your letters and postcards from Kabul back home.

Today’s word is a Pashto word used in Afghanistan:

khat – letter

Pashto is spoken by 40-50 million speakers in Afghanistan, western Pakistan and northern India. It became an official language of Afghanistan in 1936. Persian or Dari is also an official language. Good example sentences, historical information and links are all found at Wikipedia. Pashto.org has video, music, downloadable dictionaries, software and book lists. Yorku.ca has a long list of words to start along your Pashto learning path for at least a few weeks. Visit the BBCPashto page if you already have some understanding of the language under your belt.

Past Pashto words: mujasemy

Word for the Travel Wise (09/07/06)

Afghan FlagSince I can probably take a good guess at how many people will travel to Afghanistan or least think about going sometime during their life span and seeing that number isn’t high I’m going to point everyone to this small online Kabul Museum. In March of 2001 the Taliban destroyed all pre-Islamic statues and objects in Afghanistan. The Kabul online museum is in place to allow people to enjoy the museums contents before the destruction. Although there isn’t much inside the three galleries by virtually traveling there we can all say we’ve seen a small part of history aside from the news we get on CNN.

Today’s word is a Pashto word used in Afghanistan:

mujasemy – statues

Pashto is spoken by 40-50 million speakers in Afghanistan, western Pakistan and northern India. It became an official language of Afghanistan in 1936. Persian or Dari is also an official language. Good example sentences, historical information and links are all found at Wikipedia. Pashto.org has video, music, downloadable dictionaries, software and book lists. Yorku.ca has a long list of words to start along your Pashto learning path for at least a few weeks. Visit the BBCPashto page if you already have some understanding of the language under your belt.