The famous blue mosque. Mazar-e Sharif
Mazar-e Sharif, the capital of Balkh province, is a major trading center famous for Karakul, a great variety of traditional Turkman carpets and high-quality, long-staple cotton. The city is named for the magnificent shrine of Hazarate Ali, cousin and son-in law of Prophet Mohammed, the Fourth Caliph of Islam. Hazarate Ali was assassinated in 661 and buried at Kufa, near Baghdad. Local tradition, however, relates that his followers, fearing enemies may take revenge on the body, placed his remains on a white she-camel which wandered until she fell exhausted. On this spot the body was buried. All knowledge of the final resting place was lost until its existence was revealed and the great Seljuk Sultan Sanjar ordered a shrine built here in 1136. Genghis Khan destroyed this building and again the grave lay unmarked until a second revelation during the reign of the Timurid Sultan Husain Baiqara. He ordered an elaborate shrine constructed in 1481. None of the 15th Century decoration remains but modern restoration has returned the building to its original beauty. Thousands of white pigeons make their home there. Amir Sher Ali Khan lies buried here with other member of Amir Dost Mohammad's family. The largest tomb is that of the Amir's illustrious son, Mohammed Akbar Khan, who played a prominent role during the First Anglo-Afghan War of 1838-1842.
Mazar-e Sharif is visited by countless pilgrims throughout the year and particularly on Nawroz (21 March) when the great Janda (religious banner) is raised to announce the beginning of spring and the coming of the New Year which is the most elaborately celebrated festival in Afghanistan.
Balkh, today only a small town, is very famous for its glorious past. Zoroaster preached here sometime in 6th Century B.C. Rites at the shrine to Anahita, Goddess of the Oxus, attracted thousands during the 5 th Century and Alexander the Great chose it for his base in the 4 th Century B.C. Under the Kushans, when Buddhism was practiced throughout Afghanistan, many holy temples flourished in Balkh. The Arabs called Balkh Umm-ul Bilad, the 'mother of cities'. By the 9 th Century, during the rule of the Samanid Dynasty, about 40 Friday Mosques stood within the city.
Major Places of Interest in Balkh:
The Madressa (college) of Sayid Subhan Quli Khan.
The ruins of the ancient city including the old city walls.
The Shrine and Mosque of Khwaja Abu Nasr Parsa.
The tomb of Rabia Balkhi.
The Masjide No Gumbad (Mosque of the nine Domes)
This exquisitely ornamented mosque, also referred to Haji Piyada, is the earliest Islamic monument yet identified in Afghanistan.
Balkhi is the home of Rabia Balkhi, the first poetess of Islamic period and of Mauwlana Jalaluddin Balkhi (Rumi), perhaps the most distinguished Sufi poet. His Masnawi is considered as the greatest poem collection ever written in the Persian language. Balkh's glorious history closed in 1220 when the mounted men of Genghis Khan rode through and left it utterly devastated. The city, nevertheless, lying on an important trade route recovered under the enlightened rule of Shah Rukh and his Queen Gawhar Shad, of Herat.
Jalalabad lies 150 km east of Kabul, passing Kabul Gorge, Naghlu, Sorobi and Darunta Lakes. The capital of Ningrahar province is an oasis ringed by mountains. Palaces, large gardens and tree-lined avenues speak of its long history as a favored winter capital. Today hundreds of small villas indicate its popularity as a resort town. Among many festivities taking place in this city, the most famous and outstanding are the Mushaira or Poet's festival dedicated to Jalalabad's orange blossoms and Waisak, a religious Hindu festival.
Seraj-ul-Emart, the residence of Amir Habibullah and King Amanullah was destroyed in 1929; the gardens however, retain vestiges of the past and offer a peaceful afternoon's stroll. The Mausoleum of both rulers is enclosed by a garden facing Seraj-ul-Emart.
Jalalabad is a junction and as a result, a favored stopover for travelers to Nuristan and Khyber Pass.
11 km south of the city lies Hadda, one of the most sacred spots of Buddhist world dating from the 2nd to the 7th Century A.D. Countless pilgrims from every corner of the earth come to worship at its many holy temples, maintained by thousand of monks and priests living in large monastery complexes. Even during his lifetime, Buddha visited Hadda.
This important archaeologist site is still under excavation with much of it turned into an open air museum.
Nuristan refers to the area of Laghman and Ningrahar inhabited by approximately 600,000 Nuristanis. The area covers approximately 5,000 square miles with five main and numerous side valleys, each inhabited by a separate tribe speaking its own language, which, in many cases are mutually unintelligible and are grouped under the name Dardic, within the Indo-European language family. There are many physical and cultural differences between the people of Nuristan and those living around them.
The fact that they prefer stools and chairs to a rug on the floor is another obvious difference. Nuristani music is quite distinct, as are their instruments, among which the harp is certainly the most noticeable. Alexander the Great invited the young men to join his army for the Indian campaign. They proved their fighting quality with distinction. Many so-called "Greek" motifs and customs found in the Nuristani culture may well date from this experience.
Throughout the centuries that followed, the people of these mountains successfully defied conquest and conversion even as Buddhism and Hinduism were replaced by Islam on the plains below. The Muslims labeled them Kafirs because they worshipped a wide pantheon of nature spirits and practiced other customs incompatible with the Muslim religion.
In 1895 the army of Amir Abdur Rahman finally succeeded in subduing the Kafirs and converted them to Islam. When his victorious army arrived in Kabul, the Amir announced that henceforth Kafiristan (Land of the infidels) was to be known as Nuristan (Land of light).
A large part of Nuristan is inaccessible to all but those on foot for the trails are so difficult and precipitous, the foot-wide bridges, 30 feet and more above angry frothing waters, are so dizzying that horses simply cannot maneuver them.
Perhaps the most dramatic account of the hazards of traveling in Nuristan is told by the great Tamerlane. To subdue this little pocket of dissidents would be nothing for the World Conqueror. Confidence soon turned to despair as he recounts the hardships the terrain inflicted upon him. At one point he was being lowered down the cliffs in a basket, a maneuver unbefitting his image. Equally distressing was the attempt to lower his horses down in the same manner. All but two were dashed to death against the rocks. Tamerlane ends the account of his Nuristani campaign with a prayer of thanks for his deliverance from the inhospitable Kafiristan.
Almost all Nuristani villages are built on the tops of high peaks, the houses spill the mountainside one on top of the other, the roof of one serving as the front porch and playground of the house above. Children play vigorous games on these roofs, hanging precariously over drops of many hundreds of feet, but rarely, so say their parents, do they plunge into the depths below.
Bamiyan, with its archeological remains, is the most conspicuous tourist site of Afghanistan. The village lies about 2500m above sea level, 240km west of Kabul and attracts thousand of visitors annually. The exquisite beauty of this valley is embraced by the snow capped range of the Kohe Baba mountains in the south and in the north by the steep cliffs in which massive images of Buddha are carved. The pastel colors of its surroundings give visitors an impression of the magnificence and serenity of nature.
The area of Bamiyan developed under Kanishka the Great to become a major commercial and religious center and the smaller statue of Buddha (38m high) was built during his reign. Two centuries later the colossal Buddha statue (55mhigh) was carved. Thousands of ornamented caves, inhabited by yellow robed monks, extended into Folladi and Kakrak valleys where a smaller statue of Buddha (6.5m) stands. Pilgrims from the entire Buddhist world pour into Bamiyan to admire its spectacular and sacred sites. Bamiyan fell to the Islamic conquerors in the 9th Century.
Statue of Buddha - Before
After it was destroyed by Taliban Extremists in March 2001
Major Places of Interest in Bamyan:
Bamiyan was destroyed by Genghis Khan in 1221 to revenge the death of his grandson Mutugen. The ruins of the citadel, called 'city of noise', still give evidence of its magnitude before the Mongol devastation.
This mass of ruins was once a principle fortress, protecting the entrance to the city of Bamiyan during the reign of the Shansabani Kings in the 12th and 13th Centuries. It also was a victim of Genghis Khan's vengeance.
This beautiful valley, embraced by picturesque mountains of fascinating formations and glooming ever changing colors, with a clear sparkling stream, full of trout, leads into a breathtaking chasm and is an unforgettable site for every visitor.
Visitors to Afghanistan have marveled at the country's natural beauty. The formidable Hindu Kush, the vast Turkestan plains, and the seclusion of the southern deserts have impressed travelers from Alexander the Great to Marco Polo. It is the unspoiled natural beauty that forms the visitor's first and most enduring impression of the country. But of all the natural wonders of Afghanistan, the lakes of Bande Amir are perhaps the most out-standing. Situated in the mountainous Hazarajat at an altitude of approx.3000m, 75km from Bamiyan, these majestic blue lakes are of legendary beauty.
MINARET OF JAM (Central Route)
Minaret of Jam
The Central route from Kabul to Herat is undoubtedly a fascinating experience but should only be undertaken by adventurous or pioneering travelers. Passing the first highlights, Bamiyan and Bande Amir, this route leads via Panjaw to Cheghcharan, the capital of the Ghor province. The road continues via Sharak towards north, where in a lonely, remote valley, closely surrounded on all sides by towering barren mountains stands the 65m high Minaret of Jam, at the southern bank of the Hari Rod River. Only the Qutob Minar in Delhi, built by Qutbundin after conquering India, is higher. It is the only well preserved architectural monument from the Ghorid period. En route to Herat, the Ghorid tombs of Cheste Sharif and the hot mineral springs of Obay are favored stopovers.
Minaret of Jam
Most road building occurred in the 1960's, funded by the U.S. and the former Soviet Union. In 1964, a road and tunnel was built through the Salang tunnel, connecting northern and southern Afghanistan. A highway connecting the principal cities of Heart, Kandahar, Ghazni, and Kabul with links to highways in neighbouring Pakistan formed the primary road system.
Sine 2001, many sections of Afghanistan's highway and regional road system are undergoing significant reconstruction. The U.S. (with assistance from Japan) completed a highway linking Kabul to the southern regional capital, Kandahar. Construction is soon to begin on the next phase of highway reconstruction between Kandahar and the western city of Herat. The Asian Development Bank has nearly completed a road reconstruction project between Kandahar and Spin Boldak, located at the southeastern border with Pakistan.
Afghanistan's national airline, Ariana, operates domestic and international routes, including flights to New Delhi, Islamabad, Dubai, Moscow, Istanbul, Tehran, and Frankfurt. A private carrier, Kam Air, commenced domestic operations in November 2003.
Ariana Afghan Airlines is the country's national carrier and flies to many of the major cities in Asia and Europe. For information on domestic flights, check with Ariana overseas and local offices or see the website: http://www.flyariana.com
Private Airline called KAMAIR in Afghanistan provides domestic and international flight schedules, online booking, fleet information, baggage and offices abroad.
Although conventional categories cannot be assigned to hotels outside Kabul, the larger cities generally offer acceptable lodging. Kabul has hotels ranging from the upscale Inter-Continental to various good first class hotels such as the Mustafa Hotel, and inexpensive but low standard lodging located throughout the city. The Hyatt is in the process of constructing a 5 STAR hotel in Kabul.
1: Serena Hotel
The Kabul Serena Hotel, conveniently located in the centre of Kabul city overlooking the famous Zarnegar Park, is situated close to all the Embassies and Ministries, and is just 20 minutes from the airport. Built in 1945, amid landscaped gardens, the hotel has undergone a complete refurbishment, through the rehabilitation of the existing building and the addition of a completely new section. The hotel dominates a busy junction and is situated in the city’s commercial centre.
2 : Mustafa Hotel
Rooms start from $20-100 a night.
Provides 24 hour security, off street parking.
Provides Kabul's famous Kebab night every Thursday.
Tel: + 93 (0) 70276021
Fed Ex Express
Afghan' Express Ltd.' (License of Federal Express Corporation)
Kart 3, Khai Street, House # 326, North of Ministry of Commerce, Kabul, Afghanistan
Mobile: + 93 (0) 70286 028/9, Tel: (020) 2500525
Fax: (020) 2500524
The Oasis Salon - Kabul's First Full Service Salon
. Cutting, Colour, Highlights, Foils, Perms, Styles
. Manicure, Pedicure, Facial, Massage, Waxing, Threading and Permanent Makeup
. All hairdressers are western trained
. Operating in accordance with western hygiene standards
. Visa & Master card accepted
Open Sat - Wed 12:30 - 9:00 pm, Thurs & Fri 9:00 am - 9:00 pm
Major hotel's such as the Inter-Continental and Mustafa hotel, as well as numerous internet cafes around Kabul offer internet connection.
Mobile phones, inter-changeable SIM Cards and calling cards can be purchased all over Kabul. Afghan Wireless and Suraya vendors can be spotted throughout the city. Three major mobile companies, Afghan Wireless, Areeba and Roshan are active.
Link - Afghan Wireless: http://www.afghanwireless.com
Link - Roshan: http://www.roshan.af
Link - Areeba: http://www.areeba.com.af
International and Afghan dishes are readily available in many of Kabul's modern restaurants.
Afghanistan is essentially known for its variety of palaws (rice cooked with meat, chicken, or vegetables in various ways), which are found throughout the country. Afghan Kabob (charbroiled skewered meat), Bolani and Ashak (Afghan-style ravioli stuffed with leeks topped with yogurt and cooked ground beef) are a few of the many tasty dishes.
Named after a Croatian national song, the Vila Velebita in Wazir Akbar Khan is the latest on Kabul's growing list of restaurants. The Velebita offers seafood, steaks, wood fired oven pizzas ($5-8) and more, with all ingredients flown in from Germany and Italy. It is the pricier league of Kabul international restaurants.
. Offers Steaks, seafood, pizzas and more
Open 12 / 3 pm and 6 / 11 pm - Wazir Akbar Khan, Street 10, just before the Standard Chartered Bank / Tel + 93 (0) 79 16 0368
. Multi Cuisine Restaurant serving authentic Indian-Chinese Thai food
. Warm Environment with Rustic Decor
. Bakery and Confectionary Outdoor Catering
. Lunch from 11-3, Dinner from 7-11
Central location: Behind UNICA Guesthouse, opposite of Dutch Embassy
Contact: + 93 (0) 79 317 745
Sufi is an Afghan Restaurant managed by a foreigner and provides anything but your standard lunchtime fare. As soon as you enter the candle lit room you feel as though you've just entered the land and time of Ali Baba. All the plates, glasses and interior furnishing are Afghan and the room is filled with brightly colored carpets and cushions. There are also tables and chairs for those who prefer not to sit on the floor and cutler is also provided.
. Mantoo and Ashak $ 5
. Qabuli Pilau $ 9
. A number of Kebabs $ 9 - $ 11
. Kofte Chalau, mince, plums and saffron served on basmati rice $ 9
Address: Cinema Aryub, Bagh-e-Bala, Karte Parwan (Located at the foot of the Intercontinental Hotel hill in Karte Parwan)
Telephone: + 93 (0) 70 21 0651
(Open every evening except Sundays, with special events on Wednesday evenings)
. European restaurant, espresso cafe'
. Leafy courtyard dining, pool table, big screen TV
Address: From the city centre, take the road of the former British Embassy, turn left opposite to the new mosque and then take the 3rd on the right. Mediterraneo Club is at the end of the road
Telephone: + 93 (0) 79 44 77 33
Open 10am till late, 7 days
Elbow Room Restaurant
. International Cuisine
. Outdoor seating & dining
. New Lunch menu
Open everyday, dinner 6:30 - 11pm, Lunch 11am - 3pm
Telephone: + 079 352 538, + 070 254 432
Flower Street Café
. Serving Kabul's best cappuccino, latte, and fresh juices, with gourmet sandwiches, salads and munchies
. Indoor and garden seating available or take away
. Open daily 8 am to 7pm
. Brunch - Fridays & Saturdays - served 9am to 2pm
Address: Located at House # 57, Street 7, Qalai Fatullah
(between Taimanee and Qalai Fatullah roads)
Tel: + 93 (0) 70.29.3124 or + 93 (0) 79.35.6319
In addition, there are other wonderful Iranian, Chinese, Thani and Afghan ethnic cuisine restaurants.
Handicrafts and Shopping
Afghanistan offers the visitor a rich selection of handicrafts such as luxurious Afghan carpets, karakul coats as well as Afghan fur overcoats and jackets. Embroidered material, caps, and waist-coats, hand-woven silk fabrics and antiques are some of the items that tempt the traveller. Exportation of antiques requires authorization from appropriate authorities. Purchase of artifacts belonging to the Kabul museum or heritage of Afghanistan is punishable by law and will be confiscated.
Thirteen private and international Banks have received their licenses from the Central Bank in the past three years. The National Bank, Pashtani Tejarati, Standard Chartered, Pakistan National Bank and Aryan Bank are among these private banks in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan International Bank
Alfalah Bank Ltd
Export Promotion Bank
The First MicroFinance Bank
Habib Bank of Pakistan
National Bank of Pakistan
Pashtany Tejaraty Bank
Punjab National Bank - India
Standard Chartered Bank
For further information please go to website of Afghanistan Banks Association
* The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is not responsible for the content of external internet sites
Source: Official website, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan