Afghanistan Things To DoAfghanistan offers plenty of things to do for the intrepid traveller. It is the most beautiful country I have ever seen. The landscape and the people that live beneath those stupendous mountains are the two main reasons for making the effort to visit. However, don’t come to this area excepting to enjoy fancy restaurants, plush accommodation or night life. None of these can be found – this is a rural area with an extremely limited tourism infrastructure. Despite the relatively rough conditions, those that travel here will be rewarded with some of your favourite travel experiences.
My experience was limited to the Badakhshan Province of Afghanistan, and in particular the east of this province. The adventure starts when crossing the metal bridge from Tajikistan to Ishkashim in Afghanistan (Note that there is also a village called Ishkashim in Tajikistan, and it is not far from this border crossing). This is the only safe entry point to the Badakhshan Province and the border crossing is one of the world’s most spectacular. As you are crossing the bridge that joins both countries, and before you enter passport control on the Tajik side, gaze left to see the incredible Hindu Kush in the distance – it’s an imposing sight. Photos are not prohibited on this bridge, so resist the temptation to grab your camera or phone.Once you are in Iskhashim, you will find it to be a fascinating and friendly place. Think of how you imagine Afghanistan in your mind and this village will come to mind, but minus the violence and fear that a lot of Western media portray. However, you will need to invest some time in Ishkashim to interact with the stall owners to uncover the town’s greatest resource – its people. Note that some of what I describe immediately below about Ishkashim may not apply if you are travelling as a solo woman..
You will often see the men huddled around a two player game called shatran – it looks and plays a bit like checkers. If you watch for long enough, you should be able to follow the rules and even try a game. Even if you don’t, watching the activity that surrounds this game is an excellent way to learn more about the culture of this town.
The more time you spend in Iskhaskim, the more likely you will be invited for some of the delicious Afghan milky tea and a chat. It is likely that the conversation will be very basic unless you know the local language, but at least you will gain an understanding of the gentleness and warmth of the people.
If you wish to shop, this is the place to do so. You wont find any souvenirs here, but you will find really lovely and affordable clothes to purchase from the local market. Everything in the market is geared to the local population – especially food. If you are planning on heading along the Wakhan Valley and Wakhan Corridor then this is the place to do your shopping.Read more: Afghanistan Travel Guide
The Wakhan Valley is is the area from Ishkashim to Qala e-Panja where one follows the Panj River that borders Tajikistan. Travel along this entire journey is very slow due to the conditions of the road, figure on around twenty kilometres per hour – so allow a lot of time if you want to reach anywhere. I was delayed for two hours by officials at Khandud, and according to others in the area, these officials can create bureaucratic problems for tourists travelling through the area. A nice stop during this journey is the village of Izyk. It has lovely views down the valley and appears to be one of the more comfortable places to visit in the area. When in Qala e-Panja, look around the area and make the short walk to the area of the ruined fort that sits on a group of dry hills. The views from these higher points are fantastic!
The Wakhan Corridor lies beyond the Wakhan Valley – s a spectacular area backed by the imposing mountains of the Hindu Kush on one side (with peaks in excess of 7000 metres). You can identify this part because it heads south away from the Tajikistan border. Instead of one side of the valley being dominated by mountains in Tajikistan and the other side by mountains in Afghanistan – both sides of this valley contain the mountains of Afghanistan and you will notice that the valley here is much narrower.
The first part of this Corridor is called the Big Pamir (this is the area from Qala e-Panja to Sarhad-e Broghil) and this part is home to my favourite village in the Wakhan Corridor – Qala Ouest – and it is found on the south side of the road. They have a guest house (which I did not stay in) but the village was most picturesque of any I saw. With a fantastic mountain backdrop, a mountain stream, irrigated land and different farm animals. I could have easily spent 2 or 3 nights here – such was the warm welcome and natural beauty of this village.One of the most spectacular parts of the Wakhan Corridor can be found in the small village of Sargaz. The backdrop to this is the magnificent Mt Baba Tangi (means ‘Angry Father’) – a notoriously dangerous mountain to climb, but also a fantastic mountain to admire. Watch the activity in Sargaz early morning and late afternoon as children take goats to some of the rare patches of green to graze.
From Sargaz there are a number of relatively easy hikes in the area. The one I chose was to cross the bridge and head to several small villages. The first village you will see is not abandoned due to a gigantic landslide a few years ago. Explore these deserted buildings and you will once again see why the forces of nature make this area so difficult to live in. Further along this road is the village of Kizkut – it gave me perhaps the warmest welcome of any village in the area and is well the time to stop and listen to stories about the lives of the local people. There are further villages you can hike along this road but to reach them you will need to start your hike early and be prepare for a full day out in the field.
The Little Pamir was the only section of this part of the country that I did not visit, and comprises the area after Sarhad e-Broghil. To travel through there you need a lot of time and energy, as there are no roads so travel is either by foot or horse. It could take a week to reach from one side of the Little Pamir to the other. According to reports, the scenery here is not as grand as that of the Wakhan Valley, Wakhan Corridor or the Big Pamir.Read more: Afghanistan Photo Gallery
Photography in Afghanistan is fantastic. The incredible mountains, distinctive village and the people whose faces carry so much characters means that you can easily run out of space on your memory card. Take advantage of the light during the different times of the day on the mountains and especially remember when photographing people, always obtain permission before you start taking their photo. The photographing of people here, particularly women, is sensitive, so ensure you do the right thing and get approval first.
Mountaineering is a popular pursuit, but I have no personal experience except to say that according to locals, mountains can be unstable, so tackling these is only for the more experienced climber. If you wish to pursue any such activity, I would suggest you search mountaineering forums or speak to the local people when you arrive as they will know better than anyone what are the conditions you will face.
Trekking is another popular activity, if you can handle the lack of infrastructure. There are so many options that it is impossible to list them. If you ask the local people where you are visiting what options are available, they will tell you. However, be aware that what they consider an easy trek (due to their life living amongst the mountains) may not be that easy for you at all so judge the situation accordingly.
I do not have personal experience on other areas of Afghanistan including the reportedly safe cities of Herat (accessible from Iran and Turkmenistan) and Mazar e-Sharif (accessible from Uzbekistan)the latter which is home to the impressive Shrine of Hazrat Ali. Best to check the safety situation of any of these areas before you visit. Afghanistan can be a volatile place, and an area that is safe one month, may not be safe the next month. However, you can assume that the safest way to visit different parts of Afghanistan is to cross the border from a neighbouring country. The greatest peril in Afghanistan is taking the roads form the capital of Kabul to these rural area because the security situation on this roads can be very unpredictable.Read more: A Visit to Kizkut