Marred by war and religious extremism, Afghanistan doesn’t have a very good reputation in the Western world, however this country straddling Central Asia and the Middle East is home to an ancient civilization that flourished on the southern branch of the Silk Road, and was once a part of Alexander the Great’s empire. The ancient city of Balkh and its lowlands around the Bactrian Plane were a hive of caravans heading down south to the Indian sub-continent.
Afghanistan is located in the heart of Asia, sharing its southern and eastern border with Pakistan, flanked to the west by Iran and Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan and Tajikistan to the north, and even shares a land-border with China in the far north east via an inaccessible terrain.
Kabul is the war-torn capital of Afghanistan, but since the Taliban fled the capital, it’s a city that has been slowly making a comeback. The rubble has been cleared away and new buildings are springing up in the ancient capital, although reconstruction is still taking its time.
Balkh appears to be little more than a local market town, but it once bared the name “Mother of Cities”. The city is the oldest in the country, and it is the birthplace of Zoroaster, the founder of the first monotheistic religion, the hometown of Alexander the Great’s wife Roxanne, whose father was the king of Bactria, and it was also the hometown of Sufi poet Rumi. The city was a hub on the southern strand of the Silk Road where even Marco Polo passed through in his time.
Herat is situated in the country’s heart of the Silk Road. The city once flourished in history, even becoming the capital of the Timurid Empire. It was also a popular stop off point on the Hippy Trail in the 1970s.
Eat & drink
Obi Non is a thick bread similar to the Uzbek style, thick and circular, often made with white flour.
Chalao and Palao are local rice dishes. Chalao uses long grain rice that is parboiled and baked in an oven with oil, butter, and salt. Palao is almost the same, except meat and stock, qorma, herbs, or a combination of the above are blended before baking the rice.
Qorma is a stew with a caramelized onion base, with meat and vegetables also included. You can find more than 100 of varieties of this Afghan dish, which is served with chalao most of the time.
Bamiyan is set to the backdrop of a wide, rocky valley and a network of mountain rivers. It’s known for its giant Buddha statues that were destroyed by the Taliban, however the town is still a World Heritage Site for its cultural landscape.
The Khyber Pass was once the main network road between Pakistan and Afghanistan and a top attraction for visitors, but now the current political situation makes it rather a dangerous place to visit. It was once the main route for the southern branch of the Silk Road.
The Panjshir Valley is one of the most beautiful parts of the country, with its natural beauty, orchards, and rivers. It served as the starting point entry towards two passes leading over the Hindu Kush.