Afghanistan Travel Guide

Afghanistan is usually in the news for odd reasons, however it is a countyr at the crossroads of Western, Central, and Southern Asia and is at the heart of the Asian continent. It is bordered by Pakistan to the south and east, Iran to the west, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan to the north. There is a short unaccessable border with China to the far northeast via the Wakhan corridor.

Afghanistan has been the center of many powerful empires for the past 2,000 years. However, in the last 40 years the country has been in chaos due to major wars -- from the Soviet invasion of 1979 to their withdrawal in 1989 and from the rise of the Taliban in 1996 to the removal of the Taliban in power in 2001 and the ensuing American and NATO invasion. In August 2021, the Taliban have retaken power, toppling the NATO-backed government in place. Economically, Afghanistan is considered poor compared to many other nations of the world. However, the country is currently going through a nation-wide rebuilding process.

Cities in Afghanistan

  • Kabul- The eastern city serves as the largest city and the capital city of Afghanistan
    Balkh - The ancient city in the northern part of Afghanistan
    Bamiyan - The place where the famous Bamiyan Budha in rock was and was destroyed.
    Ghazni - The south-east, the city between Kabul and Kandahar
    Herat - The western city neighbouring Iran, has a strong Persian influence and several interesting historical sites
    Jalalabad - The eastern city close to Pakistan located between Kabul and the Khyber Pass Pakistan
    Qandhar- Oldest continuously inhabited city in the world , ancient name is mundigak (3000 B.C)
    Kunduz - A major city in the northeast, and crossing point to Tajikistan
    Mazar-e Sharif - home to the impressively tiled Blue Mosque, and the staging point for trips into Uzbekistan
    Puli Khumri - an ancient city in the heart of Afghanistan

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    Climate of Afghanistan

    Temperatures in the central highlands are below freezing for most of the winter, and snow is common at higher elevations. Summertime highs in lower elevations (such as Jalalabad or Mazar-e Sharif) can exceed 40C/100F. In higher areas such as Kabul, summer temperatures can be 30C/90F and winter around 0C/30F. The most pleasant weather in Kabul is during April, May and September. The most rugged north-eastern leg (the Wakhan Corridor) remains below freezing for most of the year.

    Afghanistan geography

    Mostly rugged mountains; plains in north and southwest. The Hindu Kush mountains run northeast to southwest, dividing the northern provinces from the rest of the country, with the highest peaks found in the northern Wakhan Corridor. South of Kandahar and neighboring Helmand is desert, with Nimroz and parts of Farah also desert. Nuristan, Kunar and Paktia contain significant mountainous forests.

    The lowest altitude of Afghanistan is Amu Darya in the north at 242m, and the highest altitude is Nowshak in the east at 7,489m.

    The Afghan People

    Afghanistan is an ethnically diverse country. Tribal and local allegiances are strong, which complicates national politics immensely.

    The largest ethnic group is the Pashtun followed by the Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek and others.

    Baloch tribesmen, while still largely nomadic, can be found anywhere between Quetta in Pakistan and Mashad in Iran, including much of Western Afghanistan. They make marvellous rugs, if somewhat simple.

    There are about three thousand Hindus and Sikhs living in different cities of the country but mostly in Kabul, Jalalabad, and Kandahar who belong to the Punjabi, Sindhi, Kabuli, and Kandhari ethnic groups.

    Hazaras in the Central mountains look much more Asiatic than other Afghans. According to some theories, many of them are descended from Ghengis Khan's soldiers.

    Afghanistan is a multilingual country in which two languages - Persian (Dari) and Pashto are both official with Persian being most widely spoken in the country. Pashto speakers predominate in the South and East, Persian in North, West and central Afghanistan. About 11% of the population have Turkic languages, Uzbek or Turkmen, as their first language. Many of them are in the North, near Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Minor native language groups include Nuristani, Dardic and Pamiri, found in small pockets in the east and northeast.Most ethnicities speak and understand Persian.

    Afghanistan History

    The main mosque in Kandahar, adjacent to it is the mausoleum of Ahmad Shah Durrani and the site of the Prophet's Cloak.
    Afghanistan has been settled for thousands of years. Modern-day Afghanistan was founded when Mir Wais Hotak, an Afghan tribal leader, rose up against the oppressing Shi'a Safavids in 1709 and made Afghanistan an independent state by establishing the Hotaki dynasty, with its capital at Kandahar. His son Mahmud later conquered what is now Iran and Iraq but the Hotaki dynasty collapsed in 1738. In 1747, Ahmad Shah Durrani re-established an independent Afghanistan and expanded it to include what is now Pakistan as well as northeastern Iran and the Western parts of India. The country has a long history of warfare, mostly against invaders such as Alexander of Macedon, Persians, Arabs, Turks, Mongols, and the British. On the contrary, it was once the second major Islamic learning center after Baghdad. Many world-renowned scholars, scientists, mathematicians, and poets hail from what is now Afghanistan. This includes Avicenna, Al-Biruni, Rumi, and others.

    The Afghan Girl

    The June 1985 cover of National Geographic [1] showed the most haunting image of the Afghan War: a young Afghan girl, with piercing sea-green eyes and a dilapidated hijab. The photo, taken by Steve McCurry in Pakistan in 1984, became the icon of the troubles in Afghanistan. But, for 16 years, no one knew the girl's name. Then in 2001, following the defeat of the Taliban, National Geographic finally located the girl and her identity: Sharbat Gula. She vividly recalled being photographed and recognized her face as the one in the photo. Today, in her honor, NG now runs a fund to educate young Afghan girls, who were denied education under the Taliban.

    Afghanistan remained peaceful between 1933 and the late 1970s, focusing on developing itself. After the April 1978 bloody coup by pro-Soviet Union members, the Soviet Union invaded in December 1979 to support the new socialist government. By February 1989 all Soviet forces withdrew from the country but fighting continued between Soviet-backed Afghan government forces and mujahideen rebels, who were funded by the United States, Saudi Arabia, and others while trained by Pakistan and Iran.

    The Taliban grew out of this chaos in late 1994, providing a solution to what was by this time a civil war. Backed by foreign sponsors, and inspired by a conservative sect of Islam, the Taliban developed as a political force to end the civil war and bring order to the country. They seized the capital of Kabul in September 1996 and controlled most of the country by 2000, aside from some areas in the northeast.

    After the September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, the world focused on the situation in Afghanistan. Washington accused Osama bin Laden and al Qaida of attacking the US, and requested that the Taliban hand these people over to US authorities and destroy all al Qaida training camps inside Afghanistan. The Taliban refused this on principle setting the stage for US and NATO-led invasion of Afghanistan that toppled the Taliban regime.

    That same month, representatives from all ethnic groups of Afghanistan met in Germany and agreed to form a new democratic government with Hamid Karzai as Chairman of the Afghan Interim Authority. Following a nationwide election in 2004, Hamid Karzai was elected as President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. A year later, in 2005, legislative elections were held and the country's parliament began functioning again. In addition to occasionally violent political jockeying and ongoing military action to root out anti-government elements, the country suffers from poverty, opium cultivation, and widespread corruption.

    In 2005, Afghanistan and the US signed a strategic partnership agreement committing both nations to a long-term relationship. In 2012, the two countries signed another more important strategic partnership agreement in which Afghanistan was designated a major non-NATO ally (MNNA). Afghanistan also signed a strategic partnership agreement with India, the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, and many other nations. In the meantime, around 50 billion US dollars is being spent on the reconstruction of the country.

    Electricity
    Officially 220V at 50Hz. Electricity supplies are erratic but slowly improving in major cities. Voltage can drop to below 150V in some places. The Afghans' enthusiasm for home-made generators or modifying low quality ones means that the frequency and voltage can also vary wildly.

    There are three types of electrical outlets likely to be found in Afghanistan. They are the old British standard BS-546, the newer British standard BS-1363 and the European standard CEE-7/7 "Schukostecker" or "Schuko". The latter is the standard and obviously most common. Generally speaking, US and Canadian travellers should pack adapters for these outlets if they plan to use North American electrical equipment in Afghanistan. You may also find cheap universal adapters in the local markets.