Afghanistan is a rugged country with many mountainous areas. Its climate ranges from extreme heat to biting cold as the land rises from scorching deserts to towering snow-capped peaks. A narrow corridor through the mountains, the Khyber Pass links the country with neighboring Pakistan. About 20 different ethnic groups live in Afghanistan, each with its own language and traditions. Some Afghans are semi–nomadic. In summer, they roam the grasslands beneath the mountain peaks with their herds and sleep in tents made of felted goat hair. In winter they settle down to farm in the fertile valleys, living in towns and cities. The official languages are Pashto and Dari, and the main religion is Islam.
Listed below are the top ten not-to-be-missed places in Afghanistan.
To have a better understanding of archeology and the history of Afghanistan, a visit to the
is an eye-opening experience that presents in artifacts and pictures the horrors that the people had to endure during the more than 30 years of conflict with Russia. The director of the museum also serves as a guide, and relates many interesting stories about every artifact displayed in the building. Because of security threats and the presence of armed rebels within the city, the intricate and valuable displays are kept safe and secured in a concealed vault within the museum to protect them from getting damaged or looted. On display is a framed picture of each artifact and a brief history of its discovery and importance.
There are objects and paintings that highlight how Buddhist temples and cultural influences once dominated the country. The pictures of how thousands of people fled the country at the height of the civil war bring consciousness of a horrible power struggle that remains unresolved up to the modern times. In the courtyard of the museum, tourists will find the fleet of King Zahir Shah. There is not much to see except that all the cars are ruined, with traces of gunshots and punctured and deflated tires. It is actually a miracle that the ancient museum itself has survived so long. Smoking and taking pictures inside are not allowed.
Darul Aman Palace
Darul Aman Palace
is an impressive neoclassic building on a hill with a view over the flat and humid valley in the western part of the Afghan capital. Built to serve as the headquarters of a future parliament in the outskirts of Kabul, the building was used for many years after the religious conservatives forced Amanullah to step down from his rule. The palace was first destroyed by fire in 1969. It was restored to shelter the Defense Department during the years from 1970 to 1980. During the communist blow of 1978, the building was set afire. It was damaged again as rival groups faced the Mujahedeen and fought for the control of Kabul during the decade of 1990.The intense bombardments for the Mujahedeen that killed over one million Afghans after the end of the Soviet invasion left the building in rubble.
In 2005, a plan was announced to remodel the palace for the purpose of becoming the permanent headquarters of the future parliament of Afghanistan. It was supposed be financed principally by donations from foreign aid and rich Afghans. Nevertheless, in July 2010 the efforts and hopes of rehabilitating the ruined building remained dim. The palace can only be reached by car and taxi. The surrounding garden is impressive and provides a 360-degree view of the entire Kabul landscape. Taking pictures of the façade and the ruins inside is strictly prohibited.
Kabul City Center
Kabul City Center Shopping Mall
is one of the first modern malls and recreation centers built in the capital city of Afghanistan. Inaugurated in 2005, the high-rise indoor shopping mall is composed of nine floors or levels with various shops, restaurants, coffee shops, carpet traders, amusement centers, etc. It is serviced by a mechanical escalator, transparent elevators and is fully air conditioned for every shopper’s comfort. For the safety of the visitors, the windows are thick, made of crystal and resistant to any kind of explosive.
All visitors are examined by metal detectors and body-frisked before being allowed to enter. The last six floors of the mall are a part of the Hotel Safi Landmark, a hotel based in Dubai and the acknowledged owner of the shopping mall.
is located near the shore of the river Kabul. The zoo was first opened to the public in 1967 to emphasize the importance of preserving the rich wildlife of the Afghan flora and fauna. It used to house more than 500 animals, and huge crowds of visitors came to witness its first years of operation. Because of the intense fighting and shooting, the zoo was ruined inside and outside. The aquarium was totally devastated, and many animals such as deer and rabbits were shot by the rebels — to use as food during the height of the civil war. Since it reopened in 2010, improvements have been made in every part of the zoo. It now houses more than 280 animals wide selection of bird species, mammals and fish are now frequently visited by locals and tourists.
Entrance fees help the city earn much needed revenue, as the country has relatively little industry to begin due to the existing power struggle with Russia. However, the conditions of the zoo remain poor and most animals are in a deplorable state. The zoo operates from as early as 6 am until 6 pm and the entrance fee is reasonable enough for foreign and local visitors.
Abdul Rahman Khan Great Mosque
The Hajj Abdul’s Mosque Rahman, also known as the
Great Mosque of Kabul
, is one of the major mosques in Afghanistan. It stands in the center of the capital city of Afghanistan and in fact is located in a crowded commercial district, near the Pastunistán Center and Kabul River. The mosque has the capacity to accommodate almost ten thousand faithful Muslims daily. The Afghan architect Mir Hafizullah Hashimi originally designed the building. Construction of the mosque started in the year 1990 but was suspended for several years after Taliban gained power and the war in Afghanistan heightened again towards the end of 2001. The construction work was again resumed in 2003, after the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia decided to pay the remaining costs to push through and finish the overall construction of one of the biggest mosques in Asia.
The mosque, which was finally completed at the end of 2009, opened its doors and also the services of its nearby school for students of the Islamic faith. The mosque is named after an influential Arab businessman called Haji Abdul Rahman. He was about to inaugurate its groundbreaking ceremony in 1990 but he died unexpectedly. The responsibility of building the magnificent mosque was passed on to his grandsons until the project was fully completed and inaugurated in the year 2010.
has served its purpose well in Kabul in a variety of ways. It was constructed during the reign of the king Amanullah Khan in 1923, who was considered to be a Ghazi (Hero) after winning the war with Great Britain and gaining the first independence of the nation. The stadium has a maximum capacity of 25, 000 people. The first international sport inside the huge Ghazi Stadium was a game of football between Afghanistan and Iran on January 1, 1941.
During the troubled decade of 1990 the stadium was used as a place for public executions, stoning and beheading activities by the Taliban government. Nowadays, it has again become a training ground for sports, to encourage the youth to become more active (in addition to playing football.) National events, major football tournaments, and interstate competitions are usually held in this large stadium.
Cultural Landscape and Archaeological Remains of the Bamiyan Valley
Buddhas of the
used to be the site of two monumental 170-foot statues built in the sixth century — carved into the face of a huge cliff in the Hazarajat’s region of central Afghanistan. The principal statues were carved directly into the sandstone cliffs, but the details were shaped in mud mixed with straw and wooden plasters in a stucco finish. Today it is totally defaced, having been ruined by the Taliban forces.
The ruins show that a once-imposing statue used to stand in the central part, where the head used to serve as the viewing tower over the valley. Base on pictures that can be seen inside the small temples built inside the ruins, the statues were beautiful — but were considered as idols of veneration to the Buddhist belief and insulting to the faith of the Taliban government. In 2001, on the order of then leader Mullah Omar Mohammed, dynamite sticks were placed all around the statues and most of the foundation and valuable images were destroyed.
The international community greatly condemned the act and viewed it as the perfect example of the ethnic group’s intolerance and disrespect to a UNESCO National Heritage Site. Japan and Switzerland selflessly gave their support to the full restoration of the place and the reconstruction of the ancient statues at some future point.
Band- e –Amir National Park
Approximately 90 minutes’ drive away from the famous valley, a natural and refreshing scene awaits every traveler at the
Band-e-Amir National Park
. The breathtaking scene consists mostly of 6 deep blue lakes that are ideal for quick picnic spots and a memorable photo opportunity. An added bonus is the calm and serene atmosphere of the place.
There are no hawkers selling souvenir stuff, no cafes, no restaurants — but many crowds ogling to have a good spot and view of the lakes from the observation deck. The natural charm of the attraction is what draws tourists to stop while driving and check out the cold and windy lakeside spectacle. It is a secluded beauty that must not be missed seeing when in the Bamiyan region.
also known as Hazrat Ali’s sanctuary is a mosque located in the Mazar-I-Sharif region in Afghanistan. It is one of the renowned places of Ali’s burial. It is more popularly known as the “Tomb of the Most High”. The real attraction of the place is not the blue tiled wall mosque but the shrine that was built and dedicated for the revered late Hazrat Ali. He was the first religious leader (Imam) of the Shiites and also served as one of the caliphs for the Sunni faith.
With the huge flock of tourists that frequent the mosque, it has earned the reputation of one of the most-visited mosques and the safest part of Afghanistan. Proper attire is required and proper behavior is expected from men and women when touring the rest of the mosque. Afghan women in their burqa outfits must not be looked or gazed upon by men. Picture taking is not allowed and shoes must be left at the entrance door of the mosque.
Even in a war-torn country like Afghanistan, it is still possible to find places of relaxation and serenity. The founder of the Indian Empire, Mughal Babur,
as a park. During his stay in Kabul, he was so saddened by the devastation during the civil war of the 90’s that he joined forces with the Agha Khan Foundation and the Federal Republic of Germany to pursue the creation of this park.
The attractions and monuments located therein include a Karavansarai, a palace, a historic pavilion, a mosque and the tomb of Babur that lies in the heart of Kabul. On its quiet grounds one can safely stroll and comfortably interact with the nice people of Kabul, Afghanistan.