Friday, April 23, 2010

Afghanistan, A Bit of Background

How big is Afghanistan?
Although Afghanistan is only 1/12th the size of Australia (a bit smaller than NSW or 1/4 the size of WA), it's not that small a place and in a month we couldn't hope to see all that it had to offer, any more than you could visit every part of NSW in a month.
But there were many other places we could and should have visited while we were there, such as the Band-e Amir Lakes, the Panjshir Valley and Kunduz, if only we'd had more knowledge and time, and it hadn't been so cold. If only...
But to be honest, back then Afghanistan was an totally unknown country which had only recently opened its borders to travellers, and we saw it more as a stepping stone along the way to India and Nepal rather than a key destination in its own right.
We were wrong. Maybe next time we'll see a bit more.
Afghanistan, is it really a friendly country?

In our articles we've frequently commented on how friendly and hospitable the people were in Afghanistan. But this doesn't seem consistent with the evidence of history, where foreign armies over the centuries, notably the British (twice) and the Russians, have invariably lost battles against fierce and aggressive Afghan tribesmen. So was our assertion valid or were we just plain lucky?
Certainly there had been some incidents of violence towards foreigners in current times, (eg the Earthwalker who was set up on and killed in the north east of the country in 1972), but every country has its share of violent criminals and Australia is no different, Peter Falconio's name sadly comes to mind.
The following quotes, which can be checked out via their links, might add some weight to our impressions:
"Afghanistan: The Friendliest Country in the World, Possibly the Universe."
Sentiments from the Afghanistan-Online website which we would have to agree with, although we can't claim full knowledge of the whole universe, or even the world.
And this quote seems to reflect our own recollections:
"Afghanistan has been my yardstick for judging every country I go to—for beauty of landscape, of people, of hospitality."

Another view comes from Rasheeda Bhagat in 2005 in the Hindu Business Line.

"On the most inhospitable of roads, there are amazingly hospitable chaikhanas with friendly people and smiling children.

The status of their country and their poverty notwithstanding, there is no attempt to fleece foreigners. On the contrary, they are keen to know one's nationality and extend the typical greeting in Islamic countries — hand held across the heart".

Lastly, another testimonial which supports our experiences, especially the final phrase:

"From the perspective of a young traveler, one might say the 1970s saw Afghanistan at it’s best.

With only recently opened borders, the country offered a kind of adventure travel not often seen since: safe, inexpensive travel through a land of towering mountains concealing verdant orchards and untouched torrents; vast deserts, wandering nomad tribes, and a welcoming people generous far beyond their means".

Comment by Joseph Hoyt on his website Images of Afghanistan (

Reports from people who have recently travelled to Afghanistan seem to reflect the same experience, despite the on-going conflicts there and the dire travel advice from our government.

On this site author Matthew Leeming says in 2004, "I have never been to a more beautiful country, or met such hospitable people".

Can all these people (and us) be so wrong?
Tourism in Afghanistan, things are improving
Although tourism in Afghanistan has been decimated over the last 30 years, a small but growing trickle of travel enthusiasts have been visiting Afghanistan since 2003 and they invariable report that, with care, many parts of Afghanistan can currently be visited safely, especially the centre and northern parts of the country.
Sergei Zharov claims here that security risks still remain but that they are less than in New York, (and in fact all his articles on Afghanistan make interesting reading).
Entering Afghanistan from Iran or Pakistan is neither easy nor safe these days and, in fact, entering Afghanistan via Tashkent in Uzbekistan seems to be a safer and a more common practical approach, since many of the historical sites are in the north of the country which has been least affected by war.
As an indicator of things improving, in 2009, a Tourist Information Centre was opened in Bamiyan, and the Band-e Amir Lakes area was proclaimed as Afghanistan's first National Park.
Afghan Cricket?
Surprisingly, Afghanistan now has a fairly successful international cricket team and even its own website( They toured England in the summer of 2006, winning six out of seven matches against County 2nd x1's.
Narrowly missing out on the 2011 World Cup Finals (they finished in the top six of their qualifying event and in doing so achieved One-Day International status), in January 2010 they beat Ireland in the 2010 World Twenty20 qualifying round. Previously they won the ACC (Asian Cricket Council) Twenty20 Cup in 2009 by beating the UAE at Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi in the final by 84 runs.

Photo from the website.
Things are definitely looking up. In view of the destruction caused by their current conflicts, it might bring a new meaning to "The Ashes".

No comments:

Post a Comment