Afghanistan is a country rich in culture and history but with an unfortunate past. Decades of war and instability have long been the face of this nation. In 2001, the country gained the world’s attention after the United States invaded to fight off the Taliban in its search for Osama Bin Laden. Despite significant achievements since the overthrow of the Taliban, Afghanistan is considered to be among one of the most dangerous countries in the world. Afghanistan’s reputation for hospitality, deep culture, ancient cities, and some of the highest mountains in on earth have been replaced by war and destruction. I went to Afghanistan not for the military or business, but just as a traveler seeking to experience places that few people get to see.
Afghanistan’s capital was once a great city, but after decades of war it is now unstable and unsafe. A museum built by the Afghan government is a great way to begin your travels by getting an understanding of the historic and current situation in the country. Right outside the museum is the former Amanullah Khan’s palace. Although it is essentially destroyed, it is still an impressive structure and is a reminder of Kabul’s better times.
Afghanistan’s third largest city, Herat is the best place in the country to experience Afghan culture and see some of its most important historic sites. Some places of interest are the citadel built by Alexander the Great, the Friday Mosque, and dozens of ancient cemeteries and shrines that hold the tombs of past Afghan Kings and other important leaders.
Located in the relatively peaceful north, Mazar Sharif is Afghanistan’s fourth largest city is also said to be the country’s most beautiful. The city is most famous for the Blue Mosque, called Hazrat Ali in Farsi, and is believed by Shi’ites to contain the tomb of the Prophet Ali. Also in the area is a former city built by Alexander the Great known as Balkh, where the 2,000 year old city walls still stand today.
Located only an hour north of Kabul in a small green valley, Istalif is a perfect day trip from Kabul. This friendly village is nationally famous for its love of art. The village’s main street is lined with multiple pottery and art shops making Istalif the best, if not only place in Afghanistan to purchase souvenirs!