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Trip Report: Northern Afghanistan (2012)

While I’d already toured part of Northern Afghanistan in 2011, I was thrilled to get a chance to visit a few more provinces. My uncles picked us up and we spent the day in three towns (Charikar, Kohistan, Qarabagh) across three provinces (Parwan, Kapisa, Kabul).

Before our journey, we stopped at a gas station, where the price of gas was very similar to that in the US. There aren’t a ton of gas stations out in the country, so its always best to fill up before heading out.

Kabul Gas Price

Kabul Gas Price: Roughly $1.10/liter

Across from the gas station, there were a few truck stops and fruit stands. Is the guy in the foreground super tall or is my mind playing tricks on me?

Northern Afghanistan

On the way to Parwan Province, we drove past the infamous tank graveyards again. Last year the air was dusty and I didn’t get a clear enough shot. Here’s a better picture:

Tank Graveyards Charikar

Tank Graveyards Charikar

We drove through Parwan Province, which Alexander the Great founded as his Alexandria of the Caucuses in 329 BC. It’s also the site of several important battles that were won against various invaders (the Monguls, Persians, British, and Russians to name a few).

Charikar, Parwan Province

Charikar, Parwan Province

Driving through Charikar

Locals of Charikar

Charikar Market

Napping on the job

Markets of charikar

Markets of Charikar

We stopped at a creek-side restaurant in Charikar for breakfast. Afghan cousin is not the healthiest. To demonstrate, a favorite breakfast dish is fried bread covered in sugar. You read that right. This is served with milktea with added pink dye and of course, more sugar. For some reason, we took it up a notch and ordered kebabs. An hour later when we arrived in Kohistan, we would again indulge in kebabs. Wish someone had told me this so I could have paced myself.

Kebabs for breakfast

Kebabs for breakfast

Creekside Restaurant in Charikar

Creekside Restaurant in Charikar

My uncle’s friend owns a property in rural Kohistan and invited us to use it for the day. Upon arrival, a group of boys immediately unloaded the trunk for us. A teenage boy asked my cousin for his car keys, claiming he didn’t want to disturb us if the car needed to be moved. Later, we learned the young man had taken the car for a joyride and left the tank completely empty.

Kohistan

Kohistan

Aside from this incident, we found the locals to be very hospitable and friendly. Several came out of their homes to smile and greet us warmly in Dari with “Khush hamaden” – “Welcome.”

The trek to the actual property was quite long and lined with irrigation ditches. I was thinking if anyone was going to fall in, it would be my sister – and sure enough, I was right! We finally made it to our picnic spot. It was kind of a letdown after walking through lush fields to end up in a dry, dusty, walled-off compound. My uncle thought this would be more private, especially with so many women in the group.

Picnic spot in Kohistan

Picnic spot in Kohistan

Soon, a group of children from the host family showed up with treats for us: Fresh baked bread, fruits, and later some dessert. These kids came back throughout our visit to clean up dishes and ask if we needed anything. We met a beautiful little girl with brown hair and blue eyes, and when my mom asked for her name, she surprised all of us with her response – “Victoria.” You don’t hear that every day in rural Afghanistan.

We sat under a berry tree and every time the wind blew, we’d get showered with berries. We washed and ate them, and they were delicious!

I can’t emphasize how slow time passes in Afghanistan. We got to relax for what felt like an entire day, barbequed, enjoyed our food, and still had time to visit two more provinces. Even with a bit of traffic on the way back, we made it home by about 10 PM.

After the picnic, we drove through Kohistan, which literally means “Land of Mountains.”

Kohistan, Kapisa Province

Land of Mountains

Kohistan, Kapisa Province

Kohistan, Kapisa Province

Kohistan, Kapisa Province

Kohistan, Kapisa Province

After this, we ended up back in Charikar, where we ordered home made ice cream and had it delivered to our car. Kind of like at a Sonic Drive-in, minus the skates and with glass bowls instead of cones.

Charikar, Parwan Province

Stores in Charikar, Parwan Province

Charikar, Parwan Province

Markets of Charikar, Parwan Province

We came across this boy who had blonde hair and blue eyes, which threw me off. My dad tells me blonde hair and blue eyes aren’t entirely uncommon in the north. I guess it’s an example of the region’s diversity.

Blonde haired boy in Charikar

Blonde haired boy in Charikar

Next, we made our way to Qarabagh, a small town near Kabul. My uncle told me about the fierce battles that had been fought between the Mujahideen and the Soviets in these mountains. It was definitely not safe to drive through back then.

Mountains in Qarabagh

Mountains in Qarabagh

Another hazard in this area? The unpaved streets! And I’m not talking about a little bit of gravel. We were driving on what felt like giant rocks. Not exactly a fun ride. The image below is of one of the more smoother areas we drove through.

Qarabagh Kabul Province

A relatively mellow road in Qarabagh Kabul Province

My uncle invited us for tea at this house in Qarabagh. His neighbor brought us tandoor-baked Bolani along with home-made yogurt, which he picked up from a Kochai tribe camped out nearby. If you’re counting carbs in Afghanistan, you might as well stop at breakfast. When you go to someone’s house, it’s an insult not to eat anything, so I was forced to stuff myself beyond the norm.

Qarabagh, Afghanistan

The house had a wrap-around balcony that offered sweeping views of the tiny town. We stayed until it got dark, then headed back. The road we took back to Kabul had been newly paved and was definitely on par with the freeways in the US. Somebody did their job right, for once. We arrived at my aunt’s house, tired, but with wonderful memories of all the sights we enjoyed that day.

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Ariana Arghandewal

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