Qargha is about five miles from Kabul, but takes 20 minutes to reach because of traffic in the city. It’s a very peaceful little town with a large lake and reservoir. The entrance to Qargha is sponsored by Azizi Bank. No kidding – it actually says “Welcome to Qargha”, surrounded by Azizi Bank’s logos. This constant and senseless advertising is one of the more obnoxious things about Kabul and the surrounding area.
Right past the Welcome sign, there is a place called “Golf Club.” I figured it was just a restaurant, but my dad says its an actual golf club…where you can play golf. On a dry course. I don’t know anything about golf, but if you’re a golfer with a conscience, here’s an environmentally friendly option for you.
During my previous visit in 2011, the lake was dried up, so it was nice to see it filled and the local area thriving. There was even a makeshift amusement park which doesn’t look all that safe, but I’m sure keeps the kids in the area entertained.
I noticed several new homes being built around the lake. Anytime you see an enormous home or establishment in Kabul, it’s pretty much assumed that the owner is 1.) A former warlord who still wields considerable power, 2.) A government official, or 3.) Someone involved in legitimate trade or business – though in this case it was probably the first one.
We went to the same restaurant as before and ordered kebabs, which were not very good. Besides us, there were a few other families lounging around, eating Sheer Yakh (Afghan home made ice cream).
During our meal, someone brought up Spogmai Restaurant, which was next door. My dad remarked how well kept it was, despite being several decades old, and asked if we wanted to go there for Sheer Yakh. My cousin had objections, because he claimed alot of “lowlives” hung around that place. He didn’t think it would be appropriate to go there with their wives and daughters in tow. My dad didn’t think this was accurate and insisted we would be fine. Plus, most of the seating was fairly private and comfortable for families. So we headed next door.
At the gate, a security guard charged us a $2 per person “entrance fee.” This entitled each person to a free drink, so it wasn’t really a fee so much as a forced purchase. We walked past the parking lot and towards the main building, where an armed guard sat casually. My cousins’s young son shook the guard’s hand, which he found very amusing. We headed outside, where we found plenty of seating, but nothing very private. We settled on a nice spot right by the water. Across from us was a large gazebo, where a group of young men were smoking hookas. All the seating was taken up by a mix of families and men traveling in packs. Some of the men in groups ordered beer, which the waiters openly carried on their trays.
The waiter brought us menus and I immediately noticed a few mistakes.
First, what is the difference between a family salad, a medium salad, and a fresh salad? Aren’t they all supposed to be fresh? Why is “Black tea and cake” a menu item, when green tea and cake are separate items? Why are you forced to order black tea with cake, when green tea is available by itself? What is Qailon?
I decided the waiter should at least be made aware of the items foreigners would find most confusing: Red Ball, Four Session Juice, and Cold Milk. Was the menu really offering milk, or is this a literal translation of Sheer Yakh (i.e. Afghan ice cream)? He explained that “Cold Milk” did in fact refer to Sheer Yakh. I suggested they change this to “Afghan Ice Cream”, since it’s listed under soft drinks and might confuse tourists. He admitted tourists did in fact find it confusing, that the restaurant was aware of these spelling/translation errors, and was in the process of correcting its menu. He was very polite and professional while serving us.
Thinking back, the restaurant had a similar vibe as the Intercontinental Hotel, which we visited two days before it came under attack. Maybe that was a bad omen, because just a week after our visit, as we were having breakfast in the club lounge of the Hyatt Regency Dubai, a newsflash appeared: Lake Restaurant Near Kabul Under Attack. I immediately searched online and found it was in fact Spogmai Restaurant. Insurgents had attacked the place, citing the debauchery that took place regularly. In addition to breaking the law and putting innocent patrons in danger, the restaurant owner (a former warlord) was stupid to do this in a conservative community in one of the most conservative countries in the world.
Twenty people died in the attack. Some patrons jumped in the lake and swam to safety. It’s sad to think the parking lot attendant and guard were among the victims. Moreover, I felt for the waiters, who hustled back and forth to the restaurant next door, carrying heavy trays.
We left the restaurant and ran out of gas on the way to Paghman. Thankfully, the car stopped right across from a gas station and we were able to refuel and be on our way. A group of boys walked past us with colorfully decorated bikes. I asked one of them if he’d stop for a photo, and he proudly showed off his bike:
We drove off and about a mile down the road I noticed a group of boys walking by the side of the road. We were awfully close, and just as I’d predicted, we ended up grazing one of the boys with our wing mirror. I was mortified. When I turned around, the kid smiled, rubbed his shoulder, and laughed it off. Like my mom says, “These people are made of steel.”