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Afghanistan

Afghanistan is a landlocked and mountainous country in the heart of Asia, bordered by Pakistan to the south and east, Iran to the west, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan to the north. There is a short border with China to the far northeast, but in extremely inaccessible terrain. The country has great many valleys.

Afghanistan has been the center of many powerful empires for the past 2,000 years. However, in the last 30 years the country has been in chaos due to major wars—from the Soviet invasion of 1979 to their withdrawal in 1989 and from warlordism to the removal of the Taliban in 2001 and the ensuing US/NATO invasion. Economically, Afghanistan is considered poor compared to many other nations of the world. The country is currently going through a nationwide rebuilding process.

Regions

Note

English spellings of Afghan place names vary. For example, Q may replace K as in Qandahar or Qunduz. Kunduz will be seen spelled as Konduz, Qunduz, Qundoz, Qundoze and variations on these. Bamiyan is often spelled as Bamian or Bamyan. Khowst may be spelt as Khost.

Cities

  • Kabul - in the east, the capital city
  • Bamiyan - The remains of the Buddhas. Once considered one of the wonders of the world, these tall stone carvings were destroyed by the Taliban in a notorious act of cultural vandalism.
  • Ghazni - in the south-east, between Kabul and Kandahar
  • Herat - in the west, gateway to Iran, has a strong Persian influence and several interesting historical sites
  • Jalalabad - in the east, between Kabul and the Khyber Pass
  • Kandahar - a Taliban-influenced southern city, not safe for travel at this time
  • Kunduz - A major city in the northeast, and crossing point to Tajikistan
  • Mazar-e Sharif - home to the impressively tiled Blue Mosque, and the staging point for trips into Uzbekistan

Other destinations

  • Balkh - Once one of the greatest cities in the region and capital of ancient Bactria. Although much of it lies in ruins, the remaining architectural and cultural elements remain little changed since Alexander the Great set foot there.
  • Band-e Amir National Park - 5 stunningly turquoise lakes in a remote and beautiful setting, not far from Bamiyan.
  • The Khyber Pass is the gateway to India, historic route of invasion and trade.
  • The Minaret of Jam is well off the beaten path but some say worth the journey - possible as a roundtrip from Herat or when traversing the Central Route from Herat to Kabul.
  • Panjshir Valley - a beautiful trekking area, leading to the famous Anjuman Pass.
  • The Salang Pass is a high mountain pass and tunnel linking Kabul to the north.
  • Shamali Plain north of Kabul. Shamali, meaning "windy" or "northern", is a green plain which produced a lot of the food for central Afghanistan. From Kabul it extends north through Charikar, Parwan province to Jabal os Saraj. The Taliban destroyed the irrigation systems and it is only just beginning to recover.
  • Gardez - a beautiful major town in a mountain valley southeast of Kabul.

Understand

Afghanistan has spent the last 3 decades in the news for all the wrong reasons. While visiting has not been advisable for several years, it has much to offer the intrepid traveller. That said, even the more adventurous should consider looking elsewhere for thrill-seeking at the moment.

Climate

Temperatures in the central highlands are below freezing for most of the winter, and snow is common at higher elevations. Summertime highs in lower elevations (such as Jalalabad or Mazar-e Sharif) can exceed 50°C/120°F. In higher areas such as Kabul, summer temperatures can be 30°C/90°F and winter around 0°C/30°F. The most pleasant weather in Kabul is during April, May and September.

Terrain

Mostly rugged mountains; plains in north and southwest. The Hindu Kush mountains run northeast to southwest, dividing the northern provinces from the rest of the country, with the highest peaks found in the northern Wakhan Corridor. South of Kandahar is desert.

The lowest point is Amu Darya at 258 m, and the highest is Nowshak at 7,485 m.

People

Afghanistan is an ethnically diverse country. Tribal and local allegiances are strong, which complicates national politics immensely.

The largest ethnic group is the Pashtun, followed by Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek and others.

Baloch tribesmen, still largely nomadic, can be found anywhere between Quetta in Pakistan and Mashad in Iran, including much of western Afghanistan. They make marvellous rugs, if somewhat simple.

There are thousands of Hindus and Sikhs living in different cities but mostly in Kabul, Jalalabad, and Kandahar who belong to the Punjabi, Sindhi, Kabuli, and Kandhari ethnic groups.

Hazaras in the central mountains look much more Asiatic than other Afghans. According to some theories, they are descended from Genghis Khan's soldiers.

The two largest linguistic groups speak Pashto and Dari (Afghan Persian). Pashto speakers predominate in the south and east, Dari in the north, west and central Afghanistan. About 11% of the population have Turkic languages, Uzbek. or Turkmen, as their first language. Many of them are in the north, near Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Minor native language groups include Nuristanis, Pashais and Pamiris, found in small pockets in the east and northeast.

History

Mir Wais Hotak rose up against the Persians in 1709 and established the Hotaki dynasty, with its capital at Kandahar. It later included what is now Iran and Iraq but the Hotaki dynasty collapsed in 1738. In 1747, Ahmad Shah Durrani re-established Afghanistan and expanded it to include much of Pakistan as well as northeastern Iran and the Western parts India. The country has a long history of warfare, mostly against invaders such as Darius I, Alexander of Macedon, Persians, Arabs, Turks, Mongols, and the British. Its recent history is no exception.

In 1919, Afghanistan established independence as an emirate until a kingdom was proclaimed by Amanullah Khan as king who attempted to modernise the country through Western designs. In 1933, Mohammed Zahir Shah succeeded to the throne and ruled the country until 1973, when the constitutional monarchy was overthrown in a coup and the country became a republic.

After the April 1978 revolution and successful coup by pro-Communist forces, the Soviet Union invaded in December 1979 to support the new socialist government. By February 1989 all Soviet forces withdrew from the country but fighting continued between Soviet-backed Afghan government forces and mujahideen rebels, who were funded by the United States, Saudi Arabia and others while trained by Pakistan and Iran.

The Taliban grew out of this chaos in late 1994, providing a solution to what was by this time a civil war. Backed by foreign sponsors, and inspired by a conservative sect of Islam, the Taliban developed as a political force to end the civil war and bring security to the country. They seized the capital of Kabul in late 1996 and controlled most of the country by 2000, aside from some areas in the northeast.

After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the US, the Taliban refused to hand over Osama bin Laden or other al-Qaeda militants to the United States, though they did offer to try Osama in their own shariah court if the US government shared "solid evidence" of his alleged guilt with them, and also expressed willingness in principle to consider extraditing Osama to a neutral country for a trial before a shariah court there if such an action would stave off US-led invasion. The US refused to share whatever evidence they had with the Taliban and considered the Taliban's offers insufficient, so they and their allies chose to take military action with support from anti-Taliban Afghans — mainly Kazakhs and Kirghiz from the north of the country who fought in the Northern Alliance — causing the Taliban's government to fall in December 2001.

That same month, representatives from all ethnic groups of Afghanistan met in Germany and agreed to form a new government with Hamid Karzai as Chairman of the Afghan Interim Authority. Following a nationwide election in 2004, Hamid Karzai was elected as President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. A year later, in 2005, legislative elections were held and the country's parliament began functioning again. In addition to occasionally violent political jockeying and ongoing military action to root out anti-government elements, the country suffers from widespread election fraud, poverty, corruption, and opium cultivation.

In 2005, Afghanistan and the US signed a strategic partnership agreement committing both nations to a long-term relationship. In 2012, Afghanistan and the US signed another more important strategic partnership agreement. It also signed strategic partnership agreements with India, the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, and many other nations. In the mean time, around 50 billion US dollars is being spent on the reconstruction of the country.

Electricity

Officially 220V 50 Hz. Electricity supplies are erratic, but slowly improving in major cities. Voltage can drop to below 150V in some places. The Afghans' enthusiasm for homemade generators or modifying low quality ones means that the frequency and voltage can also vary wildly.

There are three types of electrical outlets likely to be found in Afghanistan. They are the old British standard BS-546 and the newer British standard BS-1363. But the European standard CEE-7/7 "Schukostecker" or "Schuko" is the standard and obviously most common. Generally speaking, U.S. and Canadian travellers should pack adapters for these outlets if they plan to use North American electrical equipment in Afghanistan. You may also find cheap universal adapters in the local markets.

Read

  • Afghan Scene Magazine
  • A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush by Eric Newby – a hilarious account of pioneer trekking in Nuristan in the 1950s
  • The Places In Between by Rory Stewart – a fascinating post 9/11 travelogue of Stewart's walk from Herat to Kabul just after the fall of the Taliban.
  • The Kite Runner by Khalid Hosseini – a beautiful and heartbreaking tale of childhood in Afghanistan
  • Good Morning Afghanistan by Waseem Mahmood - a true account of the setting up of the first public radio station in Kabul after the Taliban fell.
  • An Unexpected Light: Travels in Afghanistan by Jason Elliot—a true travelogue from the period between the expulsion of the Soviets and the ascension of the Taliban. He went everywhere.
  • For a Pagan Song by Jonny Bealby - a brilliant account of the author's journey to retrace the footsteps of Rudyard Kipling's heroes in The Man Who Would Be King to discover the land of Kafiristan and the people who inhabit the region.

Get in

Visas

Most visitors need to apply for a visa in advance, and they are often easier to obtain than you might expect. See the Afghanistan Foreign Ministry's visa webpage.

By plane

Kabul International Airport (IATA: KBL) in Kabul is the main entry point to the country. In late 2008, the barely functioning old terminal was refurbished and is now being used for domestic flights, while the brand new Japanese-constructed terminal is up and running and fielding international flights.

The national carrier, Ariana Afghan Airlines, is flying with a small fleet of about 14 Airbuses and Boeings (plus Antonovs). They have daily flights from Dubai, and periodic flights from Frankfurt, Islamabad, Delhi, Istanbul, Baku and Tehran. Ariana is particularly bad at keeping to schedules, flights can be cancelled or delayed without notice.

A better option is the independent operator Kam Air, which has twice daily flights from Dubai, twice weekly flights from Delhi and weekly flight from Almaty, Istanbul and Mashad. Some of the flights on the Dubai to Kabul route stop in Herat if you'd prefer to enter the country there. Safi Air also provides flights between Dubai and Kabul. They are the only safety-accredited airline in Afghanistan. Safi is the only Afghan airline allowed to fly into Europe and has direct flights to Frankfurt. The service is good and planes are sound. Staff are professional.

Air Arabia flies 4 times per week from Sharjah - however they have currently suspended operations. Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flies 4 times per week from Islamabad and 1 time per week from Peshawar to Kabul. Another route in may be via through Tehran or Mashad in Iran. Iran Air has periodic flights from Tehran to Kabul. Air India operates six flights a week from Delhi to Kabul. Turkish Airlines also began flights between Kabul and Istanbul in 2011.

Flights to other cities such as Mazar-e Sharif may be available if you can hook up with the charter company PACTEC however seating is very limited.

By car

There are a number of roads into Afghanistan:

  • From Peshawar, Pakistan via the Khyber Pass to Jalalabad, in the east.
  • From Quetta, Pakistan to Kandahar, in the south.
  • From Mashad, Iran to Herat, in the west.
  • From Uzbekistan to Mazar-e Sharif, in the north.
  • From Tajikistan to Kunduz, in the northwest.

As of mid-2009, none of these routes could be considered safe. The Khyber and the Quetta to Kandahar route were particularly dangerous.

By bus

Buses run regularly between Jalalabad and Peshawar, Pakistan. Also, between Herat and Mashad, Iran. Afghani buses are thoroughly checked by Iranian border police for possible drugs, so expect delays.

Get around

By plane

Planes fly between Kabul and the major cities (Kandahar, Herat and Mazar-e Sharif) at varying frequency. If weather is suitable, flights are operated daily. Most flights depart cities in the mornings before 11 AM only. Civilian airplanes are not operated after sundown.

By car

There is a growing network of public transportation between the country's cities. Buses ply some routes and Toyota vehicles have a near monopoly on minivan (HiAce) and taxi (Corolla) transportation.

A new highway connects Kabul and Mazar-i-Sharif. The highway is in good condition and is considered "relatively" safe. The trip takes a minimum of 5 hr. The highway goes through the famous Salang Mountains and cross the Hindu Kush mountain ranges. If you hire a relatively new Toyota Corolla, this would cost you about USD100 (if bargained by a local) for one direction from the Mazar Station in Kabul to anywhere in Mazar-i-Sharif.

There is no metered taxi in large parts of Afghanistan. Taxis are yellow and clearly identifiable. You should normally strike a deal with the driver before you take a seat. You can consider 2–3 km of road in ideal conditions to be around USD1 worth (AFN50).

Jeeps and Land Cruisers are available for hire along with drivers who speak some English (do not keep your hopes high that you might bump into one of them). There are tour operators in Kabul that can provide a car and guide; these people are available for hire at the Kabul International Airport itself. Petrol stations are scarce in the countryside, and fuel is expensive.

Paved roads are the exception, not the rule, and even those roads can be in poor repair. Once outside the major cities expect dirt roads (which turn to mud during rain or snow melt). The highway between Kabul and Bagram is dominated by military convoys and "jingle trucks".

A new highway links Kabul to Kandahar. The highway is in good condition but should not be considered safe due to frequent attacks by anti-government forces such as the Taliban who often plant powerful mines (bombs) next to highways in which civilians are killed, and the poor standard of driving. The trip takes a minimum of 5 hours.

Talk

Pashto and Dari, an Afghan dialect of Persian, are the official languages of Afghanistan; many Afghans speak both. The latest CIA country profile mentions that Dari is spoken by about 50%, mainly in the Kabul, Herat, Mazar-e Sharif and Central Afghanistan regions. Pashto is spoken by 35%, mainly in the south and east; it is also spoken in neighbouring Pakistan. The remaining are Turkic native language, primarily Uzbek and Turkmen, and there are also 30 minor languages such as Balochi. You'll find a few people in Kabul who speak a little English, but otherwise it isn't widely understood.

The English language is at its apex in Afghanistan. The percentage of those who now speak some English has reached unprecedented rates. President Karazai and his cabinet are fluent in English. English was taught in the past from the 7th grade, but now is taught from the fourth grade. Signs in English in the streets are becoming common now all over the country. English is the second foreign language in Afghanistan.

Buy

Money

The Afghani (AFN) is the currency of Afghanistan, denoted by the symbol "Af" or "?" (ISO code: AFN).

Carpets

Haggling is very much part of the tradition.

Afghanistan's most famous products are carpets. There are carpets described as "Afghan", but also at least two other carpet-weaving traditions. The Baluchi tribes in the south and west weave fine rugs, and the Turkoman tribes in the north do as well; both groups are also found in neighbouring countries. All three types tend to use geometric patterns in the design, usually with red as the background colour and with repeated elements called "guls" to make the pattern. Generally, these are not as finely woven as carpets from the cities of neighbouring Iran. However, many of them are quite beautiful and their prices are (assuming good haggling) well below those of the top Iranian carpets.

  • Baluchi rugs are usually small since nomadic people cannot use large looms; sizes up to 1.5 by 2 metres (4 x 7 feet) are common, but not many beyond that. They are popular with travellers because they are fairly portable. One very common type is a prayer rug, just large enough for one person to kneel facing Mecca. Another is the "nomad's chest of drawers" — a bag, often beautifully decorated, that is a saddlebag when travelling and hangs on the wall of the tent when camped.
  • Turkoman rugs, often labelled "Bokhara" in the Western rug trade, come in all sizes and a very broad range of quality. Some are woven by nomads, with the same range of sizes and types as Baluchi rugs. Others are made in city workshops; the best of these are almost as finely woven and almost as expensive as top-grade Persian carpets. One fairly common design is the Hatchli, a cross shape on a large rug.
  • Afghan rugs are generally made in city workshops, mainly for the export trade. They are often large; 3 x 4 metres (10 x 12 feet) is common. Most are quite coarsely woven to keep costs down, but others have a fairly fine weave. If you need a big rug for the living room at a moderate price, these are likely to be your best choice.
"Golden Afghan" rugs were fairly common in Western countries a few decades back; they were invented by Western dealers who bleached Afghan carpets to eliminate the red colour, leaving a blue or black on orange or gold design. They are rare in Afghanistan, where the traditional colours are preferred. In the West, collectors also prefer the traditional colours and bleached rugs generally bring a lower price. Also, the "golden" rugs may not wear as well as unbleached rugs since bleaching can damage the fibres. In most cases, they should be avoided.

It is fairly common for rugs woven by nomads — such as many Baluchi rugs and some Turkoman — to show minor irregularities. The loom is dismantled for transport and re-assembled at the new camp, so the rug may not turn out perfectly rectangular. Vegetable dyes are often used, and these may vary from batch to batch, so some colour variation (arbrash) occurs and this may be accentuated as the rug fades. To collectors, most such irregularities fall into the "that's not a bug; it's a feature" category; they are expected and accepted. In fact, a nice arbrash can considerably increase the value of a rug.

Turkoman designs are widely copied; it is common to see "Bokhara" carpets from India or Pakistan, China produces some, and the Afghan carpet designs show heavy Turkoman influence. To collectors, though, the original Turkoman rugs are worth a good deal more. Good Baluchi rugs are also quite valuable in Western countries. Afghan rugs, or lower grade Baluchi and Turkoman rugs, generally are not collectors' items; most travellers will find the best buys among these. Experts might pay premium prices for the top-grade rugs, but amateurs trying that are very likely to get severely overcharged.

Kelims are flat-woven fabric with no pile. These are nowhere near as tough as carpets and will not survive decades on the floor as a good carpet will. However, some are lovely, and they are generally cheaper than carpets. Things like purses made of carpet or decorated with kelim weave are also common.

Shopping

Another common product and popular souvenir is the Afghan sheepskin coat. These have the wool on the inside for warmth and the leather on the outside to block wind, rain and snow. They often have lovely embroidery. Two cautions, though. One is that the makers use the embroidery to hide flaws in the leather; top-quality coats will have little or no embroidery. The other is that Australian customs have been known to incinerate these coats on arrival, to protect their large sheep population from diseases (notably anthrax) that poorly tanned Afghan products might carry.

There are also various bits of metalwork — heavily decorated pots, vases and platters, and some quite nice knives.

Guns are very common in Afghanistan and some are of considerable interest to historians and collectors.

  • The traditional Afghan jezail is a long muzzle-loading rifle often elaborately inlaid with brass or mother-of-pearl. Be cautious about actually firing one of these. The genuine ones are quite old, perhaps with metal fatigue or other problems. Many of the jezails available are not genuine, just copies made recently for the tourist trade; these were never designed to be fired and are more likely to kill the shooter than to hit a target.
  • There are also pass-made rifles, from the Khyber Pass area. The most common are copies of the 19th century British army Martini-Henry rifle, a single-shot lever action weapon. Some are .451 caliber like the original Martini-Henry, but some take a more modern round. .303 is common. Until the Russian invasion in the late 70s — when anyone who could kill a Russian, rob an armoury, or pay the price (i.e., almost any Afghan) got an AK-47 — these were the most common rifle in Afghanistan. There are also pass-made copies of various other guns, anything from Webley revolvers to AK-47s. Quality is often dodgy, in particular the steel is often of low quality, and firing any of these guns is risky. Ammunition made in the pass often contained less powder or lower-grade powder than the standard ammo; some pass-made guns blow up if subjected to the higher stress of standard ammo.

These make a rather problematic souvenir. Importing a firearm anywhere can be difficult and it may be impossible in some places. If you are travelling overland and passing through several countries before you reach home, it is almost certainly not worth the trouble. Also, if you actually fire any Afghan gun, there is a risk that it will blow up in your face.

See

While ongoing violence has put an almost full stop to tourism in Afghanistan, the lack of visitors has nothing to do with the country's sights. This is a land full of mystical attractions, telling tales of ancient times and offering beautiful Islamic architecture, medieval city quarters and unexpectedly stunning nature.

Several sites are listed on UNESCO's World Heritage List. Most famous of course, were the ancient Buddhist sculptures of Bamiyan. The Taliban destroyed most of the 6th century statues in a cultural crime that outraged the world. Today, what remains in the Bamiyan valley is the silencing and still worthwhile sight of the empty niches. The salvaged pieces of what were once the largest statues of their kind in the world continue to provide a fascinating insight in the history of this place. Band-e Amir National Park, with its six interlinked lakes, is perhaps the finest natural attraction. At an altitude of 2900 meters, the blue waters in this protected natural area almost seem unreal against the sandy mountain sides that surround them.

Excellent mosques are to be found all around, with particularly grand examples in Mazar-i-Sharif and in the rapidly developing Herat. The Minaret of Jam, just north of Herat, is UNESCO listed.

Do

Eat

There are three main types of Afghan bread:

  • Naan - Literally "bread". Thin, long and oval shaped, its mainly a white/whole wheat blend. Topped with poppy seeds, sesame seeds, nigella seeds, or some combination of these. Upon request, customers may be able to get all white flour and a helping of oil, which makes it rich and delicious.
  • Obi Non - Uzbek-style bread. Shaped like a disc and thicker than naan. Usually made with white flour.
  • Lavash - Very thin bread. Similar to the lavash elsewhere. Usually used as plating for meats and stews.

Rice dishes are the "king" of all foods in Afghanistan. The Afghans have certainly taken much time and effort in creating their rice dishes, as they are considered the best part of any meal. Wealthier families will eat one rice dish per day. The Afghan royalty spent much time on rice preparation and invention as evidenced in the sheer number of rice dishes in their cookbooks. Weddings and family gatherings must feature several rice dishes and certainly reputations can be made in the realm of rice preparation.

  • Kabuli Pulao (or Kabuli Palaw, Qabili Palaw, Qabili Palau or simply Palau) - An Afghan rice dish consisting of steamed rice mixed with lentils, raisins, carrots, and lamb. It is baked in the oven and topped with fried sliced carrots and raisins. Chopped nuts like pistachios or almonds may be added as well. The meat is covered by the rice or buried in the middle of the dish. It is the most popular dish in Afghanistan, and is considered the national dish.
  • Chalao-White rice. Extra long grains such as Basmati is required. First parboiled, then drained, and finally baked in an oven with some oil, butter, and salt. This method creates a fluffy rice with each grain separated, unlike Chinese or Japanese rice. Chalao is served mainly with qormas (korma; stews or casseroles)
  • Palao - Cooked the same as chalao, but either meat & stock, qorma, herbs, or a combination are blended in before the baking process. This creates elaborate colors, flavors, and aromas for which some rices are named after. Caramelized sugar is also sometimes used to give the rice a rich brown color.
  • Yakhni Palao - Meat & stock added. Creates a brown rice.
  • Zamarod Palao - Spinach qorma mixed in before the baking process, hence 'zamarod' or emerald.
  • Qorma Palao - Qorm'eh Albokhara wa Dalnakhod mixed in before the baking process
  • Bore Palao - Qorm'eh Lawand added. Creates a yellow rice.
  • Bonjan-e-Roomi Palao - Qorm'eh Bonjan-e-Roomi (tomato qorma) added at baking process. Creates a red rice.
  • Serkah Palao - Similar to yakhni palao, but with vinegar and other spices.
  • Shebet Palao - Fresh dill, raisins added at baking process.
  • Narenj Palao - A sweet and elaborate rice dish made with saffron, orange peel, pistachios, almonds and chicken.
  • Maash Palao - A sweet and sour palao baked with mung beans, apricots, and bulgur (a kind of wheat). Exclusively vegetarian.
  • Alou Balou Palao - Sweet rice dish with cherries and chicken.
  • Sticky Rices -Boiled medium grain rice cooked with its meat, herbs, and grains. Because the water is not drained, it forms a sticky rice texture. Notable dishes include Mastawa, Kecheri Qoroot, and Shola. When white rice is cooked to a sticky consistency it is called bata, and is usually eaten with a qorma, such as Sabzi (spinach) or Shalgham (turnips). A sweet rice dish called Shir Birenj (literally milk rice) is often served as dessert.

Qorma is a stew or casserole, usually served with chawol. Most qormas are onion-based. Onions are fried, then meat is added, as are a variety of fruits, spices, and vegetables depending on the recipe. Finally water is added and left to simmer. The onion caramelizes and creates a richly colored stew. There exist over 100 qormas.

  • Qorma Alou-Bokhara wa Dalnakhod - onion based, with sour plums, lentils, and cardamom. Veal or chicken.
  • Qorma Nadroo - onion based, with yogurt, lotus roots, cilantro, and coriander. Lamb or veal.
  • Qorma Lawand - onion based, with yogurt, turmeric, and cilantro. Chicken, lamb, or beef.
  • Qorma Sabzi - sauteed spinach and other greens. Lamb
  • Qorma Shalgham - onion based, with turnips, sugar; sweet and sour taste. Lamb.

Pasta is called "khameerbob" in Afghanistan and is often in the shape of dumplings. These native dishes are wildly popular. Due to the time-consuming process of creating the dough for the dumplings, it is rarely served at large gatherings such as weddings, but for more special occasions at home:

  • Mantu - A dish of Uzbek origin. Dumplings filled with onion & ground beef. Mantu is steamed and usually topped with a tomato-based sauce and a yogurt or qoroot-based sauce. The yogurt-based topping is usually a mixture of yogurt, sour cream, and garlic. The qoroot based sauce is made of goat cheese and is also mixed with garlic. Sometimes a qoroot and yogurt mixture will be used. The dish is then topped with dried mint.
  • Ashak - Kabul dish. Dumplings filled with leeks. Boiled and then drained. Ashak is topped with garlic-mint qoroot or a garlic yogurt sauce and a well seasoned ground meat mixture.
  • Afghan kebab is most often found in restaurants and outdoor vendor stalls. Sometimes they are put into shishas. Families rarely serve homemade kebab in their home due to the need of inaccessible equipment. The most widely used meat is lamb. Recipes differ with every restaurant, but Afghan kebab is usually marinated with a blend of spices, and served with naan, rarely rice. Customers have the option to sprinkle sumac, locally known as ghora, on their kebab. The quality of kebab is solely dependent on the quality of the meat. Pieces of fat from the sheep's tail (jijeq) are usually added with the lamb skewers to add extra flavor.Other popular kebabs include lamb chops, ribs, kofta (ground beef) and chicken; all of which are found in better restaurants.
  • Chapli kebab, a specialty of eastern Afghanistan, is a fried hamburger. The original recipe of chapli kebab dictates a half meat (or less), half flour mixture, which renders it lighter in taste, and less expensive.
  • Bolani, made in a very similar way as Mexican Quesadilla.

Desserts and Snacks

  • Baklava
  • Afghan Cake (similar to pound cake sometimes with real fruit or jelly inside)
  • Gosh Feel (thin, fried pastry covered in powdered sugar and ground pistachios)
  • Fernea (Milk and cornstarch very sweet, similar to rice pudding without the rice)
  • Mou-rubba (fruit sauce, sugar syrup and fruits, apple, sour cherry, various berries or made with dried fruits "Afghan favorite is the Alu-Bakhara")
  • Kulcha (Variety of cookies, baked in clay ovens with char-wood)
  • Narenge Palau (dried sweet orange peel and green raisins with a variety of nuts mixed with yellow rice glazed with light sugar syrup)

Drink

Since Afghanistan is an Islamic country, alcohol consumption is illegal. However, it is tolerated in Western restaurants in Kabul.

Sleep

Hotels and guesthouses are available in all major cities, and while some may not meet international standards they are usually friendly and reliable.

Work

Many foreigners are finding well-paid work in Afghanistan as part of the reconstruction efforts. Often with the UN or other non-governmental organisations. Most of these jobs are within Kabul. Local wages are very low, especially outside of Kabul. However, everyone should read and understand the travel advice published by their respective governments or in the Stay safe section below. You will need a work visa if you are planning on working on a US military base.

Stay safe

Afghanistan is a volatile country, and downright dangerous in the southern and eastern areas. Non-essential travel is strongly discouraged. Banditry is some what of an ancient tradition in many parts of the country, including in the northern areas. In addition to that, the Taliban insurgents have declared abduction of foreigners to be one of their primary goals. In July 2007, twenty-three Koreans were kidnapped from a public bus in Ghazni province, south of Kabul. Two of them were murdered while the rest were set free several weeks later after controversial negotiations with the Korean government.

The northern part of the country is considered to be safer than the south and east; however, occasional incidents can still occur anywhere and a seemingly safe place can become the opposite in an instant. Several reporters for German media were killed in the northern parts of Afghanistan, most likely by criminals or anti-westerners. 10 doctors (8 foreigners and 2 translators) were murdered in August 2010.

Landmines and other UXO (Unexploded Ordnance) remain a problem across the country, so plan to stick to well-worn paths, avoid red and white painted rocks, and do not touch or move any suspicious-looking item. According to the Afghan Red Crescent Society, approximately 600-700 people are injured or killed every year in accidents due to landmines and UXO. This is greatly reduced from over 1,600 in 2002. While travelling in Afghanistan you are likely to see mine clearance organisations at work.

Insects and snakes are also something to be careful of, and the mountainous country has many vicious tiny creatures such as scorpions, spiders, centipedes, bees, etc.

In some areas, altitude sickness is a significant risk.

Homosexual activity between consenting adults is punishable by an assortment of harsh punishments, including death, under Afghan law. LGBT travelers should exercise tremendous discretion.

If, after considering the risks, you still choose to travel in Afghanistan, hiring an armed escort or travelling with an experienced guide are ways to decrease the risks. You should also check with your embassy, and be clear on what they can and cannot do for you in an emergency.

See also: War zone safety

Stay healthy

Afghanistan has its fair share of health issues, and it would be wise to consult a travel doctor ahead of your trip about vaccinations and health risks. Respiratory diseases such as tuberculosis and food-related illness are common, and malaria is a risk in many parts of the country.

Afghanistan is one of the dustiest countries in the world, and you should be prepared to be covered in it and breathing it for most of your stay, even in the major cities. Pollution from diesel engines can also make life unpleasant.

Flies are notoriously heinous here, likely due to poor sanitation. Winter brings some relief, but they come back full-strength when spring arrives.

Food should be approached with a discerning eye, as hygiene standards can often be lacking. Hot, freshly cooked food is generally safer. Bottled water is also advised, unless you have your own purification system.

Bring any prescription medicine you may need from your home country, and don't count on being able to find it locally. You may also consider carrying pain relievers and anti-diarrheals, as they'll be hard to find outside of major cities.

As in most parts of Asia, squat toilets are the norm, with toilet paper optional and sometimes scarce. Western-style toilets are seen occasionally in newer buildings and some private homes.

Respect

  • While the majority of women across Afghanistan still wear the burqa or chadori, in cities like Kabul and Herat many opt for the Middle Eastern style hijab. Western women are highly encouraged to wear any type of head scarf (especially outside Kabul). As a general rule, the people get more conservative as you move further south.

Connect

Fixed line service is available in major cities (digital in Kabul) and mobile phones in most cities. SIM cards are available and international calls to Europe/US typically cost less than USD0.5/minute. Outside of major cities your options are limited to a satellite phone.

An Afghanistan number should is of the form +93 30 539-0605 where "93" is the country code for Afghanistan, the next two digits are the area code and the remaining 7 digits are the "local" part of the subscriber number that can be called from within that particular area code using abbreviated dialing. You need to dial "0" in front of the geographic area code (of 20, 30, 40, 50 or 60 for fixed lines) from outside that particular area code (but when still within Afghanistan).

Mobile phones

Mobile numbers in Afghanistan must always be dialed with all digits (10 digits, including a "0" prefixing the "70n" within Afghanistan), no matter where they are being called from. The 70n is a mobile prefix, not an "area code", as such and the third digit (the n part) denotes the original mobile network assigned. An example mobile number looks like +93 700-202-496.

  • Roshan +93 (0) 79 997 1333. The most reliable service with the widest coverage. SMS is possible to most countries. SIM cards cost USD5, local calls are AFN5/minute (10 cents/min).
  • Afghan Wireless Privately owned with 20% ownership by the government. AWCC has the only communications ring around the country offering high speed mobile and data services throughout all provinces. AWCC also offers the highest speed fibre-based connections to the outside world, with roaming to over 300 other operators in 120 countries. Services include Voice, FAX, GPRS and EDGE data services along with WiMAX and dedicated high speed internet service with 45MB links to NYC and 45MB links to Paris. SIM cards cost USD1, local calls are AFN4.99/minute billing in seconds.
  • Areeba/MTN +93 (0) 77 222 2777. The cheapest cell service, offers the least coverage. SIM cards cost USD3, local calls are AFN5.5/minute.
  • Etisalat +93 (0) 78 688 8888. A large network provider from the UAE, is the latest GSM network in Afghanistan. It became the first company to begin 3G services in early 2012.

Satellite phones

  • Thuraya is the most reliable.

Hiking in Afghanistan

I’m Going Trekking in Afghanistan

Afghanistan

After a year of extensive planning, I’m heading into the mountains of Afghanistan. And you can follow along.

I’m back from Afghanistan! Will be writing about my experience shortly… please subscribe for updates.

No, this isn’t a joke. And no, I haven’t lost my mind.

Do you have a travel bucket list? Yeah, so do I. A big one. And for the past 2 years, there’s been one country peering down at me from the very top.

Afghanistan.

Well I’m finally off to explore some incredibly remote & mountainous tribal areas of Afghanistan for the next few weeks. Hiking and camping through one of the most isolated locations on Earth.

Completely off the grid. No cell phone. No wifi.

Sounds scary, doesn’t it?

That’s because all most of us ever hear about Afghanistan is doom & gloom from the evening news. But there’s another side to the country, one that doesn’t get shared enough. A beautiful, hospitable, and adventurous side.

This is the Afghanistan I’m off to find, and report back on.

The other Afghanistan…

Are You Crazy?!

I’ve never been more excited to visit a new country then I am right now… but honestly I’m a bit nervous too. Even though I think I’m immune to sensational news coverage, and know that the area I’ll be traveling in is relatively safe — Afghanistan is still considered a war zone.

What you may not realize is that Afghanistan does get some tourism. Not very much, but people do travel there. And they come back with amazing stories about both the people and the landscapes.

I’ve hired a trustworthy local guide to help me navigate through the wilderness and communicate with the people I meet on this journey. I want to learn about their lives, their customs, their hardships, their joys.

And then share what I’ve learned with you.

Where In Afghanistan?

I’ve decided to keep my exact location in Afghanistan semi-private from the online world for safety sake. Not that I think I’m in any real danger where I’ll be, but it’s good to play it safe anyways — just in case.

There are no Taliban or ISIS in the immediate region I’m traveling in. However the Taliban has been moving closer, which is one of the reasons I decided to embark on this trip sooner rather than later. It very well might not be possible next year. I didn’t want to take that chance.

When I return in September, I promise to share everything with you.

Follow Along!

I’m carrying a Delorme InReach Explorer Satellite Communicator as I trek through the mountains of Afghanistan for the next few weeks.

This amazing technology helps keep me safe in case of an emergency, while also giving me the ability to share my adventure with you from one of the most remote locations on Earth!

I will be attempting to send text-message style satellite updates/stories to my Expert Vagabond Facebook Page on a regular basis.

So go check it out if want to see what I’m up to in Afghanistan.

There is a small chance the military will take away my GPS device, so don’t freak out if you don’t see any messages. I’ll just have to report back once I return from the trip.

Watch Video: I’m Going To Afghanistan…

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Blog comments are closed — but feel free to join the discussion on my Facebook Page!

This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.

Travel Photography Tips

Useful Travel Photography Tips

Photography

Looking to improve your travel photography? I’ve spent the last 5 years shooting photos in exotic locations around the world, and these are my favorite travel photography tips.

Some people collect souvenirs when they travel, I prefer to collect beautiful images with my camera. Travel photography is like a time machine, freezing memories from a journey that you can look back on and enjoy for years.

Every travel destination has its own look, culture, history, people, feelings, landscapes, and stories. Learning how to capture these subjects through photos helps convey the spirit of a place to others, giving them a glimpse of what it might be like to venture there.

I never went to school for photography. And yet here I am now, making my living as a professional travel blogger & photographer who regularly licenses images to tourism boards, brands, and occasionally glossy magazines.

I’ve slowly learned the techniques of travel photography over years of reading books, watching online tutorials, and regular practice to improve my craft. You can learn this way too — if you put in the effort!

Here are my favorite travel photography tips to improve your images.

Travel Photography Tips

Early Morning Blue Hour in Norway

Wake Up Early, Stay Out Late

The early bird gets the worm. I’m sure you’ve heard that phrase. Well it’s also very true for travel photography. Light is the most important ingredient for great photography — and soft, warm, morning light creates amazing images.

Waking up early also means you’ll have to deal with fewer tourists and other photographers. Want an epic postcard shot of a famous landmark like the ruins of Chichen Itza or the Taj Mahal? Just get there early right when it opens and you’ll pretty much have the place to yourself!

Sunrise isn’t the only time to catch good light. Sunsets are also great. The hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset are nicknamed “golden hours” because of their soft, warm tones and eye-pleasing shadows. “Blue hour”, is the hour after sunset (or before sunrise) when the sky is still blue, but city lights are turned on.

In comparison, shooting photos at noon on a bright sunny day is probably the absolute worst time for travel photography! In fact sometimes I’ll just take a nap during the middle of the day so I have more energy for early morning and evening photography missions, when the light is best.

Travel Photography Tips

Famous Postcard Location in Scotland

Pre-Trip Location Scouting

Read travel guidebooks about your destination. Scour the internet for articles and blog posts to help give you ideas for photos. Talk to friends who have been there. Reach out to other photographers. Become more knowledgeable about which images will capture the essence of a place.

Some of my favorite tools for travel photography research are Instagram and Google Image Search. I use them to learn where iconic locations are. Actual postcard racks are also a great tool for helping to create a “shot list”.

Once I know the names of potential photo locations, I’ll do more research. Which time of day has the best light? How difficult is it to reach certain vantage points? What time does an attraction open, and when will tourist traffic be low? What will the weather be like?

Wandering around with no plans has its place, but being well prepared with research beforehand saves time so you can fully commit to producing amazing travel photography once you’re there, and maximize your time.

Travel Photography Tips

Shooting Portraits in Afghanistan

Talk To People

Photographing local people in a foreign country is tough for many photographers. What if they don’t understand you? What if they say no? Will they get offended? It took me a couple years to get comfortable shooting portraits of locals, and even now I still get a bit nervous.

But I’ve learned the key is to talk to people first. Say hello. Ask for directions. Buy a souvenir. Compliment them on something. Chat for a few minutes BEFORE asking for a photo. It’s far less invasive this way.

Always ask permission for close-ups too. Spend 15 minutes learning how to say “can I make a photograph” or “can I take your portrait” in the local language before you arrive. People really appreciate the effort, and it’s a great way to make a new friend.

Some people will say no. Some will ask for money (I sometimes pay, but that’s up to you). It’s not the end of the world. Thank them for their time, smile, and move on to someone else and try again. Actually the more you get rejected, the easier it gets to ask!

Travel Photography Tips

Composition with Rule of Thirds

Rule Of Thirds

One of the most basic and classic of photography tips, understanding the Rule of Thirds will help you create more balanced compositions. Imagine breaking an image down into thirds horizontally and vertically, so it’s split into different sections.

The goal is to place important parts of the photo into those sections, and help frame the overall image in a way that’s pleasing to the eye.

For example, placing a person along the left grid line rather than directly in the center. Or keeping your horizon on the bottom third, rather than splitting the image in half. Remember to keep that horizon straight too!

Composing using the Rule of Thirds is easily done by turning on your camera’s “grid” feature, which displays a rule of thirds grid directly on your LCD screen specifically for this purpose.

Now, before you compose a travel photo, you should be asking yourself: What are the key points of interest in this shot? Where should I intentionally place them on the grid? Paying attention to these details will improve the look of your images.

Travel Photography Tips

Setting Up my Tripod in Mexico

Use A Tripod

I think more people should be using lightweight travel tripods. A tripod allows you to set your camera position and keep it there. With the camera fixed, you can then take your time arranging the perfect composition.

You can also adjust exposure settings, focus points, and really spend time paying attention to the image you want to create. Or use advanced techniques like HDR, focus stacking, and panoramas.

Tripods give you the ability to shoot much slower shutter speeds (waterfalls, low-light, stars, etc) without worrying about hand-held camera shake. You can keep your ISO low (for less sensor noise) and use smaller apertures, so more of the image is in focus.

You’ll have greater creative control over your camera’s manual settings when using a tripod. This doesn’t mean you have to lug a tripod around with you absolutely everywhere. I don’t.

But for tack sharp landscapes, low-light photography, self-portraits, flowing water shots, and sunsets/sunrises, a travel tripod makes a huge difference.

Travel Photography Tips

Get Low For A Different Angle

Experiment With Composition

You can almost always come up with a better photo composition after some experimentation. Sure, take that first shot standing up straight. But then try laying on the ground for a low angle. Maybe climb up something nearby and shoot from a higher angle.

Along with different angles, try shooting from different distances too. Start with a wide shot, then a mid-range version, and finally, get up-close and personal. Never be satisfied with your first idea for an image!

Try to include powerful foreground, midground, and background elements too. If your subject is a mountain range — find a flower, river, animal, or interesting rock to include in the foreground. This gives images a 3-dimensional feel and helps convey scale, drawing a viewer’s eye into the rest of the photo.

Focal compression is another great compositional tactic in travel photography. Compression is when a photographer uses a zoom lens to trick the eye into thinking objects are closer than they really are.

Travel Photography Tips

Shooting as a Storm Approaches

Make Photography A Priority

Attempting to take quick snapshots as you rush from one location to another will leave you with the same boring photos everyone else has. Make sure you plan “photography time” into your travel schedule. Good travel photography requires a solid time commitment on your part.

If you’re traveling with friends who aren’t into photography, it can be difficult to find the time necessary to create amazing images. You need to break off on your own for a few hours to make photography your priority. I often prefer to travel alone or with other dedicated photographers for this reason.

Good luck trying to explain to a non-photographer that you’d like to wait around for an extra 30 minutes until the clouds look better. It doesn’t go over well. For organized tours, try waking up early to wander alone for a few hours, getting photos before the tour starts.

Even better, splurge on a rental car for a travel photography road trip. This allows you to control when and where you stop for photos. There’s nothing worse than being stuck on a bus while passing an epic photo opportunity, powerless to stop and capture it!

Travel Photography Tips

Contemplating and Complimenting the View

The Human Element

People like to live vicariously through human subjects in photos. Especially if the viewer can pretend the person in the photo is them. It adds more emotion to an image, you feel like you’re experiencing the location yourself.

How do you accomplish this? By posing the subject in such a way that they become anonymous. Not showing the subject’s face. This is why Murad Osmann’s “follow me to” Instagram photos went viral. Viewers felt like they were the ones being led around the world by a beautiful woman.

The human element also gives a better sense of scale. By placing your subject in the distance, you can get a better sense of just how big those mountains really are. It’s why photographing “tiny” people in large landscapes does well.

Adding a human element to photos helps tell a story too. Images seem to be more powerful when people are included in them. You can completely change the storyline of a particular photo depending on what type of human element you decide to incorporate.

Travel Photography Tips

Waiting For the Aurora in Iceland

Patience Is Everything

Photography is about really seeing what’s in front of you. Not just with your eyes, but with your heart & mind too. This requires dedicated time and attention. Slow down and make a conscious effort at becoming aware of your surroundings before pressing the shutter.

Pay attention to details. Are the clouds in an eye pleasing spot? If not, will they look better in 15 minutes? Sit at a photogenic street corner and wait for a photogenic subject to pass by. Then wait some more, because you might get an even better shot. Or not. But if you don’t have the patience to try, you might miss a fantastic photo opportunity!

When shooting the Northern Lights in Iceland, I spent all night camping in the cold at a perfect location, simply waiting for the magical aurora borealis to appear. When it finally did, I waited a few hours more to capture the brightest possible colors.

Good photography takes time. Are you willing to spend a few hours waiting for the perfect shot? Because that’s what professionals do. The more patience you have, the better your travel photography will turn out in the long run.

Protect Against Theft

Ok, this one is slightly off topic, but I think it’s important too. Cameras are small expensive products. As such, they’re a prime target for theft while traveling. I’ve heard many sad theft stories from other travelers. Luckily I’ve never had my camera stolen, but I also take precautions against it.

First of all, buy camera insurance. This is the best way to minimize losses if your camera gear does wind up in the hands of a criminal. Homeowner or rental insurance might already cover you. If not, organizations like the Professional Photographers of America offer insurance to members.

Keep your gear secured when not shooting, like in a hotel safe or hostel locker. Never check expensive photography gear under a plane, always take it carry-on. Try not to flash your camera around in sketchy or poverty stricken areas, keep it hidden in a nondescript bag until ready for use.

Register new gear with the manufacturer. Copy down serial numbers and save purchase receipts to help speed up insurance claims. Include your name & camera serial number on image EXIF data, so if your camera is stolen, you can track it down online using StolenCameraFinder.com.

Travel Photography Tips

Long Exposure Waterfall Shot

Shoot In Manual Mode

You’d think that modern cameras are smart enough to take incredible pictures on their own, in AUTO mode. Well that’s just not the case. While they do a pretty good job, if you want truly stunning images, you need to learn how to manually control your camera’s settings yourself.

If you’re new to photography, you may not realize all the camera settings that need to be adjusted. These include ISO, aperture, and shutter speed. If you want the best images possible, you need to know the relationship between them, and how to adjust these settings on your own.

To do this, switch your camera’s dial into Manual Mode. This camera mode gives you much more control of the look of your images in different situations. By manually adjusting aperture you’ll have more control over the depth of field in your image.

By manually controlling shutter speed, you’ll be able to capture motion in more creative ways. By manually controlling ISO, you’ll be able to reduce the noise of your images and deal with tricky lighting situations. Here’s a good free online tutorial about Manual Mode.

Travel Photography Tips

Prepared for Wildlife in Greenland

Always Bring A Camera

There is a saying in photography that “the best camera is the one you have with you”. Be ready for anything, and always carry a camera around, because luck plays a pretty key role in travel photography.

The difference between an amateur photographer and a pro is that the pro is planning in advance for this luck, ready to take advantage of these special serendipitous moments that will happen from time to time.

You never know what kind of incredible photo opportunity might present itself while you’re traveling. Maybe while out walking you happen to stumble upon a brilliant pink sunset, a rare animal, or some random street performance.

While hiking in Greenland I kept my camera ready and within easy reach with a 70-200mm lens attached. This helped me capture great shots of reindeer, rabbits, an arctic fox, and musk oxen. If the camera had been packed away in my bag, I would’ve missed these wildlife opportunities.

Keep your camera on you, charged up, and ready for action at all times.

Travel Photography Tips

Lost in the Streets of Granada

Get Lost On Purpose

Ok. You’ve visited all the popular photography sites, and captured your own version of a destination’s postcard photos. Now what? It’s time to go exploring, and get off the beaten tourist path. It’s time to get lost on purpose.

If you want to get images no one else has, you need to wander more. The best way to do this is on foot — without knowing exactly where you’re going. Grab a business card from your hotel so you can catch a taxi back if needed, then just pick a direction and start walking.

Bring your camera, and head out into the unknown. Check with locals to make sure you’re not heading somewhere dangerous, but make a point get lost. Wander down alleys, to the top of a mountain, and around the next bend.

In many places, locals tend to avoid tourist spots. So if you want to capture the true nature of a destination and its people, you’ll need to get away from the crowd and go exploring on your own.

Travel Photography Tips

Some of my Hard Drives…

Backup Your Photos

Along with camera insurance, I can’t stress enough the importance of both physical and online backups of your travel photos. When my laptop computer was stolen once in Panama, backups of my photography saved the day.

My travel photography backup workflow includes an external hard drive backup of RAW camera files, as well as online backup of select images and another online backup of final edited images.

Sometimes, for important projects, I’ll even mail a small hard drive loaded with images back to the United States if the internet is just too slow for online backup of large RAW files or video. I use Western Digital hard drives for physical backup and Google Drive for online cloud storage.

Travel Photography Tips

Improve Your Photography with Processing

Post Processing

There is a ridiculous myth out there that editing your photos using software is “cheating”. Let’s clear that up right now. All professional photographers edit their digital images using software like Lightroom, Photoshop, or GIMP.

Some do it more than others, but basically everyone does it.

Post processing is an integral part of any travel photographer’s workflow. Just like darkroom adjustments are a part of a film photographer’s workflow. Learning how to process your images after they’re taken is FAR more important than what camera you use.

Learn how to improve contrast, sharpen image elements, soften color tones, reduce highlights, boost shadows, minimize sensor noise, and adjust exposure levels (without going overboard) using software.

If you are going to invest money somewhere, I’d recommend spending it on professional post-processing tutorials before you invest in the latest camera gear. Post processing knowledge can really improve your travel photography.

Travel Photography Tips

No Shirt, No Shoes, No Problem

Don’t Obsess Over Equipment

Want to know what photography gear I use? Well, here you go. But if you went out right now and bought all that stuff, not only would it be super expensive, I guarantee it won’t improve your photography skills.

Why? Because the gear you use is not what makes a great photographer. Just like the type of brush a painter uses doesn’t make them a great painter. It’s knowledge, experience, and creativity that makes a great photographer.

Camera companies are much better at marketing than paintbrush companies. That’s why you think you need that $3000 camera. Trust me. You don’t.

Professionals use expensive gear because it allows them to produce a greater range of images. For example, extremely low light star photography. Or fast-action wildlife photography. Or because they want to sell large fine-art prints.

Instead of buying new equipment, spend time learning how to use your current camera’s settings. It’s a far better investment, and cheaper too!

Travel Photography Tips

Getting my Fortune Read in South Africa

Never Stop Learning

Enroll in some online photography tutorials. Invest in a travel photography workshop. Go out and practice on a regular basis. This is how you get better – not because you have the latest gear or use popular Instagram filters.

Even though I’ve been earning money with my photography for the last 5 years, there’s always something new to learn. I regularly invest in online courses and books about photography to improve my craft. You should too.

Think you know everything about landscapes? Then go out and challenge yourself shooting portraits of strangers. Stalk animals like a hunter for a taste of how difficult wildlife photography is. Stay up late experimenting with long-exposures of the Milky Way.

You’ll become a more skilled and resourceful travel photographer when you take the time to learn new techniques and skills from other genres of photography.

Travel Photography Resources

To go along with my top travel photography tips, here are some of the tools I’ve used to improve my photography over the years. I hope you find them as useful as I did! Remember, never stop learning.

Post Processing

  • Adobe Creative Cloud – Powerful suite of editing programs (Lightroom & Photoshop) used by most professional travel photographers.
  • JPEG Mini – Reduces the size of images by up to 80% without loss in quality. Amazing plugin for faster upload speeds and faster websites.
  • Google Nik Collection – Free photography plugins for polishing your final images. Noise reduction, sharpening, color filters, etc.

Photography Tutorials

READ NEXT: Isle Of Skye Road Trip

Have any questions about travel photography? What about other suggestions? Drop me a message in the comments below!

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.

This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.

Travel in Afghanistan

How to Travel Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor

Afghanistan

In August 2016 I traveled through Afghanistan for two weeks, an American backpacking across the beautiful Pamir mountains in the Wakhan Corridor. This is how I did it.

DISCLAIMER: The US government warns against travel to Afghanistan. Just because I went, does not mean I recommend everyone should go. The safety situation changes on a weekly basis, and requires a good deal of research/planning beforehand.

When I told family & friends I was planning a trip to Afghanistan, they thought I’d lost my mind. Afghanistan, that war-torn middle eastern country full of terrorists, soldiers, car bombs, predator drones, and IEDs.

Why the hell would I want to go there?

Afghanistan has been on my bucket-list for a few years after I met fellow traveler and public speaker Shane Dallas who happened to share his experience with me at a travel industry conference.

I learned that the version of the country most of us see each night on the evening news is simply not the full story…

Parts of Afghanistan can be dangerous, sure, but it’s also full of beauty, hospitality, and history too.

This is the Afghanistan I was on a mission to seek out and share.

Wakhan Corridor

Exploring the Wakhan on Foot

Wakhan Map

Map of Wakhan (Courtesy of Wildlife Conservation Society)

The Wakhan Corridor

Afghanistan’s remote and desolate Wakhan Corridor is called the “roof of the world” by the local people who live there. It’s located in the far North East corner of the country, surrounded on three sides by Tajikistan, Pakistan and China.

The Wakhan is incredibly cut-off from the rest of Afghanistan.

There are no government services, large parts of the region have no roads, and people are basically living on their own in the mountains.

The area is inhabited by two main ethnic groups, the Wakhi and the Kyrgyz. The Wakhi often have two homes, one for winter and one for summer months, made of stone.

The Kyrgyz are more nomadic, living in semi-portable yurt tents made of felt. They move their homes and animals to different valleys depending on the season.

A majority of the population raises livestock for a living. They trade sheep, goats and yaks to merchants from Pakistan or other parts of Afghanistan for clothing, food, and necessities they can’t produce themselves at these remote high-altitude locations they call home.

The Wakhan used to be part of the ancient Silk Road, and explorers Marco Polo and Alexander the Great both passed through this part of Afghanistan on their travels around the world.

Afghanistan Safety

Friendly Faces in Afghanistan

Woman in Blue Burka

Afghan Woman Wearing a Burka

Safety In Afghanistan

Travelers don’t have to worry about the Taliban or Al-Qaeda in the Wakhan. It’s one of the few places in Afghanistan that has remained relatively conflict-free over the years.

The Wakhan is part of Afghanistan’s Badakhshan Province. While the Taliban does have a presence in parts of Badakhshan, the Wakhan region itself is terrorist-free (for now). The main road leading in is currently controlled by the Afghan Military, who keeps the Taliban out.

Most locals living in Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor are Ismaili Muslims, who practice a moderate form of Islam. They despise the Taliban, and generally welcome foreign travelers. It’s become an important part of their economy.

But that doesn’t mean the Wakhan is a tourist hot-spot.

The area sees a total of about 100 tourists every year. This is partly due to the taboo of traveling in a war-torn country, lack of reliable travel information, and remoteness of the region.

Afghanistan Visa for Americans

My Tourist Visa from Afghanistan

How To Get A Visa

There is a very specific process for obtaining a visa to enter Afghanistan’s Wakhan corridor, and it involves a trip to the neighboring country of Tajikistan and a town called Khorog near the border.

But first, you’ll need a double entry visa for Tajikistan. You cannot get a double entry visa on arrival at the airport, so you must apply for one in advance at an official embassy or consulate.

Why? After you travel into Afghanistan through Tajikistan, you’ll need to leave through Tajikistan too. Which counts as a 2nd entry into Tajikistan. But typical visas for Tajikistan are only single entry.

With your double entry Tajik visa, the next step is to travel to the town of Khorog, where it’s possible to apply for an Afghanistan visa at the local consulate. Keep reading to learn more…

Dushanbe Monument

Dushanbe, Tajikistan

Arriving In Dushanbe

Flying into the city of Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, is going to be your first adventure. Tajikistan has a reputation as one of the most corrupt countries in the world — and you’ll soon know why.

Dushanbe airport officials asked me for bribes on 2 separate occasions. If you refuse, they send you to the back of the line, or move you to another line, over and over again until you give up and pay them.

Dushanbe Accommodation:

Twins Hotel | Rohat Hotel | Green House Hostel

I recommend spending at least one night in Dushanbe, but probably more. You’ll need to exchange cash, buy last-minute supplies, and get a local sim card for your phone.

The best cell phone company to use is TCell for cell service in the Pamir Mountains. You’ll even have some service on the Afghanistan side for a while.

There’s a basic outdoor shop in Dushanbe called “BAP3ИШ” where you can buy a knife, stove gas, and other camping supplies you might need in the Wakhan. Nothing high-end, just cheap Chinese made stuff.

Khorog Tajikistan

Khorog from Above

Traveling To Khorog

Khorog is a mountain town in the heart of Tajikistan’s remote GBAO region. To travel in Tajikistan’s GBAO region, you need a GBAO permit.

This can be obtained either when applying for your double entry Tajikistan visa, or in the Tajik capital of Dushanbe at the OVIR office.

Now you must travel to Khorog and apply for the Afghan visa in person.

This requires a rough, dusty, 20 hour long 4×4 taxi journey over the Pamir Highway from Dushanbe.

While there’s also a short flight from Dushanbe to Khorog, it’s not easy to get a ticket and is often canceled due to weather.

Khorog Accommodation:

Mountain River Guest House | Delhi Darbar Hotel | Pamir Lodge

Khorog is a major stop for trekkers/cyclists/motorcyclists who are exploring the Pamir Highway in Tajikistan. It’s also the last place you’ll find an ATM, there are 2 or 3 in town. Plan on spending a least a night or two here before heading to Afghanistan.

Khorog Downtown

Downtown Khorog, Tajikistan

Visiting The Afghan Consulate

Khorog is home to a small Afghan consulate that has a reputation for giving out Afghan visas in as little as an hour. As an American, this same-day visa service cost me $200 USD.

Why so much? Because the United States makes it difficult for Afghans to get a visa. So they return the favor with a high visa fee for Americans.

The woman at the consulate was trying her best to persuade me not to visit. Saying the visa is too expensive for Americans, that it won’t be easy to travel there, etc. I assured her I was prepared, and had been planning this trip for years.

At the consulate I had to explain why I wanted to visit Afghanistan (hiking in the Wakhan), and write/sign a letter acknowledging I alone was responsible for myself and my actions in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan Border

Afghanistan Border Crossing

Afghanistan Checkpoint

Hanging with Soldiers at a Military Checkpoint

Crossing The Border

With my shiny new Afghan visa in hand, I traveled to the Tajik border town of Ishkashim. It’s a 3 hour drive South of Khorog. One or two shared taxis head to Ishkashim from Khorog each morning.

The desolate Afghanistan border post sits on the right side of the road before you actually reach the town of Ishkashim. Tajikistan border guards have a reputation for requesting bribes, so just be aware.

On the Afghan side of the border, they searched my bags and scanned my passport through the INTERPOL database to ensure I wasn’t a fugitive. After that, I was in! Welcome to Afghanistan.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t feeling nervous standing on Afghan soil.

The border post is a few kilometers away from the nearest Afghan town of Sultan Eshkashim, so unless you want to walk there, an overpriced taxi ride costs $20 for a 10 minute drive.

Ishkashim vs. Sultan Eshkashim: These are two different towns, and it can be confusing. Ishkashim is the border town on the Tajikistan side, Sultan Eshkashim is the border town on the Afghanistan side. Wakhan Guesthouse

Marco Polo Guesthouse in Sultan Eshkashim

Wakhan Corridor Permission

Hand-Written Wakhan Permit

Eshkashim & Wakhan Permits

Sultan Eshkashim is the entrance to the Wakhan Corridor. Many travelers are happy to just hang out there for a few days to experience a taste of Afghanistan before heading back to Tajikistan.

But if you want to go hiking in the Wakhan, you need to acquire additional permits.

Sultan Eshkashim Accommodation:

Marco Polo Guest House (no website)

While getting these permits on your own is possible, it’s a huge pain in the ass if you don’t speak Persian/Farsi. Instead, I hired an English speaking local to help for about $50.

The permit process involves multiple passport photos, paperwork, plenty of tea, and stops at a few different government, police, and military offices. You’ll have to explain yourself to local officials questioning why you are there, what you do, etc.

The whole ordeal takes 3-4 hours, provided all the offices are even open. They sometimes close down on certain days (Friday/Saturday). I got lucky, but if something is closed you may have to return the next day.

Local officials eventually gave me a hand-written letter granting permission to travel to the next village, where I’d have to request permission again to move on further.

Driving in Afghanistan

Driving in the Wakhan Corridor

Khandud Afghanistan

Ruined Mosque in Khandud

Driving To Sarhad-e Broghil

Now that I had my permits for the Wakhan, it was time to make my way 200 km up the valley in an expensive 4X4 taxi to the village of Sarhad-e Broghil, where the road ends and the true wilderness begins.

I hired a local translator/guide to join me on the trek.

For the next 2 days, Yar Mohammad Attahi helped me navigate additional checkpoints and permit stops as we drove into the mountains, while giving me the opportunity to actually communicate with locals.

The 4X4 journey to Sarhad navigates some of the roughest roads I’ve ever seen. Over boulder fields, into rivers, along the edge of cliffs, and through deep desert sand.

Our beat-up Toyota van was equipped with crappy shocks, broken windows, and was repeatedly crippled by flat tires (5 times). It was one wild ride!

But because so few cars travel out here, and the route is unforgiving to vehicles, the price of this “taxi” journey is high — $350 one way.

Once we made it to Sarhad-e Broghil, Yar and I spent the night at a guesthouse. The next day we began our 100 mile trek across the towering, snow-capped Pamir Mountains.

Tent in the Pamir Mountains

Camping in Afghanistan

Crossing a River in the Pamirs

Hiking in the Wakhan

Hiking In The Wakhan

While I’ll go into more detail about the trek itself in future articles, I just wanted to share some logistics here. I found my guide/translator Yar in the Afghan border town of Sultan Eshkashim.

At the end of the road in Sarhad, we hired a pack horse accompanied by its owner Panshambe to help carry our food & gear for the next 10 days of hiking.

The three of us were completely on our own in the wilderness after Sarhad. Only passing through tiny Wakhi or Kyrgyz communities made up of a few stone huts and yurts. No markets, no doctors, no roads.

I’d brought a camping stove and enough freeze-dried meals for 12 days, along with energy bars and trail mix for snacks. My companions packed rice, tea, and bread for themselves. Over the course of the trip we mixed and shared our supplies with each other.

Unless you bring your own trekking food, your options are going to be limited. Canned fish, beans, rice, and sugar are available to buy in Sultan Eshkashim. But that’s about it. You can sometimes buy flatbread from locals in the mountains.

The 10 day trek maintained altitudes between 12,000 and 16,000 feet. The trails themselves weren’t terribly difficult, as they are used by locals on a daily basis, but it’s the altitude and the dramatic weather that can mess you up.

Some of the trails were perched on the edge of 300 foot drops, and when it snowed (yes, in August), these became much more dangerous. There were many river crossings, but nothing deeper than your knee.

We hiked a loop from Sarhad to Chaqmaqtin Lake, starting on the “high” route through the 16,000 ft. Garumdee Pass, returning on the “low” river route back to Sarhad. You can read more about these trekking routes here.

How Much Did It Cost?

I spent 2 weeks in Afghanistan, with 10 days of those trekking. It cost me about $1800 USD. That doesn’t include 1 week spent in neighboring Tajikistan before and after the trip. Because just getting to the border of Afghanistan is a separate adventure that takes 2-3 days!

To keep things simple, prices are in US Dollars.

Tajikistan Costs

Double Entry Tajikistan Visa: $55 USD GBAO Permit: $4-$20 USD Dushanbe Hotel: $10-$80 USD per night (x 2) 4X4 Taxi to Khorog: $38 USD (x 2) Khorog Hotel: $20-$50 USD per night (x 2) Taxi to Ishkashim: $9 USD (x 2)

Afghanistan Costs

Afghanistan Visa: $200 USD (cheaper if you’re not American) Taxi to Eshkashim: $20 (x 2) Guest House: $10-$25 USD per night (x 8) Wakhan Permits: $50 USD 4×4 Taxi: $350 USD one way (x 2) Pack Animal: $20 USD per day (x 10) Guide/Translator: $30 USD per day (x 14) Camping: Free

I’d say you want to budget at least $2500 USD and 3 weeks for a similar trip, not including flights. Stuff goes wrong, delays happen, prices change, and credit/ATM cards are useless once you’re in Afghanistan.

It’s a tough place to travel in that respect. You need to plan at least a few buffer days, and bring plenty of extra cash for unexpected situations.

Wakhan Hiking Guides

My Horseman (Panshambe) and Guide (Yar Attahi)

Warnings

Afghanistan is still a very volatile country. While the Wakhan Corridor itself is pretty safe, a foreigner did disappear there recently, and other parts of the province have seen kidnappings and Taliban attacks.

Just because it felt safe when I was there does not mean it always will be.

Also, it’s important for me to point out that the Afghanistan/Tajikistan border sometimes closes without warning. Usually because of Cholera outbreaks, sometimes just because of bureaucratic arguments.

If it closes when you’re on the Afghan side, you’ll be stuck there until it opens again. Which could be a few days, or a few weeks. You need to be prepared for that possibility.

Traveling overland to Kabul from the Wakhan is not a safe option at the moment.

Helpfull Websites About The Wakhan

Other Areas Of Afghanistan

Wakhan Corridor Guide

If you’re planning a trip to the Wakhan, I highly recommend Yar Mohammad Attahi as a guide and translator. Tell him I sent you!

More From Afghanistan

This was just a brief overview of the logistics for traveling in Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor. I’ll be sharing much more about the incredible trek itself in future articles.

If you’d like a notification when I publish something new about Afghanistan, make sure to sign up for my newsletter here. ★

READ NEXT: Should You Go To School Or Travel?

Have any questions about Afghanistan? Would you ever consider traveling there? Drop me a message in the comments below!

This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.

THE PASSPORT YOU OWN says much more about your ability to travel than you may think.

If, like me, you often complain about the mess of red tape to obtain a work permit here or a visa there, take a look at Passport Index and you’ll probably realise that you have it a lot easier than many other travellers.

Passport Index sorts each global passport by “power rank”. Passport holders from Germany rank at the top, with the ability to visit 159 countries without applying for a visa or buying one on arrival. Those from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq are indexed last with only 24, 27, and 28 countries on their “visa-free” list. A significant discrepancy that illustrates how freedom of movement means very different things in different parts of the world.

Passport

Passport

The website also allows you to sort out the world’s passports by colour and to check out the details on the front cover of each of them, providing a window on each country’s culture. More like this: How having multiple passports changed how I see the world

ALTHOUGH LGBTQ+ rights have progressed tremendously in the past few years with the legalization of same-sex marriage and same-sex adoption in many countries, there is still a lot to be done to achieve complete equality and erase discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals around the world.

Equaldex, a collaborative LGBT knowledge base, has put together these maps about the state of LGBTQ+ rights and the improvements or retrogressions some countries are going through.

Homosexual activity

It is uplifting to see that the map below is predominantly green, but it is also incredibly disturbing to think that there are still countries that punish homosexual activity by death (Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan, Mauritania) or imprisonment.

LGBTQ+ rights

Map: Equaldex

Marriage

Please note that since the map has last been updated, Finland has legalized same-sex marriage (on March 1st, 2017).

LGBTQ+ rights

Map: Equaldex

Changing gender

For some transgender individuals, the legal recognition of sex reassignment on their birth certificate is an important step in their transition and their acceptance. In some countries, it is legal without the need for surgery, while in others it is legal only after surgery to feminize or masculinize the body. Changing gender is completely illegal in some countries such as Peru, Namibia, the Philippines, etc.

LGBTQ+ rights

Map: Equaldex

Adoption

Please note that since the map has last been updated, Finland has legalized same-sex adoption (on March 1st, 2017).

LGBTQ+ rights

Map: Equaldex

Discrimination

We’d like to see this map entirely covered in green but, alas, we’re still far from a global prohibition of discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

LGBTQ+ rights

Map: Equaldex

Conversion therapy

Conversion therapy is a dangerous practice that falsely claims to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity using psychological treatment, spiritual counselling, and sometimes electroshock therapy and other forms of mental and physical torture. Conversion therapy has been proven ineffective and often drives people to depression, anxiety, drug use, or suicide. LGBTQ+ rights

Map: Equaldex

For more details about each nation’s laws regarding LGBTQ+ rights, please click on the country you are interested in here.

More like this: Being gay is still illegal in 76 countries, but that doesn’t stop us from traveling

IN THE LAST limping year of my first marriage, I joined The Caretaker Gazette. Escape lay before me. I could pore over the listings, imagining myself going somewhere, anywhere across the world. There was a cattle station in the middle of Australia — they didn’t need a house-sitter so much as a field hand who would accept payment in room, board, and adventure. There was a cliff-side home in Vanuatu that described diving from the back yard into the blue ocean, the friendly locals, the lack of any sort of transportation except bicycles and crappy motorcycles. I sent a few emails, hoping a positive response would be that which galvanized me — this time — into finally leaving for good.

Several years before the Caretaker Gazette, I had gone to Burning Man for the first time. In 2004, it was a white, wide expanse of salt flat, with a strange and bustling city plopped in the middle of it, and there were fewer articles about celebrities in dust storms. I was supposed to go with a friend, who was also my husband’s best friend (although in retrospect, it seems obvious that she was in love with him), but she got pregnant at the last minute and didn’t want to risk hauling a high-risk pregnancy to the middle of the Nevada desert, so I went alone.

Burning Man changed my life. My marriage had completely deadened me; I spent most of my time feeling miserable, but just assumed this was how marriage was supposed to be. Clearly, you just loved someone and stayed with them forever, no matter how unhappy you were. The trip to Black Rock made me realize there really was more in the world than what I was settling for: There was art, there were other people that saw lightness in the world instead of nonstop emotionless logic, there were people who listened to me and let me speak. Still, the idea of leaving what was already a 5-year-old marriage, with a man that I genuinely did love most of the time, felt insane and terrifying.

I had never been an adult without my husband — we got married when I was nineteen, and I moved directly out of my mother’s house in with him. I had never paid a bill or done a single adult chore that wasn’t tied up in our marriage. He was thirteen years older than me and hated to travel, while I had been going on trips since I was born. We negotiated that I could travel twice a year without him. Unfortunately, part of the deal was that he was resentful and sulky no matter where I went or how long I stayed.

Two years after my first trip to Burning Man, I filled out an application for low-income tickets to the event. They provided a certain number of low-cost tickets for anyone who could prove genuine financial hardship. We were encouraged to be honest and creative in our application. I sent a book of photos I had taken the previous year, with an essay that contained the phrase: “Please help me get to Burning Man so I can find a way to leave my husband.” They gave me the ticket.

Another trip into the blinding desert and I felt my heart loosen up a little bit more. When I got back, I wrote and obsessively read books about women traveling alone: Dervla Murphy, Rita Golden Gelman, even Eat Pray Love. I wrote a letter to Elizabeth Gilbert telling her that I related to what she described of her first marriage and how hard it was to leave when you were the only one who felt like something was wrong. She wrote me back. “Oh no, not you too!” I read stories of breaking away, of falling off mountains, of cycling through Afghanistan, always, always, alone…but I had no idea how to be alone.

I joined the Caretaker’s Gazette, and read the ads gingerly. I touched them and flitted away, like touching a sore tooth, too scared to go back and see what possibilities they might raise. I told my husband I wanted to leave, but I had nowhere to go. He begged me to stay. I stayed. Everything was the same.

One night, we were sitting on the couch watching TV, and suddenly, words leaked out of my mouth without my knowing they were coming. “I want a divorce.” Later, I told people that we broke up by accident because it wasn’t planned. It had just happened — although I had been thinking of nothing else for years.

I found an apartment — my first — and moved out, then six months later, I got in my car and started to drive, crisscrossing the country from Chicago to Oklahoma City to Amarillo, Texas. Everywhere I went, I tried on the freedom of this new life and took notes: The library in Slab City was currently unoccupied, and if you lived there, you could get your water from the gas station in Niland. You could sleep in your car behind the truck stop chapel outside Albuquerque and nobody would see you from the road. There was a small restaurant hiring at the edge of Cape Breton Highlands park, and they didn’t require experience. I drove through the flatlands of Kansas at 90 miles per hour, cursing the boredom, and just when I thought I couldn’t take another minute, saw the Rocky Mountains of Colorado rearing up in the distance. I had to buy snow chains to cross Donner Pass and repaired a tire in Vail. I traveled and traveled, and with every click on the odometer, I left my old life.

There were suddenly so many options, so many lives that I could try, that I stumbled over myself to find and hold them. The fear that had weighed down my shoulders for so many years was finally gone. I felt as light as a bird. I could fly anywhere that I could find. More like this: Why travel is the best answer to divorce

Photos from Afghanistan Trip

Traveling in Afghanistan

Afghanistan

Last summer I traveled into the mountains of Afghanistan for a two week backpacking adventure. Not your typical summer vacation destination. Here’s what I witnessed on my journey.

What comes to mind when you think about Afghanistan? War? Terrorism? Osama Bin Laden? The Mother Of All Bombs?

Sure, much of Afghanistan is still dangerous — but there’s also incredible beauty, hospitality and kindness in the country that doesn’t get reported on.

It’s far too easy to vilify or write-off an entire nation when you don’t have to look those people in the eyes. People with the same hopes and dreams as you — to survive, find happiness, and provide for their families.

I was able to experience the positive side of Afghanistan and its wonderful people, up close and personal, during my trip there last summer. It’s since become my most memorable travel adventure to date.

Here are some of my favorite photos of people & landscapes from my 100 mile trek into Afghanistan’s remote and mountainous Wakhan Corridor.

This is the “other” side of Afghanistan that you don’t see in the news.

Afghanistan Hindu Kush

The Hindu Kush Mountains

Afghanistan's Wakhan Corridor

Traveling in the Wakhan

Wakhan Corridor

The Wakhan is a rugged and wild region of Northeast Afghanistan, part of Badakhshan Province. It’s a narrow piece of land, about 400 km long, surrounded on three sides by Tajikistan, China, and Pakistan.

Two large mountain ranges dominate the area, the Pamir in the North, and the Hindu Kush in the South. The Wakhan Corridor was created by politicians in the 1800’s during the “Great Game” in an attempt to leave a buffer zone between British India and the Russian empire.

Traveling by yak in Afghanistan

Riding Yaks in the Wakhan

Hitchhiking By Yak

Taking a break from walking, I managed to hitch a ride on a yak for a portion of the route. We ran into a group of Wakhi men leading their yaks through the mountains. While they stopped for tea, they let us borrow their yaks, which we led further into the valley until their owners caught up with us later.

Yaks are the ultimate eco-friendly 4×4 in Afghanistan, able to climb steep rocky terrain and power through icy cold rivers. There are no trees above 10,000 feet, so locals are forced to trek for 3 days to lower elevations with their animals in order to gather firewood for cooking and warmth.

Wakhan Silk Road

Ruined Stone Shelter on a Vast Landscape

Photos from Afghanistan

Trekking in the Wakhan

Ancient Silk Road

The Wakhan was once part of the ancient silk road, an important trading route connecting China to Europe. Along with silk, horses, and other goods, it was a highway for armies and explorers too. Explorers like Marco Polo who is believed to have passed through here during the 13th century.

Crossing steep mountain passes and high desolate plateaus, passing caravans of yaks and donkeys loaded with goods, spending the night in stone shelters with traveling merchants — I felt like I was getting a glimpse of what the silk road must have been like all those years ago.

Local Muslim men

Muslim Shopkeepers in Afghanistan

Wakhan Corridor Guides

My Compatriots in the Wakhan

The Many Faces Of Islam

Just like the many different branches of Christianity, there are many different branches of Islam, all with their own beliefs and values. Many people living in Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor are Ismaili Muslims, who practice a moderate form of Islam. They number 25 million worldwide, and despise the Taliban.

Their spiritual leader is the Aga Khan, a successful British businessman and Imam who runs the Aga Khan Development Network, a super important charity organization that improves living conditions and opportunities for the poor in Africa and Central Asia.

Footbridge in Wakhan Corridor

Footbridge Over the Wakhan River

Untamed Blue Rivers

The Wakhan River runs through the Wakhan Corridor, fed by the high altitude mountains of the Hindu Kush on the border with Pakistan. It snakes its way through the mountains, and is a major lifeline for the people living in this harsh and unforgiving landscape.

The bright blue color of this water is due to reddish hues of the rock formations around it, as well as the crystal clear source (a glacier). Water molecules absorb other colors, like red, more efficiently than blue.

Afghanistan Mountain Pass

Enjoying the Wild Landscape

Yaks in the Snow

Snowy Mountains in August

Epic Mountain Views

When the weather was clear, I was rewarded with incredible views of the mountains like this! The trail was well worn, as it’s used daily by small groups of locals who travel in caravans of yaks or donkeys from settlement to settlement.

The 10 day trek ranged in altitude from 10,000 to 16,000 feet, and we averaged about 10 miles per day of hiking. I began to feel the effects of altitude on my body around 12,000 feet with shortness of breath. At 16,000 feet hiking became even more tiring and difficult.

Khash Goz Wakhan Afghanistan

Snow Covered Yurts

Kyrgyz Homes Afghanistan

Kyrgyz Settlement in the Wakhan

Portable Yurts

The Kyrgyz people of Afghanistan are semi-nomadic, moving from valley to valley herding their animals to different grazing pastures depending on the season. They live in cozy yurts made of sheep felt, which can be broken down and transported long distances.

Each settlement consists of 2-3 families living and working together. Originally from the area around Kyrgyzstan, their ancestors were kind of trapped in the Wakhan after the Soviets took over Central Asia, forcibly settled nomadic tribes, and sealed off the silk road route.

Afghan Milk Tea

Sheer Chai Milk Tea

Salty Milk Tea

Both the Wakhi and Kyrgyz people drink large amounts of salty milk tea, called Sheer Chai. It’s served for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Basically, it’s a mix of yak and goat milk, boiled down for hours and dried into a portable block. It’s prepared by adding boiling water, loose-leaf tea, and rock salt.

The salt is great for rehydration at high & dry altitudes — I called it my Afghan Gatorade. It took a while to get used to (salty hot milk anyone?), but by the end of the adventure my body was craving sheer chai for every meal. You can also dissolve raw butter into the tea at breakfast for extra calories.

Wakhan Corridor Petroglyphs

Petroglyphs in Afghanistan

Afghan Petroglyphs

Near the end of my 2nd day on the trail, we hiked past a set of ancient petroglyphs scrawled into a dark colored boulder overlooking the valley. My local guide, Yar, couldn’t tell me much about them, other than they think these markings are a few thousand years old.

They depict hunting scenes, men armed with what appear to be bows, as well as large game like ibex and the rare Marco Polo sheep. This was just one of many petroglyphs that dot the landscape in these mountains. They are thought to mark ancient hunting grounds claimed by different tribes.

Bozai Gumbaz CAI School

Central Asia Institute School

Kyrgyz School in Wakhan

Kyrgyz Boys Ready for Class

CAI Schools

This simple 3 room school in the remote Afghan village of Bozai Gumbaz was built by Greg Mortenson and his Central Asia Institute. You may have heard of Greg before, he’s the author of the best selling novel Three Cups Of Tea, about building schools for girls in Pakistan.

The school at Bozai Gumbaz, where I spent the night playing cards with Afghan army soldiers, was prominent in his 2nd book, Stones To Schools. The next morning a group of boys showed up on donkeys for class. I saw many CAI schools along the road from Eshkashim to Sarhad-e Broghil.

Afghanistan Camping Adventure

Camping in Afghanistan

Camping In Afghanistan

As a big fan of the outdoors, one of the highlights on this trip was the opportunity to wild camp in the mountains of Afghanistan. Most nights we were able to stay at small Wakhi or Kyrgyz settlements in basic guest huts, but we also camped out in tents a few nights too.

Normally I’m a camping hammock kind of guy, but because I knew there weren’t going to be any trees for most of this trek, I packed my super lightweight Nemo Hornet 2P Tent. It snowed a few times during the journey — in August!

Greetings in Afghanistan

Greetings From the Heart

Local Kid in Afghanistan

Friendly Shopkeeper in Eshkashim

As-Salāmu ʿAlaykum

I was constantly greeted with As-salāmu ʿalaykum which means “peace be upon you”. A shorter version of this is just salām. Shaking hands is common, and so is placing your hand on your heart, which simply means your greeting comes from the heart.

Another important term I used during my journey is taschakor, meaning thank you. I always recommend trying to learn 10 of the most used words in a local language before traveling there. In the Afghan Wakhan, most people speak some Dari (Farsi) along with local dialects.

Burqa in Afghanistan

Afghan Woman Wearing Blue Burka

Wakhan Afghan Girl

Wakhi Girl in Sarhad-e Broghil

Women In Afghanistan

Many people were asking if I saw women in Afghanistan. Yes I saw women during my trip, but most were extremely shy, especially if I had my camera out. Plus in their culture, talking with strange men is taboo. But shooting portraits of men or kids was not a problem.

Near the border town of Sultan Eshkashim, with a large Sunni population, many women wear a full-length blue burqa that covers their face. In more rural areas of the Wakhan, it’s less strict. Women wear long colorful dresses with a simple headscarf. I was able to say hello and see their faces.

Beehive Tombs Wakhan

Kyrgyz Tombs at Bozai Gumbaz

Afghanistan Burial Shrine

Khajahbigali Family Tomb

Shrines & Tombs

I encountered a few ancient burial tombs during my time exploring the Wakhan Corridor. Near the Afghan military outpost of Bozai Gumbaz, there’s a collection of strangely shaped Kyrgyz beehive tombs, along with evidence of Soviet bombing (craters, bomb fragments) from the 1980’s occupation.

At the settlement of Langar, we found a pile of ibex horns marking the burial place of a powerful big man. In Afghanistan, wealthy & powerful men are often called “big men”. It’s a bit like calling someone “boss.” The more animals, land, and wives you have, the “bigger” & more influential you are.

Driving in Afghanistan

Driving in Afghanistan

Rough Roads

Before I began the 10 day, 100 mile trek through the mountains, I had to hire a 4×4 van to drive me to the last village at the end of the road. We passed a few military checkpoints along the way, stopping for tea & candy with officials before continuing on.

The drive took 2 days, and the roads were some of the worst I’ve ever seen. Dust seeped into the vehicle, covering us in dirt. We forded rivers, drove along the edge of sheer cliffs, and were frequently stopped by huge herds of goats blocking the road. The van suffered 6 flat tires during the journey.

Afghanistan Mountain Shelter

Cooking Lunch in a Stone Shelter

Afghanistan Stone Hut

Wakhi Settlement

Wakhi Settlements

While I entered Afghanistan alone, I decided to hire a local translator/guide and horseman to accompany me on the trek into the mountains. It would have been extremely difficult to communicate with others without their help. We spent a few nights at Wakhi settlements during the hike.

Wakhi homes are basically stone huts with dirt floors, constructed using manure for cement. The roof is made of logs, grass, and more manure to keep it waterproof. Some shelters had stoves inside, others just had a fire pit. Either way it was pretty smokey inside with a fire…

Afghanistan Girl

Young Afghan Girl in Sarhad

Afghan Family in Wakhan

Wakhi Family Living in the Mountains

Children Of The Wakhan

Life in the Wakhan is rough, especially for kids. About 60% of children here die before the age of five, the highest infant mortality rate in the world. If they do survive, they are put to work helping out with the family business — animal herding.

There are a few schools out here, thanks to the Central Asia Institute, but it’s up to the parents if they go. In some communities, only the boys are sent to school. The morning commute can take a few hours by donkey due to the lack of roads and distance between settlements.

Camels in Afghanistan

Central Asian Bactrian Camel

Wildlife In Afghanistan

I was really hoping to see a snow leopard or Marco Polo sheep while I was traveling through the mountains of Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor. You know, Walter Mitty style! Unfortunately both of these endangered animals are extremely difficult to spot — but I did find camels!

Luckily the Wildlife Conservation Society has staff in the area, often spending weeks in the field gathering data to protect wildlife in the Wakhan. They estimate there are about 100-200 snow leopards living in these mountains. Wolves and bears also call this wilderness home.

Afghanistan Photography

The Country You Thought You Knew…

The Other Afghanistan

So there you go. A peek at the other side of Afghanistan that we never see on the nightly news. After traveling the world extensively for the past 6 years, I’ve noticed this is a common theme.

Don’t let our media, which is primarily focused on negative & sensational topics, be your only window into the dynamics of a foreign country you’ve never been to.

I’m not going to tell you that Afghanistan is safe. It’s not. Our troops who’ve served there can tell you. Afghans themselves are well aware of the dangers that plague their country too.

But I think there’s another side to Afghanistan that deserves some attention. The rugged, scenic mountain landscapes. The friendly, hospitable local people.

I’m hopeful for the day when Afghanistan’s problems fade away, and more travelers can safely enjoy the beauty this incredible country has to offer. ★

Bonus Video! Backpacking Afghanistan

Subscribe to my YouTube Channel for new Adventure Travel Videos!(Click to watch Backpacking Afghanistan – Wakhan Corridor on YouTube)

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Photos from Afghanistan. More at ExpertVagabond.com

READ MORE FROM AFGHANISTAN

How To Visit The Wakhan Corridor

Have any questions about Afghanistan? What do you think? Drop me a message in the comments below!

This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.

Three Years in Afghanistan: An American Family's Story of Faith, Endurance, and Love

Matthew Collins

Afghanistan is a land of conflict and massive human needs, but it is much more than that. A place of veiled beauty, its people are resilient with deeply held traditions, generous hospitality, and a sense of leeriness toward the West. In the summer of 2004, humanitarian aid worker Matthew Collins, his wife Christine, and their one-year-old daughter Ellie moved to Afghanistan. This memoir describes their first three years trying to make a difference in this incredible country. From harrowing moments of danger, to light-hearted and heartbreaking cultural encounters, they learn to overcome the challenges of fear and culture shock through faith, endurance, and love.

Afghanistan - Culture Smart!: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture

Nazes Afroz

Afghanistan is situated at the crossroads of Asia, a strategically important location that connects the Middle East with Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent. Down the ages it has been subjected to continuous foreign invasion and intervention—from Alexander the Great to Genghis Khan, and as a pawn in the struggle between the British and Russian Empires—making its people wary of outsiders. That history is being repeated in the twenty-first century.   Afghanistan has always been seen from the outside as a realm of much intrigue and many myths. The Afghans tried to keep their distance from the outside world—especially from the Europeans who, whether in pursuit of imperial goals or simply as explorer–travelers, attempted to enter and traverse the land. Their very elusiveness attracted Westerners to this landlocked country of high mountains and breathtaking beauty, where age-old customs and traditions were zealously guarded, sometimes at the cost of many lives.   The Afghan people are a tapestry of ethnicities woven over time—Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks, and many smaller ones. Society is organized mainly along ethnic and tribal lines, but ethnic identity becomes irrelevant when a common enemy threatens to take control of the country. There are also many shared values and unwritten codes of conduct that govern interpersonal relations, which are not taken lightly. Visitors are struck by the simplicity, hospitability, dignity, and generosity of the Afghan people, and often confounded by customs that they find hard to understand.   Culture Smart! Afghanistan is a unique introduction to the background, habits, traditions, idiosyncrasies, suspicions about foreigners, and patterns of behavior of the Afghan people. It offers visitors invaluable information and insights that will help them to interact with Afghans, to interpret their behavior, and to behave appropriately in their company, whether in personal or business exchanges. Once the ice is broken, the rewards will be great.

Afghanistan, Pakistan [Tubed] (National Geographic Reference Map)

National Geographic Maps - Reference

National Geographic's map of Afghanistan and Pakistan is the most accurate and detailed reference map available for the region, covering these two countries as well as Tajikistan and parts of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, China, India and Iran. This Classic style wall map uses a bright and vibrant color palette and precise shaded relief, making it as attractive as it is educational. Accurate political boundaries are displayed on the map, including in the disputed area of Kashmir. Pinpointed are thousands of cities and towns, mountain ranges, national parks, glaciers, swamps, areas of sand, oil fields, highways and other roads, international and domestic airports, canals, railroads and waterways, including intermittent and dry salt lakes.

The map is packaged in a two inch diamater clear plastic tube. The tube has a decorative label showing a thumbnail of the map with dimensions and other pertinent information.

Map Scale = 1:3,363,000Sheet Size = 21.5" x 32.5"

Afghanistan Declassified: A Guide to America's Longest War

Brian Glyn Williams

Nearly 100,000 U.S. soldiers were deployed to Afghanistan at the height of the campaign, fighting the longest war in the nation's history. But what do Americans know about the land where this conflict is taking place? Many have come to have a grasp of the people, history, and geography of Iraq, but Afghanistan remains a mystery.

Originally published by the U.S. Army to provide an overview of the country's terrain, ethnic groups, and history for American troops and now updated and expanded for the general public, Afghanistan Declassified fills in these gaps. Historian Brian Glyn Williams, who has traveled to Afghanistan frequently over the past decade, provides essential background to the war, tracing the rise, fall, and reemergence of the Taliban. Special sections deal with topics such as the CIA's Predator drone campaign in the Pakistani tribal zones, the spread of suicide bombing from Iraq to the Afghan theater of operations, and comparisons between the Soviet and U.S. experiences in Afghanistan.

To Williams, a historian of Central Asia, Afghanistan is not merely a theater in the war on terror. It is a primeval, exciting, and beautiful land; not only a place of danger and turmoil but also one of hospitable villagers and stunning landscapes, of great cultural diversity and richness. Williams brings the country to life through his own travel experiences—from living with Northern Alliance Uzbek warlords to working on a major NATO base. National heroes are introduced, Afghanistan's varied ethnic groups are explored, key battles—both ancient and current—are retold, and this land that many see as only a frightening setting for prolonged war emerges in three dimensions.

Afghanistan: A Companion and Guide (Odyssey Illustrated Guides)

Bijan Omrani

Thanks to 20 years of civil war and its association with terrorism, Afghanistan is often unjustly thought of in the West as a barbarous backwater. This guide dispels that image in a comprehensive introduction to 3,500 years of Afghan culture. Each chapter

Afghanistan Nelles map (Nelles Maps) 1:1,500,000 (English, French, Italian and German Edition)

Nelles Verlag

Folded road map of Afghanistan at 1:1,500,000 scale. Places of interest and historic sites are highlighted. Shaded-relief coloring clearly depicts topography. Insets of Kabul and locator map. Legend in 3 languages.

Afghanistan, Pakistan [Laminated] (National Geographic Reference Map)

National Geographic Maps - Reference

National Geographic's map of Afghanistan and Pakistan is the most accurate and detailed reference map available for the region, covering these two countries as well as Tajikistan and parts of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, China, India and Iran. This Classic style wall map uses a bright and vibrant color palette and precise shaded relief, making it as attractive as it is educational. Accurate political boundaries are displayed on the map, including in the disputed area of Kashmir. Pinpointed are thousands of cities and towns, mountain ranges, national parks, glaciers, swamps, areas of sand, oil fields, highways and other roads, international and domestic airports, canals, railroads and waterways, including intermittent and dry salt lakes.

The map is encapsulated in heavy-duty 1.6 mil laminate which makes the paper much more durable and resistant to the swelling and shrinking caused by changes in humidity. Laminated maps can be framed without the need for glass, so the fames can be much lighter and less expensive.

Map Scale = 1:3,363,000Sheet Size = 21.5" x 32.5"

An Afghanistan Picture Show: Or, How I Saved the World

William T. Vollmann

Never before available in paperback and all but invisible for twenty years, a personal account of the origins of America's longest war.In 1982, the young William Vollmann worked odd jobs, including as a secretary at an insurance company, until he'd saved up enough money to go to Afghanistan, where he wanted to join the mujahedeen to fight the Soviets. The resulting book wasn't published until 1992, and Library Journal rated it: "The wrong book written at the wrong time. . . . With the situation in Afghanistan rapidly heading toward resolution . . . libraries may safely skip this."Thirty years later--and with the United States still mired in the longest war of its history--it's time for a reassessment of Vollmann's heartfelt tale of idealism and its terrifying betrayals.An alloy of documentary and autobiographical elements characteristic of Vollmann's later nonfiction, An Afghanistan Picture Show is not a work of conventional reportage; instead, it's an account of a subtle and stubborn consciousness grappling with the limits of will and idealism imposed by violence and chaos.

AVOID ALL TRAVEL

The decision to travel is your responsibility. You are also responsible for your personal safety abroad. The Government of Canada takes the safety and security of Canadians abroad very seriously and provides credible and timely information in its Travel Advice. In the event of a crisis situation that requires evacuation, the Government of Canada’s policy is to provide safe transportation to the closest safe location. The Government of Canada will assist you in leaving a country or a region as a last resort, when all means of commercial or personal transportation have been exhausted. This service is provided on a cost-recovery basis. Onward travel is at your personal expense. Situations vary from one location to another, and there may be constraints on government resources that will limit the ability of the Government of Canada to provide assistance, particularly in countries or regions where the potential for violent conflict or political instability is high.

Afghanistan is not a safe environment for personal travel. Attempting any form of travel, including adventure or recreational, in this very hazardous security environment would place you and others at grave risk of injury, death or abduction. Insurgents continue to attempt to destabilize the current political system through acts of terrorism and kidnapping. Foreigners whose country of origin has contributed to the International Security Assistance Force, including Canadians, are preferred targets for terrorist attacks and kidnapping. Criminals, taking advantage of the unstable security situation, are also committing violent attacks and kidnapping travellers. The Embassy of Canada in Afghanistan's ability to provide consular and other support throughout the country is very limited.

Terrorism

Terrorism is a continuous threat throughout Afghanistan. The threat to foreigners, including Canadians, from terrorist and criminal violence is extremely high. Numerous attacks have occurred in reputable public areas, as well as against Afghan and international institutions. Attacks in Kabul occur often and are completely unpredictable. Terrorists’ targets include hotels, embassies, government buildings, and locations known to employ or be frequented by Westerners. No location in Afghanistan can be considered safe or exempt from the threat of attack. Be particularly vigilant in the lead-up to and on days of national significance. A surge in violent incidents may occur in the period surrounding the presidential elections, which are scheduled to take place on April 5, 2014.

Tactics used by terrorists include Suicide bombs, rockets, improvised explosive devices, armed assaults, and ambushes. Exercise extreme caution at all times, particularly in public areas frequented by foreigners -such as hotels, restaurants, shops and marketplaces- and in the vicinity of public buildings, embassies and foreign companies’ headquarters.

Kidnapping

There is an extreme risk of kidnapping for foreign nationals throughout Afghanistan. Numerous Westerners, including journalists and non-governmental organization workers, have been kidnapped and in some cases killed. Several organizations are behind these kidnappings, among them terrorists and criminal gangs. Kidnapping for ransom has become a very lucrative market in Afghanistan. Reports indicate that journalists may be lured to Afghanistan with offers of interviews, when the real purpose is to kidnap them.

Crime

Violent attacks against foreigners occur, including armed robbery and rape. Carjacking and robbery also occur. Weapons are easily available.

Demonstrations

Demonstrations, including anti-Western demonstrations, and civil unrest sometimes occur throughout Afghanistan. Some demonstrations have become violent, causing deaths and injuries. Political and socio-economic issues are usually causes for protests.

Avoid all demonstrations and large gatherings, follow the advice of local authorities and monitor local media.

Landmines

Millions of landmines throughout the countryside pose a threat. No area can be considered safe.

Road travel

Overland travel outside of Kabul is extremely dangerous, and is restricted by the Afghan government to those who have armed security. Bogus checkpoints may be set up in order to commit attacks.

Road travel should be carefully planned and only undertaken with others. Military and police forces are limited in rural areas. Banditry by armed groups is common. Many areas are controlled by warlords.

Driving conditions are poor. Traffic is chaotic because traffic laws are non-existent or not enforced.

Air travel

Confirm your flight with your airline before going to the airport as the airport can close on short notice.

Consult our Transportation Safety page in order to verify if national airlines meet safety standards.

General safety information

Tourism is strongly discouraged.

The security situation remains extremely volatile and unpredictable. If you must travel to Afghanistan, be extremely confident in your security arrangements; assess the risks of travelling before undertaking any trip, even in Kabul; monitor local developments closely; and register and keep in contact with the Embassy of Canada in Kabul. Carefully follow messages issued by the Embassy of Canada in Kabul through the Registration of Canadians Abroad service. Due to the unpredictable security situation, Canadian authorities may not be in a position to provide consular assistance in remote areas.

Basic infrastructure services such as electricity and telephones are minimal, even in urban areas.

Food and water shortages are common.

Do not show signs of affluence or carry large sums of money.  Ensure that your personal belongings, passports and other travel documents are secure at all times.

Do not travel at night.

Emergency services

Dial 119 in Kabul for a 24-hour emergency service.

Health

Related Travel Health Notices
Consult a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic preferably six weeks before you travel.
Vaccines

Routine Vaccines

Be sure that your routine vaccines are up-to-date regardless of your travel destination.

Vaccines to Consider

You may be at risk for these vaccine-preventable diseases while travelling in this country. Talk to your travel health provider about which ones are right for you.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a disease of the liver spread by contaminated food or water. All those travelling to regions with a risk of hepatitis A infection should get vaccinated.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a disease of the liver spread through blood or other bodily fluids. Travellers who may be exposed (e.g., through sexual contact, medical treatment or occupational exposure) should get vaccinated.

Influenza

Seasonal influenza occurs worldwide. The flu season usually runs from November to April in the northern hemisphere, between April and October in the southern hemisphere and year round in the tropics. Influenza (flu) is caused by a virus spread from person to person when they cough or sneeze or through personal contact with unwashed hands. Get the flu shot.

Measles

Measles occurs worldwide but is a common disease in developing countries, particularly in parts of Africa and Asia. Measles is a highly contagious disease. Be sure your vaccination against measles is up-to-date regardless of the travel destination.
 

Polio

There is a risk of polio in this country. Be sure that your vaccination against polio is up-to-date.

Rabies

Rabies is a disease that attacks the central nervous system spread to humans through a bite, scratch or lick from a rabid animal. Vaccination should be considered for travellers going to areas where rabies exists and who have a high risk of exposure (i.e., close contact with animals, occupational risk, and children).

Typhoid

Typhoid is a bacterial infection spread by contaminated food or water. Risk is higher among travellers going to rural areas, visiting friends and relatives, or with weakened immune systems. Travellers visiting regions with typhoid risk, especially those exposed to places with poor sanitation should consider getting vaccinated.

Yellow Fever Vaccination

Yellow fever is a disease caused by the bite of an infected mosquito.

Travellers get vaccinated either because it is required to enter a country or because it is recommended for their protection.

* It is important to note that country entry requirements may not reflect your risk of yellow fever at your destination. It is recommended that you contact the nearest diplomatic or consular office of the destination(s) you will be visiting to verify any additional entry requirements.
Risk
  • There is no risk of yellow fever in this country.
Country Entry Requirement*
  • Proof of yellow fever vaccination is required if you are coming from a country where yellow fever occurs.
Recommendation
  • Vaccination is not recommended.
  • Discuss travel plans, activities, and destinations with a health care provider.
Food/Water

Food and Water-borne Diseases

Travellers to any destination in the world can develop travellers' diarrhea from consuming contaminated water or food.

In some areas in South Asia, food and water can also carry diseases like cholera, hepatitis A, leptospirosis and typhoid. Practise safe food and water precautions while travelling in South Asia. Remember: Boil it, cook it, peel it, or leave it!

Cholera

There have been cases of cholera reported in this country in the last year. Cholera is a bacterial disease that typically causes diarrhea. In severe cases it can lead to dehydration and even death.

Most travellers are generally at low risk. Humanitarian workers and those visiting areas with limited access to safe food and water are at higher risk. Practise safe food and water precautions. Travellers at high risk should get vaccinated.

Travellers' diarrhea
  • Travellers' diarrhea is the most common illness affecting travellers. It is spread from eating or drinking contaminated food or water.
  • Risk of developing travellers’ diarrhea increases when travelling in regions with poor sanitation. Practise safe food and water precautions.
  • The most important treatment for travellers' diarrhea is rehydration (drinking lots of fluids). Carry oral rehydration salts when travelling.

Insects

Insects and Illness

In some areas in Southern Asia, certain insects carry and spread diseases like chikungunya, Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, dengue fever, Japanese encephalitis, leishmaniasis, and malaria.

Travellers are advised to take precautions against bites.

Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever

Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever is a viral disease that typically causes fever, bleeding under the skin, and pain. Risk is generally low for most travellers. It is spread to humans though contact with infected animal blood or bodily fluids, or from a tick bite. Protect yourself from tick bites and avoid animals. There is no vaccine available for Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever.

Leishmaniasis, cutaneous and mucosal

Cutaneous and mucosal leishmaniasis causes skin sores and ulcers. It is caused by a parasite spread through the bite of a female sandfly. Risk is generally low for most travellers. Protect yourself from sandfly bites, which typically occur after sunset in rural and forested areas and in some urban centres. There is no vaccine available for leishmaniasis.


Malaria

Malaria

  • There is a risk of malaria in certain areas and/or during a certain time of year in this country.
  • Malaria is a serious and occasionally fatal disease that is spread by mosquitoes. There is no vaccine against malaria.
  • Protect yourself from mosquito bites. This includes covering up, using insect repellent and staying in well-screened, air-conditioned accommodations. You may also consider sleeping under an insecticide-treated bed net or pre-treating travel gear with insecticides.
  • Antimalarial medication may be recommended depending on your itinerary and the time of year you are travelling. See a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic, preferably six weeks before you travel to discuss your options.

Animals

Animals and Illness

Travellers are cautioned to avoid contact with animals, including dogs, monkeys, snakes, rodents, and bats. Certain infections found in some areas in Southern Asia, like avian influenza and rabies, can be shared between humans and animals.


Person-to-Person

Person-to-Person Infections

Crowded conditions can increase your risk of certain illnesses. Remember to wash your hands often and practice proper cough and sneeze etiquette to avoid colds, the flu and other illnesses.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV are spread through blood and bodily fluids; practise safer sex.


Medical services and facilities

Medical services and facilities

Health services are substandard and medical facilities are not appropriately sanitized. Patients requiring medical treatment for incisions or wounds run a significant risk of infection. Private clinics, which offer a higher standard of service, are available in Kabul. Immediate cash payment is required for any medical service.

Medical evacuation is rarely possible due to a lack of companies willing to service Afghanistan. Evacuation on military flights is impossible.

Prescription medicine is not available. Bring a sufficient supply of medicine for the duration of your stay.

Keep in Mind...

The decision to travel is the sole responsibility of the traveller. The traveller is also responsible for his or her own personal safety.

Be prepared. Do not expect medical services to be the same as in Canada. Pack a travel health kit, especially if you will be travelling away from major city centres.

You are subject to local laws. Consult our Arrest and detention page for more information.

The work week is from Sunday to Thursday.

Illegal or restricted activities

Homosexual activity is illegal, as are extramarital affairs. Convicted offenders will be severely punished.

Displaying affection in public is considered an offence.

Photographing government buildings, military installations, and palaces is prohibited. Ask permission before taking photographs of local residents.

Consult our publication entitled Her Own Way: A Woman’s Safe-Travel Guide for travel safety information specifically aimed at Canadian women.

Money

The currency is the afghani (AFN). The economy operates on a cash-only basis. Credit cards are not widely accepted. U.S. dollars are accepted but should be recent and in good condition. Automated banking machines are beginning to appear in Kabul, but they are unreliable.

Climate

Afghanistan is located in an active seismic zone. An earthquake may cause landslides in affected areas. Strong aftershocks are possible up to one week after the initial quake.

Avalanches, floods and landslides occur, which could result in a high number of casualties and serious property damage.