Despite difficult political situation Afghanistan is still worth visiting. The country has been suffering from instability, which results in ruined economy and infrastructure but its people have been struggling to create a democratic society.
It is kind of a bridge between Middle East, Central Asia and Indian subcontinent along the ancient Silk Road. Since the fall of the Taliban, originally a group of Islamic scholar that transformed into extremists, the area has been controlled by military forces from different parts of the world.
The unemployment rate has reached 35%. About the same percentage of people reside below the poverty line. Due to economical reasons children are sent to work instead of being sent to school. Still Afghanistan is a unique nation with proud and hospitable people hoping for better future.
Population of about 30 million inhabits the area of 652,000 km2. The country is divided into 34 provinces.
Most of the area is covered by mountains, which tower more than 7000 meters above the sea level, and split into east and west by Hindu Kush mountain range. The winters are harsh and summers hot. Numerous valleys make the landscape even more beautiful.
In 70-ties thousands of tourists were attracted by low prices and local hospitality. Kabul, competing with Katmandu, offered cheap hotels, hostels and even cheaper hashish available in famous Chicken Street. Nowadays 90% of the world’s opium is supplied by Afghanistan. Nevertheless the tourism is slowly developing though the country is not safe. Tourists stop off in Kabul for a night or two before setting off to the Pamir Mountains in the northeast or to Herat and Mazar-i-Sharif, exotic towns. Another popular destination is the Bamiyan Valley with monumental statues of standing Buddha destroyed by the Taliban in 2001.
As political situation is neither stable nor clear Afghanistan is considered a relatively dangerous country. However, if you keep away from the government officials, UN and military your stay may be safe and pleasant. Northern Afghanistan is said to be safer than Southern part. It is due to militant activities and drug trade. People are nice, helpful and hospitable but as in every country the may be some exceptions.
It is advisable to respect local dress code and avoid travelling at night. Arranging a travel with a local fixer or reliable tour operator might be a good idea. You need to register yourself with local authorities within 24 hours after the arrival and remember to make a copy of your passport.
Due to frequent terrorist attack traveling by public transport is risky. The most dangerous route is the road linking Kabul and Kandahar. Afghan drives neither obey traffic rules nor vehicle safety regulations. Roads are in a very bad condition. Out of 42,000 km of roads about 30 000 are unpaved. The railway does not exist. A few domestic airlines operate between major cities. However, after the establishment of a new government vast amounts of money have been invested in transport mainly in the capital. Kabul has public buses operating on daily routes, yellow taxis and airport shuttle buses, which take visitors from Kabul International Airport to the city center. The airport has been rebuilt and new flights launched. Turkish Airlines started operating between Istanbul and Kabul. There are also frequent flights from Dubai in order to connect the city with Europe and America.
Internet and mobile phones are becoming more and more popular and about 90% of population has access to communication services. There are different mobile providers:
AWCC (city code = 0700 or 07000)
Roshan (City code = 0799,0798,0797,0796)
Etisalat (City code = 0786, 0788)
Areeba (City code = 077)
International phone calls are quite expensive. Another option for making a phone call are calling cards widely available in every shop.
In 2006 Afghan government signed an agreement with China’s ZTE Corporation to establish countrywide optical fiber cable network. The aim of the project was to improve telephone, Internet and broadcasting services. In 2013 Etisalat launched 4G services for the first time.
Pashto and Dari (Persian) are official languages; bilingualism is common. Persian has always been considered a prestigious language and has been used as an inter-ethnic communication tool. Other ethnic groups speak Uzbek, Arabic, Turkmen, Balochi.
Literacy rate is very low about 28% in the population and below 10% of female population.
Local dishes are exceptionally delicious and Afghan cuisine belongs to one of the best in the Middle East in terms of taste and fragrance. Fresh yoghurt, garlic, coriander, chives, tomatoes, potatoes and fruit are widely available and used for food preparation. Fresh and dried fruit and vegetables are important ingredients of Afghan diet especially in rural areas. Spices like mint, saffron, coriander, cardamom and pepper together with chicken or lamb will make a great meal.
The most popular dishes are: palau – rice with chopped and fried carrots, mantoo – dumplings stuffed with mince beef, onion and spices, ashak – sort of vegetarian dumplings, bulani – mashed potatoes in egg roll wrappers, and of course very popular different kinds of kebab.