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Travel Guide Asia Afghanistan Kabul

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Introduction

Afghanistan

Afghanistan

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Kabul (Persian: کابل) is the capital and largest city in Afghanistan and has about 3 million inhabitants. It is located in the central eastern part of the country in a valley at an altitude of about 1,800 metres, with the Hindu Kush mountains towering above the city in the distance. It is believed that the city has been inhabited for at least 3,500 years and nowadays it is the economical and cultural heart of the country. Although the city saw many travellers before the Soviet invasion during the late seventies, since then number have declined significantly. Nowadays, few travellers make it to this ancient city but the adventurous people who travel overland from Pakistan are rewarded with some great experiences, albeit not very safe due to unexpected bomb attacks which can happen everywhere. The National Museum and the narrow alleys filled with bazaars are the main features of Kabul.

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Sights and Activities

  • Kabul Museum - Visit one of the best collections of any central Asian museum at this national museum. With over 100,000 items that date back several thousands of years there is plenty to learn here.
  • Bagh-e Babur (Gardens of Babur) - The gardens surround the tomb of the first Mughal Emperor Babur. Though he had wished to be buried here, he was originally buried in Agra, and later moved to this spot. Historically, the gardens have been visited by Afghans for picnics and lazy afternoons. There is a swimming pool, a small mosque for prayers and a small museum among other things. AFN10 for locals, AFN250 for foreigners.
  • Bagh-e Bala - Built in the late 19th century, it served as a summer palace for Amir Abdur Rahman. Today, much of the original interior has been preserved, and the area around the palace has become a large park.
  • Bagh-e Zanana (Family Park) - A park and market for females only but includes male and female children. It was designed as a place where women could sell their own products and merchandise directly, which cannot be done in areas where men do business, because women in Afghanistan are not supposed to deal directly with men who are not relatives. This park was created as an outlet for these women to sell their goods with respect to their culture. There is also a female run restaurant. The park is also a nice place for female travellers to enjoy the outdoors. Entrance fee AFN50.
  • British Cemetery - Where foreigners are buried in Kabul. There are also memorial plaques commemorating those ISAF forces killed during the last few years.
  • Darul Aman Palace (At the end of Daral Aman Rd, south of the city, next to the Kabul Museum) - Originally built as King Amanullah's Palace in the 1920s, it has been destroyed and rebuilt a few times over. Plans were unveiled a few years ago to renovate it once again although it is still in a state of crumbling disrepair on the verge of collapsing. AFN200 or so bakshesh to the guard to look around inside the ruins.
  • Daoud Khan Memorial, Up the hill behind Darul Aman Palace - On 28 Jun 2008, the body of President Daoud and those of his family were found in two separate mass graves in the Pul-e-Charkhi area, District 12 of Kabul city. There is now a small memorial to the deceased on a small hill, offering nice views over southern Kabul.

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Events and Festivals

Ashura

During the month of Musharram, Afghans commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Hussain, the grandson of Prophet Mohammed. Ashura marks the 10th day of the month-long mourning.

Nau Roz

Held between January and March (whichever date the New Year falls according to the Islamic calendar), Nau Roz is the most popular of all the festivals in Afghanistan. Farmers express gratitude and joy for abundant produce and people celebrate with music and dance. It is also during the Nau Roz or New Year festival that buzkashi matches or tournaments are held.

Mawleed al Nabi

Depending on the Islamic calendar, Mawleed al Nabi is celebrated between the months of Marh and May when residents of Afghanistan remember the birth of the revered Islamic prophet (Muhammad). It is a day to offer special prayers and visit mosques.

Labor Day

Labor Day is a national holiday and a legacy of the Soviet era.

Jeshyn-Afghan Day

The independence day of Afghanistan falls on August 19, commemorating the end of British control over the foreign affairs of the country.

Ramadan

Ramadan is one of the most sacred traditions of the Islamic faith. It usually falls between the months of September and November each year, depending on the calendar. During the month-long observance, Afghans don’t eat or drink anything during the day and almost all restaurants and businesses are closed.

Eid e Fitr

Eid e Fitr marks the end of Ramadan. During this celebration, people pray collectively in mosques and then gather with relatives and friends to enjoy a hearty feast.

Eid e Qurban

Eid e Qurban falls between December and February on the Afghan calendar, during which animals like goats, camels, or sheep are sacrificed to mark the commencement of the Muslim pilgrimage (Haj).

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Weather

Kabul's climate is harsh, with hot and dry summers and sometimes bitterly cold winters. Average summer temperatures are well above 30 °C during the day in most of the country, but drop to around 15 °C or a little more at night in places at higher altitude like Kabul. The short winter lasts from December to February with temperatures during the day a few degrees above zero, but averaging around -8 °C in Kabul in January for example. Records of 40 °C in summer and -21 °C in winter have been recorded in the capital. Summers are dry while March and April sees most of the rain.

JanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
Avg Max4.5 °C5.5 °C12.5 °C19.2 °C24.4 °C30.2 °C32.1 °C32 °C28.5 °C22.4 °C15 °C8.3 °C
Avg Min-7.1 °C-5.7 °C0.7 °C6 °C8.8 °C12.4 °C15.3 °C14.3 °C9.4 °C3.9 °C-1.2 °C-4.7 °C
Rainfall34.3 mm60.1 mm67.9 mm71.9 mm23.4 mm1 mm6.2 mm1.6 mm1.7 mm3.7 mm18.6 mm21.6 mm

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Getting there

By Plane

Kabul International Airport (KBL) receives the most international flights and Ariana Afghan Airlines is the national airline serving destinations like Ankara, Delhi, Dubai, Dushanbe, Frankfurt, Jeddah, Islamabad, Istanbul Atatürk, Tehran and Ürümqi.

Pakistan International Airlines flies to and from Islamabad. Kam Air operates flights to and from Almaty, Dushanbe, Delhi, Mashad, Kuwait, Istanbul, Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah. Few other airlines serve Kabul but London will have connections by Safi Airways in the near future when things have cleared up a bit in the country.

Foreigners will need to get a foreigner registration card - after immigration go to the desk adjacent to the baggage carousel and complete the form - if you have 2 passport photos with you then you can complete the registration there. Otherwise you'll have to finish your registration at the Ministry of Interior later (a major hassle - best to make sure you have those photos).

When arriving taxis are available to the city centre (AFN400), but it is safer to meet someone whom you know. Alternatively, Afghan Logistics (+93-777 443311, see below in Get Around) and the other taxi firms offer an airport pick-up for about USD25.

By Car

  • The highway from Kandahar has been rebuilt, but travelling on it is very dangerous because of the Taliban.
  • The highway from Mazar-e Sharif and the North via the Salang Pass is open, although one has to be careful travelling on it during the winter months.
  • The newly rebuilt highway from Jalalabad is open which has reduced the journey time to 2-3 hours, however since 2008 the security on this road has deteriorated considerably.
  • From Bamiyan it is advisable to take the longer northern route, as the southern route (through Wardak province) is of questionable safety.

By Bus

Private operators serve most destinations in fairly comfortable Mercedes buses. Safety can be a problem, with frequent accidents. Most drivers smoke hashish before driving, so bus trips are very dangerous.

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Getting Around

By Car

Taxis are plentiful and to hire the whole car should cost around AFN30-50 depending on destination and bargaining skills. Some drivers have learned basic English, but such drivers may try to charge a slightly higher price and are most likely to be found loitering near Westerner-friendly locations (airport, major hotels). While the city is fairly safe, it isn't a bad idea to be proactive and avoid catching a taxi near any sensitive location (embassy, military facilities, 5-star hotels). It is customary for women to always sit in the back seat. After dark local yellow taxis become a rarity, so keep a few taxi numbers in your phone as a backup.

By Public Transport

There is the Millie Bus which operates many routes around Kabul, but it is faster and more comfortable to use taxis. Some buses are relatively new, but many are old as one might expect in a 3rd world country.

By Foot

Downtown Kabul is relatively compact and walkable - a good option in the spring and fall - summers bring intolerable heat and dust, whilst winters bring snow and mud. Pavements are few, and you need to keep your wits about you when crossing roads.

If you are nervous about your safety walking around areas such as Wazar Akbar Khan and Taimani (to a restaurant, etc.), it is fine day or night. Central Kabul at night is walkable but be sure you know where you are going, and how to get back to your guesthouse. Given the volatile security situation always be aware of any demonstrations, gathering crowds, etc., which could spiral out of control quickly. Keep a low profile, wearing simple clothes and (for women) covering your hair with a scarf or shawl. It is also wise to vary your routes frequently to reduce the threat of kidnapping. People are generally helpful and polite if you ask for directions.

Be wary walking around traditional residential areas (e.g., near the city wall). Conservative Afghans are suspicious of anyone snooping around their house, and children may start throwing stones or setting their dog on you.

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Eat

The thousands of foreigners in the city since the fall of the Taliban has gradually turned Kabul into something of a restaurant Mecca. Restaurants can crudely be split into "places for locals" and "places for expats", with the latter having higher security, higher prices, but not necessarily higher quality. Restaurants that are UN-approved are particularly expensive. If you are looking for a place with a good mix of Afghans and expat diners the (dry) Lebanese, Turkish and Iranian restaurants are the ones to head towards.

Restaurants open and close with surprising frequency, so it is a good idea to check whether a place is still operating before heading out.

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Drink

Despite being illegal, alcohol is pretty easy to find in Kabul's expat restaurants - buying your own supply involves befriending someone working at an embassy or military base, or dipping into the murky world of expat black-marketeering. Beer and spirits are available at UNICA, but the selection is slim.

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Sleep

Kabul is not a cheap place to stay, principally due to the costs of running a generator and providing security. The hotels are good if you are just passing through, however for long term stays opting for a guest house is more popular. There are several in Wazir Akbar Khan and Shar-i-Naw, often in huge Pakistani style mansions.

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Keep Connected

Phone

See also International Telephone Calls

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Accommodation in Kabul

We have a comprehensive list of accommodation in Kabul searchable right here on Travellerspoint. You can use our map to quickly compare budget, mid-range or top of the range accommodation in Kabul and areas nearby.

Contributors

as well as Hien (3%), Lavafalls (3%), hasbeen (2%)

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This is version 12. Last edited at 8:59 on Apr 24, 17 by Utrecht. 10 articles link to this page.

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