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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.
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.
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.
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 is a national holiday and a legacy of the Soviet era.
The independence day of Afghanistan falls on August 19, commemorating the end of British control over the foreign affairs of the country.
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 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 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).
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.
|Avg Max||4.5 °C||5.5 °C||12.5 °C||19.2 °C||24.4 °C||30.2 °C||32.1 °C||32 °C||28.5 °C||22.4 °C||15 °C||8.3 °C|
|Avg Min||-7.1 °C||-5.7 °C||0.7 °C||6 °C||8.8 °C||12.4 °C||15.3 °C||14.3 °C||9.4 °C||3.9 °C||-1.2 °C||-4.7 °C|
|Rainfall||34.3 mm||60.1 mm||67.9 mm||71.9 mm||23.4 mm||1 mm||6.2 mm||1.6 mm||1.7 mm||3.7 mm||18.6 mm||21.6 mm|
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
See also International Telephone Calls
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.
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