|BETWEEN||Kabul and Kabul|
|COUNTRIES VISITED – 1||Afghanistan|
|MAXIMUM GROUP SIZE||12|
|WHATS NOT INCLUDED||
Afghanistan needs no introduction; just the name is enough to have most politicians panicking, journalists packing and wild travellers salivating with expectation. News, time and again over the centuries, has focused on this most extraordinary arid and mountainous country in middle-Asia and now, as always, its place at the heart of world affairs is as poignant as ever. Afghanistan is undergoing tremendous change at the moment but for the vast majority of Afghans, daily life continues in much the same vein as it has for centuries so we will have ample opportunities to witness traditional lifestyles from farming and pottery-making to silk-weaving and daily prayer.
The Afghan Explorer tour takes us through the mountains and plains; following in the footsteps of Marco Polo. From Kabul and the foothills of the Hindu Kush, we will visit the extraordinary city of Herat; the famous mountain caves of Bamiyan, the breath-taking lakes at Band-e Amir, the historical northern town of Mazar-e Sharif as well as the famous Panjshir Valley.
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PLEASE NOTE – It may sound obvious but anyone wishing to travel to Afghanistan must understand that in places the tourist infrastructure is almost non-existent. Days can be long and hard, and movement can be restricted by security considerations. However, don’t let this put you off – in our opinion Afghanistan is one of the most fascinating countries in the world.
Day 1:Day 1: Kabul
The tour starts this afternoon in Kabul, the Afghan capital. Since the recent war and the fall of the Taliban there has been substantial investment and a lot of changes in this legendary city and although modern developments can be seen all around, many of the old interesting areas still remain. After an introductory meeting that will include a specific security briefing, we will head out for our first night’s dinner. Hotel (D)
Kabul has been the capital of Afghanistan since 1776. Once it was a fast growing city ringed with mountains and was a place of convergence for the many tourists who were journeying overland from Europe to Asia. Though most of the attractions in Kabul city were destroyed due to heavy bombardment, there still remains the Bala Hisar Palace, the Arg (Citadel), the Mausoleum of Amir Abdur Rahman, and the various mosques such as Masjid-e-Pule Kheshti, Masjid-e-Shahe Du Shamshira, Masjid-e-Sherpur (Blue Mosque), Masjid-e-Wazir Akbar Khan – places to be visited for their unique architecture. The life of the Afghans can be observed in various teahouses, restaurants and shops located on Chicken Street.
Day 2: In Kabul
With our first full day in country, we plan to explore some of the sights of this hectic city. The traffic may be horrendous and the detrimental effects of the last 30 years can be clearly seen in many areas, but there are still some absolute gems to enjoy in this fabled city that was so loved by the Moghul Emperor Babur. We start with a visit to the Kabul Museum and the nearby Darulaman Palace. Though both have been damaged badly, they nevertheless provide a fascinating glimpse into the riches and splendour that Kabul once embraced. For lunch we will head for the beautifully restored Babur Gardens which were laid out in the early 16th century and today are considered a haven of tranquillity for Kabul residents. Later we will take a stroll through the Ka Faroshi Bird Market where time seems to have stood still for hundreds of years. Hotel (B,L,D)
Day 3: Fly Kabul – Herat
This morning we plan to take an early morning flight to the previous capital of Herat. Our exact itinerary will depend on flight times but we plan first to explore Herat’s fascinating Old City. The Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) have done some amazing work in maintaining and restoring much of the city’s ancient glory and beyond the main streets we’ll find beautifully decorated caravanserais and craftsmen of all kinds. Later we’ll head out to the Musalla Complex that includes the Minarets of Gohar Shad and her Mausoleum. Gohar Shad was the wife of Shah Rukh, son of Tamerlane. Destroyed for defensive reasons at the height of the Great Game era by the British in anticipation of a Russian invasion (that failed to materialise!) these minarets tower above the surrounding plains and give a sense of the grandeur of the complex that once stood here. It is a haunting place to wander through in the late afternoon sun. Hotel (B,L,D)
Day 4: Duma - Taybeh
Day 4: In Herat: Our first visit this morning will be to the magnificent Friday Mosque. This is one of the finest examples of Ghorid and Timurid tiling and is arguably one of the most stunning mosques in the world, though the inhabitants of Mazar-e Sharif and Samarkand might disagree! There is an opportunity to see a famous 14th Century bronze cauldron, alleged to be Tamerlane’s sherbet bowl, in the courtyard. We will also be able to see the tile factory, which claims to be the oldest in the world and probably dates back to the 12th century, where tiles are still made in the traditional manner. We will then head to the Citadel, recently restored and dating in parts back to Alexander the Great. With the rest of the day there’ll be time to visit the peaceful shrine of Gazar Gah and perhaps go shopping for Herat’s famous blue glassware or even a famed carpet. For most Afghans, carpets are a major purchase; equivalent to a westerner buying a car and the negotiation may take a number of visits. Happy haggling! Hotel (B,L,D)
Day 5: Fly Herat – Kabul - Mazar-e Sharif
If flight times allow, we plan to take a morning flight to Kabul and an onward flight up to Mazar-e Sharif. The name means ‘Tomb of the Exalted’ and is believed to be the burial place of the prophet’s son-in-law Ali. The tomb is in a magnificent tiled building surrounded by flocks of white doves. If a grey one joins them, it is said, it will become white in a month. Mazar is not only a centre of carpet production in Afghanistan but also one of the centres of the Central Asian carpet trade, and the most beautiful carpets from all over Central Asia can be found in the bazaars. It is a relaxed and friendly city and the park which surrounds the shrine is a good place to meet locals. This afternoon we’ll visit the shrine of Ali at Rawze-e Sharif, an incredibly important place where many Shias try to make a pilgrimage here at least once in their lives. Hotel (B,L,D)
Mazar-e Sharif is located in northern Afghanistan, close to the old city of Balkh. The name of the city means something like “Tomb of The Chosen One”. The main sight in town is the great Blue Mosque, Tomb Of Hazrat Ali, cousin and son-in-law of Prophet Mohammad. The tomb was covered with earth to escape the ravage of Genghis Khan in 1220 and remained lost until it was uncovered during the rebuilding work in 1480s.is located in northern Afghanistan, close to the old city of Balkh. The name of the city means something like “Tomb of The Chosen One”. The main sight in town is the great Blue Mosque, Tomb of Hazrat Ali, cousin and son-in-law of Prophet Mohammad. The tomb was covered with earth to escape the ravage of Genghis Khan in 1220 and remained lost until it was uncovered during the rebuilding work in 1480s.
Day 6: Day trip to Samangan & Tashkurgan
A couple of hours south of Mazar lies one of Afghanistan’s most unexpected and rewarding sights – the 28m high Buddhist stupa of Takht-e Rostam. Carved out of the rock, in similar fashion to the churches of Lalibela in Ethiopia, this complex sits high above the valley and is today one of the country’s most enduring legacies from the pre-Islamic era. After a picnic lunch here we’ll return to the town of Tashkurgan, which lies in a key strategic location just north of a dramatic gorge on the northern fringes of the Hindu Kush foothills. Once a major crossroads; the town is now most famous for the 19th century palace that overlooks it. Later we’ll return to Mazar. Hotel (B,L,D)
Day 7: Drive to Kabul
Today is a full day driving up into the Hindu Kush Mountains and through the Salang Tunnel (3363m). This tunnel was built by the Soviets from 1958 and opened in 1964. In 1979 they used it to transport their tanks over the Hindu Kush before the advance on Kabul. A vital strategic prize in the civil war, the tunnel has now been repaired and allows for a memorable, if rather chaotic, crossing from Northern Afghanistan to the fertile Shamali Plains. From here we carry on to Kabul for the evening. Hotel (B,L,D)
Day 8: Day trip to the Panjshir Valley
Today we will visit the Panjshir Valley, the legendary stronghold of Commander Ahmad Shah Massoud. We will spend the day exploring this incredible valley so expect an early start so we can make the most of it! The river has a narrow and extremely fertile flood plain and is famous for its fruit. However the sides are steep mountains hence its excellent defence qualities. In the spring especially, watered by the melting snow, these mountainsides are dark green giving an impression of overwhelming fertility. When Afghanistan was on the tourist trail, the Panjshir’s proximity to Kabul combined with its astonishing natural beauty made it most people’s first destination in the country after the capital. It was also conveniently accessed from Pakistan by journalists covering the Russian and Taliban wars when its geographical situation, and the brilliance of its mujahedeen commander, made it unconquerable. Massoud defeated the Russians here 15 times, and so comprehensively that they stopped trying to capture it. Most of the television footage of the war shown in the West was shot here. Murdered by Al-Qaeda operatives two days before 9/11, Massoud is revered today as a national hero and we will visit his tomb, set in a commanding position above the valley. We will head back to Kabul in the late afternoon for dinner. Hotel (B,L,D)
Day 9: Fly Kabul - Bamiyan
This morning we will have an early start for our flight to Bamiyan. We travel to what is undoubtedly one of the country’s highlights; the Bamiyan Valley. Once on a major trading route and was an important centre for Buddhism, despite the Taliban famously destroying the giant Buddhas in 2001, there is still much to see in the area, not least the Buddha niches, which are still an awesome sight to behold. We also plan to explore the surrounding cliffs that are riddled with caves that contain carvings and frescos. There will be time to wander through the friendly bazaar in the centre of town and to meet local Hazaras working their fields. Later in the afternoon, we’ll head for the nearby Darya Ajdhahar, the so-called Valley of the Dragon. Here there is a massive rock formation which is alleged to be the remains of a dragon that persecuted the villagers until Hazrat Ali, cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammed, killed it. The story is reminiscent of St George and the Dragon and is a wonderful spot to take in the late afternoon sun. Guesthouse (B,L,D)
The ruined Buddhas are the main reason that most people visit Bamiyan. Created in the 6th century, they were once the largest in the world and a pilgrimage site for Buddhists. Over the centuries they were slowly damaged by various invaders, and in 2001 the Taliban declared them ‘un-Islamic’, rolled in tanks and destroyed them completely. All that remains are the ‘footprints’. The area around the Buddhas and to the west is interesting to walk around (stay on wellused paths). Many of the buildings were destroyed in war and there are occasional leftover weapons and destroyed jeeps, one of which is now used as a bridge over a stream. Shahr-i- Gholghola is a fort above the town that gives some of the best views of the valley.
Day 10: To Band-e Amir
A two hour journey west takes us to the extraordinary chain of lakes at Band-e Amir. Set in the middle of a barren mountain landscape, the lakes are astonishingly beautiful with the water colour varying from turquoise to deep blue-black from lake to lake. Don’t assume that photographs of the lakes have had their colour touched up – they really are these colours, tinted by the mineral salts in the springs that feed the lakes. For those who are feeling active, there is the opportunity to do a good walk around the cliff edge; for those after a more relaxed day, it is simply a great spot to take in this natural wonder, which in any other country would be teeming with visitors. It is truly a word-class destination and a highlight of any trip to the region. We’ll return to Bamiyan for our penultimate night there. Guesthouse (B,L,D)
The Band-e Amir
The Band-i-Amir lakes mean the “dams of the king.” These five natural lakes have been formed through the ages as minerals from the spring-fed water are deposited at the outlet of the lakes to form massive natural dams that have elevated the water level of the lakes. Each of the lakes is of a different hue of blue, creating a dramatic contrast to the barren red cliffs that surround the lakes. The most visited lake is Band-e Haibat, which means, the lake of wonder. Its deep blue colour entices the visitor to swim. However, please note that the water is ice-cold, and the waterfalls are actually covered in icicled most of the year! Still a visit to the lakes is one of the highlights for most visitors to Afghanistan. 40% of Africa’s historical volcanic eruptions.
Day 11: In Bamiyan
We spend another day in this most scenic part of Afghanistan making leisurely visits to some lesser known but equally impressive sites in the nearby countryside. We will drive the short distance to the base of Shar-e Zohak, an imposing fortress at the eastern entrance to the Bamiyan Valley which has been used by various commanders over the past two millennia and although largely destroyed by Genghis Khan’s forces, it is still a great place to explore on foot. In particular, the summit gives a truly spectacular 360o view over the surrounding area. Later we’ll head for the Shahr-e Gholgola, another fortress that saw its glory destroyed in the face of the Mongol invasion of the 13th century. History tells us that in 1221 Genghis had destroyed Balkh and sent his teenage grandson with an army to capture Bamiyan. The people of Bamiyan resisted and Genghis’s grandson was killed. Genghis besieged and destroyed Gholgola in revenge. Today its ruined remains overlook the central Bamiyan valley and provide superb views over the Buddha niches and the surrounding countryside. Guesthouse (B,L,D)
Day 12: Fly Bamiyan – Kabul
Once again taking to the sky, we’ll spend the morning heading back to Kabul for our final night where we treat ourselves to dinner in one the capital’s excellent restaurants. Hotel (B,L,D)
Day 13: Tour ends in Kabul
The tour ends after breakfast this morning. (B)
• The City Walls & Moghul Gardens of Kabul
• Bamiyan Valley & Band-e Amir Lakes
• The Shrine of Ali at Mazar-e Sharif ]
• The beautiful Panjshir Valley
• Herat’s Friday Mosque, Citadel & Old City
Tour Dossier Notes
Climate -The weather in Kabul is cold in the winter and hot in the summer. Dress in layers and keep the following in mind as you pack: versatility and modesty.
Is this trip for me? – It may sound obvious but these tours are not always for everyone and it is important to us that the tour you choose is the most suitable. The team at Diesel Adventures can provide the details and expertise you need to help you choose the right trip for you.
Airport transfers– Not included but can be arranged. If you’re booking flights yourself, then please let us know the details so that we can arrange the transfers.
Accommodation– As an overall ethos, wherever possible we aim to use characterful accommodation that enhances the overall travel experience, not just offers a bed for the night. This can obviously vary dramatically from country to country and from trip to trip. In Afghanistan tourist accommodation is limited in many areas and security is always a major factor in our choices. While often comfortable and with Western style bathrooms, in some places accommodation can be very basic and you should come prepared for all eventualities. Please note that the accommodation mentioned in the itinerary is intended as a guide only and is always subject to availability.
Guides – Full services of a Tour Leader with local guides and drivers.
Meals – In most cases a “Full Board” Meal plan as detailed in the itinerary (B=Breakfast, L=Lunch, D=Dinner) with the majority of meals being taken in local restaurants where viable. Plus bottled drinking water as required
Entrance fees – Entrance fees are listed for those sites that we mention within the itinerary. If there are any other sites that you’d like to see, we can arrange if possible and these would be at your own expense.
Visas – We don’t arrange visas for our travellers, but if an invitation letter is necessary then can request for this to be arranged for you. If you need any advice with visas just give us a call, or alternatively a visa agency such as CIBT can assist.
Airport taxes – If there are any departure taxes to pay that are not included within the cost of your ticket, these are at your expense.
Please note that there is more detailed tour dossiers available specific to each departure date, contact our Sales team and we would be happy to send these to you