Snow-capped mountains, lush green meadows, mesmerizing valleys, hospitable people, scrumptious cuisine – Afghanistan has everything that makes it the ultimate destination for travelers. Still, this amazing country does not figure on the itinerary of globetrotters. Terrorism and anarchy have turned this once ‘tourist paradise’ into one of the most dangerous destinations in the world. Still, the question uppermost on the minds of a lot of people is – can Afghanistan be visited for tourism? The answer is yes, but you really need to be out of your mind if you are planning to take a break from your hectic work schedule by indulging in a pleasure trip to this picturesque, but strife-torn country.
Afghanistan is not a safe place for tourists, as travel advisories of many countries indicate. The nation is virtually a war zone with people being killed every day. It has witnessed continuous attacks on embassies, tourist spots and many-a-times, tourists have been abducted and even killed. In 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, and thus began the guerrilla war with the Mujahideen. However, the Soviet Union withdrew from the country in 1989, and the ensuing chaos ultimately led to the establishment of the Taliban, a militant group noted for its extreme brutality and oppression of women.
Though the Taliban are no longer in power (the militant group was ousted in 2001 by the US and its allies), they are very much active in the country and are fighting against the Afghan government and the international troops that still have a presence in the country. The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office has advised its citizens from traveling to most parts of Afghanistan because of terrorism and the increasing sophistication of the attacks. The US Department’s advisory is a bit direct, it states there is a risk of “kidnapping, hostage taking, military combat operations, landmines, banditry, armed rivalry between political and tribal groups, militant attacks, direct and indirect fire, suicide bombings, and insurgent attacks, including attacks using vehicle-borne or other improvised explosive devices”. But, some places are reported to be safe such as Herat.
Traveling on your own can be dangerous and it is advisable to hire the services of some tour company. It would be a further advantage to have a local accompanying you on your trip as they have a good knowledge of the area and the security situation. It would be better to avoid the roads and travel by air from one place to the other.
How to Visit Afghanistan?
If you are still keen to visit this war torn but beautiful country, there are a handful of tour companies that offer travel in the country such as Afghan Logistics and Tours, Untamed borders etc; however, the prices would usually be on the steeper side and would vary depending on the tourist’s travel plans. Tour companies would help out the tourists by planning out the itinerary, booking rooms, finding a local guide, facilitating with permits and border crossing and even providing security. But, the air booking and obtaining visas has to be done by the tourists themselves. Like every other country, to enter Afghanistan, you still need a passport and a visa. If you are a woman, make sure to follow the local traditions and cover up your body, barring the face, hands and feet.
It is tough to get the actual statistics of tourists visiting Afghanistan, but the nation does give a picture of the tourist expenditure through the UNWTO data. The data does not paint a very rosy picture as there has been a deep plunge in the money spent by tourists in the country. According to the recent statistics, in 2012, visitors spent $168 million in the country; this has fallen to $91 million in 2014.
What to See in Afghanistan?
If you take away terrorism and internal strife, Afghanistan is a cool and serene place to travel. Here, you would come across majestic gardens, heritage sites, picturesque landscape, scrumptious cuisine and friendly people. Though the Bamiyan Buddhas are no longer there (the Buddhas were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001), it is still a popular site, as work on the restoration of the Buddhas is underway. The nation is also home to many Indus Valley Civilization sites, which provide an insight into the country’s rich historical past. The Babur Garden and the Kabul Zoo provide a small glimpse of the nation’s flora and fauna. Want to know about the history of the nation? Just take a trip to the National Museum of Afghanistan which is a treasure-trove of the history and heritage of the country. And it might come as a surprise to you, but Afghanistan is a heaven for skiing enthusiasts, as the nation houses the pristine and untouched snow-capped mountains of Bamiyan which are hot spots to ski. Every year, 10 to 20 foreign tourists join the locals on the ski slopes of Bamiyan, who are trying to ameliorate their lives for a better future. Some other breathtaking destinations that tourists can explore include Panjshir Valley and Band-e-Amir National Park.
While in Afghanistan, do try out the saffron tea and delicacies such as naan and kebab; Ashak, which is a traditional dumpling dish; Bolani, which is a stuffed vegetarian flat bread; Afghan lamb kebab, Afghan Jalebi etc.