Afghanistan, A Tour With YPT

Oct 27th, 2018, 05:22 AM
  #1  
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Afghanistan, A Tour With YPT

Although not your typical tourist destination a tour with YPT gives me an opportunity to experience a country from a somewhat local perspective. As it turns out I meet up with our tour guide and a fellow traveler in Dubai for our flight to Kabul. As we begin our arrival into Kabul, I survey the desert landscape with towering mountains around the city. I have just a tinge of fear as we approach the airport as I am told the arrival into Kabul requires some unusual maneuvering for security reasons.

There is a bit of relief as we touchdown but our collective guard will still be up until we are all well on our way back to Dubai. Clearing Immigration and Customs is pretty straightforward and I am the only one who obtains an Afghanistan Identification Card. Since it is free I do it mainly to keep as a weird souvenir.

Because of the constant security threat at the airport it is an obstacle course to leave the terminal area. A quarter mile walk or so and we are greeted by our local host. Divided into separate cars we are told we will take a longer route to our hotel again for security reasons. As we leave the airport compound I am excited to be in Afghanistan as I see people going on about with their daily lives even as there is a constant threat that their lives could be shattered at any moment.

In about twenty minutes we arrive at our hotel which is a compound that has tall walls with barbed wired top and security personnel with machine guns. After clearing airport type security we walk through a secured hallway before entering a nice open garden area. A warm welcome by the hotel staff then it is time to shed our western wear and dress like an Afghan.

Video:
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Oct 28th, 2018, 02:38 AM
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Looking forward to more. I would love to visit Afghanistan, but took it off the list some time back. Will be interested to learn how much you are able to see.
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Oct 29th, 2018, 02:01 AM
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I'm in the same boat as Thursdays. I'd love to have a look at Afghanistan. It sounds like a fair bit of time and effort spent trying not to be in harms way? Looking forward to hearing more about your time there.
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Oct 29th, 2018, 03:10 AM
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Fascinating. Once a battle field of the super-powers and their proxy war. A culturally rich and a moderate muslim country now limping back to normalcy.Love to here more
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Oct 29th, 2018, 05:05 AM
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Wow! Glad to follow your TR. I would be quite startled by all that happened before the time you reached your hotel.
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Oct 29th, 2018, 10:18 AM
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@inquest - "moderate Muslim country"? The Taliban moderate? "Limping back to normalcy"? Not from what I've been reading. Areas under Taliban control seem to grow, and peace talks wih them never seem to get off the ground.
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Oct 29th, 2018, 12:06 PM
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https://www.quora.com/What-was-it-like-to-travel-in-Afghanistan-in-the-1970s
That could have been paradise. I was not a witness to this eden described in the link above. There was this conservative society..still open to travellers.
I wa there in Kabul in the early '80s.There was a sense of insecurity around. Still beautiful. Yes. Soviets were around.
Not too bad at all. I've seen and interacted with folk there. The most wonderful people. The most hospitable.Truely down to earth folk. Great food thats still not off my senses.
keen to learn from Travellers experience.
All ears.
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Oct 29th, 2018, 08:50 PM
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After a peaceful night sleep I wake up to the sound of huge blades beating the morning air long before the street traffic below me makes its contribution. Due to safety concerns most foreign non-military and military personnel are transported to work (between compounds) by helicopters or armored cars when ground transportation is necessary.

I get dressed in my local Afghan attire and head upstairs to an open rooftop to try and get a glimpse of the helicopters flying across the city. From my vantage point I can see “Television Mountain” in the distant as the morning air is clear and fresh. A stroll around the rooftop and it doesn't take me long to realize that I have somewhat lost the protection of the 12-15 foot barb wired wall beneath me. Although just a remote possibility that I could be a “Sitting Duck” and my rooftop visit turns into a brief one.

A breakfast consisting of a local flat bread, jam, fruit along with a cup of hot tea and I join my fellow travelers to begin our first day of touring which will be just around Kabul. Our group is again divided into two separate mini-vans and we set of for our first stop, The British Cemetery.

Located right next to the office of Mullah Omar the former Taliban leader of Afghanistan, the cemetery has some interesting history. A story is told that Mullah Omar visited one day and asked the caretaker why he is so particular in taking care of the graves of “Infidels”.. His response, “Everyone deserves the same respect in death”. Apparently, Mullah Omar respected this answer and the British Cemetery was one foreign reminder of Afghanistan past that was left untouched during the Taliban era. An interesting burial here is an American "Billy Batman" a hippie said to be the first importer of Afghan hashish to the US.

Enroute to our next stopThe National Museum Of Afghanistan we get a good look of life on the streets of Kabul. As expected there is a military presence around the city but what was not expected was seeing locals casually walking around with “Rocket Launchers”. Off from a major highway we pass by the infamous Inter-Continental Hotel which has unfortunately had its share of terrorist attacks. An attack occurred there a few months before our arrival in which about twelve crew members of a local airline were murdered. As a result the airline had to severely reduce its flight schedule which many Afghans depend on to travel around the country because it is much safer than traveling by ground.

For me, just as sad and disappointing is seeing the amount of drug addicted homeless Afghans living and doing drugs in the highway median. In both cases a lost of human lives with so much potential.

Although there is an ongoing underlying conflict there is an effort to have some normalcy in and around the city. The National Museum Of Afghanistan is one place to see some of this. Here you can learn about some of the country's rich history from exhibits and artifacts that are slowly being returned to the museum from various countries like surprisingly Japan. During the war years many artifacts were taken from the country for “Safe Keeping”.

Next we visit the Garden Of Babur the city's historic kind of Central Park and the final resting place of the first Mughal emperor Babur. Before we begin to walk around the park we take a break from the day's heat under some shade trees next to a “Fresh Fruit” stand. For less than a dollar I have arguably one of the best fresh fruit juices I have ever had.

Inside The Garden Of Babur you would never know you were in a country still dealing with the aftermath of a long history of war. Here men play an interesting table game similar to billiards as school children run around and laugh in another area of the park. Courting even goes on here although males and females keep their respective distances.

During the Taliban era this park was practically destroyed and you can see evidence of this at a museum in the park. However, through the support of outside donations nice restoration work is being done.

From The Garden Of Babur we journey to Mazar I Sharif to visit The Blue Mosque. Completed around 1481, The Blue Mosque is amazingly beautiful. However, like most important sites in the country this is a popular place for terrorist attacks because of the large amount of people who gather here on Fridays and other holy days. Even with security in place bombings have taken place here that have involved a lost of lives.

Next to The Blue Mosque is a cemetery with an interesting attraction, an amusement park. While it is no Disneyland the locals, kids and adults a like seem to enjoy the purely mechanical rides. Just one of us is small and brave enough to do the same. What we are not all afraid to do is enjoy some freshly made local ice cream before we head to our final tour stop of the day.

Hard to believe but it is reported that “The Olympic Pool” in Kabul was built by the Soviets in the 1980's as a part of their bid for the Olympics. What is not so hard to believe is the horrible things reported to have occurred there under the Taliban rule of Afghanistan. Used as an execution ground many Afghans lost their lives here with some thrown blindfolded of diving boards into an empty concrete pool.

As our day one comes to a close even with what I have seen and learned about Afghanistan I am more at ease being here. The people we have encountered have been generally nice and believe it or not we are all blending in well even to the point some have questioned if we were locals. This was a bit surprising until I realized that Afghanistan is a country with a very diverse ethnic makeup.

Video:
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Oct 29th, 2018, 08:52 PM
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Hopefully my TR will encourage you to put it back on your list. As long as things stay the way they are it is a very doable place to visit.
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Oct 29th, 2018, 08:59 PM
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We were given somewhat of a briefing of what to expect but experiencing it live was an adrenaline rush. I was thankful when we touched down even though I had some faith in the airport air defense system since military ops are also conducted in the same airspace
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Oct 29th, 2018, 11:25 PM
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Great report DMB. Admire your spirit, enjoying your travel in Afghanistan inspite of a tense atmosphere.Videos are fantastic.The game you mentioned the men were involved at The Garden of Babur is called 'Carrom', said to have its origins in South Asia. Its a favourite pass-time.One other interesting sport,which I witnessed ,was an Afghan national sport is called 'Buzkashi',something like polo with a dead goat.My memories have faded.
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Oct 30th, 2018, 05:32 AM
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Thank you for your TR.

That’s about as close as I want to get but I appreciate your venture into a place most of us know little about.

How many days did you stay there?
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Oct 30th, 2018, 07:04 AM
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Once again DMB goes to an interesting location . . great trip report. I was there in the late 60's after we were invited to help with Oil exploration in the northern areas, Amu River basin in particular.

The Russians had been randomly poking holes in the ground hoping to stumble on a discovery, but King Zahir Shah wanted some Western technology to speed up the process. Just as we identified a potential target, the Russians invaded and we had to leave.

Kabul has changed a lot from then!
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Oct 31st, 2018, 03:52 AM
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Stayed 7 days including arrival and departure days
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Oct 31st, 2018, 03:55 AM
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Rich,

We were told back in 60-70's women wore bikini's and now it's burkas. This country has no doubt gone through a lot of changes since you were here. I hope it someday returns to some of its better times.
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Oct 31st, 2018, 04:09 AM
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Day Two In Kabul

Our second full day in Afghanistan has us spending the morning visiting a few sights around Kabul including Shah-e Doh Shamshira Mosque and the famous Kabul Bird Market where you can also have an appointment with “The Bone Doctor”. Again, because of security concerns our group is split in two and we are only allowed brief stops inside the bustling and exciting Bird Market. The Bird Market is a local institution that has provided Afghans joy and refuge throughout its war torn years. I really wish we could have spent more time here. A chat with “The Bone Doctor” would have been very interesting.




The "Bone Doctor". Who needs an HMO?




The Kabul Bird Market

Our journey across the city takes us by “The Green Zone”, “The Ring Of Steel” (where all cellphone transmissions are blocked) and by The Serena Hotel, the most targeted hotel in the world despite all of the security surrounding it. Another interesting sight is seeing private militia's driving around the city, large Toyota pickup trucks filled in the back with men dressed in military gear loaded with weapons including machine guns. As they speed by us I am glad that for the moment we will not be caught in any of the crossfire if they happen to go into action.

A walk down the “Chicken Street” area and I grab a fresh and sweet green melon from a street vendor while others do some window shopping. However, at one store we all bargain for some Afghanistan souvenirs including coins and old paper currency. Along one street we pass a somewhat hidden Jewish Synagogue known as “The Last Operating Synagogue” in Afghanistan. This synagogue has a colorful history especially during the Taliban era and is now home to the only Jew remaining in Afghanistan.

The morning passes quickly and soon it is time for a trip to the airport. Originally our tour included a trip to Bamiyan however due to a lost of crew members earlier in the year our scheduled flights have been canceled and we are headed to Herat. In other circumstances we still could have visited Bamiyan which is only about 100 miles from Kabul but it would not be particularly safe to do so by land. I don't know how true it is but I have heard of one tour company that often takes land routes around the country and on one occasion had one of its buses hit by a rocket launcher. When interviewed about the matter a company spokesman reportedly responded “What do you expect... this is Afghanistan!”. While that experience would make for a great story, if you survived, I am glad we will be traveling by air.
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Oct 31st, 2018, 04:18 AM
  #17  
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Fresh And Sugar Sweet Green Mellons
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Oct 31st, 2018, 07:43 AM
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I am following your report but for me this is too close for comfort.
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Nov 1st, 2018, 03:02 AM
  #19  
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Thanks... Stay tuned more "uncomfortableness" but FUN to come
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Nov 1st, 2018, 03:30 AM
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Kabul International Airport


As we approach Kabul International Airport the entrance to the airport is very busy, congested and somewhat chaotic but this seems to be all by design. Vehicular traffic is not allowed direct access to the airport so as we are about to enter the main entrance we are directed away from it to a side street where we make a U-turn to join a boxed in line of cars for a more controlled entrance to the airport.

Although this is all a part of a security measure this is one of the few times I actually feel unsafe in the country. If a terrorist attack were to happen we would be sitting targets with little possibility to escape. Even so we are unable to escape the street beggars who see a golden opportunity to approach us. Some of them women (we think) in burkas carrying babies. Even though the burka is traditionally worn by women, it has been used by men as a disguise to carry out terrorist attacks. Therefore, an approaching burka even if it is carrying a baby does not necessarily make me feel comfortable.

Eventually we are inside the airport compound and the first of many multiple security checks begin. We are made to exit the vehicle and then walk through a security area with metal detectors. Our drivers and cars go through their own security check. We reload in our cars and are then driven to another security check point where our luggage is unloaded. This is as far as we are driven. The actual airport terminal is still about a quarter mile and multiple security checkpoints away.

No doubt this is one of the most fortified airports in the world and for me the security process here does make sense even if at times it does seem a bit tedious. Nonetheless, it is all done in a professional way and the security personnel did seem to be very courteous to foreigners.

Our flight today is from the domestic terminal on Kam Air an Afghanistan domestic only carrier. The check in process is pretty normal and soon we are in a lounge area waiting to board our flight which will be on a McDonnell Douglas MD-80. In a strange way this is comforting as I have flown on the MD80 many times and know it is a well built airplane with a decent safety record. I always have some apprehension when flying abroad on airlines and on airplanes that I am not familiar with. Certainly aviation is one area where many airlines and countries are still behind the safety curve of many others.



Kabul Domestic Terminal

No matter my concerns while traveling it seems that at every airport I can always find comfort in two things, a cold drink and chocolate. This afternoon a Snickers along with an ice-cold Pepsi fits the bill.
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