Afghanistan Travel Guide
Daniel Craig took on a real life secret mission yesterday when he surprised 800 British soldiers, sailors, and airmen at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan.
The 007 actor joined the servicemen for a special screening of Skyfall, before touring the camp and trying out some high tech gadgets. In true James Bond form, Craig didn't bat an eye at taking the wheel of a Foxhound vehicle and firing off a machine gun during his visit.
Instead of taking a standard vacation to Disney World or the Greek islands this summer, why not spend some time in Afghanistan? Officials in the war-torn country are hoping westerners will consider visiting its many peaceful areas, where gems of history have lured travelers for generations. An interesting Reuters story points out that Bamiyan is filled with World Heritage Sites, including the remains of the famous Bamiyan Buddhas (pictured) that were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001.
Fertility goddess, action-movie heroine and UN Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie has returned from a two-day visit to some of the most war-torn regions of Afghanistan, her first trip to the country. Her stops included Kabul, once on the mend but now back in the throes of violence.
She also traveled to Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan, UN reports say, and the Lower Sheikh Mesri settlement site, where some 1,400 refugee families have returned to the country from Pakistan since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, only to set up homes in shelters and tents. Residents shared with Angelina stories about their hardships and their limited access to basic necessities.
Upon leaving Afghanistan, the actress made a plea with the international community to provide more support. Then, we assume, she returned home to the international community of her own.
Awhile back, we told you about some of the world's most dangerous roads. So as winter and presidential candidates turn their sights to Afghanistan, it seems fitting to identify potentially the most dangerous road of all: The newly reconstructed--and probably soon to be fully destructed--Highway 1.
Officials hope the six lakes of Band-e-Amir, in Afghanistan's Bamiyan province, will soon be the centerpiece of the country's first national park. The Wildlife Conservation Society and USAID have promised money and assistance for the project, including a paved road to the area that will make it much easier to reach.
But when you're a small-time farmer or shepherd trying to scrape by in a war-torn country, putting natural resources off-limits doesn't sound like the best idea. One local wonders how he'll power his flour mill if he's not allowed to use the area's waterfalls for power. A Wildlife Conservation Society official says park rules won't be as rigid as they are in, say, the US:
I don't think that our job here...is to re-create an American park. And, in fact, other than gentle nudges, I don't really want to be saying, 'Here is the vision.' I want the vision to be grown from theirs.
How that all shakes out is still up in the air--as is payment for the current park rangers. Might yet be awhile till we see this one in Lonely Planet Afghanistan.
· Amid War, Afghanistan Builds Its First National Park [NPR]
· War on Terrorism Travel: Lonely Planet Cracks Afghanistan [Jaunted]
· National Parks coverage [Jaunted]
In a review in the San Francisco Chronicle, John Flinn picks out some of his favorite parts of the guide:
Turn to the "Dangers & Annoyances" section, and instead of the usual cautions about bedbugs and pickpockets you find a warning about "the danger of an insurgency in the south, plus warlordism and terrorist violence in some other parts of the country."
Which isn't to say you won't find tips about hotels and write-ups of the country's history. And while the US State Department says, "The security threat to all American citizens in Afghanistan remains critical," Lonely Planet's North American publisher sees a bigger picture:
We're not expecting a lot of travelers to buy this book and immediately jump on a plane to Kabul. But part of our job is to take a look at where travel patterns might change in a few years. We do think that once the country stabilizes there is going to be a lot of interest.
[Photo: Lonely Planet]
Don't get us wrong: we're into adventure travel. But Kabul? Ahem... Too soon? Apparently the New York Times doesn't think so, as Joshua Hammer checks in with the latest report from the Afghan capital and the next totally hot adventure destination.
It was once hot on the hippie trail, but the Kabul revival hasn't reached Costa Rica status quite yet. Last year, the article says, fewer than 100 westerners toured the city with Great Game Travel Company. But from the sounds of it, booking with a company that can provide security and guides may be the way to go:
Although most of the violence is concentrated in Taliban strongholds in the country's southeast, a handful of attacks have rocked the capital during the last year, including a suicide-bomb explosion on Sept. 8 at Massoud Circle, a major traffic hub, that killed 2 Americans and at least 16 Afghans. Anti-Western riots broke out last MayBe that as it may, says Joshua, Kabul can be safe enough if travelers take the right precautions. He "never once felt threatened" in his week there, and instead of spending his week locked up inside the Kabul Serena Hotel he got out to meet friendly people. He also worked the circuit of coffee shops, bazaars and bars for foreign aid workers--where most of the talk was about how far Afghanistan has come since the Soviet invasion and the Taliban. It all sounds great--but when do they put in the zip lines and Zorbing runs?
We can't get enough of those war-torn countries: The Times of London has a round-up today of nightlife in Kabul, Afghanistan. Ignore the hed, which makes Kabul sound like the hamlet from Footloose, and luxuriate in the party town of choice among countries the US has recently invaded.
There's a variety of ethnic restaurants to sample, a hearty supply of Chinese prostitutes available (it's such a party buzzkill when the host runs low on Asian hookers), and even $3,000 Breitling watches for sale. Visitors can bunk in the Serena Hotel, which costs $250 a night, and in the morning there are plenty of tee times to be had at the Kabul Golf Course. It's just like Palm Springs!
Some fear a backlash against what they see as newfound immorality in the country, but for all conservatives complaining, it's not like they'll do anything about it. That crowd is all talk.
[Image via Mouse/Flickr]
· Serena Hotel Kabul [Gridskipper]
· Good Times Roll in a City where Fun was Banned [Times of London]
· Golf Course a Symbol of Survival [Seattle Times]