Travel is without a doubt one of the best way to gain a real insight into different cultures and see the world in a truly different light. Travel blogging extends this experience by providing a place to share these experiences and learn from fellow like-minded curious traveller.
About a week ago, we were speaking with Stephen from the Uncharted Backpacker who had just returned from travelling around Afghanistan (which in itself is quite fascinating) and, upon finding out more about his journey through Afghanistan, the minute he mentioned wanting to share his journey with you, we knew we had to do it.
This is the first of the 5 part series, written entirely by Stephen, documenting his time in Afghanistan. We’ve found it very fascinating from the get-go and (although this very presumptuous of me) I’m guessing you will too.
Hey my name is Stephen Gollan, from The Uncharted Backpacker. I recently backpacked across Afghanistan. Why did I choose Afghanistan? This is a question I am often asked with a stern tone. I usually respond with how amazing it was but as it’s still Afghanistan and people do not take in the good; the news about car bombings, kidnappings, and the threat of Taliban joining ISIS on their war of terror is all most people hear.
There are those, however, who listen to me with open ears when I tell tales of this magical land. Tales of lost tribes, cultures that have not changed in thousands of years, people whose hospitality I will never forget, and some of the most hauntingly beautiful landscapes I have ever seen. The land that stole my heart, and to this day fills me with excitement on the mere mentioning of its beautiful name.
This is a brief description of where I went and how I traveled through, Afghanistan. The first rule I decided was I wasn’t to fly unless completely necessary. I wanted to see this country just as the locals did. Yes, it made things more dangerous and difficult, but it’s what I wanted. Secondly, I wanted to stay with locals as much as possible, and interact with them daily.
No fear, no hesitation. I put all the media, all of the opinions of others aside and just went.
Crossing the Uzbekistan border at Termiz is a daunting experience. First, you are interrogated on the Uzbekistan side. After searching all of my belongings I was allowed to pass through. When you enter the Afghan side it is an eye opening experience. Traditional dressed Afghan men missing various limbs and women stand begging at the gates to their country. No English is spoken, and sharp looks are given to the newly arriving foreigner.
I arranged a taxi for fifteen dollars to Mazar E-Sharif. The ride was long. We passed American Humvees with 50 calibre machine guns pointing to oncoming traffic. The air above pounded with the pulsing of Apache helicopters. It was intense. Like a mirage, Mazar’s Shrine of Hazrat Ali’s emerald blue domes appeared out of the desert.
The taxi dropped me and my travel friend, Matt, off at the Barat Hotel. Under the dust you can see that the Barat hotel once had been a well-established place, but its rusty exterior displays what this country has been through. From the Barat, I hit the streets. This was my first real introduction into Afghanistan. I immediately was thrown into my element: a sea of blue burqas and men piling their turbans upon their heads, kebab wafting in the air, Adhan (call to prayer) blaring from the megaphones along the streets; herds of goats being pushed past tanks and military personnel – I’d made it.
My first stop was the local tailor. I wanted to wear local clothing not just to blend in, but also to earn more respect from the locals. The tailor (who spoke amazing English) was thrilled to have me in his store. He comically took my measurements while gesturing how tall I was and served me the ubiquitous Afghan green tea. Within a few hours’ time, and some great stories of Afghanistan, the tailor had my outfit complete.
In my new threads I visited the shrine of Hazrat Ali. The shrine itself, with its bright blue domes and white marble façade, is incredibly beautiful. White pigeons flutter above and pilgrims scatter about worshipping in this absolutely sublime place.
After wandering the shrine complex, I met up with a relative of one of my friends back in Canada. His Name was Mohamed. Mohamed was born in Afghanistan but moved to California as a young man for a better life. After finishing his studies he returned to Afghanistan to work for the United Nations as a translator. This man, a man who had been given the opportunity not to live in Afghanistan, chose to come back. A strong testimony to how proud of Afghanistan the people are. Dining on qabili pilau (Afghan chicken and rice), me and Mohamed decided to travel to Balkh, and nearby Samangan together over the next few days.