A couple of hours north of Kabul... in the direction of Bagram lies Istalif. With its hills, streams, network of canals that irrigated the land, and plenty of green cover, it used to be a retreat for the royals and a favourite destination with tourists. A visit to the city today is a chilling reminder of the horrors of war...
Istalif is reached after driving thru the Shomali plains, once considered the bread basket of Afghanistan.
Istalif did manage to largely survive the Soviet invasion, but in the subsequent battles that were fought by the Taleban and the Northern Alliance, the region was reduced the rubble.
A different kind of way to experience Afghanistan is to go out from the city and watch a game of bozkashi (pull the goat). It's a traditional sport which captures the Afghan soul in a good way. Especially in the north they have the best horses and riders. The rules are simple and the game rough. Spring time is the season and especially Thursdays and Fridays the best chance of catching a game.
We managed to get access to shoot at a hospital for women- one of Kabul's main hospitals.
Before i knew it, i found myself with the camera on my shoulder, in the gynecology ward. It was the most bizzare feeling to think where i was standing at that point- and that too in a country that until so recently, was under the Taliban.
Debris from the decades of war in Afghanistan is strewn across the countryside. It was much more prominent on the earlier trips, especially 2002, but it seems to have been cleared up now to a large extent. However, there is one place, called `the graveyard of tanks' which i happened to visit, where all the rubble i`ve ever seen in Afghanistan and more, seems to have ended up.
The scene is bizarre. Its nothing like i`ve ever seen before. Its almost like a set of some wierd post apocalyptic movie set in the future. Thousands of tanks and other military vehicles, and even some helicopters etc lie rusting and scattered across the hills.
To get to this place, take the road that leads towards the notorious Pul-e-Charkhi prison. I think its the road that leads to Jalalabad. Its approximately an hours drive from kabul city (largely due to the dusty road), and then you turn off the road to the left somewhere. I think its best to ask!
Pul-e-Charkhi is a huge prison complex built in the 1970s on the outskirts of the capital.
The vast and run-down jail was notorious for the disappearance and summary executions and torture of thousands of Afghans during the communist era and later under the Taleban.
This palace must have been nice before one of the numerous invaders or mujahadeen destroyed this place (dont know which one).
you cannot enter the palace because it is now controlled by the afghan national army and im sure it would not be safe to go into anyways. You can however go up to the back of it and take some pictures but you will get some funny looks from the guards.
I had a fantastic time hiking up a nearby hill and flying a kite with some kids.
I mean, this is something fantastic about Kabul - there are kites in every direction in the sky.
The broken down palace has quiet an impact when you come to see it without knowing what to expect...