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DIREC TOR Y

200 DIREC TORY •• Activities

time every week. Herat has the best and most traditional hammams; Kabul has rela- tively few old hammams left.

Hotels

Hotels come in a variety of stripes in Af- ghanistan. By the standard of neighbour- ing countries like Pakistan and Iran rooms tend to be overpriced, especially in the midrange, where 2500Afg may just get you a slightly dreary room with attached bath- room, hopefully with hot water. At the top and bottom ends of the price range, prices more accurately reflect what you get for the money. In Kabul, the choice and quality of hotels has improved significantly in the last few years.

At the higher price range, you should expect air-conditioning, and a constant electricity supply to power it. Satellite TV and internet is also usually on offer, and maybe even a few extras like a gym or pool in some places. As rates decrease, so does the quality – air-con becomes a fan, private bathrooms become shared, and broken fix- tures less likely to be replaced. At the bot- tom end, you’ll end up with a thin mattress looking at grubby walls, but thankful that the smelly (squat) toilets are at the far end of the corridor. Hot water isn’t likely to be an option at this budget, so ask about the local hammam, which will have it by the bucket-load. Most hotels have a restaurant, and even

the cheapest places should be able to rustle up a simple breakfast of tea, bread and eggs or jam.

ACTIVITIES

The mountains of Afghanistan could rival Nepal for trekking opportunities, but for the most part, potential is all there is. There’s no infrastructure, and anyone set-

DUST!

The comparative rarity of paved roads can make Afghanistan feel like the dustiest country in the world; even Kabul is regu- larly engulfed in swirling dust storms. Chest infections are common complaints among visitors. Both Afghan men and women use their scarves to keep out the dust on bumpy roads – you should do the same.

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ting out will be genuinely breaking new ground – you’ll be unsupported in very remote areas. The one area where the seeds of a trek- king industry are taking root is in Bada- khshan, where the Aga Khan Development Network has been assisting with setting up guesthouses and formalising guide and animal hire rates. Several mountaineer- ing teams have also tackled Mt Noshaq, Afghanistan’s highest peak (7492m). The Panjshir Valley also offers great hiking potential, but you should seek permission from the local commander. A few expats in Kabul have also taken their own canoes to kayak on the Panjshir River, which has good white-water. Mir Samir, the unattained target for Eric

Newby’s A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush,

remains unreachable for the foreseeable fu- ture due to its location in high-risk Nuris- tan (ironically Nuristan itself was heavily trekked in the 1980s by journalists crossing from Pakistan with the mujaheddin).

BUSINESS HOURS

Government offices and banks are open from 9am to 4pm. The official weekend is Friday, although many offices and business close early on Thursday lunchtime or after- noon. Official business is better conducted in the mornings, before the two-hour lunch break at midday. Private businesses and shops tend to keep longer hours, open- ing earlier and closing far later, especially where there’s money to be made. Chaikhanas keep the longest hours, usu- ally opening around dawn and closing late into the night, meaning there’s almost al- ways somewhere to get food. During Ramazan, opening hours are

shortened by most government offices and businesses. Restaurants (aside from those directly serving the international commu- nity) are closed from dawn to dusk, and many take the opportunity to close for the entire month.

CLIMATE

Afghanistan has a four distinct seasons. There’s fine weather in spring (March to May) and the country blooms, but rain and melting snow can make many roads diffi- cult to traverse. Summers (June to August) can be blisteringly hot everywhere except

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the mountains – Herat, Mazar-e Sharif, Jalalabad and Kandahar all swelter, but Kabul, Bamiyan and Faizabad enjoy pleas- ant, cool nights. Sandstorms at this time can affect air travel. Autumn (September to November) is one of the best times to visit with pleasant dry weather, and plenty of delicious Afghan fruit. From the end of November, winter sets in, and snow is com- mon across much of the country. Travel

KABUL 1790m (5874ft) Temp

°C 40

30 20 10 °F 104 86 68 50 2 -10

032 14

JF MAM J J A S O N D

HERAT 1016m (3336ft) Temp

°C 40

30 20 10 °F 104 86 68 50 2 -10

032 14

JF MAM J J A S O N D

0

JF MAM J J A S O N D

KANDAHAR 1015m (3330ft) Temp

°C 40

30 20 10 °F 104 86 68 50 2 -10

032 14

JF MAM J J A S O N D

0

JF MAM J J A S O N D

MAZAR-E SHARIF 391m (1284ft) Temp

°C 40

30 20 10 °F 104 86 68 50 2 -10

032 14

JF MAM J J A S O N D

0

JF MAM J J A S O N D

50 0 4 100

in 6

Average Max/Min

Rainfall

mm 150 50 0

DOCUMENTS

We recommend that you carry at least one photocopy of your passport (front and visa pages), travel insurance policy and airline tickets on your person. It’s also a good idea to leave copies with someone you can con- tact at home (or make scanned copies and keep them in a webmail account). Passport photocopies can also be useful for casual inspection at checkpoints. Permits aren’t needed for travel within Afghanistan, with the exception of entering

4 100

in 6

Average Max/Min

Rainfall

mm 150 50 0 4 100 0

JF MAM J J A S O N D

Average Max/Min

in 6

Rainfall

mm 150 50 0 4 100

Average Max/Min

in 6

Rainfall

mm 150

DIREC TORY •• Customs 201

in the mountains is particularly tricky at this time, with some remote regions cut off from transport links completely.

CUSTOMS

Customs procedures and restrictions aren’t very transparent. Checks on arrival (by air or land) tend to be lax, with officials only really interested in guns and drugs. Other restricted items that could potentially land you in trouble are alcoholic drinks and large quantities of (non-Islamic) religious material. Foreign currency over US$20,000 must be declared on arrival (see p212 ). On leaving, an easy-to-miss sign at Kabul Airport’s passport control announces that carpets and ‘handicrafts’ must be declared to customs, although no one seems to want to check your bags. Duty must be paid if you’re exporting more than 30 sq metres of carpets. Carrying items considered antiqui- ties is liable to bring either a fine or con- fiscation. Export permits can be requested

at the Ministry of Information & Culture (x020

2101301; Pul-e Bagh-e Omomi) in Kabul.

If you are importing goods for business, information about customs can be found on the website of the Ministry of Finance

(www.mof.gov.af ).

DANGERS & ANNOYANCES

Afghanistan presents unique potential risks to the traveller, with the danger of an in- surgency in the south, plus warlordism and terrorist violence in some other parts of the country. It’s essential to keep abreast of the current political and security assessments both before travelling and while in-coun- try. For a more detailed discussion of these issues see the chapter Safety in Afghanistan, p68 , and the risk assessment boxes at the front of the regional chapters.

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