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hotel, this is it. Set in large grounds, the rooms are equally spacious, all with a fridge and a bathroom with water heater. Another popular option for wedding parties.

Lapis Lazuli (x079 9209 503; Jad-e Kulali; s/d incl

breakfast & dinner US$45/70; a) A joint Afghan-

German guesthouse, this is deservedly popu- lar with international workers. Rooms are tidy if sometimes small, and bathrooms are shared. Advance booking is recommended, although a second guesthouse (Lapis Lazuli 2) is being opened to accommodate further guests. The food is a big draw though – the restaurant (open 12pm to 2pm and 6pm to 10pm; mains from US$6) has good meat and pasta dishes, but head here for the ‘all you can eat’ Monday barbecue from 7pm to fill your plate with German sausage, chicken and meat, and great bowls of delicious sal- ads. There’s even draught German lager.

7 Days Guesthouse (x079 9362 992; www.7days; Jad-e Kulali; s/d US$50/100; a)

Next door to Lapis Lazuli, this is an unpre- tentious place also aimed at expats. Rooms are large, and have attached bathrooms with plenty of hot water. The management is extremely helpful, and can organise sim- ple meals for guests, taken in a garden lit up with fairy lights. A small swimming pool was being dug when we visited.

Chaikhanas (Sarakh-e Spinzar; dishes from 50Afg)

For the usual kebabs, pulao and shorwa, there are plenty of chaikhanas clustered west of the main square. Decent fare but no great surprises.

Juice and ice cream (Sarakh-e Iman Sahib; refresh-

ments from 20Afg) Immediately north of the main square, there are several juice stands and shops selling hand-churned ice cream. The usual caveats about where the ice comes from aside, they’re a great way to cool down on a hot Kunduz day. There are plenty of fruit and vegetable sellers near Chowk-e Kunduz.

Getting There & Away

Ariana Afghan Airlines (Sarakh-e Khanabad) nor-

mally fly on Sunday and Tuesday to Kabul but the schedule is a very moveable feast. The airport is 12km south of Kunduz, 200Afg by taxi. Minibuses and shared taxis to Kabul (400Afg, 10 hours), Pul-e Khumri (80Afg, 90 minutes) and Mazar-e Sharif (350Afg, five hours) depart from Bandar-e Kabul

terminal on the road south out of Kunduz. Transport south from Kunduz often stops at the picturesque sugar-producing town of Baghlan. The chaikhanas opposite the pleasantly leafy town square are a relaxing place to break the journey. Shared taxis to Shir Khan Bandar (80Afg, one hour) for the Tajikistan border leave from opposite the Bala Hissar. For more on crossing this border, see p216 . East of the main square, there are mini-

buses to Taloqan (50Afg, one hour) and Faizabad (500Afg, 10 hours). Taloqan is another pleasant tree-lined town, with lit- tle to do but drink tea and visit the bazaar. One-time capital of the Northern Alliance, it has seen sizeable Iranian funding – note the street signs named for ayatollahs. The sealed road finishes soon after Taloqan, after which it’s an extremely bumpy (though very beautiful) ride into Badakhshan.


ﻢﻧﺎﺧ 

In 1961, King Zahir Shah was hunting in the area where the Kokcha River meets the Amu Darya when his party discovered some intriguing archaeological remains. He could never have anticipated that his ac- cident would reveal the site of the eastern- most ancient Greek city in the world. Ai Khanoum (‘Moon Lady’ in Uzbek) is

presumed to be Alexandria-Oxiana, founded by Alexander the Great during his cam- paigns in the 4th century BC. It’s strategic location on a hill overlooking the confluence of the rivers is so immediately apparent it convinces you that Alexander must indeed have stood here. The site stretches around 2km along the

banks of the Amu Darya. Excavation in the 1960s and ’70s revealed a temple complex, palace with administrative quarter, thea- tre, gymnasium and necropolis. Several coin hoards and many statues were also recovered, including an inscription from the Oracles of Delphi haughtily exhorting readers the correct way to live their lives (still in the Kabul Museum – see p88 ). Having lain hidden for centuries, the

years since discovery have not been kind. Frankly, the site is a mess. Myriad robber holes dot the landscape like giant rabbit holes, reminders that when the war came, so did the looters. Anyone but the keen- est archaeological mind will need a lot of


Hellenistic Bactria left few written records. The historians of the day followed Greece and its big players, not the distant high tide marks of empire. Luckily the new city-states left much of their history in the coins they struck. Early 19th century Great Gamers like Charles Masson were the first to note bilingual Greek/Indian coinage, prompting academics to throw new light on the Hel- lenistic east. Covering the three centuries following the departure of Alexander the Great, the coin hoards

regularly dug up in north Afghanistan have revealed Hellenistic Bactria as a constantly tumbling succession of kings. Some rulers pop up to disappear almost instantly, while a lucky few had long reigns, evidenced by the ageing portraits shown on their coins. The portraits show the fusion of Greek clothing styles and haircuts with Eastern innovations, such as elephant-head helmets. One hoard found near Kunduz in the 1940s contained the largest Greek coins ever minted, the 84g double decadrachmas, featuring Zeus and the Persian god Mithras. Later coins struck show a civilisation on its last legs. The Greek language is debased, and Indian iconography increasingly common. The continuing use of the ancient gods hides the fact that the Graeco-Bactrians had converted to Buddhism, a last grasp at renewing their vigour, but one that couldn’t protect them from the encroaching nomadic warriors from the north.

imagination to see the site as an ancient city. Almost no visible historic remains can be seen. The site hasn’t been completely trashed, however, and French archaeolo- gists have received permission to carry out a more delicate variety of excavation, par- ticularly in the area around the acropolis and citadel that sit atop the hill. Despite this, the Ai Khanoum is still worth visiting for the scenery. A shingle beach sits at the confluence that would make a fine place for a picnic. On the Af- ghan side the land sweeps away into wide plains dotted with trees, while the Tajik border is marked by high ochre cliffs and the strong broad flow of the Amu Darya. There’s certainly a romance to the area. An hour’s drive from Ai Khanoum, head- ing north from Dasht-e Qala is the town of Khwaja Bahauddin, the final headquarters of Ahmad Shah Massoud, pinned back by the Taliban in 2001. It was here on 9 Sep- tember 2001 that he was murdered by two Al-Qaeda operatives posing as journalists. Locals will point out with a heavy heart the building where he died. While here, also look out for the traffic island with the Cor- inthian columns looted from Ai Khanoum; there are more in a nearby chaikhana.

Getting There & Away

Hiring a car is the simplest way to get to Ai Khanoum. The route via Taloqan is the easiest. From Kunduz the route is spectac- ular over some crazy dunes, but it’s easy

to get lost so it’s essential that the driver know where he’s going. We were quoted around US$80 for a return trip from Kun- duz, around 3½ hours each way. The route passes through the small town of Khwaja Gar and crosses the Kokcha River at Pul-e Kokcha (look for the spectacularly crashed plane near the bridge, the site of the old Taliban/Northern Alliance front line). The road turns west at Dasht-e Qala, following the river a further 5km to Ai Khanoum – the hill at the confluence is on the outskirts of the village of the same name. Public transport is a challenge. From Ta- loqan, minibuses run by erratic schedules to Dasht-e Qala, but you’ll need to arrange the last leg from there, probably hiring a vehicle outright. Roads are poor through- out this route.


The northeastern province of Badakhshan has always sat slightly apart from the rest of Afghanistan. As the plains become scrunched up into a knot of mountains, and the Hindu Kush collides with the Pamir range, the distance from Kabul seems to be measured in centuries as much as miles. Badakhshan’s history as well as its geo- graphy reveals this independent streak. A far outpost of the Achaemenid empire, by the medieval period it was recognised as a sovereign state, its wealth deriving from

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