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the trade routes through the mountains be- tween China, Kashmir and Bukhara. Timur tried and failed to subdue it, while his suc- cessors sent embassies instead. In the 19th century Badakhshan was finally subsumed into the Afghan state but even Abdur Rah- man Khan baulked at having to rule it prop- erly. The Wakhan Corridor, that panhandle of land sticking into China, was only forced on him when the British and Russians de- cided they needed a buffer between their empires. A century later, Badakhshan was the only part of Afghanistan to resist cap- ture by the Taliban.

It is the scenery that attracts visitors today. The provincial capital of Faizabad provides a gateway to some of the country’s most sublime landscapes, from the Kuchi pastures of Lake Shewa to the Pamirs them- selves, home of the last nomadic Kyrgyz on earth, in mountains so high that Marco Polo claimed that even birds couldn’t fly there. Of equal inspiration to the truly in- trepid are the mines of Sar-e Sang, source of most of the world’s lapis lazuli. Badakh shan also serves as an entry point into Tajikistan and, potentially, northern Pakistan. Visitors should be aware that Badakhshan

is second only to Helmand for opium pro- duction. Controlled by Northern Alliance, opium is the backbone of the local economy. Ironically, security is generally fairly good in the province, but you should be extremely circumspect with cameras and questions if travelling in an area with poppy cultivation. When there have been security problems in Badakhshan, these have tended to coincide with eradication programmes, when being a foreigner in certain areas isn’t necessarily a popular thing to be.


دﺎﺑ ﺾﻴﻓ

Astride the fast-flowing Kokcha River, Faizabad is a largely Tajik town, home to the rump Afghan government during the Taliban era. It’s an amiable place with a traditional bazaar, and is good to catch your breath for a few days if travelling to or from the Wa- khan Corridor or the Tajikistan border. The town has been the capital of Bada-

khshan since the 17th century. Its name (‘Blessed Abode’) is taken from the cloak of the Prophet Mohammed that was brought here by the ruling mir of the time. The cloak is now kept in a mosque in Kandahar ( p193 ).

The bazaar in the old town follows the

street pattern set out during this time, a winding mass of roughly pitted streets be- tween the main square and the river. The bazaar is of great interest to travellers, and knitted socks make good souvenirs. On the street west of the main square there are sev- eral lapis lazuli dealers. The blue stone is brought here from Sar-e Sang ( p166 ), al- though the best goes to Kabul. A kilo of me- dium quality lapis will set you back around US$100 here. Some jewellery is also made locally, but is generally of inferior quality next to what’s available in the capital. Faizabad has a pleasant climate, its heat moderated by breezes off the river. Given that it’s an entry point to the mountains, it’s a surprise that it sits at just 1200m – lower than Kabul. The town is particularly pretty in spring and early summer, when the fields and slopes sing with greenery. TV Hill, overlooking the old town, is worth climb- ing for great views. Nauroz is an interesting time to be here, as the holiday is usually followed by 10 days of buzkashi held on the field at the edge of Shahr-e Nau.


Faizabad is divided by the Kokcha River, which is crossed by two bridges. The main road in and out of town is on the west bank, passing through the new city (Shahr-e Nau, where most NGO offices are based). The Old Town is on the east bank, centred on a main square (the tall telephone tower is a handy landmark). The main bazaar street runs southeast from here, leading to the southern bridge. Minibuses (15Afg) run throughout the day between the Old Town and Shahr-e Nau, via the northern bridge. From the south, Faizabad is overlooked by Jilgar Mountain – a corruption of ‘40 concubines’, legendarily ascribed to Genghis Khan when he cam- paigned here. Faizabad airport is 3.5km west of town, along the main road.


Aria Internet (west of main square, Old Town; per hr 100Afg) Great Game Travel (x079 9062 033; faizabad@great; Old Town) Branch of Kabul-based travel com- pany; can organise permits, translators and vehicle hire. Police (Main Sq, Old Town) Western Union (main bazaar, Old Town) Several money- changers also along this street.


ha R

1 5

Ruined Bridge

New Bridge


3 9

11 13 4



Shahr-e Nau

7 12 14 17 6

Bridge Old

To Baharak (46km); Ishkashim (111km)

To Airfield (3.5km); Kunduz (261km); Kabul (598km)


Western Union............................ D2 Police........................................... C1 Moneychangers........................... D2 Aria Internet................................. B1

4 3 2 1


Star Club..................................... D3 Pamir Club................................... C2 Marco Polo Hotel......................... D3 Hotel Ishan Awliyan..................... C1

8 7 6 5


Bread and Fruit Sellers..................9 C1

Kookcha Restaurant................... A3 Hamidullah Grocery Store.......... C2 Chaikhanas................................ A3 Chaikhanas................................ C1 Chaikhanas................................ C1

14 13 12 11 10


Lapis Lazuli Jewellers..................15 C1


Local Minibuses.......................... C1 Bandar-e Takhar transport......... A3 Bandar-e Baharak transport....... D3 Ariana Afghan Airlines...............(see 6)

18 17 16


Jilgar Mountain


TV Hill

18 10

Town Old



0 0

Faizabad 165

300 m 0.2 miles

Sleeping & Eating

Accommodation options in Faizabad are pretty restricted, and though the quality isn’t great, several are on the river, allow- ing the rushing water to soothe you to sleep. Hotels can generally offer meals if requested in advance, otherwise eating out isn’t Faizabad’s most exciting pastime.

Pamir Club (x079 9443 117; Kokcha River, Old

Town; r US$40) If there’s a hotel with a better location in Afghanistan, we’d like to know about it. On a promontory surrounded on three sides by the rushing Kokcha River, this government hotel has a hard spot to beat. Rooms are large and reasonably decent with balconies looking over the water, and have shared bathrooms (don’t hope too hard


for hot water). Management can rustle up a meal, but are generally resentful of having guests stay at all.

Marco Polo Hotel (x079 9279 018; near southern

bridge, Old Town; r US$20) Also known as Number

One Guesthouse, this is a basic hotel with hard beds. The shared bathrooms are pretty basic, with squat toilets, but there’s a pleas- ant garden that overlooks the river.

Hotel Ishan Awliyan (West of main square, Old

Town; r 300Afg) One step up from a chaikhana, this 1st-floor hotel has a handful of private rooms with two beds and a beaten-up sofa apiece – a little dingy but perfectly service- able. Meals are in the main restaurant, and a new toilet block was being built when we visited.



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