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NORTHEASTERN AFGHANISTAN

MAZAR-E SHARIF &

166 BADAKHSHAN ••

Lake Shewa Star Club (Kokcha River, Old Town; r around US$20)

Reportedly offering similar accommoda- tion to the Marco Polo Hotel, the Star Club was temporarily closed at the time of research. It’s right on the river, slightly upstream from the Pamir Club.

Chaikhanas (Main Sq, Old Town; meals from 50Afg)

A host of chaikhanas are clustered along the southern edge of the main square – offering exactly what you’d expect from such places.

Kookcha Restaurant (Shahr-e Nau; meals from

60Afg) Here’s something blessedly different: chicken and chips. Almost finger-lickin’, but after a diet of meat and rice definitely worth the trek to Shahr-e Nau. ‘China soup’ with noodles is also on offer. Look for the green restaurant front. There are several more standard chaikhanas along the same stretch of the main road. Self-caterers should head for the main bazaar street running off the main square. Hamidullah grocery store here has a good selection on imported goods, if you’re crav- ing chocolate. On the main square, under what looks like a large bus shelter, there are plenty of fresh bread and fruit sellers.

Getting There & Away

Ariana Afghan Airlines (x079 9175 338; in Marco

Polo Hotel) fly to Kabul (2500Afg, one hour) three times a week. Go to the office the day before travel to get your name on the manifest, then again on the morning of de- parture to confirm they’re still flying and to get your ticket. Kam Air is reportedly setting up flights to Kabul. Minibuses and shared taxis for all points outside of Badakhshan depart from the Bandar-e Takhar station in Shahr-e Nau. The main destinations are Taloqan (500Afg, nine hours), Kunduz (550Afg, 10 hours), Pul-e Khumri (600Afg, 12 hours) and Kabul (800Afg, 1½ days, overnighting in Pul-e Khumri). To get further into Badakhshan, go to

Bandar-e Baharak in the old town. HiAces leave for Baharak (150Afg, two hours), Ishkashim (600Afg, eight hours) and Jurm (250Afg, four hours) from here. Travel beyond Ishkashim requires a permit – for more information see p168 . Vehicle hire in Faizabad and throughout

Badakhshan is expensive – around US$200 per day.

LAKE SHEWA

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ﻮﻴﺷ ﻞﻴﻬﺟ

Three hours (80km) from Faizabad, hard against the Tajikistan border, is the beau- tiful Lake Shewa. One of the sources of the Amu Darya, the wide pastures that surround it are the main summer grazing grounds of the northeastern Kuchis. Every May, Kuchi families arrive in their

hundreds around the lake with their flocks. It’s a time for weddings and buzkashi, and there could hardly be a better landscape for such pursuits – high peaks and wide green meadows. The lake itself is a dazzling blue and large enough, we were told, that ‘you can’t shoot a Kalashnikov across it’. A com- plete trek around would take two days. Your own vehicle is required to get to

Lake Shewa, and you’ll need a local guide to introduce you to the Kuchi so that you can set up camp (and to restrain their fierce dogs if necessary). The lake is accessible until October, although the nomads tend to leave for their winter grounds by Sep- tember. Even if you don’t make it here, if you’re travelling at this time you’re likely to pass their caravans on the road all the way to Kunduz.

SOUTH TO THE ANJOMAN PASS

This route is for the most adventurous, travelling from Faizabad along the Kokcha River to the Anjoman Pass, leading to the Panjshir Valley. Its main attraction is Sar-e Sang, the oldest worked mines in the world, and the source of Afghanistan’s – and the ancient world’s – lapis lazuli. Like the rest of Badakhshan, travel is only really an op- tion from late spring to early autumn. From Faizabad, it’s easy to get to the junction town of Baharak (150Afg, two hours) by public minibus. The road splits here, with the southern fork heading for the town of Jurm (250Afg, four hours). It’s a poor road but a busy one: most farmers here grow poppies, and aside from culti- vation, it’s believed that the raw paste is refined into opium in local labs. It’s essen- tial to get trustworthy security information in Faizabad before travelling this road; we were advised that travelling in public trans- port decreases the chances of being mis- taken for officials involved in eradication. Sar-e Sang is around another three hours from Jurm. It’s a one-street town along a valley, with around 20 tunnels currently

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being worked for lapis. There’s a chaikhana, but it’s worth remembering this is a rough- and-ready mining place. The nearest mines are a stiff two to three hour walk from Sar-e Sang. The shafts are 250m deep in places. The lapis is sent either to Kabul, or by horse over the passes to Pakistan. In ancient times, the seams were mined by lighting fires in the tunnels, and then packing the hot rock with snow to crack it. More recent techniques involve using military muni- tions, although the uncontrolled explosions damage the highest quality lapis. The track continues for 30km to the fer- tile valley of Iskazer, the last major settle- ment in Badakhshan. Iskazer can be reached from Faizabad in around 10 hours by 4WD in summer. From here it’s a further six hours to the Anjoman Pass (4430m). The vistas from here are sublime, to the Panj- shir, Nuristan, and even as far as Pakistan. The road descends into the Panjshir Val- ley ( p110 ), where the sometimes paranoid Panjshiri security officials will be extremely surprised to see you.

ISHKASHIM

ﻢﺷﺎﺷا

The small town of Ishkashim sits on the Panj River near the entrance to the Wa- khan Corridor, as well as on the border crossing into Tajikistan. It’s a place to take stock before heading deeper into the mountains. There are several basic guesthouses in Ishkashim, which seem to regularly change name – you need to ask for them by owner. All charge around US$20 per person per

LAPIS LAZULI

It’s thought that the mines of Sar-e Sang have been worked for over 7000 years, the most important source of lapis lazuli in the world. The gemstone’s deep royal blue colour comes from the mineral lazerite, often flecked with gold pyrite and veins of white calcite. Its Persian name, lajward, is the origin of the word azure, while the painters of Renaissance Europe knew it as ultramarine, grinding it up to make their most expensive pigments. Lapis was an important luxury good in the ancient world, and trade networks reached from

Badakhshan to Sumer (Iraq) and Egypt, where it was prized for its beads and amulets. The lapis lazuli in Tutankhamen’s death mask was mined at Sar-e Sang. Wars were even fought to protect the trade routes.

In the 20th century, the Afghan government exerted a monopoly over the trade, but this collapsed

soon after the Soviet invasion. Far from the reach of Kabul, the mujaheddin took over the mines, and traded the rock for guns in the bazaars of Chitral and Peshawar in Pakistan. These powerful interests still control the mines today, with precious little of the profits reaching the Afghan people who would benefit most from this highly lucrative and ancient trade.

BADAKHSHAN ••

Ishkashim 167

night. A new guesthouse run by Edi and Boz Muhammad is reportedly good, as is Wafai’s Guesthouse. Ayanbeg’s Guesthouse has had mixed reviews from international workers passing through. Minibuses leave daily for Faizabad (600Afg, eight hours), via Baharak (400Afg, six hours). Note that the road between Ish- kashim and Baharak passes through large areas of poppy cultivation, so you’re ad- vised to stay in your vehicle and not go exploring. Between Baharak and Faizabad there’s no poppy. For information on head- ing into the Wakhan Corridor, see below. A bridge crosses the river into Tajikistan. The border is open Monday to Thursday – see p216 for more details.

WAKHAN & THE AFGHAN PAMIR

نﺎﺘﺴﻧﺎﻐﻓا ﺮﻴﻣﺎﭘ و نﺎﺧاو

Afghanistan’s Wakhan District is a narrow strip of land that juts eastwards 350km be- tween Tajikistan and Pakistan to touch the Chinese border. Wakhan District has two distinct parts – the Wakhan Corridor and the Afghan Pamir. The deep valley of the Wakhan Corridor is formed by the Panj River as it courses be- tween the lofty mountains of Tajikistan to the north and the snowcapped Hindu Kush Range with 38 summits higher than 7000m to the south. Wakhan is the homeland of 12,000 Wakhi people who live in year- round villages along the Panj River’s south bank and its upper tributary, the Wakhan River, where they cultivate wheat, barley, peas, potatoes and a few apricot trees.

NORTHEASTERN AFGHANISTAN

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