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DIREC TOR Y

206 DIREC TORY •• Internet Access

INTERNET ACCESS

The internet has caught on in a big way in Afghanistan. All major towns have cyber- cafés or ‘internet clubs’, with prices varying between 50Afg to 80Afg. Connections are usually good, and offer facilities like Skype and burning CDs of digital photos.

LEGAL MATTERS

Although corruption is rife in the Afghan National Police, it’s unlikely that you’ll ac- tually be arrested unless there are support- able charges against you. Always keep your embassy’s contact details on your person and try to contact them without delay if you are arrested. Remember that all visi- tors are subject to the laws of Afghanistan. If the ‘problem’ is an imaginary one, the ability to be extremely patient and drink large quantities of tea may eventually see the issue disappear.

MAPS

Some maps of Afghanistan are available in bookshops in Kabul, but they tend to be ex- pensive. Afghanistan (produced by Nelles) is a good 1:1.5 million map. For those going further east, the 1:2 million Afghanistan & Pakistan map by GeoCenter is also recom- mended. Both maps have good mountain coverage, but can be vague with detail in some areas – village names are often hazy. AIMS (www.aims.org.af ) has excellent refer- ence and topographical maps of the coun- try, serving the Afghan government and assistance community. Maps include street plans and highly detailed provincial and district maps. They can be downloaded as PDF files, or ordered as poster-sized maps from the AIMS office in Kabul ( p84 ). On all maps, beware variants in spelling: Tarin Kowt on one map may be Tirin Kot on another, or even Teren Kotte.

MONEY

Afghanistan’s currency is the afghani (Afg). Paper notes come in denominations of one, two, five, 10, 20, 50 , 100, 500 and 1000. One, two and five afghani coins are slowly replacing the grubbiest small notes. When the afghani was relaunched in 2002 to encourage economic stability, there were around 10,000Afg to the US dollar; since then the currency has consistently floated at around 45Afg to 50Afg to the dollar.

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Afghanistan’s war-shattered banking

system has been slowly rebuilding itself, but the distinction between the formal and black economy remains vague in many places. Despite government attempts at regulation, the country effectively operates a two-currency system – US dollars are an accepted form of payment for many goods and services (including hotels). Throughout the guide we have followed local practices, listing the currency payment is usually re- quested in. For smaller sums, including public transport and local restaurants, payment in afghanis is usually demanded. In some places, payment may even be ac- cepted in currencies from neighbouring countries – Pakistani rupees in Jalalabad and Kandahar for instance.

ATMs

Automatic teller machines ( ATMs) have slowly been introduced in Kabul, operated either by Afghanistan International Bank (AIB) or Standard Chartered. These accept MasterCard and Visa, but not always all cards (technically the machines are also wired for Cirrus and Maestro, but we didn’t have much luck on this front). Check with your bank before departing that your card can access international banking networks. The ATMs give either afghanis or dollars according to the machine, and tend to have set working hours. While very useful, they shouldn’t be relied on as your sole source of cash if possible. At the time of research, the only ATM outside Kabul was at Bagram Airbase.

Cash

We prefer not to recommend that travellers carry large amounts of cash with them, but in Afghanistan this is largely unavoidable. This is a country where cash – or rather the US dollar – is king. There are a few precau- tions to minimise the risk of losing your stash to misadventure. It’s unwise to carry wads of money in your wallet, and you’re similarly more prone to being robbed if you carry valu- ables in a shoulder bag, which can easily be snatched. Keep a small amount of money for the day in a handy but concealed place (eg in an inner pocket), and the bulk of your resources more deeply hidden. A well- concealed money belt is one of the safest

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ways of carrying your money as well as im- portant documents such as your passport. It’s also a good idea to have emergency cash (say US$100 in small bills) stashed away from your main hoard, as a backup. One alternative to carrying large sums

of money with you on the road (and away from Kabul’s ATMs) is fast international money transfer by Western Union. These are found in almost every Afghan town, and often in branches of Kabul Bank in the cit- ies – see regional chapters for details. Fees are paid by the person wiring the funds, not by the person collecting.

Changing Money

It’s far easier to change money on the street than in a bank, and in our experience some tellers will actually advise you to do just the same. Only Kabul Bank seems to con- sistently change money, but in a country where much of the economy operates out- side the banking system, almost everyone uses moneychangers. Moneychangers tend to operate on the

street, with small stands rather than formal shops. The main moneychanging areas are listed in the text – look out for men hold- ing thick wedges of afghanis and clutches of US$100 bills. Afghan moneychangers are a pretty honest bunch as a whole, but always take your time to count out the bills, and don’t hand over your money until you’ve done so. Insist on smaller denominations if you’re handed everything in 1000Afg notes. If you’re not happy to change money

standing on the street, doing it from a taxi is an acceptable practice. Alternatively, most hotels and many shops (particularly those dealing with imported goods, or carpet shops) are usually willing to change money. When bringing currency to Afghanistan get new dollar bills; higher denominations are preferred. Euros and sterling can be easily changed in the cities, but other currencies can be problematic. Currencies from neigh- bouring countries are freely exchangeable, but you get better rates closer to the rele- vant border – eg Iranian rials in Herat, or Tajik somani in Kunduz.

Credit Cards

Flashing your plastic is currently of limited use in Afghanistan, and then only really in the capital. Only the most upmarket Kabul

DIREC TORY •• Photography 207

hotels accept payment by credit card. Most Kabul airline offices and travel agents will take them (plus a few enterprising carpet shops), but as a general rule banks won’t give cash advances on credit cards.

Travellers Cheques

Most banks in Afghanistan will look at trav- ellers cheques with some curiosity before pushing them back over the counter for you to take elsewhere. A few lucky (and pushy) people have managed to change travellers cheques at the main branch of Da Afghanistan Bank in Kabul, with punishing commission rates, but this is the exception rather than the norm. This said, it can sometimes be possible to

cash travellers cheques with moneychang- ers. The moneychangers bazaar in Kabul is the best place to try, but you might also have luck at the congregations of changers in Herat and Mazar-e Sharif. Their stalls might be lo-tech, but mobile phones put them in instant contact with the interna- tional currency markets. A little persist- ence, and a willingness to pay commission might work wonders – we’ve even heard of moneychangers cashing cheques drawn on travellers’ personal bank accounts. If you do try bringing travellers cheque, always carry the purchase receipts and a note of the serial numbers in a separate place from the cheques.

PHOTOGRAPHY

Afghanistan is a photographer’s dream, so bring more film or digital memory sticks than you think you’ll need. Lonely Planet’s Travel Photography has been designed to take on the road, and has valuable tips and techniques on shooting everything from mountains to portraits.

Film & Processing

International-brand colour film and processing are available in all cities and most large towns, but check use-by dates when buying film. Photographic studios increasingly offer digital services, although only in the cities will you find much choice if you need to buy another flash-card.

Restrictions & Etiquette

The Taliban famously banned all photog- raphy of living things, a move that becomes

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