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DIREC TOR Y

210 DIREC TORY •• Tourist Information

Only at the top-end of the spectrum will you find toilet paper on offer, otherwise a tap or ewer of water will be provided for ablutions (the left hand is used, which is why Afghans eat with the right). In the countryside, a pit latrine is often the best that can be hoped for, which often demand nostrils of steel to overcome the smell. Otherwise, requests for the tashnab or joab-e chai (literally ‘the answer to tea’) will result in you walking to the nearest bush, which can be an issue for female trav- ellers If you’re on the road, always remain aware of the risk of landmines before step- ping off the path.

TOURIST INFORMATION

The Afghan Tourist Organisation (ATO; x020

2300338; Great Massoud Rd) is struggling to bring

back the tourist heyday of the 1970s. ATO also has offices at the airport, in Kabul at the Intercontinental Hotel and on Asmai Wat (near the National Gallery), as well as branches in Bamiyan, Herat and Faizabad. Available services are somewhat limited, as staff don’t actually expect to see many tourists, but ATO can organise drivers and translators, and sell you copies of Nancy Du- pree’s 1970s guidebooks. Government plans to train official guides have yet to come to much. Better quality tourist information can usually come from the new private tour op- erators in Kabul – see p86 . There are no ATO offices outside Afghanistan.

TRAVELLERS WITH DISABILITIES

Travel in Afghanistan presents severe chal- lenges for a physically disabled person. The rigours of road travel, the lack of decent footpaths and wheelchair-accessible build- ings all pose serious problems. However, travel is possible for those with an iron will, plenty of stamina and the willingness to adapt to whatever hurdles present them- selves. Travelling with an able-bodied com- panion can help immensely in overcoming these obstacles. At the very least, hiring a vehicle and guide will make moving around a great deal easier. Despite the many difficulties, physically

disabled travellers may actually get a more positive response from locals than in other countries in the region. One legacy of dec- ades of war is the high number of amputees, those impaired by polio and other disabili-

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ties. With between 700,000 and one million disabled Afghans, it’s thought that up to 15% of the population is affected directly or indirectly by disability. Making contacts with local disability groups could poten- tially prove a strong focus for your trip. For more information, consider contact-

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Visa Extensions

ing Mobility International USA (MIUSA; x541-343

1284; www.miusa.org; 132 E Broadway, Suite 343, Eugene,

OR 97401), who offer general travel advice for physically disabled travellers. Its website has links to disability organisations work- ing in Afghanistan, and MIUSA has oper- ated exchange programmes in other parts of Central Asia.

VISAS

All nationalities need visas to visit Afghani- stan. Visas are relatively straightforward to obtain, but must be applied for in advance as they are not issued on arrival at Kabul airport or at any land border. All visa applications require a letter of in- troduction, stating the purpose and duration of your trip. If you’re travelling for work purposes this should be from your employer. The situation for tourist visas depends on the embassy you apply at. If you’re travelling independently, a letter written by yourself stating your purpose and itinerary often suf- fices. Bemused consular officials have been known to request applications be made in person so they can interview applicants as to why they want to holiday in Afghanistan. Otherwise, the Afghan tour operators listed on p217 should be able to provide you with a letter of introduction for a small fee. Call your nearest embassy well in advance of travel to check current requirements. At the time of writing a one-month single- entry visa in London costs UK£30, UK£55 for a three-month multiple-entry visa, and UK£115 for a six-month multiple-entry visa, all issued in two days. The embassy in Washington charges US$50 for a one-month single-entry visa, US$100 for a three-month multiple-entry visa, and US$180 for a six- month multiple-entry visa. Visas take two weeks to process, with a premium charged for same-day issue. In neighbouring countries, Peshawar, Teh-

ran, Mashad and Tashkent are good places to apply for an Afghan visa. One month single- entry visas cost US$30 to US$45 and are generally issued on the same day.

Visas can be extended in Kabul at the Interior

Central Passport Department (Map p85 ; Passport Lane, off Interior Ministry Rd, Shahr-e Nau). Tourists require

one passport photo and a letter requesting an extension from the head office of the ATO. The letter costs US$10 for a one-month ex- tension. The process takes about an hour if the queues aren’t too long. If you’re working in Afghanistan, you’ll

need a letter of support from your organi- sation, or in the case of journalists, a let-

ter from the Ministry of Information & Culture

(x020 2101301; Pul-e Bagh-e Omomi) in Kabul.

Visa extensions cost US$30 for three months, which must be paid into the cen- tral branch of Da Afghanistan Bank, with the receipt presented at the passport office along with one passport photo.

Visas for Onward Travel

For contact details of embassies and consu- lates in Afghanistan, see p203 . Be warned that the Iranian and Pakistani embassies attract huge queues of visa applicants.

India Applications can only be made at the embassy in Kabul (open 9am to noon Monday to Thursday). Six-month visa issued in 24 hours for US$65. Bring three passport photos. Iran Transit visas from Kabul or Herat (both open 8am to 2pm Saturday to Wednesday, 8am to noon Thursday) cost from US$20 to US$60 according to nationality. One-month tourist visas cost from US$60. Both require two photos, and possibly a letter of introduction from your home embassy. Issue time is one day to a fortnight, again according to na- tionality: Americans and British are given the hardest time. Pakistan The embassy in Kabul (open 9am to noon Sun- day to Thursday) is picky about issuing visas for nonwork purposes. Tourist visas cost about US$60 according to nationality, and take several days, with two photos. Tajikistan One-month visas cost US$80; a letter of in- troduction from your embassy is sometimes requested. Be there as soon as the embassy opens (9am to noon Saturday and Sunday) and be persistent to have your application processed. Visas can take up to a fortnight to issue. Turkmenistan Visas issued in Kabul (open 9am to noon and 2pm to 4pm Monday to Thursday) and Herat (open 9am to noon Saturday to Wednesday). Transit visas costs US$31, one-month tourist visas around US$125. As well as two photos, you need a letter of invitation from a Turkmen travel agency specifying your point of entry. Applications can take up to a fortnight to process. Uzbekistan Visas issued in Kabul (open 9am to noon Monday to Thursday) only. A one-month visa costs US$100 with two photos and a letter of invitation from an Uzbek travel agency. Visas are issued on the spot.

DIREC TORY •• Women Travellers 211

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WOMEN TRAVELLERS

Afghanistan has a conservative culture where attitudes to women are bound up with the protection of honour. Society generally seeks to minimise contact between unrelated men and women. As a result foreign women trav- elling or working on their own, away from male relatives, are often viewed with a mix- ture of curiosity and astonishment. Being disregarded is a common reaction, and if you’re with a male companion you shouldn’t be surprised if an Afghan directs his atten- tion and conversation in that direction. There is no legal obligation to wear a headscarf, but in practice all foreign women do. Walking around Kabul with a bare head would attract a lot of attention; in the coun- tryside such behaviour would be nothing short of scandalous. As a general rule, the more conservative or rural the area you are in, the more discreetly you should dress. In keeping with local sensibilities, your clothes should hide the shape of your body. Bare arms and tight fitting clothes should be avoided, but whatever you wear you’ll still have to get used to being stared at. Trying to wear the burqa is both unnecessary and a cultural no-no for foreign women. The pirhan tonban (traditional male clothes; also called shalwar kameez) of baggy trousers and long shirt is comfortable and popular with many women working in Afghanistan. Baggy clothes can also provide useful cover should you need to go to the toilet while travelling off the beaten track. Facilities in chaikhanas are usually limited. Foreign women can interact with Afghan women in a way impossible for men. Af- ghan men may also make special allowances for your status. ‘I often joke that there are three genders here: male, female, and for- eign woman’, commented one female NGO worker we met during research. Afghan men can sometimes be unsure about the correct protocol of dealing with a foreign woman. It’s best to wait for them to offer a hand to shake rather than offering your own, and try to avoid excessive eye contact with Afghan men you don’t know. If har- assed in a public place, several women have advised making a loud scene to shame your harasser. Avoiding walking alone at night is advice we’d equally extend to foreign men. You’ll also need to cultivate patience and learn to trust your own instincts.

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