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142 THE NORTHWEST •• Herat to Maimana

Transport to Maimana is found 3km

west of Herat’s centre on Sarakh-e Fargha. HiAces leave daily at around 4am (1100Afg, two days). For more on this route, see right .

Minibuses to Obey (80Afg, two hours), Chist-e Sharif (180Afg, four hours) and Chaghcheran (800Afg, 1½ days) leave from the bus station 3km south of Herat on the road to the airport. This is also the general transport depot for HiAces to most other destinations from Herat. Transport for Torghundi on the Turk-

menistan border leaves on an ad hoc basis from the same area as the Mashhad buses. For more information see p216 .


Millie buses leave irregularly from Darb Khosh to the airport (6Afg, 50 minutes), although shared taxis (50Afg) from the same spot can be a better bet. The whole taxi should cost 300Afg or less. Most taxi rides in Herat will cost between 50Afg and 80Afg. Until the last couple of years, a highly enjoyable way of seeing Herat was to hire a gari (horse-drawn buggy). The drivers take great pride in decorating their carriages, dressing their horses with bells and red pom-poms, but they are disap- pearing fast: on our most recent visit we only spotted a couple, having been largely replaced by scores of autorickshaws. Both cost around a third less than a taxi over the same distance. Millie buses also ply the streets on set

routes, which can be hard to fathom. Stops are on the main roundabouts, with tickets usually costing about 3Afg.


Where Herat looks toward the Iranian Pla- teau, northwest Afghanistan turns its face to the dry semi-desert landscapes of Central Asia. Skirting the length of the Turkmeni- stan border, it’s a place of oases, seasonal rivers and dusty brown hills that sprout into life at the hint of rain. The same rains can make travel near impossible at these times – even gravel roads are largely an aspiration and you’re just as likely to find yourself bumping along dry riverbeds and over sand dunes.


At the time of going to press, Badghis province was considered too dangerous for travel, due to activity of criminal and anti-government elements. Travellers are currently advised to fly between Herat and Mazar-e Sharif ( p141 ).

There’s a small international presence in the northwest, but Badghis province in par- ticular remains a wild area. Once in Faryab province security is generally better, han- dled by General Dostum’s Uzbeks.

HERAT TO MAIMANA ﻪﻨﻤﻴﻣ ﻟا تاﺮﻫ

While scenically dramatic, travelling this route through the northwest is not a trip to be taken lightly. The road is probably the worst in Afghanistan, and there’s some stiff competition. A 4WD is essential, as there are large stretches of off-road driving and fording of rivers. In spring, rains can make this route almost impossible as swathes of the track turn to mud; in winter snow on the Sabzak Pass near Herat can cause its own problems. In the best of conditions, it’s a drive of two very long days. By public transport, it’s well worth buying an extra seat in the vehicle for comfort. On top of this, Badghis has a poor reputa- tion for lawlessness, with a low police pres- ence. Banditry against vehicles and NGOs is not uncommon, as well as tension between the Tajik and minority Pashtun popula- tions that sometimes spills into violence. The stretch of road between Qala-e Nau and Bala Murghab (where public transport overnights in both directions) is the worst for lawlessness. When we took this route we were made to sleep in a local police station for security reasons. Checking the security situation with reliable sources is essential before planning a trip. Qala-e Nau is cur- rently the only place on this road with mo- bile phone reception, making a Thuraya a good idea for staying in touch. If all this sounds too much, take heart that there’s a Kam Air service between Herat and Mazar-e Sharif twice a week.

Qala-e Nau

ﻮﻧ ﻪﻌﻠﻗ

From Herat, the road heads north over the Safed Koh mountains, zigzagging its way

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over the Sabzak Pass (2400m). The land- scape is harsh but dramatic, all rough peaks and escarpments studded with low trees. As you descend, the country becomes drier and drier until you reach Qala-e Nau, about seven hours from Herat. Qala-e Nau is the capital of Badghis, big

enough to have a roundabout and some fancy Victoriana street lights that at least show an aspiration towards electricity. Most public transport stops for a meal break in the town and there are some decent chaikhanas, with low barrel-vaulted ceilings. Bizarrely, several claimed to serve spaghetti alongside the usual pulao-shaped offerings. There’s a Spanish-led PRT on the south- ern outskirts of Qala-e Nau. The road be- tween Herat and Qala-e Nau is currently being upgraded, but at the time of research the tarmac finished about 80km after leav- ing Herat.

Bala Murghab

بﺎﻏﺮﻣ ﻻﺎﺑ

All transport between Herat and Maimana stops overnight in this small farming town, a full day’s drive from both. It’s an anom- aly in the area in having a mainly Pashtun population, due to Abdur Rahman Khan’s experiments in population movement in the 1880s. The town itself has little to draw visi- tors, but the surrounding farmland along the Murghab river is green and attractive. There are a couple of chaikhanas on the town square, but police are unlikely to let foreigners sleep in them for security rea- sons. Instead, you’re likely to be redirected to the Governor’s Hotel – also known as the police compound. There are a couple of rooms, otherwise you bed down under the stars with whoever’s on night-watch. It’s not great, but it’s fairly secure. Prices seem to vary according to whim: some people haven’t been charged, others hit for dollars in double-figures. As with much of this region, the landscape is dominated by rounded hills of loess – the fertile dust blown from Central Asia. Arid for most of the year, they suddenly turn green with the onset of the spring rains. At other times, Kuchi caravans are liable to pro- vide the only colour in the landscape.



The capital of Faryab, the largely Uzbek town of Maimana has an easy-going pro-

THE NORTHWEST •• Maimana 143

vincial air. Horse-drawn taxis are the order of the day as much as cars, bumping along the rough roads and throwing up plumes of dust. Respite only comes with the spring rains, when the streets become a mess of sticky mud.

According to early Arab accounts,

Maimana was founded by Israelites exiled from Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, al- though archaeological digs have uncovered Neolithic beads in the area indicating much older habitation. The city grew and pros- pered, even taking the obligatory levelling by Genghis Khan in its stride. Maimana rose again to become a power-

ful khanate, which spent much of its time playing off the rivalry between Kabul and Bukhara to its own advantage. It was a thorn in the side of Afghan amirs through- out the century, only being forced into the Afghan state at the end of a gun wielded by Abdur Rahman Khan in 1884, the last of the independent Uzbek city states. Modern Maimana is a lot more relaxed now. The town is centred on a large park surrounded by pines, once the site of Maimana’s Citadel. The main bazaar areas are to the north, between the park and the Maimana river. Monday and Thursday are the busiest bazaar days. Look out for the bright chapans and gilims for sale. A Nor- wegian PRT is based on the east side of the park.

Sleeping & Eating

At the time of research, police were only allowing foreigners to stay in one hotel in Maimana, although in theory there are several chaikhanas with private rooms on offer.

Maimana Municipal Hotel (x079 915 8353; south

of Maimana park; s/d 500/1000Afg) is a dusty 1930s

edifice, with reasonable rooms filled with creaking furniture. The hotel is woefully low on bathrooms – just two for nearly 20 bedrooms. If it’s full (it was block-booked with Indian and Chinese construction workers when we visited), the management is usually happy to let you stay in the plush conference room, which has surprisingly comfy sofas. Some locals know it as the Daulat Hotel. Aside from the chaikhanas in the ba-

zaar, Turkestan Restaurant (northeast cnr of park)

is the only sit-down option for eating. The


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