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EASTERN AFGHANISTAN JALALABAD &

184 JALALABAD •• Sleeping & Eating

SLEEPING & EATING

Spinghar Hotel (x070 604700; Sarakh-e Kabul; r with/ without bathroom US$40/20) This large state-run

hotel is set in large gardens in the centre of town. Everyone has stayed here at one point, from Soviet officers to the Taliban’s Arab cohorts. Most rooms are en suite and are decent-sized if unexciting. There’s a basic restaurant and the shady trees are good for escaping Jalalabad’s summer heat.

Nawa Guesthouse (near Chowk-e Mukharabat; r

200Afg; a) A basic guesthouse with six tidy rooms and a helpful manager. It’s centrally located, near the main moneychangers’ area. Food is available, as is hot water (on request). There are a host of cheap hotels in Jalala- bad around Chowk-e Mukharabat, Chowk- e Talashi and the main road east but they are currently extremely reluctant to take foreign guests, citing security concerns. Dotted in between them you’ll also find lots of cheap restaurants and chaikhanas. Among the pulao and green tea, look for chapli kabab, a Pashtun speciality of ground lamb made into a burger and shallow-fried with a sprinkling of spices. In summer, fresh mango and sugar-cane juice make fantastic thirst-quenchers.

GETTING THERE & AROUND

Jalalabad airport is 4km east of the city lim- its on the road to Torkham. There are no commercial flights, but Pactec has a service to Kabul. The airport is just past the army base, home to the British garrison of 1841. General Elphinstone, leader of the doomed retreat from Kabul is buried here, although his grave has been long-lost. Minibuses to Kabul (200Afg, three hours) and the border at Torkham (200Afg, 2½ hours) leave regularly throughout the day. Shared taxis are faster but more expensive. Note that transport to Kabul terminates at Begrami Motor Park on the outskirts of the city. The road to Kabul is particularly attractive, following the Kabul River past Sarobi Dam and up the stupendous Tangi Gharu Gorge to the Kabul Plateau. The road has recently been rehabilitated and is excellent quality. Rickshaws are popular for getting around

Jalalabad, but not all roads are paved so they can be a very bumpy experience. Most fares will be under 50Afg.

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AROUND JALALABAD

Always check the local security situation before travelling off the Torkham–Jalala- bad–Kabul highway.

Hadda

The loss of Hadda remains one of the most grievous disasters to have befallen Afghani- stan’s cultural heritage since the Soviet inva- sion. For 500 years to the 7th century AD, Hadda was a major Buddhist pilgrimage site, with a city that was supported by a host of monasteries. The Buddha himself visited the area to rid it of a vengeful dragon demon and several important relics were kept in the monasteries that sprang up as a result, including his staff, robe, one of his teeth and even part of his skull (which according to a 5th-century Chinese pilgrim was entirely covered with gold leaf and precious stones). Pilgrims venerating such holy items were taxed heavily. Over 1000 stupas were recorded by 20th- century archaeologists in an area covering 15 square kilometres. The most notable was the Teppe Shotor complex, which contained a wealth of carved plaster frescoes and stat- uary that showed the richness of Kushan culture, freely mixing classical Greek and Indian styles to produce uniquely beauti- ful Afghan art. Some of the oldest-known Buddhist manuscripts were also found at Hadda. It was the pearl of Afghan archaeo- logical sites.

War destroyed Hadda. The nearby caves

once used by monks were favoured as refuges by the mujaheddin and the area was com- prehensively bombed by the Soviets. What remained was looted, including most of the excavated artefacts held at the Kabul Mu- seum. Under the Taliban, Hadda was given over to the Arab-Afghans for jihadi training purposes and locals were banned from visit- ing. Today, Afghanistan’s celebrated Bud- dhist site is little more than dust.

Nimla Gardens

These gardens (Nimla Bagh) 40km from Jalala- bad were laid out in 1610 by the Mughal emperor Jehangir. They follow the quar- tered Chahar Bagh–style of classical Mughal gardens, with beds of plants and trees given order by the addition of terraces, straight paths and channels of water punctuated by fountains. The design echoes the more

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cele brated Shalimar Bagh in Srinagar, Kash- mir, also laid out at this time by Jehangir for his wife Nur Jahan. At Nimla, Nur Jahan is said to have supervised much of the ac- tual planting. As in Srinagar, cypress and chinar trees play an important role in the garden’s design. Until recently much neglected, the gar-

dens have been rehabilitated by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), although the water channels remain dry. FAO has been working here and elsewhere on extensive nursery and reforestation programmes to repopulate Afghanistan’s denuded orchards. Nimla is southwest of Jalalabad off the

Kabul road. The route passes through the village of Sultanpur, where there is a tem- ple dedicated to Guru Nanak, founder of Sikhism. In mid-April, Afghan Sikhs and Hindus visit the temple for its Waisak festi- val. The village of Gandamak is 11km from Nimla, where the British army made its last desperate (and doomed) stand in January of 1842.

Tora Bora

The Tora Bora cave complex in the Sping- har Mountains are a bone-rattling three- hour drive from Jalalabad near the Pakistan border. They became notorious at the end of 2001 as the place where Osama Bin Laden made his last stand in the teeth of an American assault before slipping into hid- ing. Tora Bora held a series of underground tunnels and bunkers used by the mujahed- din during the anti-Soviet Jihad. The area was heavily bombed by the Americans, who

THE KHYBER PASS

The road from Torkham to the Pakistani city of Peshawar traverses one of the most famous and strategically important mountain passes in the world. The Khyber Pass stretches for 50km through the Hindu Kush, linking Afghanistan to the Indian subcontinent. Babur drove his army through on his way to set up the Mughal empire and throughout history, Afghans have marauded over the pass to plunder the riches of India. Not surprisingly, the British weren’t too keen on letting the Afghans having the key to this

particular back door and made sure that Peshawar and the Khyber Pass stayed on their side of the border, reinforcing it with a network of forts. Despite this, they never truly conquered the pass itself and had to buy off the local Pashtun tribes to stop them raiding British convoys. Even today, the Pakistani government only controls the main highway – step off the tarmac and you’re in tribal land. The local Afridi Pashtuns have built a second road through the pass, away from the highway, to allow them to continue their traditional smuggling unimpeded, carrying everything from opium to DVD players.

JALALABAD •• Around Jalalabad 185

were reluctant to put boots on the ground. Their reliance on Afghan warlord proxies ultimately allowed Bin Laden and many Al- Qaeda fighters to slip away in a haze of dust and hefty bribes, proving again the ancient adage that ‘you can’t buy an Afghan, you can only rent one’. While we were researching this book, the authorities in Nangahar were making loud noises about developing Tora Bora as a tourist site, even drawing up plans to build several hotels overlooking the caves (which have largely been pounded to dust anyway, although the mountain scenery is spec- tacular). But as the area remains insecure and visitors require a large complement of armed guards, you probably shouldn’t rush to reserve a room just yet.

Torkham

Like many border towns in this part of the world, Torkham is a scruffy place, seeming to consist of little more than auto shops, tea- houses, moneychangers and taxi touts. Only the brand new customs building displays any sense of permanence. As an introduction to Afghanistan it’s mildly anarchic, although the Pakistani side is a small improvement. There’s little reason to hang around other than to get your passport stamped. As Afghanistan’s busiest border post,

there’s plenty of transport – minibuses to Jalalabad (200Afg, 2½ hours) and Kabul (300Afg, six hours), as well as shared taxis (400Afg and 600Afg respectively). For more details of onward transport through the Khyber Pass to Peshawar in Pakistan, see p215 .

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