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90 KABUL •• Sights

The cemetery’s most famous resident is

Aurel Stein, the acclaimed Silk Road ar- chaeologist of the early 20th century. Stein spent much of his career obsessed by Al- exander’s campaigns in the east, but his British citizenship meant that the Afghan authorities always refused him permission to dig in the country. In 1943 he got the go-ahead at the age of 82, only to catch the flu and die a few days after arriving in Kabul. His grave is marked with a large cross and frequently a wreath. More re- cently, the cemetery saw the burial of the French aid worker Bettina Goislard, mur- dered in Ghazni in 2003. The cemetery has been maintained since the 1980s by Rahimullah, supported by a small stipend from the British Embassy. His story of meeting a disapproving Mul- lah Omar (the Taliban had a guesthouse next door) is worth the hearing, and always popular with journalists.

Ka Faroshi Bird Market

Entering Kabul’s bird market (Map p93 ; Kucha-ye

Ka Faroshi; hSat-Thu) is like stepping back in time a hundred years, to a corner of the city untouched by war or modernisation. Also known as the Alley of Straw Sellers, it’s a narrow lane tucked away behind the Pul-e Khishti Mosque, lined with stalls and


Flying doves is almost as much a national sport as buzkashi. It even has its trademark bird, the white-bodied and grey-winged amiree. Owners keep their flocks in rooftop cages and fly them every night. It looks like a peaceful pastime but is actually fiercely com- petitive. As a flock circles in the sky, a rival flock may be released by another owner to fly amongst it. Battle joined, the new flock attempts to charm birds away from its com- panions, and to return with them to its new owner, who scoops them up with a net. The owner, or kaftar baz, uses whistles, calls and food to manoeuvre his birds to carry out the deception. If a friend’s dove is captured, it can be requested back by an appropriate show of contrition. Otherwise, the new owner adds it to his flock or sells it in the bazaar. The best quality doves can sell for up to 2500Afg in the Ka Faroshi market.

booths selling birds by the dozen, plus the occasional rabbit. King of all the birds on sale is the kowk

(fighting partridge). These are prized by their owners who lavish great care on them, and keep them in domed wicker cages that are almost works of art in them- selves. Kowk are fought on Friday morn- ings in quick bouts of strength (the birds are too valuable to allow them to be seri- ously harmed), with spectators gambling on the result. Their highly territorial na- ture also lets them act as decoys for hunt- ers, attracting potential rivals who end up in the pot.

Similar to the kowk is the budana, a small

lark-like bird. These are also fought, es- pecially among Kandaharis. Unbelievably, their small size means that their owner fre- quently keeps them tucked in his trousers, bringing them out for contest and display. More benign are the myriad canaries and finches, kept simply for their song. At the far end of the bazaar are the kaftar

(doves), a common sight in Kabul’s late afternoon skies (see boxed text below) .

Bala Hissar & the City Walls

The old seat of royal power, a fortress has stood on the site of the Bala Hissar since the 5th century AD, and quite possibly before. It sits at the foot of the Koh-e Shir Darwaza mountains, guarding the southwestern ap- proaches to Kabul. The citadel (Map p80 ) as it stands today was built at the end of the 19th century. The previous fortress was destroyed by the vengeful British army at the end of the Second Anglo-Afghan War. Now, as then, it is used by the army and closed to visi- tors. However, the old city walls snake out from its towers along the mountain ridges and make a fantastic walk, raising you high above the dirty air of the city to give some breathtaking views of the capital. The starting point is at the foot of the

huge cemetery of Shohada-ye Salehin. Most approaches will take you past Jad-e Mai- wand and the ruined Shor Bazaar, a tradi- tional centre for Kabul’s musicians, and the place where ‘Bukhara’ Burnes was killed by the mob in 1841. The road brings you along the southern foot of Bala Hissar, with good views up to its ramparts. Start the walk around 1km after the citadel.

There are two routes leading up the slopes to the mountain’s ridge. A longer path on a gentler gradient takes you to an obvious pass between two peaks. To the left was territory held by Hekmatyar during the civil war, with Massoud’s men to the right. A better alterna- tive is to keep to the right and head steeply uphill straight away. A 40-minute hike brings you to a high ridge from where you can look east to the Bala Hissar, and north to central Kabul – Shahr-e Nau Park, Jad- e Maiwand and the Pul-e Khishti Mosque are good monuments to take your bear ings from. Boys quite often fly kites here. At this point you’re already higher than Koh-e Asmai (TV Mountain) opposite. Continue west along the ridge. Almost

straight away you meet the old walls, several metres thick in places. Although the path is clear and well-beaten, it’s possible to find plenty of spent ammunition here, so resist the temptation to nose around any of the foxholes near the walls. As you slowly ascend the ridge curves north, revealing splendid views of west Kabul and Darulaman. After half an hour of walking you’ll near the end of the ridge and a final view – this time straight down to Babur’s Gardens and Kabul Zoo. With views to all sides, this is the best spot in Kabul for understanding the city’s geography, especially the narrow strategic gap where Koh-e Shir Darwaza and Koh-e Asmai almost meet – known as the Shir Darwaza (Lion’s Gate) – with the Kabul Valley stretching far in either direction. Also look out for the platform of the Noon Gun, and follow the path downhill towards it. The Noon Gun is in fact two cannons dat- ing from Abdur Rahman’s reign. They were fired daily, and to mark the end of the Rama- zan feast, but only the barrels now remain. From here, follow the paths through the local houses to emerge near Babur’s Gardens. The walk should take three or four hours

in total. Take a sun hat and plenty of water. Although there aren’t any red rocks desig- nating mines, we’d still advise you to stick to the worn trail.

Kabul Zoo

The zoo (Map p80 ; Charahi Deh Mazang; admission

100Afg; h8am-sunset) is a popular place for Kabulis in need of recreation. Western ani- mal lovers might find it more than a little depressing.


Sights 91

Visitors are greeted by a bronze statue of

Marjan the lion, the zoo’s most celebrated animal. A present from West Germany in the 1960s, Marjan survived life on the front- line and a Taliban grenade attack, only to expire soon after Kabul’s 2001 liberation. He has since been replaced by a pair of lions pre- sented by China. A couple of sloth bears can be seen in a pit, pacing like asylum inmates. Some wolves do the same nearby, next to a cage of grumpy-looking black vultures. Only the colony of macaques look happy with their surroundings, with the young div- ing pell-mell into their moat (this could be an illusion though – one effected an escape during our visit, and was rounded up by visitors using the time-honoured method of throwing chairs at it).

The zoo sits on the Deh Mazang round- about, in front of the newly rebuilt Traffic Police headquarters (until recently one of the most spectacularly smashed buildings in Kabul). The Minar-e Abdul Wakil Khan stands in the centre of the roundabout, erected for a Nuristani general who fought against Bacha Saqao’s rebellion in 1929.

National Gallery

The National Gallery (Map p93 ; Asmai Wat; admission

250Afg; h8am-4pm) contains a mix of historic pictures and paintings by modern Afghan artists. Like Kabul’s other cultural institu- tions, it didn’t escape the Taliban’s zealous attentions, as the cabinet displaying ripped up watercolour portraits attests. Amazingly, however, the gallery’s staff fought back as only artists could. Knowing the Taliban’s juncture against images of living things, many of the exhibits were over-painted with watercolours, hiding a horse behind a tree, or turning a person into a mountain view. Over 120 paintings were saved from destruction in this way when the zealots came with their knives. Some of the most poignant paintings are

relatively recent, including a moving pic- ture of Kabul in rubble by Dr M Yousef Asefi, with a ruined well and bloodied slip- pers picked out against the rubble. Upstairs, visitors are greeted first by a copy of the

famous Remnants of an Army by the Victo-

rian painter Lady Elizabeth Butler, showing the last survivor of the British retreat from Kabul limping into camp. There are some quite lovely watercolours of Kabul life in

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