Tourism is a funny old business these days. Famous destinations around the world are becoming packed full of people. Locals are becoming increasingly frustrated at tourists and as the world become smaller, so do our experiences while travelling. Likewise, increasing numbers of tourists are getting angry at other tourists, ruining their idyllic expectations of locations they were shown amazingly photoshopped pictures of.
When my grandmother bought an around the world ticket in 1969 and visited places such as Italy, Bahrain, India, and the US, she’d only seen a picture of the Leaning Tower of Pisa so I’m sure it was quite the sight to experience firsthand. Now a days barely a day goes by whereby a picture doesn’t pop up on facebook with someone pretending they are leaning against it, holding it up or doing some other trick while standing in the foreground.
This is why Afghanistan is my favourite travel destination. Nowhere else in the world have I been where the locals are genuinely so happy to see foreigners. That is of course foreigners who are there to take in the lake culture, see the sights, but leave in a timely fashion and not hang around for 17 years. Nowhere else in the world are we given such a totally different image to what it’s actually like on the ground. Expecting a literal battle front, every guest I take is always amazed at the beauty of the place, and is also just amazed at the simple things. When we’re in Kabul, a stop at the Babur Gardens is a must; these tranquil gardens allow us to wander around freely while young couples go on dates, families have picnics and children play games.
The Panjshir Valley is probably one of the most beautiful, most scenic drives in the world. Whenever we visit Afghanistan, we make sure to include a Panjshir day trip. The Panjishir is best in summer when Kabul is hot and sticky and you really appreciate the cooling breeze off the Panjshir River, frolicking in the fields of the valley while looking up at the snow-capped mountains. Kabul on the other hand has a cosmopolitan side that truly shocks and amazes; we visit cafes, book shops and of course take a stroll down Chicken Street to do some shopping and speak to locals.
One common complaint about travelling to less developed countries is the lack of service. This is understandable from both sides – how can one expect a country who got electricity decades after western countries to conform to the same standards one is used to, but then at the same time you are paying money, sometimes as much as you would at home. This is where Afghanistan is different, so desperate to encourage tourism and with an immensely proud culture of hospitality, you’ll be shocked at the service in hotels and restaurants. Everything from remembering your name when you enter, to literally running down the hallway to get you an extra pillow.
YPTers are inherently an adventurous bunch, but in today’s world it’s nearly impossible to get that jaw dropping realisation you’re seeing something very few others have seen, that you’re experiencing something that very few foreign tourists will experience for a long time to come. Only in a few places on earth can one get that feeling. Afghanistan is one of these places.
After 17 years of conflict, most of those in the UN compounds and ISAF military compounds are rather down about the whole thing, believing the country to be a lost cause. One of the greatest feelings is seeing one of our YPTers realising there is hope in this amazing country from their day to day interactions while traversing this long sought after land.