After getting up at Oh-dark-thirty, I got a cab to Dubai airport to check in my early morning flight to Kabul. I was flying on Ariana Afghan airlines, which mean't having to go the very spartan Terminal 2 way over on the other side of Dubai airport.
Boarding for the 5am flight to Kabul in Dubai. Ariana Airlines is the state-owned national airline of Afghanistan, and was founded back in 1955. During the Taliban era in Afghanistan, Osama Bin Laden took over the airline, using it to ferry Islamic militants, arms, cash and opium through the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan. It lost its entire fleet during US bombing raids on Kabul airport during Operation 'Enduring Freedom' after 9/11. The airline has been gradually built back up, flying to neighbouring countries but is still banned from flying to the EU.
Only a 2.5 hour but a half-decent breakfast.
Flying over the rugged Afghan terrain.
Modest agriculture and villages in the valleys.
Flaps down on approach for the 8am arrival at Kabul Airport.
Taxiing past the C-27 Afghan Air Force transport aircraft, that would soon be controversially scrapped after a failed $486 million Defense Department program.
At immigration ready to get my Afghan tourist visa stamped.
After meeting with my tour guide, driver and body guard I had arranged for the trip, we headed off on the busy road north of Kabul for the 3 hour drive to the Panjshir valley.
Fresh fish for sale during a stop in one of the towns on the drive north.
After driving for a couple of hours, we stopped for a break by the Panjshir river.
And snacked on some fresh locally grown grapes.
Mr. Akheem, my driver for the trip.
My bodyguard, Mr. Aleem, with his AK-47 at the ready.
We then headed further up the Panjshir Valley, to the main security checkpoint. The valley was the site of the Panjshir offensives during the Soviet war in Afghanistan, where a series of battles were fought between the Soviet Army and groups of Afghan Mujahideen under Ahmad Shah Massoud for the control of the strategic Panjshir Valley, and saw some of the most violent fighting of the war.
Looking down the valley. The valley is home to more than 140,000 people, including Afghanistan's largest concentration of ethnic Tajiks, who succesfully kept out the Taliban during the civil was in the 90's.
Some of the many Soviet APC's that fell victim during the Panjshir offensives.
And a good place for a photo op.
In the background is the village of Bazarak, where Ahmad Shah Massoud, the former leader of the Northern Alliance that opposed the Taliban.
Looking up the valley, with Bazarak in the distance. Massoud was a relative moderate, and rejected the Taliban's fundamentalist interpretation of Islam.
The tomb of the 'Lion of Panjshir'. Massoud was assassinated on order of Osama Bin Laden by two Arab suicide bombers posing as journalists on the 9th of September, 2001.
The 9th of September is now a national holiday in Afghanistan, known as "Massoud Day".
Roadside snacks. On our way back down the valley for the 3 hour drive back to Kabul.
My tour guide for the trip, Mr. Abdullah. As well as speaking impeccable English, Dari & Pashto, he also knew basic Urdu & Arabic after living in Peshawar, Pakistan during the Taliban years.
'Breaking bread' with the guys at a riverside restaurant with Naan & fried fish, fresh from the Panjshir river.
Some kids when we stopped to buy some drinks from on the drive back.
A couple of US Blackhawk helicopters flying into Baghram Air Base, the main US air base in Afghanistan.
An old Soviet era Lada taxi during Kabul rush hour.
My hotel where I was staying the night in Central Kabul, complete with the obligatory AK-47 toting security guard. The end of a big day after starting at 1:30am, chalking up a new country, and getting a decent dose of culture & history. Tomorrow, a day of sightseeing in the capital of Kabul!
And my room, which was surprisingly clean and comfy.
And dinner at the hotel restaurant of chicken kebab and chips.
The view of downtown Kabul from the top floor of my hotel. In the far right is the famous 'TV tower' hill.
Breakfast at the hotel.
And checking out.
After getting picked up by my team after breakfast, we headed out for a tour of the sights of Kabul. First stop was Sherpur Cantonment, or the British cemetery. The cemetery used to be a miitary camp, and was the site of the 1879 'Siege of the Sherpur Cantonment. It now houses memorials and graves for fallen western soldiers who fought in various conflicts throughout the history of Kabul.
A memorial for the Kiwi soldiers.
Next we drove out to a lookout over the city.
Another Soviet relic.
Mr Aleem scoping the horizon for possible Taliban at Maranjan Hill. In the background is the Royal Mausoleum where King Nadir Shah is interred. Far right is the tomb of Sultan Mohammed Telai, Nadir Shah's great-great grandfather.
Off to school. The tomb is badly damaged, due its strategic location on the hill many battles have been fought in the 1990s.
Apparently it is also a popular place to get 'high' and take in the views of the city below. My guide chatted to guy on the right, and his vice of choice was hashish.
Maranjan Hill Sign.
Bala Hissar, an ancient fortress constructed around the 5th century, and was used as a barracks by the British during the first and second Angol-Afghan wars.
Chai time. We then moved into the old city to check out the streets and old bazaar.
Ladies in Blue.
On the busy streets of the old city.
Sizing up some roosters.
Pakol's for sale, a traditional Afghan hat for men.
Miswak, or teeth cleaning twigs.
Enjoying the shade outside the Mosque.
Scissor & knives.
Pigeons for sale at the bird market.
And more pigeons.
The 468 year old Shahe Du Shamshera mosque, the oldest in Kabul.
While Mr. Akheem & Mr. Aleem went off to pray, Abdullah and myself stopped at a restuarant for lunch. I had Afghan Mantou, or meat dumpling covered in yougurt and spices, very tasty.
After a good feed, we went to the outskirts of Kabul to the ruins of Darul Aman Palace.
Built in the 1920's by King Amānullāh Khān, it was damaged by fire in the 1960's, and then shelled by the Mujahideen during the battles over Kabul in the 1990's.
With my bodyguard, Mr. Aleem, outside the Palace.
Two US Blackhawks (the other one has just landed, hence the big cloud of dust) landing at an army base on the outskirts of Kabul. Also in the background is the Tajbeg Palace, and former headquarters of the Soviet 40th Army during the Soviet invasion.
Democracy under construction. The almost complete new Afghan Parliament.
Last stop was the gardens of Bagh-e Babur. The gardens were developed in 1528AD, and are used as place to picnic and relax by the citizens of Kabul.
The gardens are also the last resting-place of the first Mughal emperor, Babur.
At 4pm, we went to the airport and I said farewell to Abdullah, Mr Akheem & Mr. Aleem, and thanked for the great time during my short time in Afghanistan. Understandably security is very tight at the airport, and I had to go through 3 checkpoints with my the usual docuemtn check and bag x-ray beforeI even reached the airport terminal. Each time I had to also demonstrate that my camera actually took photo's (and not a well conceiled bomb), by pointing it in a random direction and clicking shutter and showing the guard the photo. This was one of these random photo's.
A photo of Afghan President Karzai on the airport building wall.
The departure lounge at Kabul International. There was no info on flight status, with the gate agents yelling out when it was time to board for each flight. I met up a fellow Kiwi all the way from Timaru on the same flight as me, who was doing a visa run to Dubai. He was working on a porject sponsored by the NZ Govt to install solar panels out in the Bamyan province.
The flight back to DXB was on Safi Airways, a privately run/owned Afghan airline. For a 2.5 hour flight, again the meal was perfectly adequate.
Arrival back in Dubai after an amazing two days in Afghanistan!