Afghanistan’s location at the crossroads of great civilizations in history has created a stunning diversity in food, arts, languages, and traditions. This diversity is demonstrated in each city of Afghanistan.
In Afghan folklore it is said that “everything comes to Kabul,” Nothing could be truer of Afghanistan’s bustling capital city. Proud of its heritage as a major trading city between the East and West, today it is still the central marketplace for all Afghanistan. Although change with tall modern buildings and busy traffic has come rapidly to Kabul, the bazaars and other landmarks of the old city are still the center of life. Baghi Balah, (Upper Garden), which is located inside Kabul on top of the hill and behind the Intercontinental Hotel, is the place where people go for sightseeing and swimming. From this hill, Kabul city is clearly visible. Qargha is another nice place for a sightseeing which is a 35 minute drive from center of the city. Qargha offers canoeing, biking and hiking facilities. There are many hostels and Chai khanas (tea houses) around for families and people to go in a group.
Every year thousands of pilgrims come to the capital of Balkh province, Mazar-e-Sharif, to pay homage to the Shrine of Ali, the Fourth Caliph of Islam. Festivities are held on Now Ruz, the Afghan New Year, observed on March 21st – the beginning of spring. Mazar-e-Sharif is also a major market place for karakul and traditional Afghan carpets. Referred to by the ancients as the “Mother of Cities,” today it is a small town near Mazare that is overshadowed by memories of past glory. Here, Zoroaster first preached, and it was at or near Balkh that Alexandra made this headquarters for two years. The city was also the capital of the Bactrian Empire. Later the Timurid dynasty built a college and an impressive shrine at Balkh. Nearby stand the remains of one of the oldest mosques of the Islamic world, the Masjide Haji Piyada.
Few cities have as diverse a past as Herat. Within Heart’s city walls Alexander built a mighty fortress; today a citadel, although altered many times, still stands on the same spot. In the centuries that followed, Herat was the pivot around which cultural influence from Iran, Central Asia, and Afghanistan converged. Ghenghis Khan and Tamerlane each wreaked havoc upon the city, but Herat persevered to live a period of unequaled splendor during the reign of the Timurid Kings. Today, Herat’s minarets, mosques, shrines, and monuments testify to the glory of that period, when art, literature, and refinement attained high degrees of perfection.
The birthplace of modern Afghanistan, Kandahar is thriving commercial and industrial center. Excepting its modern share Nau (New City), Kandahar still remains substantially unchanged from the city that Ahmad Shah Durrani, the founder of the state of Afghanistan, built two hundred years ago. It is famous for its fruits and intricate embroidery work.
The Bamiyan Valley, enclosed in the high mountains of the Hindu Kush in central highlands of Afghanistan, marked the most westerly point of Buddhist expansion and was a crucial hub of trade for much of the second millennium CE. Traces of the Buddhist heritage in Bamiyan can be most clearly seen in the two colossal niches in the cliff side that contained large standing Buddha figures, thought to date from the 5th century, and standing 55m and 38m high respectively, which were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001. There are also extensive ruins of ancient towns and fortresses, like Gholghola City and Zuhak City, which were flourishing until the onslaught of Ghenghis Khan in the thirteenth century. Visitors to Afghanistan have long marveled at the country’s natural wonders. The Band e Amir lakes in Bamiyan is among the most outstanding of all.