3rd trip to Mazar-E-Sharif

After a day in Kabul partly spent in the Intercontinental Hotel and by trying on and ordering Afghan dresses we left on November 3 in a rented car for the North via the Salang Pass, already white with snow. This time the eldest daughter of our friends accompanied us, resulting in interesting conversations with the tea-drinking Afghans in the tchaikhanas. They were intrigued by our group of three women and one man and we could –through her – ask them about their lives and customs. We spent the night in Kulm that 2 years before had been  severely damaged by an earthquake. As it had been raining there was mud all over the place; poor people who had to live here…

The following day: more mud, but we finally arrived in a sunny Mazar-E-Sharif where we checked in in the Yourt Hotel. S. and I immediately went to the beautiful Blue Mosque dating from the 15th century.

Blue Mosque

It was  very impressive to stand before this famous building.

On November 5, we drove to Balkh via Agca (no market on that day). It is a pity that not much is left from the old splendour apart from a mosque, old walls and the nice tomb of the well-known 10th century poetess Rabia’a Balkhi. It is said that Alexander the Great married Roxanne here. We again stayed at the Yourt Hotel in Mazar, where we met a group of Afghantour who had come from Herat by bus instead of by plane since it had been impossible due to the weather conditions for the plane to leave Mazar … That was bad news: our own chances of flying to Herat in 2 days’ time as planned diminished further, the more so as it rained again that night. And indeed, the next day it is certain that we cannot go  to Herat, so that we return directly to Kabul, much to our regret.

Day trips to Gazni and Istalief

November 7: the four of us go into town, but soon split up. S. and I go to a travel agency as we wanted to go to Gazni (South East of Kabul). That posed some problems; therefore we wanted to telephone our host, but a telephone directory was only available at the post office and then in Farsi, the official language of Afghanistan. With some help we found the number, but then the telephone swallowed our Afghani…. But Afghans are very helpful and luckily a young guide from Afghantour came to our rescue and gave us many useful tips. He also invited us for lunch! We preferred however a (safe) lunch in the Kabul Hotel.

The next day we went to Gazni in a collective taxi (we 3 ladies had 4 places in the back). We wanted to visit the citadel but were recalled by small boys and soldiers (of whom there were many). We then took a carriage (the coachmen outbidding each other) to go to the museum although it would certainly be closed at lunchtime. And indeed it was, but it opened especially for  us and proved worthwhile. We then went to a palace dating from ca 1100 and a minaret. There were 2 of them but the second one was off- limits as soldiers were practising. Bang, bang, bang they said to illustrate the activity.


Our coachman was very happy with us and did not stop talking, but to our regret we could not understand him. G. had taken pictures with his polaroid camera wich he showed him on our return to the parking lot. They were then shown to all his colleagues and caused a lot of  excitement which was very touching to us.

November 9: everybody had her/his own plans; I myself wanted to go to Istalief. After all the clouds of the last days the weather was beautiful. I started  packing and later on G. decided to go with me in a taxi to Istalief, which turned out to be a pitturesque little village perched against the mountains amidst green, yellow and red trees.

Women in Burka

With my last Afghani (which had to be spent) I finally bought a small rug, which still lies on my table!

In the evening we kept ourselves busy with papers and luggage … The next day: day of departure. First S. leaves for Kandahar (she and M.J. will stay on for another week) and then G. and I bid a very warm and tearful farewell to everyboday in the house, where we have felt so at home….  At the airport all luggage was profoundly checked and at 11.30hrs the plane took off. We had a beautiful view over Kabul – now wellknown to us – and later on over the snow-topped Hindu Kush Mountains. In Tasjkent it was the same procedure as before, but now we were prepared … At 16.45hrs (local time) we arrived in Moskow where – again – we had to hand over tickets and passports. There were 6 passengers for Paris who have to stay the night in Moskow. Without our luggage we were taken to Hotel Aeroflot. It was exciting to drive around in Moskow with its broad  boulevards and huge buildings, certainly very different from Kabul! It was 5 degrees C. In the hotel all passengers without passports were brought to the 5th floor where I had to share a room with a German girl. The six of us had dinner in the hotel and were carefully guarded.

The next morning we first had to identify our luggage at the airport and after breakfast the long wait began for our passports which were locked up again …    At 11.40 hrs we landed in Paris where I said good-bye to G. and took a taxi to the Gare du Nord. And there I stood on the sidewalk with 6 pieces of luggage with  no help from the taxidriver whatsoever. Welcome to Paris! A cold shower after all the friendly Afghans. Well, I managed: I bought a ticket for Rotterdam, a Herald Tribune for the news and a sandwich and drink for in the train, changed money and telephoned to a friend in Rotterdam to pick me up (placing a telephone call in a Paris booth requires some adroitness and of course French money) and took the train of 14.30 hrs to Rotterdam.