Compared to the rest of the central route, Obey feels like civilisation - the main streets are paved and the bazaar is busy. Burqas, which have been largely absent

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since Bamiyan, reappear in large numbers. The Hari Rud, a rushing river since Chaghcheran, becomes tamed and lazy, anticipating its eventual dissipation in the deserts of Turkmenistan.

Obey is known for its hot springs, which are actually 10km to the west of town, where a road off the highway curves up into the hills. There is a bathhouse with grubby tubs and an older building with a deep pool. A chowkidar (caretaker) will let you in and expect a tip of around 50Afg. If you follow the path along the river for an hour, following the right fork where it splits, there is an other spring, used by local villagers. There's a simple pool covered with thatch and with a sandy bottom - it's a much more pleasurable experience, although the water is ferociously hot. As women come here to wash and do laundry, it's best to go with a trusted local who knows the way.

Minibuses and yellow taxis travel throughout the day to Herat (80Afg, two hours) from the road with the large square pigeon towers. Transport west is best arranged from Herat -also a more preferable option for sleeping, although there are several chaikhanas along Obeys main bazaar street.

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