Roads Less Travelled

ACROSS THE CENTRE

Three Weeks

Start your trip in Kabul (p79), enjoying its amenities before hitting the rough and ready road ahead.

From Kabul enjoy the good highway across the Shomali Plain, until the road switches west towards Bamiyan (pi 14). The route is bad, but never less than spectacular. If possible, make a stop at the spectacular ruins of Shahr-e Zohak (pi 19) that cling to the red cliffs at the entrance of the Bamiyan valley. Bamiyan is a relaxing place to catch your breath for a few days. Take time to check out the weird geology of nearby Darya Ajdahar (pl20).

Heading west, the dazzling Band-e Amir Lakes (pl22), the colour of Afghan lapis lazuli, are an essential stop. From here, the obvious overnight stop is at Yawkawlang (pl25).

It's a long drive to the regional hub of (haghcheran (pl26), over a series of dramatic mountain passes and along narrow valleys. It's the best place to arrange a vehicle to the astounding Minaret of Jam (pl26), the lonely sentinel left from the Ghorid empire. If you're lucky you'll see camel caravans of nomads along the way.

From Jam, head for Chist-e Sharif (p 128) with its ruined domed tombs, and the hot springs of Obey (pl28). Finally, rejoice as the tarmac road reappears, to whisk you along the final stretch to Herat (pl32), which has all the amenities of a large city.

Darya Ajdahar

Chist-e Sharif

Darya Ajdahar f

Chist-e Sharif

AFGHAN TURKESTAN

Two Weeks

Having enjoyed a few days in Kabul (p79), take the road north towards the Salang Pass (pi 12). Once the mountains have been crossed, head northeast towards Kunduz (pl60), one of the medieval city-states of the north. Crossing the deserts nearby you'll arrive at Ai Khanoum (pl62), the remains of the easternmost Greek City in the world, looking across the river into Tajikistan.

Backtrack via Pul-e Khumri (pl40) and continue northwest, break your trip at Samangan (p 158) to marvel at the Buddhist stupa of Takht-e Ros-tam. The road continues through the dizzying gorge of Tangi Tashkurgan (pl58), where roadside sellers offer juicy pomegranates and figs. Having stocked up, take a few days rest at Mazar-e Sharif (pl48), home to the Shrine of Hazrat Ali and its flocks of pure white doves.

Just outside Mazar-e Sharif is Balkh (p 155), once the 'Mother of Cities' according to the Arab conquerors. They left Afghanistan's oldest mosque on the outskirts of the town. The road continues west through Shiberghan (pl45), where the land starts to turn to desert. At the end of the tarmac is the Turkmen and Uzbek town of Andkhoi (pl44), a centre of carpet production that hosts a fabulous market twice a week.

If you're feeling sturdy, a rough track bumps across the desert to Maimana (pl43), another old city-state, now a quiet market town with a large Uzbek population.

© Lonely Planet Publications 24 ITINERARIES •• Tailored Trips

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