I just spent a day in Kabul, Afghanistan. That is really cool and weird to say. After months of contemplation, planning, executing and jumping through hoops-the day finally arrived. I left Dubai early this morning on Safi Airways at 3:30am and arrived 2 hours later at the world’s most notorious city in the shadow of a ton of military planes and helicopters. The weather was crisp, cool and I had no idea what to expect. The only problem was the logistics company that I hired for security and the tour wasn’t at the airport. I was a bit miffed but as usual things end up working out.
I had set up a tour that included a guide, driver and an armed ex military guy dressed in full fatigues who carried an AK-47 at all times and looked like a serious bad ass. I used a highly utilized and recommended company called Afghan Tours and Logistics. They even have an office in New York and carry out security for many contractors, military personnel and VIP’s who visit Kabul and Afghanistan. So when I didn’t see them right away at the airport terminal I wasn’t worried but a bit confused.
The airport in Kabul is set up in three staging areas; A, B and C. I was expecting them in A but they were in C. To make a long story short, after borrowing some military Afghan’s cell phone to call them, it got squared away and he took me to get registered with the Ministry of the Interior where they hand you a card to carry with you at all times (above)…and the tour of Kabul began.
They had sent me an itinerary that included all the sights and sounds of Kabul which seemed fine. However, I had asked about a very special place I had seen on TV, called the Kabul Golf Course. I thought, how cool would it be to play golf in Kabul. So when the driver asked what I wanted to do, I said play golf. He was surprised but we set out of town to play the 9 hole course that is essentially on a mountain of dirt and rock.
When we arrived, instead of taking the time to play the full 9 holes which would have taken forever (there are no golf carts as you’d imagine), I decided to just play a par 3 over and over with a worker guy who was practicing. What a thrill it was and I must brag a little, that with a small wedge and no practice, I nailed 5 of 9 on the elevated green (which is actually dirt) from 130 yards off the rock hard ground. I was pretty pumped when I got up there to see. After thanking the golf club workers for helping me out and the guide and guard for bringing me, we set off for the real tour. However, for me, that was simply awesome!
We headed back into Kabul and the first stop on the tour was Darulaman Palace (above)…or should I say the former palace because as you can see, it has been shot up and destroyed over the last 3 decades of war that has gripped Kabul. The structure was still very impressive and you could even see some of the moldings and wall paintings in the shot out walls inside. The palace has turned into a refugee camp of sorts with squatters and homeless actually turning the palace into their own place to live. It was very sad to see some of the kids (below) so impoverished and the old men so beat up and down. It was however, a glimpse into what Kabul really is and has been over the last thirty years.
We then headed across the street to the Kabul Museum which was actually relatively interesting. If you read my site often, you know I am not a huge museum guy. But they did have a cool exhibit that is apparently on loan in New York as we speak. I am assuming the Met or the Natural History and I will check when I get home and go see it. The museum still had several old carvings, pottery and some cool little figurines, including the look of evil which I thought was pretty cool. They also had some funny language on the signs posted when they translated them into English as you can see.
Outside the museum, they had some old Cadillac’s that used to belong to the King and some wrecked trains from when Kabul had a train system. This was also the first time I noticed the drone blimp following me around. I’m serious, it was this massive unmanned drone blimp (below) that is obviously used for security in some manner but it just hovered over Kabul wherever you went. I kept feeling like Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) at the end of Good Fellas when he thinks that helicopter is following him around all day and got paranoid. In all seriousness, it was obvious the reason but it was still kind of weird.
The next stop was Babur’s Gardens (below) which was a nice reprieve from the dusty traffic and chaos on the roads of Kabul. It was an oasis of sorts in the heart of the city. It wasn’t that great if you take it for what it was but for where you were, it was nice, the air was breathable and it was very pleasant. Mental note to not use the bathroom there though because it is absolutely wretched.
We then headed to lunch at Rumi which is right off the main drag behind two levels of armed security. Rumi is where all the expats and NGO types go for lunch and I must say that it was spectacular. It was amongst the highlights of the day and one of the best meals I have had in a while. If this restaurant was in New York, it would just print money-that’s how good it was.
The guide said he would order several things that had to be tried. I agreed and he didn’t disappoint. We had several Afghan favorites including Mantoo and Kecheri Quroot. Mantoo was essentially Afghan ravioli filled with minced meat and onions along with a nice sauce. It was seriously ridiculous. Kecheri Quroot is mung beans cooked with a milk rice, yogurt and minced meat with a mint flavor as well. It was also to die for and was great when you dipped Afghan bread into it. These dishes along with some killer kebob plates and some fresh pomegranate juice made for a perfect meal in a beautiful restaurant that I never would have found on my own.
After lunch came the food coma and I had a hard time staying awake in the car after barely sleeping the night before. However, we made stops at another museum for landmines and other weapons which was OK. However, the highlight after lunch was the TV mountain, which had awesome views of all corners of Kabul from high above. It was fun because aside from the great views, you got to relive the route you took and see all the traffic and dust in the air from above. It was also nice because there was a great breeze that cooled it off from the hot car as the AC wasn’t working that well.
Standing up on the mountain, gave me some time to realize how cool what I had just done and seen was. Being in Kabul during a war was an exciting and interesting experience. I am not really sure how to classify it exactly. I will probably need a while to figure that out but from on the extremely bumpy plane flying back to Dubai, my initial reaction is satisfaction with what I did and saw from a tough and challenging destination that really surprised me. I’d imagine I won’t be back anytime soon and maybe not ever, but my 12 hours in Kabul certainly were jam packed and memorable.