JOIN US IN AN INTERVIEW WITH YALDA MOHSEN FROM KABUL, AFGHANISTAN!
Yalda Mohsen is a Pianist, writer and artist from Afghanistan who was born and raised in Kabul. She is currently studying foreign languages and business in Germany. An art and nature lover, Yalda truly appreciates the existence of different and colorful cultures of the globe. She hopes everyone can explore the beauty of her city through her writings.
Afghanistan is a landlocked country in the heart of South Central Asia bordered by countries like Pakistan, Iran, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and China from all sides. It is a war-torn country ruled by the Taliban for five years between 1996 to 2001.
Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, is located in the east of the country. It is located at a high altitude, 1,800 meters above sea level. The population of Kabul is 4.635 million, which includes all the major ethnic groups of Afghanistan.
We call Kabul the ancient city of love, culture and history, famous for its traditional architectural style. The city has existed more than 3,500 years, surrounded by beautiful mountains and uniqueness.
What is the best time to visit Kabul?
Kabul has the exact four seasons; you can experience the cold of winter with a beautiful white city surrounded by snow, the warmth of summer, rains of spring and colorful autumn. Winters are freezing cold with frequent and heavy snowfall.
The best time to visit Kabul is spring (April to June) and fall (September to October). In spring, it turns warmer and greener to enjoy the environments and outdoors. In fall hotels are generally low priced.
Which is the most convenient and favored transport of Kabul?
Lack of an accessible, affordable, safe and secure, clean and environmentally friendly transportation system is one of the biggest challenges of Kabul city.
Buses do run around popular destinations within Kabul, but I would recommend using Uber and other online taxi services or local taxis. Kabul does not have many transportation modes, but you can find taxis everywhere.
Afghan Logistics & Tours offer both private taxis and car rental at reasonable rates. You can also explore downtown Kabul on foot, it’s safe and compact.
If you are on a tour in Afghanistan, know that there is no train system within Afghanistan but you can reach other places using Water Taxis which run in the Amu Darya river.
What are the top three must visit places in Kabul?
Qargha Reservoir and Lake : Qargha is a town around twenty kilometres away from Kabul. It’s reservoir is working as a source of water for the whole town of Qargha and is a best source of hydroelectricity for the country. The Qargha lake is a beautiful calm lake with blue shiny water that has a really nice hotel on its bank and many other kebab and Sheeryakh (Afghan special Ice cream) restaurants. It is the best place for nature, sightseeing, horse riding, golf, boating and surfing lovers, beside it gives the best sunset view and relaxation to the visitors in the evening. Qargha is also very famous for its beautiful little cottages alongside the lake and luxury hotels and eateries.
Paghman Palace : Located ten kilometres away from Qargha lies the town of Paghman, nestled in the Hindu Kush mountains. Paghman is a town in the hills in the western part of Kabul province. It attracts tourists and visitors with its lush green gardens, but the most beautiful and touristic destination of it is the Paghman Palace. It is a newly built castle which opened its door to public only in 2014.
I bet during your visit you would feel like treading into a modern little kingdom. The palace is actually designed as a venue for festivals such as a Nowruz (Persian new year) and is decorated with handmade traditional carpets. Outside of the castle you can find delightful waterfalls, a playground for Buzkashi (an Afghan game) and 1000 different types of flowers and heaps of magnificent trees. And what’s better than seeing a magical spot like this?
Gardens of Babur : Kabul is a city of mosques and gardens and Gardens of Babur is one of the most amazing historical gardens in Kabul. It was built by the Mughal ruler Babur in the early 16th century. People frequently call it the light-garden of the God-forgiven angel king whose rest is in the garden of Heaven.
Made in the classical charbagh pattern this garden was laid out as a series of 15 stepped terraces on a hillside. Babur’s grave is located on the fourteenth terrace and was originally surrounded by a screen of white marble which was later destroyed by the Taliban. This garden is a major tourist attraction in Kabul. Either side of the grounds are deeply planted with species mentioned in the Baburnama, including walnut, cherry, quince, mulberry and apricot trees. In the middle of the garden you can see a white marble mosque created by Shah Jahan, who constructed the Taj Mahal in Agra.
What are the best day trips for nature, culture and history from Kabul?
There are many districts 1-3 hour away from Kabul, but I would probably recommend Istalif. Nestled in the foothills of the Hindu Kush, Istalif is almost 40 kms away from Kabul and delivers a nice lush green valley view for long drives.
Istalif is a beautiful small town famous for its distinctive handmade glazed pottery, cultural landscape and small rivers. For over four hundred years the village has been known for its turquoise and green ceramics, made using a natural potash glaze known as ishkar. It is said that the Istalif potters use a kick wheel to form pots from the clay they gather in the surrounding mountains and stamp it by feet after adding plant fiber in it. Later they are baked in the shapes of bowls, plates, candlesticks and ewers.
Although Istalif is a popular tourist destination, it’s still recovering from the destruction caused by the Taliban. To know more about Istalif and things to do, check out this excellent guide.
What is the most celebrated holiday of the year in Kabul?
One of the biggest and celebrated holidays is Nowruz, 21st of March, the first daylight of spring which is the Persian New year. That day includes some huge festivals such as Gul-e-Surkh Festival the celebration of red tulip flowers, Jahenda Bala the ceremony of raising a special banner and the biggest gathering of people from all over Afghanistan, The big matches of Buzkashi (goat grabbing)the sports in which horse-mounted players attempt to place a goat or calf carcass in a goal and Samanak the making of a special sweet dish in a special party by women during the night till daylight along with singing a special song about Samanak.
In this day people wear colorful clothes, dance, get together and make special Afghan cuisine and also “Haft-Mewa” which means seven fruits. Haft Mewa is essentially compote made from seven different dried fruits and nuts served in their own juices. Other most celebrated holidays are Eid-al-Fitr and Eid-al-Adha.
What is the most loved local food, savory and sweet of Kabul?
Afghanistan is famous for its pomegranates in the whole of Asia. While the Afghan traditional food is really famous among European and other countries of the world for its deliciousness. In Kabul, people love all of them and of course it’s a vegetarian friendly city you can find hundred types of food in Kabul. Here are some of the most prominent:
Aushak : Dumplings filled with chives served with beans and garlic Yoghurt.
Mantu : Another type of Afghan dumplings filled with beef meat and onions.
Kabuli Palau : Kabuli Palau counts as a national dish of Afghanistan for its popularity made of steamed rice, mixed with raisins, carrots and lamb.
Haleem : Haleem is a warming breakfast made from oatmeal and chicken, especially in cold winter days and can be found in some old streets of Kabul.
Gosh Feel : Gosh feel means elephant ear and is a pastry made of dough and sugar.
Where to head for shopping in Kabul?
The most beautiful short term bazaars come to the city on the occasion of Nowruz and Eid but I am going to separate shopping in Kabul into two categories, the local and the modern shopping. There are some really beautiful and modern shopping malls and stores in the Shahr-e Naw area which means “New City”.
For local shopping, you can find pure and original, but a bit expensive leather, jewelry, nomadic, traditional and antique stores on the streets of Shahr-e Naw as well. It should be mentioned that shopping there is genuinely fun, specially for the collectors of ethnic weaves.
Which is the local craft or souvenir of Kabul?
Afghan rugs are very popular around the world and you can find them all over Kabul. The city is rich in locally made carpets, rugs and designs that even patterns are often copied around the world, handicrafts, the most beautiful embroideries and handmade jewelry and traditional clothes.
When it comes to shopping tourists are often surprised by the beauty of colorful handmade fabrics. Some of the famous are “chapan” (an Afghan made coat from colorful fabrics) and “Karakul” (an Afghan made hat from lambs’ fur).
Can you suggest a place from where one can get the best view of the city?
You can see almost the half of the city from the Wazir Akbar Khan’s Hill. It’s a grassy hillside of the town surrounded by fruit trees and bushes. Approximately 30 meters long Afghanistan’s flag is also erected there.
Do you suggest any shows on music, culture or art performed by the locals?
Afghanistan National Institute of Music promotes the power of music as a strong tool for bringing about social changes and contributing to the emotional healing of Afghan children and youth. They do international tours and performances in Kabul.
The concerts and exhibitions are being held mostly in some specific places, but there are some restaurants with live music as well, such as the Kabul star restaurant.
For art visit the Turquoise Mountain to see all sorts of native handicrafts. The Center for Contemporary Arts Afghanistan (CCAA) in Kabul provides young people an opportunity to learn contemporary painting while the National Gallery of Art in Kabul hosts many pictures painted by new age Afghan artists.
You can find street art and graffiti everywhere on the walls of the city.
Would you recommend any local apps for food, transport or hidden gems in your city?
The app Afghan Backpack will help you, finding hotels, restaurants, parks and historical locations in Kabul. It’s the first application developed by the Afghan female coders especially for tourists who like to visit Afghanistan.
Do you want to give any suggestion to tourists coming to Kabul?
Kabul is truly an artistic city, despite all the news and conflicts you hear. Take a tour guide and prepare plans to visit the most wondrous parts of the city. In Kabul, you will come across the most hospitable and kind people so it’s adventurous to take a camera with and have some nice shots of the colorful positions and people. Enjoy!