Breakfast was fried eggs swimming in oil, bread and black tea and then we hired taxis to take us to do some sightseeing. Our first stop was the Bala Hissar (old palace) and the City walls. The palace and walls are now out of bounds because it’s heavily fortified by the military, giving great views across the town. We managed to cause a bit of a stir in the sheep & goat market below the walls and were asked to pose for photos with the local men.
The Babur Gardens were laid out in the 16th century but destroyed by the Taliban in 1993 and the reconstruction has only recently been completed. There are terraced rose gardens, fruit trees and shaded walks leading to Babur’s tomb, amazingly intact despite the bullet holes. We waited in the blistering heat while the man with the key to the tomb was found. The women in our group sat with some local female students to chat and men materialized from all over and stood in the trees watching them, keeping a discreet distance.
The carpet seller in the restored caravanserai told us that we were the only tourists he’d seen for a long time but he does regular trade with the NGOs.
We got the National Museum 30 minutes before they had decided to close (opening times seem very haphazard) and at first they refused to let us in. The place is gradually being rebuilt with the help of foreign antiquity groups and it’s a shadow of its former self. The Taliban smashed, looted and destroyed so much. It’s only due to the bravery and ingenuity of its staff that so much was saved.
There was an interesting small display for the new dig south of Kabul (Mes Aynak) and I was particularly taken with photos of the giant reclining Buddha, still displaying his painted red robes. The site is kept reasonably secret, to help protect it from looters, and they don’t allow any public visits. Shame.
On the way out we were frisk searched. That’s the first time I’ve ever been searched leaving a museum.
The intense heat had started to get to us all because we can’t drink water publicly during Ramadan (technically the sick, pregnant, pilgrims & tourists are exempt but we’re not going to chance offending anyone), so we went back to the hotel to rest.
We went back to the tailor but the new suits weren’t ready yet, so instead we bought some supplies for our trip. A passer-by helped us to buy apples and some small sweet grapes from a charming old man who was at great pains to show us the kilo weights he was using and also help us with the right notes. The cake shop man seemed surprised to see us back again and we bought some pistachio shortbread biscuits. The men then went off to get their new suits. They fitted perfectly.
In the evening we ate in the garden of a family restaurant, surrounded by dozens of families. Everyone was intrigued by us and we had a steady stream of children passing by our bower, peaking at the strange foreigners and then running away.
A man came over and kindly helped us to order before giving us his business card and telling us that we should call him if we had any problems while we were in Kabul. Dinner was lamb pulao, excellent manti dumplings (one of my favourite dishes) and fresh fruit shakes.