We were up at 3.45 am for a 4am start but I was unable to eat breakfast at such an uncivilized hour. We managed to fit our packs into Hamid’s 4×4 van and then went down to the hotel to check that Karen was ok and that her driver had turned up to take her to Kabul. Instead of a car, the driver had arrived with a van and had sold the extra seats to an Afghan woman and her child. This was not what G had arranged, as he’d paid $150 dollars for a private taxi transfer – which is a truly exorbitant amount. The positive side to this blatant blag was that Q will have female company on the journey.
The road to Band-e Amir is mainly tarmac (part of the tourist route) so it only took us 2 hours to get there. This is Afghanistan’s first National Park and it’s stunningly beautiful. There are 5 deep turquoise lakes interconnected with streams and waterfalls. It was relatively quiet because it’s Ramadan but there were still plenty of Afghani families on day trips or staying at the numerous guest hotels in the park (it’s a popular honeymoon destination).
We were a big hit with a Hazara family and spent ages taking each others photos. Some people are very camera adverse and we’ve had to be extremely careful not to cause offense.
We were amused that the locals had bought picnics with them. They treat it as a Ramadan free zone here and the stalls competed for our custom to take tea (chai).
The swan pedalos on the main lake were sadly neglected and not in use. The blue colour of the water is derived from natural mineral and it’s hard to describe the intensity and clarity.
Afterwards we took a long, dusty, breath-taking old silk route road to Lal O Sar Jangal (alt: La’l wa Sar Jangal). Poor A was terribly car sick and we had to stop several times, which gave us a chance to stretch our cramped, aching legs and take in some fresh air ( we can’t open pour windows because of the dust on the road).
The scenery was reminiscent of Mongolia and Kazakhstan. Beautiful soft greys, whites and pinks towering above emerald green valleys and vast pastures. Many of the houses have been abandoned (partly because of the war and partly because the 6 year drought has forced the pastoralists from the land) but there was also a lot of new builds, schools and a few clinics. I noticed that a fair few had large satellite dishes and new cars / vans outside. However, everyone looks very poor and, although we see lots of crops, they’re not the healthiest examples I’ve ever seen. The animals (goats, sheep, donkeys and horses) were in good condition considering how harsh this land is.