The drivers from the private security firm, Afghanistan Logistics, arrived to escort us to the Guldara Stupa, taking us on the north road, despite the stupa being south of the city. An hour out of Kabul G stopped the cars and made the drivers admit that they weren’t taking us to the site because they’d been told by their boss to take us to a village of the same name. G was furious as this extra trip had taken a whole week and $800 to arrange. He finally managed to get hold of the company director who admitted that they’d been unable to get military permission for us to travel south. The drivers say that this isn’t because of any Taliban threat, its “bad local people” (definition = bandits).
Instead we travelled into the mountains to Istalif, the ex-British cavalry base used during the 19th century, First Afghan War.Though the scenery was beautiful, the same couldn’t be said for the ugly, basic, chipped pottery on sale in Istalif. It was once famous for its fine ceramics. Not anymore. This was compounded by aggressive traders and the Turquoise Mountain Foundation being firmly closed. Not good.
A chaikana owner allowed us to have tea before we drove back through the vineyards on the Shamoli Plain to Kabul. Afghanistan makes wine for local consumption. We were assured that it’s all non-alcoholic.
During dinner we heard minor gunfire, a helicopter and sirens a few blocks away but no one else reacted. These must be such common sounds. Today was Independence Day and everyone has been out buying large boxes of biscuits and cakes, getting ready for Eid. We watched a large group of obviously drunk men weave their way through the street. Our own taxi driver stank of booze and was definitely inebriated, proven when he turned into 3 lanes of oncoming traffic on our way back to the hotel.
Kabul is a dangerous place. It was time to go home.