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I just completed an east to west crossing of Afghanistan in my own car, safely, and wanted to share some info. I am a traveller with no professional / governmental links in Afghanistan.
I don't want to encourage people to do this, but there's a lot of overly-negative material on the net regarding travelling in Afghanistan. It is a wonderful country with timeless villages, warm, dignified and hugely generous people who are amongst the nicest I've ever met, stunning natural scenery, and a clutch of fantastic old cities (Herat, Balkh) and monuments. The cliched media images of wrecked tanks, beggars, amputees, destruction, squalour and misery are all true to a small and decreasing extent, but are far from the overriding experience of this country, which was its wonderful and varied people and at times untouched feel. Nowhere else have I seen a man leading a camel caravan into the town centre to sell his wares at the bazaar.
I crossed the Khyber Pass from Peshawar, stayed two nights in Jalalabad, then moved on to Kabul. A week in Kabul, then 11 days in Bamiyan / Band-e Amir Lakes before returning to Kabul. Then drove up across the Salang Pass to Mazar-e Sharif, crossed into Uzbekistan at Heyratan (AF) / Termiz (UZ).
Returned from Uzbekistan, spent two weeks in Mazar-e Sharif / Balkh, then east through Aqcha, Shiberghan, Sar-e Pol, Andkhoy to Maimana. Back-tracked to Andkhoy, crossed into Turkmenistan at Aaqina (AF) / Imam Nazar (TM).
Entered Afghanistan from Turkmenistan at Torghundi (AF) / Serhetabat (TM), drove to Herat. Spent one week in Herat, then entered Iran at Islam Qala (AF) / Dogharoon (IR).
My views on safety are my own, qualified only by experience and local opinion. I take no responsibility whatsoever for any adverse outcome to you following my advice. The term 'safe' must be considered in a relative sense, nowhere in this country is truly safe by normal measures. Foreigners are regularly killed in Afghanistan, though the overwhelming majority of these are in the south, which is totally off limits for any sane person without a military escort.
Security is complicated, but generally good in the north. As a casual traveller passing by, you're unlikely to be kidnapped in my opinion, as a kidnap needs a bit of advance planning, and is easier and potentially more profitable when directed at a 'high value' target such as foregin military / NCO staff, expats and local politicians. But bombs and general violence make no such discrimination. Of course, you are taking a risk coming here, but there are risks involved travelling in parts of Pakistan / India which don't seem to have been given the same pariah status. I never felt really unsafe, though there were two incidents where the army suddenly deployed in the road and ran out with guns drawn. If you demand full control and peace of mind, this is obviously not the country for you. The risk which you feel when in the country is down to YOU and your own feelings - if you don't think you're going to feel safe there, then don't go, as you won't enjoy it.
Very generally, security is good during the day in cities and along good paved roads. The main exceptions to this are the whole of the south (good road from Kabul to Herat via Ghazni, Kandahar, Farah) which is definitely NOT safe, and the horrendous track into Bamiyan Province, which IS safe, as far as the border with Ghor Province (i.e. it's safe to visit Bamiyan and the Lakes at Band-e Amir).
The good, safe road runs from Kabul to Maimana. After Maimana, the road stops at the edge of Faryab Province and after this is NOT safe as it enters restive Badghis Province. Roads from Herat to the Iranian Border and Mazar-e Sharif to the Uzbek Border are good and safe.
The road from Torkham to Kabul and the road from Torghundi to Herat are not completely safe, but are good, so you should be OK as long as you keep moving and travel before dark.
The hazard to your safety is linked to how conspicuous you are. If you drive anything other than a Toyota (preferably a Corolla or Surf) then you will be driving an unusual car. But in safe areas it's probably not much of an issue.
A major security risk is the standard of driving. An Afghan friend of mine was killed in a crash whilst I was in the country. If you've ever seen the Afghan sport of Bozkashi, you'll understand how they drive. Be very, very careful.
Visas / Permits
Crossing the Khyber Pass requires a permit from the FATA Secretariate in Peshawar. The rule seems to be that pedestrian travellers are refused point blank, but if you can prove that you have a vehicle, they will consider your application, and issue a permit depending on the prevailing security situation. Peshawar to Torkham was probably more dangerous than any road I travelled in Afghanistan.
Make sure you get your carnet stamped at the Customs House in Torkham (Pakistan side).
Afghanistan does not recognise the Carnet, and Afghan Customs demand a 'route pass' which is like an Afghan Carnet. These are theoretically available at embassies / consulate for $100, though I was refused in Islamabad. Nevertheless, all three times I entered with my car, I managed to talk my way in without one. No problem at Torkham, difficult at Heyratan (nasty border), pretty easy at Torghundi.
Afghan visas are easy to come by, though getting multi-entry visas is difficult. Islamabad and Tashkent refuse. Possible in Mashhad but requires a letter from your embassy. Best thing to do is to get a visa extension while in Afghanistan, then leave Afghanistan before the ORGINAL visa (not extension) expires, then the extension is basically a new visa, and whilst technically not valid for another entry, the Afghan border guards don't seem to know this.
NB that Afghan visas are NOT like Iranian / Pakistani visas, where you have 30 days or whatever from the date you enter. On the Afghan visa, the date of expiry is the date by which time you must have left the country. I overstayed four days and it wasn't big deal at the border, though I wouldn't rely on it.
Money / Costs
1$ is about 48.5 Afghanis 'Afs'
Afghanistan can be very cheap of you eat locally and sleep in Chaikhanas (free). Snag is that the police in bigger cities won't allow you to stay. Hotels can be quite expensive, and poor value compared to Pakistan, and even Iran.
Fuel prices are currently 42afs for diesel, slightly less for petrol, depending on the grade. I think they sell 85, 93 and 95, though I'm not sure.
ATMs dispense US dollars in Kabul and Herat.
Don't know about security around Kunduz / Tajik border, though has reportedly improved of late.
Good luck, do your research, and enjoy this awesome, timeless country!
Wow...thanks for the writeup...what about pics?
I'm happy to read a positive experience...as I believe Afghan's deserve a visit from folks that are genuinely interested in their rich cultural heritage.
Daniel gives a good report, with one rider that I would like to add: it all applies at that time that he travelled. The place changes by the day basically (but the south and east always have issues).
Also, it is worth being aware that visas are expensive (I have worked in Afghanistan, and I have been riding a bike here, for more than two years).
Any bike over about 150-200cc that was not made in China is conspicuous.
Yes, the security situation changes, though not everywhere in my opinion. Kunduz at present seems to be changing. Of course, there are minor incidents, but Mazar and much of the north seems to be pretty stable (until Dostum crosses the Salang perhaps), and the south is of course reliably dangerous. But the Torkham - Kabul highway, and Kabul itself are definitely changeable.
I have to disagree about the price of visas--tourist visas at least--I paid $30 in Islamabad, $45 in Tashkent, and $20 in Mazar, making them about the cheapest visas on my 3 year trip.
Also, visas for Turkmenistan are easy here, the staff in all three consulates (Kabul / Mazar / Herat) are really friendly and helpful, which is hardly the same in other embassies. This means you can cross Afghanistan safely.
Hi daniel, appreciate the update. Yes, i was referring to working in Afg; so a work visa costs $180 US per 6 month stint at present, should anyone be thinking of such activity; a work premit is also required.
You mention Dostum - the north is re-arming, The cost of an AK47 is sky-rocketing; tells you something. :-(
Do the Afghans care if Europeans or Americans are armed while traveling?
As a guest and a civvie in a war zone never carry a gun as you will be shot by the local taliban as a spy and by arested by NATO/UN forces for carrying a concealled wepeon.. Plus it shows a lack of trust and unfriendlyness to the Locals.
Location: Golden, CO USA...on the road since Sept 2005
Daniel, thanks for the great post. Motoedde, it's been a while since we talked! Mika, my bike is in Thailand now and in 2 weeks we will be off to Nepal and then westward to Europe. I hope we meet somewhere along the line. I'd love to hear about your route east of Turkey. I was planning on giving Afghanistan a go before reading this post and am still considering it. Daniel, any thoughts on riding a tired BMW F650 solo through the country? I won't try it unless you can guarantee my safety!! Cheers guys, Hook.
To travel armed??? Never travel armed, unless it is not humans you're scared of.
Visa cost me 30$ in tadjikistan, if I remember correctly.
atmosphere is nice strange though, even if people are incredibly nice. And I suppose that most of us travel to figure out things by themselves, so going there, in that respect, can be an interesting experience.
Location: in our 10th year on the road-only half way- now in Australia
i agree with the consesus here...
never ever ever carry a gun. in our 7 years on the road we never had and have never wished we had.
on a short note in keeping with this thread - Central Asia is an amazing place, the experinces we had with the locals were always positive. Try to get the images that the press portray of these places out of your head. Its so very very different.
Hook - I have sent you a PM. as we are currently in Nepal.
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