x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Herat: City that the hippies could not resist

The Life: The city of Herat, the capital of western Afghanistan, has long been an important commercial and cultural hub lying on the ancient trade routes of the Middle East, and Central and South Asia.

A glassblower in a Herat workshop. Aref Karimi / AFP
A glassblower in a Herat workshop. Aref Karimi / AFP

The city of Herat, the capital of western Afghanistan, has long been an important commercial and cultural hub lying on the ancient trade routes of the Middle East, and central and south Asia.

Trade between Afghanistan and Iran passes through the border town of Islam Qala, in the Kohsan district of the province and its customs house collects probably the most legitimate revenue in all Afghanistan. Apart from trade, tourism seems set to reemerge as a big earner for the city.

Unlikely as it may seem these days, Herat has huge potential as a tourist destination. In the 1960s and '70s it was a required stop on the hippy trail from Europe to South East Asia and Australia.

A new airport opened in Herat in February last year, making arriving and departure a relatively smooth experience.

Some tips for your stay:

Eating out A Thousand and One Nights is a popular restaurant where huge plates of juicy kebabs and fragrant rice are served up by dwarfs. Barez Ainak, who runs the restaurant, decided to employ dwarfs because they could not get jobs anywhere else. "I thought it would be an amusing talking point for my customers as they are very friendly and get on well with everyone," he told AFP in an interview.

Hotels Nazary 4 Star Hotel is the most comfortable option for sleeping in town. It is clean, safe and conveniently located. There is reliable aircon - important in the hot summer months - and free Wi-Fi in all rooms. The US$100 room charge includes all the tea you can drink. Breakfast, lunch and dinner buffets are available in the cheery restaurant.

Off hours Herat offers a wealth of sightseeing opportunities. The 12th century Friday Mosque is considered one of the greatest Islamic buildings in central Asia. The city's citadel, founded by Alexander the Great, reopened in 2011 after painstaking restoration as a museum and cultural centre. The anti-Soviet Jihad Museum is also well worth a visit. Unesco is working hard to preserve the five remaining minarets that date from the 15th century.

Getting there There are three flydubai flights a day to Kabul, with a one-way ticket starting from Dh556. Kam Airflies from Dubai to Herat daily. Tickets start from $70 one way.

 

lgutcher@thenational.ae