x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Your own narco-palace in sunny Kabul

The Life: As expats leave Afghanistan, the Kabul poppy palaces they once rented for extortionate sums now stand empty.

The "narcotecture" style is popular in Sherpur, Kabul's neighbourhood for the newly rich. Ahmad Masood / Reuters
The "narcotecture" style is popular in Sherpur, Kabul's neighbourhood for the newly rich. Ahmad Masood / Reuters

In many cities, it is the rich who flock to the hills to build the homes that give them the space and privacy they desire. The poor are left to occupy inner city ghettos.

Not so in Kabul, where the impoverished live in mud houses - served by neither electricity nor running water - that cling to the sides of the hills surrounding the city. The rich live downtown.

Over the past decade since the Taliban was ousted, the wealthy have increasingly torn down Kabul's traditional homes and built instead sprawling, mansions that westerners find irredeemably ugly. These are Kabul's poppy palaces, built with the lucre of the drugs trade and corruption. The word coined to describe the style - or lack thereof - is "narcotecture."

Sherpur is the epicentre of this development and it is reckoned that 75 such mansions have mushroomed there. Among the homeowners is General Rashid Dostum, a feared Uzbek warlord. Attempting even a peek at the structure is not advised.

The architects of these buildings know no bounds in their search for inspiration be it English country manor, Mexican hacienda, Greco-Roman villa - or indeed elements of all at once. There is one place that resembles the White House. However, it is generally pastels - pale pinks and lime greens - that are favoured for the exterior paintwork. Sparkly mosaics decorate the undersides of porticos. Giant eagles spread their wings atop roofs.

The nouveau riche who commissioned these mansions typically rented them out to foreigners - security companies, development organisations, embassy staff - and themselves went off to live in Dubai.

Back in 2007, these narco-palaces could fetch rents of up to $100,000 (Dh367,300) per month. But with members of the expat civilian population pulling out in tandem with the military, many of these houses now stand empty. Prices have dropped as much as 50 per cent, according to a recent article in Vanity Fair.

The author's guide in Kabul showed him one property that used to pull in $18,000 per month, now on the market for $8,000 per month. At least the lower rents leave more in the budget for redecorating.

 

lgutcher@thenational.ae