Everyone Loves a Day out in the Countryside
Everywhere in the world, to a city-dweller, the promise of a day out in the countryside brings with it certain buoyancy, anticipation, and a feeling literally like a breath of fresh air.
Kabulis are no exception. So it was with much excitement that the Peace Dividend Trust’s Kabul office closed up shop last Thursday afternoon. For, at the invitation of one of our colleagues, we were invited out to the historical and touristic village of Istalif, his home town.
Located about 40 kms north of Kabul, Istalif is a beautiful village located in the Parwan Mountains, at the base of the Shomali Plains. Previously, thousands of merchants and farmers thrived here, as the area was traditionally a centre for grape, mulberry, fig, and apple growing, as well as wheat farming, and the production of Afghanistan’s famous blue-green pottery. Water from the mountains runs through the areas intricate canal system, and waters an abundance of orchards creating a charming green oasis.
In bygone years, even Emperor Babur frequently visited the village as he loved its lush gardens. In the 1960s and 70s, Istalif was a tourist mecca attracting both international visitors and well-to-do local Government officials and ministers. In those days weaving and pottery crafts thrived, and helped boost the town’s touristic value.
But, as with so many beautiful spots in Afghanistan, tragedy struck. Between the Soviet invasion, and later, the total destruction carried out by the Taliban, the area became an impoverished waste land. Istalif’s beautiful scenic location was also its downfall, as its strategic mountain top perch meant it was ideal to launch attacks on Soviet bases in the valleys and plains below.
Later it became a front line for fighting between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance. For many months they fought back and forth, destroying the crops, vineyards and orchards. Once the Taliban finally took the town, they burned homes and public buildings to the ground forcing natives of the area to flee to Kabul or into lives of exile.
Today Istalif is being rebuilt and many residents and craftsmen are returning. Turquoise Mountain and other organisations are providing funding and training to help support crafts that are unique to this region.
During our day visit, we saw only the beauty and none of the hardships the village recently faced. We enjoyed a massive, all-you- can-eat picnic in a stunning mountain top lookout point with views stretching down to the plains, rode horses through the forests, and waded through the river in the nearby valley.
And, of course, we shopped. Mostly rebuilt, the traditional bazaar street is home to dozens of craftsmen displaying an amazing array of pottery, antiques, baskets, and textiles – all in an easy going and relaxed atmosphere. We did our bit to support the local Istalif economy!
But mostly, we all got to relax and joke together. Afghan colleagues treated our expatriate colleagues to a special and cultural day out in what must be one of Afghanistan’s most lovely spots. Great food, great company, and fresh air; isn’t that what life is all about?