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AFGHANISTAN: NOWRUZ FESTIVAL


Hazrat-Ali-Shrine-Mazar-3.jpg

AFGHANISTAN


OVERVIEW

  • Celebrate Nowruz— the Afghan and Persian New Years— in magical Mazar-i-Sharif.

  • Watch a real game of Buzkashi in its homeland of Northern Afghanistan.

  • Tour the Blue Mosque in Mazar-i-Sharif at sunrise and sunset.

  • Visit the ancient Buddhist sites of Bamyan, Balkh and Samangan.

  • Meet and share meals with local Hazara families in the Bamyan region.

  • Wander Band-e-Amir lakes in central Afghanistan.

  • Explore the bazaars and old town of Herat in the far west.

  • See the Friday Mosque and ancient Minarets of Herat.


ITINERARY

Afghanistan is at many cross-roads. Stuck between south, central and west Asia, a mixing grounds of cultures and traditions, politically fragile, and the former stomping grounds of hippies in the 1960s and 70s, Afghanistan is now in recovery and entering a period of redefined self discovery. After a few recent scouting trips into the country, we now feel comfortable bringing people to select regions to see what’s going on and build connection with local people. While many parts of the country remain off-limits, we will discover the country’s more open regions during the Nowruz New Year holiday and set the groundwork for continued exploration and engagement.

DAY 1. MARCH 17, 2019. SUNDAY. ARRIVE IN KABUL

Arrivals in Kabul throughout the day. We will pick you up from the airport and transfer you to our hotel for the evening with our secure vehicles.

DAY 2. MARCH 18, 2019. MONDAY. KABUL - HERAT

In the morning we board a flight to the western city of Herat, almost as much culturally Persian as it is Afghan. Upon arrival, the first thing we do is visit the Masjidi Jami, or Friday Mosque, built by the Ghurid ruler Ghiyas Ad-Din Ghori in 1,200. We will then tour the Herat tile factory. Before lunch we visit the Herat Citadel, which dates back to 330 BC, when Alexander the Great and his army arrived in what is now Afghanistan after the Battle of Gaugamela. Many empires have used it as a headquarters in the last 2,000 years, and it has been destroyed and rebuilt many times over the centuries. In the afternoon we will wander the Herat Bazaar and talk with locals.

DAY 3. MARCH 19, 2019. TUESDAY. HERAT

After breakfast, we visit the Tomb of Goharshad and the Minarets of Herat, a much larger complex the Mosque and Madrassa of Gawharshad. These architectural monuments were dynamited by officers of the British Indian Army in 1885 to prevent its use as a fortress if the Russian army tried to invade India; however, the tomb and minarets still remain standing today. In the afternoon we visit the Guzargah Mosque and Puli Malaan, a 22-arched bridge believed to have been constructed by the Seljuks in the early 12th century.

DAY 4. MARCH 20, 2019. WEDNESDAY. HERAT - MAZAR-I-SHARIF

In the morning we fly to Kabul before continuing on to Mazar-i-Sharif. Mazar is a largely Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara city in the far north of Afghanistan, and is one of the most socially progressive regions in the country. After settling into our hotel, we’ll take a walk around town and visit an ancient city gate in the outskirts of the town dating back to the time of Alexander the Great. 

DAY 5. MARCH 21, 2019. THURSDAY. MAZAR-I-SHARIF

Today is the Nowruz Holiday, the Afghan and Persian New Year celebrated throughout the region. People come from far and wide around the Afghan countryside to Mazar-i-Sharif to celebrate with horse races, Buzkashi and more events. Jahenda Bala is celebrated on the first day of the Nowruz and is attended by many high-ranking government officials such as the Vice-President, Ministers, and Provincial Governors. It is a specific religious ceremony performed in the Blue Mosque of Mazar that is believed to be the site of the tomb of Ali ibn Abi Talib, the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad. Along with other customs, a Buzkashi tournament is held in the afternoon in Mazar-i-Sharif. Buzkashi is a national horse sport played by specially trained horsemen in the North of Afghanistan. We will participate in events held throughout the day.

DAY 6. MARCH 22, 2019. FRIDAY. MAZAR-I-SHARIF

Today, journey to visit Takht-i Rustam (Haibak), literally meaning the throne of Rustam, named after Rustam, a king in Persian mythology. It’s a hilltop settlement and well-known archaeological site in Afghanistan. We will also visit the adjacent Buddhist caves and stupas on top of a hill, just above a mountain pass high in the Hindu Kush range. The Buddhist stupa here is in the form of a mound and it represents the earliest link to the evolution of Buddhist architecture in Afghanistan. In the afternoon, we have time to walk around the bazaars and the rush of people preparing for another day of celebration tomorrow.

DAY 7. MARCH 23, 2019. SATURDAY. MAZAR-I-SHARIF

In the morning, we visit Balkh, an ancient city and centre of Buddhism, Sufism and Zoroastrianism in what is now northern Afghanistan. While in Balkh, we visit the Haji Piyada Mosque, the Tomb of Rabia Balkhi, a semi legendary figure of Persian literature and possibly the first woman poet in the history of New Persian poetry, the Khoja Parsa Mosque, and Bala Hisar, the ancient citadel built by Alexander the Great when he destroyed the Kurush (Persian empire) and crossed Amu Darya (Axus River) in early 330. In the afternoon we visit the spectacular Blue Tiled Mosque of Ali in Mazar-i-Sharif again to watch the new year celebrations continue.

DAY 8. MARCH 24, 2019. SUNDAY. MAZAR-I-SHARIF - BAMYAN

Today we travel overland through the high mountain passes (very rough road conditions) to the town of Bamyan in Central Afghanistan, directly over the Salang Pass. Bamyan is in the middle of the ethnic Hazara heartland. Where conditions allow, we will stop along the way to see life in small villages in rural northern Afghanistan. When we arrive in Bamyan, we will wander around the Bamyan Bazaar and soak up the town.

DAY 9. MARCH 25, 2019. MONDAY. BAMYAN

Today we visit the Buddha Niches, where the great Buddha statues used to stand. The Buddhas of Bamyan were two 6th century monumental statues of standing Buddha carved into the side of a cliff in the Bamyan valley in the peaceful Hazarajat region of central Afghanistan. Much to the dismay of the rest of the world, they were destroyed in March 2001 by the Taliban. Shahr-e Gholghola also (City of Screams) is 13th century city in Bamyan, Afghanistan which was conquered by Gengis Khan after months of surrounding. The ruins still remain close to the Bamyan town. In the afternoon, we visit the natural landscapes of the Darre Ajdaha (Dragon Valley).

DAY 10. MARCH 26, 2019. TUESDAY. BAND-E-AMIR

Today we visit the blue lakes of Band-e-Amir, a series of six deep blue lakes separated by natural dams made of travertine, a mineral deposit. The name Band-e Amir literally means "Commander's Dam" which is believed by some to be a reference to Ali, the first Imam of the Muslims (Shias) and the fourth Caliph of Islam (to Sunnis). This area is dominated by ethnic Hazaras, who make up around 23% of Afghanistan's population. Band-e Amir was to become Afghanistan's first national park in the 1960s but this was delayed due to political crises and decades of successive wars. In 2004, Band-e Amir was submitted for recognition as a World Heritage site, and in 2009 Band-e Amir was finally declared Afghanistan's first national park.

DAY 11. MARCH 27, 2019. WEDNESDAY. BAMYAN - KABUL

In the morning we drive to Kabul overland from Bamyan. The road conditions are amongst the best in Afghanistan and the drive is secure. Upon our arrival in Kabul, we can walk around Chicken Street, a souvenir street bazaar great for shopping for local items from around the country. In the late afternoon, we visit the small village of Istalif, just north of Kabul, for some sweeping views of the mountains and to appreciate small town life in this beautiful centre for pottery in Afghanistan.

DAY 12. MARCH 28, 2019. THURSDAY. PANJSHIR

In the morning, we journey to Panjshir and Tomb of Ahmad Shah Masood. Panjshir literally meaning "Five Lions", refers to five Wali (protectors), spiritual brothers who were centred in the valley. Local legend has it that the five brothers built a dam for Sultan Mahmud of Ghaznawi in the early 11th century. Later, it was the site of the Panjshir offensives fought between the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan and the Soviets against the Mujahidin during the Soviet War in Afghanistan from 1980 to 1985. The valley again witnessed renewed fighting during the civil war in Afghanistan (1996-2001) between Taliban and the Northern Alliance under command by now national hero Ahmad Shah Masood. Now peace has returned the the valley is tranquil, with its bright green farmland, blue streams, and mud brick houses surrounded by gigantic snow-capped peaks. In the afternoon, we tour some more places around Kabul and finish off with a farewell dinner in the city.

DAY 13. MARCH 29, 2019. FRIDAY. DEPARTURES FROM KABUL

Departures throughout the day— for those departing today, we will drop you off back at the airport according to your flight schedule. No planned activities.


COST

$4,300 USD

INCLUDED

  • Safe and secure accommodation.

  • Airport transfers.

  • 3 meals per day.

  • Private and secure transportation.

  • Round trip flights between Herat and Kabul.

  • North American trip leaders.

  • Professional English-speaking local guiding team.

  • All site entries.

EXCLUDED

  • Round trip international airfare to Kabul, Afghanistan.

  • Insurance.

  • Personal spending.

  • Tips for local staff.


TRIP LEADERS

 Nicole Smoot

Nicole Smoot

 Matt Reichel

Matt Reichel

 Noor Mohammad Chopani

Noor Mohammad Chopani

 

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