Introducing Mazar-e Sharif & Northeastern Afghanistan
Travel north of the Hindu Kush and you’ll find a quite different Afghanistan. The Central Asian steppe starts here, a wide grassy plain that stretches all the way to Russia. For much of its history, the Afghan city-states of the north looked across the Amu Darya towards Bukhara and Samarkand for their interests instead of to Kabul. Indeed, until the Salang Tunnel through the Hindu Kush was completed in the mid-1960s this was a totally isolated part of the country, accessible only by traversing the highest part of the mountains north of Kabul, or making a long desert crossing via Herat.
Travellers should head first for Mazar-e Sharif, home to the shimmering blue domes of the Shrine of Hazrat Ali. Nearby lies the far more ancient town of Balkh, where Zoroastrianism was born and Alexander the Great took his wife. His footprints can also be detected near the town of Kunduz at the ruins of Ai Khanoum, the easternmost Greek city in the world.
Continuing further east, the big mountains start to rise from the plains again in the province of Badakhshan. One of the remotest corners of the country, roads here become lost in the tangle of peaks where the Hindu Kush meet the Pamirs. The best way to get around is by foot, or with the yaks of the nomadic Kyrgyz who live in the thin tongue of land of the Wakhan Corridor, an area bursting with potential as a future trekking destination.
Last updated: Feb 17, 2009
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