It almost seems like a total joke for someone to refer to something from Afghanistan as lovely. Since the Taliban takeover, the place has been thought of as among the worst of the worst places on Earth. However, Afghanistan does have a rich history, and we shouldn’t be so easily put off by the geopolitical hiccups. After all, what can you say about a place that used to be a common travel destination for hippies?
Mazar e Sharif is a city in northern Afghanistan; demographically, it is a mix of Tajiks, Hazaras (70%, essentially all Farsi speakers) and Uzbeks and Pashtos are also present The city is rich in history and within the Balkh province which has a long history unto itself.
The totality of Afghanistan is very diverse though it generally falls into a divide between Iranian & Turkic groups. Look at this amazing map to see the distribution.
Just so you know: Hazaras are Shi’ites and Farsi speakers; Balocks (Baluchs) speak their own language not that different from Farsi, perhaps 70-80% interchangeable. Tajiks speak Farsi proper but written in cyrillic even though there is now a movement to return to the arabic script. Baluchs, Tajiks and Hazaras are all relatively religiously moderate.
It is the Pashtuns that I have heard generally make up the most of the Taliban. Pashtuns also live in large concentrations in north Pakistan. A lot of the conflict seems to be Pashtuns versus Hazaras, who have a dramatic hatred for one another (perhaps partly due to the Shi’ite nature of the Hazaras).
Pashtuns are known to be quite religious; they are also known to be big fans of dancing and naswar. Naswar is a tobacco and lime mixture with all sorts of little ingredients; it is often placed under the tongue or by the lower lip or cheeks when chewed. It is not uncommon for Naswar to be mixed with opium. Opiate based naswar will numb out your whole face and give you an intense, euphoric feeling. First time users, though, often vomit.
The national language of Afghanistan is, of course, Dari, and it is extremely similar to Farsi. The language had been referred to within Afghanistan as ‘Farsi’ until they changed the name in part to distinguish themselves more from Iran.
Mazar e Sharif seems like an impeccable place to visit — The city is situated next to some very picturesque mountains:
The mosque of Mazar e Sharif looks to be astounding:
Really an excellent place to potentially go visit.
I was also slightly surprised to see that they do camel fighting in Afghanistan. I had first heard of this being done in Turkey and in Turkish parts of Iran, and it seemed quite exciting and interesting then. I did not know that such a thing was present all the way through to Afghanistan as well:
When you see camels fight, there is one overall tactic: try to get your neck up and above your opponent and rest it on his neck, and thereby bte parts of him; they likewise smash into each other and push each other fiercely to get into position to do this.
They’re also often separated when a winner is found by groups of men simply using large ropes. I wish I could find the old video on camel fighting I saw years ago to more illumine this post.
I seem to recollect, as well, that the camel fights occur only during mating season when the bull camels are all prepared to fight for breeding rights. This is not some artificially induced violence between the camels, but rather it is something that many camels are already naturally inclined to do each year.
Notice the white stuff on the one camel’s back? That is spit; before fighting, the bull camels work themselves into a frenzy and froth spit at the mouth. This is where a lot of our ideas of ‘spitting camels’ come from.
I think it is a shame that so many people overlook places like Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, etc. when they have quite lovely nature and rich culture as well as long and dramatic histories, including surprising links to our own.
It is also relatively silly to look at a place as ethnically diverse as Afghanistan, who also has extremely religiously moderate neighbors like Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, and to write them off as a nation that is purely destined to extremism.
It is a nation that can have a very bright future if it develops smartly.