This guide is currently inactive Robert Kluijver

Change your image of Kabul

Of all Mediamatic’s strange travel destinations, Kabul is maybe the most daunting one. If you are invited by a foreign agency or are on an official mission stringent security policies will prohibit you from going to the places mentioned here. And if you go as a tourist, without connections – then you’re crazy! Afghanistan is a rough place after all, and there is little to guide or service a stranger. You must therefore have a good invitation (also to obtain a visa) from Afghans who are well connected to the scene you’re interested in. Below we’ll suggest a number of guides, according to your interests.

With them you’re bound to have an unforgettable time. Afghan society is changing rapidly as a result of intense exposure to the West, India, Pakistan and Iran. A youth culture that is very much at odds with the stereotypes about Afghanistan is developing. Members of the Afghan cultural scene tend to be rather discrete in their movements, get-togethers, drinking and parties.

However, an intense art scene is emerging which is infused by returning Afghans from all around the world.


Robert on his bike - A great way to get to know Kabul is on a cheaply rented Chinese motorbike Robert Kluijver

Following are a few places to hang out or interesting cultural scenes. For most of these scenes I have listed a guide. Most of them are eager for professional cooperation, so its advisable to suggest some kind of exchange. In the Netherlands you can contact me for more information.

The places listed here may not have any specific sites to see but they’re good places to hang out and catch the different vibes of the city. If you’re interested in tourist attractions please visit the good and up to date Lonely Planet Kabul site. I especially recommend the Kabul museum and Darulaman parliament, Babur’s gardens and the city walls, and Timor Shah mausoleum and the surrounding downtown bazaar.

In Afghanistan, your security is not guaranteed by the State, the Law or any other impersonal force. Your security is in the hands of your host. So always listen to him (it’s rarely a her) even if he seems a bit overprotective at times. Afghans that grew up in the West of course are more relaxed about you assuming responsibility for yourself. But fully native Afghans will resent you trying to go your own way, because they can then no longer fulfill their responsibility (unless they’ve handed you over to another Afghan). If you want to go for a walk, try to get one of your host’s younger male relatives to come with you. He'll probably be quite happy to accompany you, it will save you a lot of hassle, and he’ll be able to tell you some interesting things on the way.

If you do find yourself in the street on your own: relax! You may seem to be the only white person here, but you’re in a urban and cosmopolitan city. Thousands of ‘kharijis’ (foreigners) like you have walked here before. The fact alone that you’re walking, in a local taxi or - better still - on a bicycle or motorcycle, helps you blend in.

Ask (gesticulating with your camera) before taking pictures of people. Most Afghans like being photographed and will strike poses but you never know, some people think like the Taliban!

Up to now the Taliban have not assaulted or kidnapped lone foreigners (they usually strike at more sophisticated targets) but don’t stray too far into neighborhoods you don’t know just the same!

Taxis are everywhere and trustworthy; but you must be sure they know where you want to go, unless you know your own way around town. Occasionally they may try to rip you off (try to agree the price before leaving and if that doesn’t work: no sweat, it’s only a few euros). Other times they will not want to charge you at all, claiming you’re they’re guest.

A bit of etiquette: when people refuse payment or a present it’s good to insist; if need be, say it’s for their children. On the other hand, it’s good to graciously accept their generosity and hospitality, and never worry about outstaying your welcome.