It's your chance to finally wind through its highways, stroll through its cities, sleep in its mosques, dine in its chaikhanas, buy burqas in its boutiques, smoke hashish in its poppy fields, pluck pomegranates from its orchards, and hopefully return home – alive. Lonely Planet recently launched its first travel guide on Afghanistan.
During the '70s, Afghanistan (actually Bamiyan) was a fashionable stopover on the overland hippie route between Istanbul and Goa. Lonely Planet missed the scenic nation then. (Although it partially covered the region in its Central Asia guidebook.) Afterwards it was too late. The Soviets bombed the mountains and left behind an underground countryside of landmines. Their successors, the CIA-financed mujahideens, started a civil war, burnt the villages, bombed the cities, raped the boys and paved the way for Taliban's emergence. Those new Islamist rulers, trained in Pakistan, could not turn the Hindukush mountains into the desert of sixth century Arabia but they tried everything else in the Book which they fancied would make their country as close to what Medina was in the times of Prophet Muhammad. The zeal was admirable. Barbers were tortured, kites were banned, ‘immoral' women were publicly executed (view this Taliban execution), and 1500-year-old Bamiyan Buddhas were reduced to rubble.
That nightmare ended but the night hasn't. The rape of Afghanistan continues. The southern part of the country is reeling under Taliban’s resurgence. The squabbling of warlords is wrecking the rest. Foreign workers are routinely kidnapped and killed. President Hamid Karzai depends on private American commandos for his personal security. The U.S., U.K., and Australia advises its citizens against non-essential travel there. In such a backdrop, why did Lonely Planet come out with a guide on Afghanistan?
Perhaps it is because of Paul Crammer, the guidebooks’ coordinating author who grew with the romance of The Man Who Would Be King. Mr. Crammer backpacked in the Muslim world from " Casablanca to Kashgar", and ended up as a tourist guide in Morocco, Turkey, and Pakistan. He has covered Afghanistan in Lonely Planet Central Asia, and once dined with Taliban ministers during the last months of their regime. He now runs a successful travel website – Kabul Caravan. This book appears to be the consequence of this man's infatuation with what is possibly one of the most dangerous places in earth.