7 Amazing Things You Can Find in Kabul

If there’s one thing you should know about Kabul, it’s that this incredible city is full of surprises. Current news stories usually reveal little about the Afghan capital. However, if you look a little closer, you’ll see a place that is home to some truly special and unexpected features.

Some of the most unique things you can find in Kabul include:

Evidence of a long, rich history

Did you know that humans have been living on or near the site of Kabul for over 3,500 years? The first mention of a settlement here appears in the Rigveda, an ancient Hindu scripture which dates back to the year 1500 BCE. The city then makes a further appearance in the writings of the Alexandrian scholar Ptolemy, who lived in the second century CE. This long history makes Kabul one of the oldest settlements in the world, and evidence of its amazing past can still be found in the centuries-old monuments and buildings that survive to this day.

High altitude

Tucked into a narrow valley between the soaring peaks of the Hindu Kush mountain range, Kabul is one of the world’s highest capital cities (only 10 other capitals are located at higher altitudes). Kabul’s elevation is an impressive 5,873 feet above sea level; this is about the same elevation as the city of Denver, Colorado, which is popularly known as the “Mile-High City.”

A century-old bird market

In the heart of Kabul’s old city lies the Ka Faroshi Bird Market. Tucked away behind a mosque, the market occupies a narrow alley that is lined with stalls selling all types of birds. For many Afghans, keeping birds is a passion and a much-needed source of solace and comfort in challenging times. Birds that can be found at the market include canaries, finches, fighting cocks, roosters, and doves, but a particular favorite is the elegant chukar partridge, a reddish-gray bird with a red beak, black stripes on its side, and a distinctive black band across its eyes and throat.

Lush gardens

Among outsiders, Kabul may have a reputation as an arid desert city, but in fact, the capital is home to many beautiful green spaces. The largest and best known of these is Bagh-e Babur, or Babur’s Gardens, an 11-hectare oasis of peace and tranquility in the heart of Kabul. The gardens were founded in the early 16th century by Babur, the first Mughal emperor who used Kabul as his capital city for two decades. An avid gardener and nature enthusiast, Babur designed his gardens according to the traditional principles of Islamic gardens, which include key features such as a quadrant layout, flowing water, shade, abundant foliage, and perimeter walls. Although they fell into disrepair, Babur’s Gardens have been spectacularly restored with the support of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture. Open to visitors since 2008, the gardens stand today as one of Kabul’s most beloved public spaces, and a home for cultural performances and other special events.

A museum dedicated to land mines

Many of Kabul’s museums, such as the National Museum of Afghanistan, highlight and celebrate the country’s rich cultural history, but some also commemorate the more sobering aspects of Afghanistan’s recent past. Among these is the OMAR Mine Museum, which teaches visitors about the history of landmines in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is one of the most heavily mined countries in the world. This museum, operated by the Organization for Mine Clearance and Afghan Rehabilitation, features displays about the different types of mines and military hardware that have been used in Afghanistan, and the ongoing work being done to remove mines and make the land safe for use again.

An unusual mosque

In the center of the city, just off the Kabul River, sits one of the most surprising examples of Islamic religious architecture to be found anywhere in the world. Built in the 1920s, the Shah-e Doh Shamshira Mosque boasts two stories, a lemon-yellow façade, and Italianate stucco detailing: all very unusual features for an Islamic place of worship. The design for the mosque was modeled after Istanbul’s Ortakoy Mosque, and some describe the overall effect as “Afghan Baroque.”

A skate park

When Australian skateboarders Oliver Percovich and Sharna Nolan first came to Kabul in 2007, they couldn’t have foreseen that over a decade later, they would be running a hugely popular skateboarding school and international charity. Today, Skateistan continues to pursue its mission of using skateboarding to engage Afghan children, and to help increase their access to education, health care, and cultural opportunities. The school and skate park, which serves around 300 students, is built on land donated by the Afghan National Olympic Committee.

Featured Image courtesy Teseum | Flickr

6 World Bank Projects Improving Quality of Life in Afghanistan

For nearly 20 years, the World Bank has supported the ongoing reconstruction and development of Afghanistan. Working closely with other bilateral and multilateral agencies to ensure the best use of donor resources, the World Bank has implemented programs and projects across a diverse range of focus areas—including institution and capacity building, job creation, human capital development, citizen engagement, infrastructure, and connectivity—all to help improve the quality of life for every Afghan citizen.

As of February 2021, more than two dozen World Bank projects are ongoing across Afghanistan. These include:

The Afghanistan Second Skills Development Project (ASDP II)

One of the key ways in which the government of Afghanistan aims to boost economic growth and development is by helping Afghan workers improve their vocational and technical skills. The World Bank supports this goal through the ASDP II. Like the original program, this second iteration of the ASDP focuses on strengthening the technical vocational education and training (TVET) institutional system as a whole, enhancing the performance of individual TVET schools and institutes, and ensuring that TVET teachers have the competencies needed to provide the appropriate training. Key achievements of ASDP II so far include supporting an in-service Technical Teacher Training Institute and redeveloping the curricula for a number of priority trades (such as construction and information technology) to better respond to market needs.

The Access to Finance Project

The ability to access credit when necessary is one of the most important factors that allows businesses to grow and thrive. However, many micro, small, and medium enterprises in Afghanistan struggle to access the credit they need because most traditional financial lenders are not well equipped to serve them. In response to this problem, the Access to Finance Project is working to build institutional capacity within the finance sector so that these smaller businesses will have more—and better— financing options. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, as of the end of 2020, the Access to Finance Project (through its support of the Afghan Credit Guarantee Foundation) had provided loans of nearly $20 million to over 530 enterprises.

The COVID-19 Emergency Response and Health Systems Preparedness Project

Over the last year, one of the World Bank’s major priorities has been to help Afghanistan cope with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Through the creation of the COVID-19 Emergency Response and Health Systems Preparedness Project, the World Bank is working to mitigate the threat of the pandemic and improve Afghanistan’s readiness for potential future public health emergencies. Key components of this project include slowing the spread of COVID-19 by improving disease detection and diagnosis capabilities, strengthening the delivery of essential healthcare services, developing comprehensive communication strategies addressing social distancing and other mitigation practices, and providing an immediate and effective response to pandemic-related crises.

The Afghanistan Sehatmandi (Health) Project

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has been the most critical health issue in Afghanistan for some time, other World Bank projects in the area of health care are still in operation. The most important of these is the Afghanistan Sehatmandi (Health) Project, which is a major multi-year initiative that aims to improve access to and quality of healthcare services across the entire country. By financing performance-based contracts for health service delivery, building and honing a performance management culture in Afghanistan’s Ministry of Public Health, and conducting extensive health-related outreach work in Afghan communities, the Sehatmandi Project aims to keep building on the considerable progress the Afghan health system has made during the past decade.

The Herat Electrification Project

In many areas of Afghanistan, demand for electricity has outstripped supply in recent years. It is, unfortunately, not uncommon for Da Afghanistan Breshna Sherkat (DABS), the country’s national power utility, to be unable to meet its customers’ needs, and power outages are particularly common during periods of extreme summer and winter weather. The Herat Electrification Project aims to address the problem of electricity supply in Herat province by giving DABS the necessary support to connect over 230,000 people and 1,600 institutions with new or improved electricity services. As part of this project, new transmission lines and substations are under construction, sections of the grid are being densified and extended, and a grid code for the Afghanistan power system is being developed. In addition to these activities, the project recently supplied and installed solar-powered backup systems for 10 COVID-19-designated hospitals in Herat province—a truly remarkable and life-saving accomplishment.

The Afghanistan Digital CASA 1 Project

Since 2018, the Afghanistan Digital CASA 1 Project has been working to bring all of Afghanistan into the digital era. The project’s primary aims are to increase access to affordable Internet for all Afghans, stimulate private investment in the sector, and support a regionally integrated digital infrastructure that will allow the delivery of digital government services. To achieve these objectives, the World Bank is working closely with Afghanistan’s Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, which is the implementing agency for this project.

A Delicious Look at 3 Famous Afghan Fruits

Did you know that Afghanistan has long been famous for its many delicious types of fresh fruit? Despite the popular image of Afghanistan as an arid, rugged desert, the country in fact possesses fertile soil and a warm and dry climate that provide the perfect growing conditions for a rich variety of fruit.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Livestock, at least 1.5 million tons of fruit are produced every year, two-thirds of which are consumed within the country. Read on to learn more about some of Afghanistan’s most popular and delicious fruits: grapes, melons, and pomegranates.

Grapes

Given their high productivity and significant commercial value, it’s not surprising that grapes are one of the most attractive horticultural crops in Afghanistan. Grape production tends to be concentrated in a handful of central Afghan provinces, where lush green vineyards are a common sight. Hussaini, taifi, kata, and kasendra are among the more popular varietals for fresh grapes; varieties for raisin production include the keshmeshi and shondakhanai.

A unique way to keep grapes fresh

In order to keep grapes fresh for months after they are harvested, some Afghan farmers rely on a preservation technique developed centuries ago in Afghanistan’s rural north. Known as kangina, this method involves packing fresh grapes into homemade mud containers, which are then sealed with more mud and stored in a dry, cool place. The clay-rich mud keeps air and moisture away from the grapes and insulates them from the cold, thus allowing them to stay perfectly fresh for around six months. Typically, grapes are preserved using kangina in the autumn so that they can then be eaten fresh at Nowruz, or new year, which falls on the spring equinox.

Transforming grapes into raisins

Grapes that are not eaten right away or preserved using the kangina method are dried and made into raisins. This drying process can take place naturally in the sun, but it’s also common for grape growers to dry their fruit in traditional “raisin rooms” known as keshmesh khanas. While fresh grapes are certainly delicious, raisins are usually easier to store and preserve, and often fetch a higher price than their fresh counterparts.

Melons

Along with grapes, melons are one of Afghanistan’s most prized fresh fruit exports, as well as a popular crop for domestic consumption. Kabul in particular is renowned for its bountiful melon market. While melons are grown all over the country, the best melons are generally agreed to come from Kunduz in northern Afghanistan.

Dozens of different varieties

Melons of all shapes, sizes, and colors are grown in Afghanistan; in fact, the country produces an estimated 38 varieties of melon. Some of the most famous types include the sawzmaghz, a green, not-too-sweet melon that is prized for its thirst-quenching properties; the zormati, a round, medium-sized bright yellow melon that smells strongly of flowers; the qashoqi, a large, pale yellow melon with pulp so soft that it must be eaten with a spoon; and the arkani (or qoter), which has a very thick and resistant skin that allows the melon to be easily transported or stored through the winter. Watermelons are also widely grown.

The preferred fruit of royalty

Afghan melons were a particular favorite of Babur, the first emperor of the Mughal dynasty who made Kabul his capital for two decades in the early 16th century. When the Mughals shifted their capital to the Indian city of Agra, Babur, who was also an avid gardener, had melon seeds and an expert agronomist brought with him so that Afghan melons could be grown in the royal gardens there.

Pomegranates

Embedded in myths and stories over thousands of years of human history, few fruits are more famous than the pomegranate, and Afghanistan’s pomegranates are particularly renowned. Pomegranates are grown all over the country—the season lasts from October to January—but an especially prized variety is the Kandahar pomegranate, which boasts an exceptional sweetness and hefty size. This pomegranate can weigh up to one kilogram!

A medicinal fruit

The pomegranate has long been valued for its many health benefits, and it is still an important medicinal ingredient in many Afghan households today. Just about every part of the pomegranate, including the leaves, flowers, and bark of the tree, can be used for a medicinal purpose. For example, dried pomegranate skin can be ground into a powder to treat anemia, while the juicy pomegranate seeds, known as arils, can help prevent a great variety of conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes.

A fruit worth celebrating

A special festival celebrating the red pomegranate blossom is held in mid-February in the Kandahar region. During the festival, which is known as the Anar Gul, poets gather together to honor the pomegranate, often by reciting verses featuring the fruit that are drawn from Afghanistan’s rich poetic heritage.