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Afghanistan

April 10 to 23, 2019

Afghanistan is a country that is rich in culture and history, due to its geographic position which made it a crossroad between China and the Mediterranean world and Europe. It is a melting pot of cultural, ethnic and linguistic diversity. With its rich past and its recent events, it still preserved a spectrum of architecture, paintings, music, poetry, art and relics of bygone civilizations. From ancient cities to spectacular nature and some of the highest mountains in the world, it remains unpredictable and continues to stun visitors.

Afghanistan contains some incredible treasures. This journey will take you from bustling Kabul to the foothills of the Hindu-Kush. Follow the footsteps of Marco Polo and Alexander the Great as we span the country’s safest areas in the northern regions. Visit the fabulous city of Herat, once a great medieval center for Islamic learning and culture. Marvel at the legendary mountain caves of Bamyan and the spectacular lakes of Band-e-Amir. Tour the historical town of Mazar-i-Sharif, famous for its blue-tiled mosque, and Balkh the nearby ancient caravan town.


Per person sharing in double occupancy (air and land): $8,500.00
Single Supplement: $500.00   

Escorted by Professor Denise Schmandt - Besserat, Archaeologist, the University of Texas at Austin

Credit for not using our included airfare $850.00

Price based on a group size minimum of 6 and maximum of 12 participants

Tour can be combined with Pakistan trip


Your tour does not include:

  • Airport taxes, security charges and fuel surcharges (estimated at $400.00 at time of printing).
  • Airfare from cities other than NYC (price differs depending on gateway city). And one way to Islamabad (if combining tours)
  • Afghanistan visa (Currently $50.00, subject to change).
  • Passports should not have any Israeli stamps or visas.
  • Beverages with or without meals.
  • Trip surcharge to operate below required minimum participants.
  • Items of a personal nature (camera fees at Afghan sites, laundry, phone calls, emails, excess luggage, etc.).
  • Transfers if not arriving/departing on scheduled flights/tour dates.
  • Dayroom/overnights necessitated by changes in airline schedules.
  • Travel protection insurance (HIGHLY Recommended).

Your tour includes:

  • International airfare from New York.
  • Airport/hotel/airport transfers in every city.
  • Accommodation in hotels as per the itinerary (based on 3-4 stars categories or best available in all cities out of Kabul)
  • Meals as mentioned in the itinerary.
  • Sightseeing in each city as per the itinerary.
  • Services of English Speaking guides.
  • Armed security (when and if needed).
  • All domestic flights within both countries.
  • Visas support letter.
  • Porterage at airport and hotels throughout program.
  • Entrance fees to all visited historical sites and museums.
  • Bottled water on bus during touring days.

Trip Grade:

III Challenging – Parts of the trip are physically challenging, involve hiking on rough terrain or in sand or at high altitudes. There may be very long drives on rough roads (really rough especially in Eritrea); weather conditions with high heat or humidity, presence of insects. You may have simple picnic lunches, primitive bathroom facilities along the road and remoteness from modern towns or cities plus service in Eritrea are very often slow.

Lodging Level:

**Delightful: Comfortable yet on the Spartan side, usually small but always with private facilities. Some breakfasts are simple and basic but all hotels should have “working” A/C though not very reliable. (Average classification if you dare to compare to western style hotels is about 2 or 3 stars.

Trip notes and Trip Grade:  Anyone wishing to join this trip must understand that in many places the tourist infrastructure is very primitive. Some days are long and hard and the level of services will not match those offered in more tourist locations. The hotels are quite comfortable but lack the luxuries of the west. Security check points can be rather long on some days and we have to adhere to the instructions of our guards and escorts and have a flexible, patient attitude when delays happen. Many companies in Europe have been successfully running tours to Afghanistan since 2004 and we are actually using the top logistics and organizing agency in the country to handle our program and they are accustomed to managing foreign groups but participants also should be aware that last minute changes and amendments to routing, modes of travel or overnight stops will happen if deemed prudent to do so. We also have the right to omit at short notice any destination due to security concerns. Food can also be boring and alcohol is not allowed in the country. Women and men should keep their arms and legs covered while women may sometimes have to wear a lose head scarf when entering religious towns or sites. By signing up for this tour, participants are acknowledging their full understanding and acceptance of all terms and conditions and are admitting that they are in good physical and mental health and are equipped with open mind, a sense of adventure and a tolerant and patient spirit to cope up with the tour.

Airline Note: The best airline choice would be Turkish Airways, However we can also use Emirates Airlines, but it will mean long layovers in Dubai and possible forced overnight... Please inquire with our office.

About your lecturer...Professor Denise Schmandt-Besserat is professor emerita of Art History and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. A graduate of L’Ecole du Louvre in Paris, she is a renowned Near Eastern archaeologist. She has worked on archaeological collections in all the major museums of the Middle East, Europe and the USA. She is the author of When Writing Met Art (2007), Before Writing (1992) and When Writing Came About…, which was selected by American Scientist magazine as “one of the 100 books that shaped science in the 20th century”. Her work on the origins of writing and mathematics has been covered by Scientific American, Time, Life, the New York Times, and the Washington Post. She has appeared on television programs such as Out of the Past (Discovery Channel), the Nature of Things (CBC), Search for Solutions (PBS) and Tell the Truth (NBC). For many years Denise has led our tours to the Near East and Central Asia and her lectures and handouts will add to the enjoyment of your tour. You can already get acquainted with her and her scholarly work on Wikipedia and by browsing her web site: http://sites.utexas.edu/dsb


View Tour Itinerary

Wed/Thu, April 10-11
USA - Kabul

Depart the USA in the afternoon/evening on a flight to Istanbul or Dubai connecting to Kabul.

Friday, April 12
Arrival to Kabul

Morning arrival into Kabul international airport, transfer to your hotel for check in. Free day at leisure, to rest and prepare for your adventure. (D)

Saturday, April 13
Kabul

After breakfast you will see the major archaeological treasures of Afghanistan at the National Museum. Most of the artifacts were long hidden to escape destruction by the Taliban. You will possibly have a chance to meet with the museum director for a short talk. Next, the visit of the Darul Amann royal palace will give you a good insight into Kabul’s splendor prior to the civil war. After lunch, you will enjoy the panorama of the striking Kabul skyline from the summit of the Wazir Akbar hill. Tour the Military Museum that houses an extensive collection of aircraft. The museum also forcefully presents the land mine problem of Afghanistan and the dire consequences for the population. Dinner will be at the hotel where you will meet with Mr Masude, the former director of the Museum of Antiquities. (B,L,D)

Sunday, April 14
Istalif Valley

Begin your morning visiting Istalif, a 50-minute drive out of Kabul. This village is a poignant reminder of the devastation caused by the bitter war between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance for control of the area. Now mostly in ruins, Istalif is brought back to life by a group of gifted artists and artisans. Potters produce royal blue or turquoise colored bowls, plates, jugs and teacups in an attractive rustic style. Return to your hotel for your dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Monday, April 15
Kabul - Bamyan

Transfer to the airport for the flight to Bamyan. Check into the Bamyan Royal Hotel or similar upon arrival. Bamyan is undoubtedly one of the country’s highlights. Once located on a major trading route, the Bamyan Valley became an important center of Buddhism in the 4th and 5th centuries AD. Visit some of the 12,000 ancient Buddhist caves carved in the high cliffs flanking the valley. Amazingly preserved, the caves introduce you to the ancient Buddhist monasteries; Buddha’s niches; carvings and frescoes. Marvel at the gigantic niches of the two great Buddhas famously destroyed by the Taliban in 2001. The intrepid traveler may rather easily climb to the top of the larger, 38m high niche. Have lunch, then drive the short distance to the base of Shar-e Zohak (Red City) at the eastern end of the Bamyan Valley. Over the centuries, the crenelated fortress protected the region from many aggressors. It is, however, best remembered for defying the Mongol siege of 1222. Above, Gholgola city, (Scream Town), is the site of the infamous massacre of the population by Genghis Khan, who had sworn to avenge his grandson, mortally wounded during the siege. Gholgola commands a splendid view over the fertile Bamyan Valley and its famous Buddhist heritage. Return to the hotel for your dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Tuesday, April 16
Bamyan

Head west on a 50-mile drive to the beautiful chain of lakes at Band-e Amir. Amazingly, according to the mineral composition, each lake takes a different color, from stunning turquoise to deep blue-black. The site offers to the enterprising traveler the opportunity of a great hike. The magnificent landscape and its serenity may also, just as well, be enjoyed for a quiet rest. Return to Bamyan for lunch and afterwards drive to nearby Dare Azhdar, the Valley of the Dragon. Walk all the way to the top of this massive rock formation deemed to be the remains of a fierce dragon. According to legend, reminiscent of that of St George, the monster tyrannized the local villagers, before finally being killed by Hazrat Ali, Prophet Mohammed’s son-in-law. End your day at the bazaar, for an opportunity to mingle with the Hazaras and bargain for the attractive handicrafts. Return to your hotel for your dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Wednesday, April 17
Bamyan - Kabul

Morning is free to relax. After lunch you will transfer to the airport for a short flight across the mountains back to Kabul. In the late afternoon head to the renowned Chicken Street, once a famous stop on the “hippy trail”. It is still home to some of the country’s best craft shops offering a great opportunity for some souvenir shopping. Afterwards, check into your hotel for your dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Thursday, April 18
Kabul - Herat

Return to the airport for your morning flight to Herat. Transfer to your hotel for lunch. In the afternoon, you will tour the imposing and well-restored citadel of Qala-i-Ikhtiyaruddin with its precious small museum. Next, visit several workshops, such as that of a Khatera wood sculpture and a traditional sesame oil factory. Continue to the Friday mosque (Masjid-i-Jami) known as one of the best examples of Ghorid and Timurid tilework in the world. This will lead to the courtyard where the famous 14th century cauldron said to be Tamerlane’s sherbet bowl is on display. You will also see the factory where tiles are still made in the traditional way and where unique examples of the 12th century pieces are available for purchase. Afterwards, return to your hotel for your dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Friday, April 19
Herat

Tour the Jahad Museum where life-size models and paintings illustrate the Russian war and the heroism of thousands of Heratis who lost their life for the liberation of Afghanistan. Visit the 15th century monuments, when Herat was the capital of the Mongol empire: the Musalla complex with the minarets and mausoleum of Gohar Shad, the brilliant wife of Shah Rukh, son of Tamerlane and; the Amir Sher Nawaye Mausoleum. This is also where you will have the opportunity to purchase a new or antique carpet. Carpets are greatly valued by the Afghans. They are an expensive investment (comparable to a car in the West). In the late afternoon visit the tomb of the two princes, Qasim and Abdullah before returning to your hotel for your dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Saturday, April 20
Herat - Mazar-I-Sharif

After breakfast transfer to the airport for the morning flight to Mazar-i Sharif. If no direct flight is available you may connect via Kabul. Later in the afternoon visit the Shrine of Hazrat Ali, the most revered mosque for Afghanis and the small attached museum. The mosque is a masterpiece of typical central Asian architecture. Time permitting; you will explore the markets for some souvenir shopping before heading to the hotel for your dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Sunday, April 21
Mazar-I-Sharif - Samangan & Tashkurgan-Mazar-i Sharif

About two hours’ drive from Mazar lies one of Afghanistan’s most unexpected and rewarding sights, the 28m high Buddhist stupa of Takht-e Rostam. Carved out of the rock, in similar fashion to the churches of Lalibela in Ethiopia, this complex sits high above the valley and is today one of the country’s most enduring legacies from the pre-Islamic era. Visit Baghe Jahan Noma a palace built by King Abdul Rahman in about 1874. Depart for Tashkurgan, once a major crossroad on the trading route. The town is situated in a key strategic location near the dramatic gorge that borders the northern fringes of the Hindu Kush foothills. Return to your hotel in Mazar-i-Sharif for your dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Monday, April 22
Mazar-I-Sharif - Balkh-Mazar i Sharif

Depart for the city of Balkh (a half hour drive), named Bactria in ancient times. It was the spiritual center of Zoroastrianism and currently it is a delightful old walled city, about 55 miles from the Amo Darya River. Visit Khowaja Parsa, the 17th century mosque followed by the grave of Rabia Balkhe, the first poetess writing in Farsi. Visit the remains of the Balkh city walls. It is an easy walk to the top to one of the towers. Visit the Nogonbad Mosque dating back to 1350 AD before returning to your hotel in Mazar-i-Sharif for your dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Tuesday, April 23
Depart Mazar-I-Sharif

Head to the airport for your flight back to the US or connect to Islamabad for the post-tour to Pakistan. (B)

We (STS) reserve the right to change hotels, lecturers or the order of activities if/as needed. The program is also subject to further and renewed changes based on the schedule of internal flights within Pakistan and we will do our best to make all possible substitutions when and if needed to the best interest of our clients