Mandugal Village, Kamdesh District, Afghanistan.

​​​​​​​The region of Nuristan gained exposure in the UK through Eric Newby's 1958 book, "A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush." It comprises a series of enclosed valleys nestled in the southern Hindu Kush, sharing a border with the Chitral district of Pakistan. Formerly known as "Kafiristan" or the "Land of the Infidels," Nuristan was forcibly converted to Islam in 1896, and remains culturally distant from much of Afghanistan to this day; a quality that the complete inaccessibility of the region has done much to preserve. In the east, the valley of Bashgal maintains strong traditions of archery, and once a year, the Kamdesh Annual Archery Competition is held. 

I grew up with the war in Afghanistan constantly in the media. The atrocities of the Taliban, and the major war games played out within its borders both terrified and captivated me. When journalist Joe Sheffer invited me to go with him on an exploratory trip to Nuristan, I accepted. Joe is in the process of establishing Safarāt, a Kabul-based concern that aims to enable Western tourism in Afghanistan. Rightly so, Safarāt - Arabic for ‘travel’ - has attracted mixed press in the UK, from journalists and politicians alike. The arrival of Western tourists in Kabul threatens to fund and legitimise the regime of the Taliban. 

The article discusses some of the ethical considerations surrounding travel to Afghanistan in 2023, and shares some experiences from my time in Nuristan. Follow the link to read more:
Stay on this page for some images from the region.​​​​​​​

A young Nuristani girl peers though an opening in a fence.

The view from an abandoned US bunker, now used as a Taliban lookout post. 

...transportation is a major issue that affects the region. The fork-like valleys of Nuristan open into Kunar province in the south, and in the north they are hemmed in by the impenetrable heights of the Hindu Kush, preventing onwards travel to Badakhshan. Direct travel between valleys is similarly unfeasible due to the almost vertical valley sides. Dirt tracks follow the river’s course down to Kunar, and these provide the only means of passage. In the rainy season these tracks flood, preventing goods from entering and exiting, and effectively trapping Nuristan’s inhabitants...

The Landai Sin river in spate prevents transit through Bashgal Valley.

Image: Kamdesh Annual Archery Competition.

Archers in the contest.

A sport present in many Islamic texts, archery is Sunnah, an activity the prophet Mohammed specifically encourages.

...a fleeting figure dressed in a lime-coloured Shalwar Kameez dashed towards the trophy, taking matters into his own hands. Leaping with arm outstretched, he grasped it, and ran back into the crowd. Suddenly violence erupted. Bows were utilised as weapons, and the trophy’s potential as a blunt instrument was realised...

Competitive spirit led to fury at the Kamdesh Annual Archery Competition. 

...Mouhamed Hashim pictured in his home, the intricate carving of his ancestors adorning pillars and walls. Hashim’s family is ‘Bari’, a class of people historically regarded as impure, and racially divided from other sects of Nuristan. As well as being woodworkers, the ‘Bari’ were historically artisan labourers, often acting as stone carvers and potters...

Mouhamed Hashim 

A man shepherds a herd of goats in the Parun valley.

Hope and responsibilities lie with future generations of Afghans.

A meeting of teachers from Najaran village. is not differences in thought or culture that breed distrust, but rather separation between peoples and communities. In the ‘West’ we are besieged by narratives that oversimplify the complexity of Afghanistan and its people. Individual lives are forgotten, eclipsed by the cacophony of political rhetoric and sensational headlines. It is these very lives that demand our attention and human connection...

A group of young outlaws assemble on the main road of Barg-i Matal. 

A man guides his livestock down the side of a treacherous ravine, away from summer pastures.

Bashgal Valley, Nuristan

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