A must-see destination on the old overland hippie trail in the 1970s, Afghanistan has since become so dangerous that most countries, including Australia, advise their citizens to avoid it completely. But some tourists are prepared to risk their lives.
Taliban gunmen opened fire on a tour group convoy in west Afghanistan last week, wounding six tourists and their Afghan driver.
The tour group consisted, reportedly, of eight Britons, three Americans and a German. A photo of the group’s minibus showed the vehicle totally burned out, with even the tyres gone. Amazingly, none of the tourists’ injuries were life threatening.
The Guardian quoted sources in Kabul saying the tour group had gone to Afghanistan with Hinterland Travel, a small British tour operator based in West Yorkshire and run by veteran overland adventure tour guide Geoff Hann, 78.
Hann is being treated for shrapnel wounds from a rocket-propelled grenade, according to a family friend cited by the Guardian.
The foreign tourists were travelling in the Chesht-e-Sharif district in the western province of Herat with an Afghan army escort when militants opened fire on the convoy.
Hinterland Travel specialises in adventure tours to war-torn countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan. According to the Guardian, its promotional material describes Afghanistan as being at the “cutting edge of adventure tourism”.
Hinterland Travel’s website states:
“Despite the chaos and constant news surrounding Iraq and adjacent countries in 2015/16 we have successfully operated our 9 and 14 day amended tours although shorn of the north of Iraq. Our travellers are greeted with much warmth by local Iraqis as we find our way to explore some of the lesser known Sumerian sites such as Lagash and Telloh in addition to the great cities of Nippur, Uruk and Ur.”
Afghanistan is another touring option. The firm’s latest 21-day tour of Afghanistan began on 26 July 2016 until stopped by gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades.
The Taliban officially claimed responsibility for the attack on Thursday afternoon.
Afghanistan has many places of historical significance, including Herat city, the country’s ancient cultural centre, near the Iranian border. The country’s most famous tourist attractions, the giant Buddhas of Bamiyan statues, were blown up and destroyed in March 2001 by the Taliban, which considered the statues idolatrous.
Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) strongly advises Australians not to travel to Afghanistan “because of the extremely dangerous security situation and the very high threat of terrorist attack”. It considers Iraq just as dangerous.
“If you are in Afghanistan, you should consider leaving,” DFAT warns.
“If, despite our strong advice, you do decide to travel to or remain in Afghanistan, you should ensure you have secure transport and accommodation, and appropriate personal security protection measures in place.
“You should consider dedicated armed protection, though even these precautions cannot guarantee personal safety. Monitor local information sources on a daily basis for information about the safety and security environment as it can change rapidly. You should have contingency plans in case you need to depart at short notice.
“No region in Afghanistan is immune from violence. The potential for either opportunistic or targeted hostile acts exists throughout the country. Kidnapping of Westerners is a serious threat throughout Afghanistan.
“Serious large-scale terrorist incidents, including suicide bombings and attacks using vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, occur regularly throughout Afghanistan. Terrorist attacks can occur anywhere, anytime and are particularly common in Kabul, and the southern and eastern provinces.
“The frequency of attacks in Kabul has increased significantly. There are credible reports of imminent attacks. We also continue to see credible reports that terrorists have plans to target venues frequented by foreigners, including diplomatic missions, airports, hotels, shopping centres, military facilities and government buildings. The Kabul international airport and roads leading to it are often subject to attack. Unexploded landmines and other ordnance remain a danger throughout Afghanistan.”
That is probably enough to put most people off – but not everybody.
Written by Peter Needham