Afghanistan: Breathtaking, Way Off the Beaten Track and Open for Travel

Tourism Gains with Improving Stability

HONG KONG, Sept. 13 /PRNewswire/ — “Though Afghanistan’s south remains dangerous, in the north and west one can see breathtaking landscapes and cultural treasures. Among them: Kabul; Bamiyan; Balkh, terminus of the Silk Road where Alexander the Great married; and Herat, site of ancient architecture and the contemporary Literary Circle where women organized to study, defying the Taliban.” So says Matthew Leeming, who has visited Afghanistan regularly since 1993, and who set up the first tour company for Afghanistan in 2002.

In hopes of introducing his beloved, wild land to more people, the adventurous Leeming teamed up with a fellow Oxfordian — Bijan Omrani, who loves sitting in libraries — to deliver the definitive guide to Afghanistan. Where Leeming’s nomadic exploits give us practical information, Omrani’s meticulous history — along with 307 photographs — tempts us to make the trip. In writing Afghanistan: A Companion and Guide, (Odyssey Publications, $29.95), available online and in bookstores, Omrani dug deep into source materials in French, German, English, Arabic, Greek, Latin and Farsi.

Having combed 3,500 years of Afghan history, Omrani summarizes, “Afghanistan is where many of the world’s great empires — the Persians, the Moghuls, the British and the Soviet Union — were first violently challenged, in fact put onto the path of total defeat. Afghanistan must be self-governing. There is hope that this great wilderness may, through continued contact with civil society, be nurtured on its current path to stability and self-sufficiency.”

In the foreword by Hamid Karzai, elected President of Afghanistan: “As peace returns with the establishment of democracy and the rule of law, visitors are beginning to re-discover the snow-capped mountains … the rivers and glaciers … the wondrous treasures of the Kabul Museum.”

Of the tourist trade, Leeming says, “Though Afghanistan remains essentially untamed, it’s becoming easier to get around. An octogenarian English couple and a group of retirement age trekkers from Hong Kong have just made separate voyages through the north. While logistics, the lodges and the chaikhanas (tea houses) are improving, the wildlife, the trekking and the people remain simply incredible.”

Afghanistan: A Companion and Guide, $29.95, available at http://www.odysseypublications.com/ or through W.W. Norton Books http://www.wwnorton.com/ in U.S.

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