My visit to Afghanistan was not planned — it was more of a spontaneous decision, and I wanted to capture that spirit in these photos. My friend was planning a trip to Afghanistan and asked me if I wanted to join him, so of course I said yes. I didn’t know what to expect and I knew that whatever I’d read online wouldn’t do me any good.
For safety reasons, we traveled with a local guide. On our first day in Kabul, he brought us some local clothes to wear. It was important that we blended in and looked like locals while also respecting Afghan culture.
The above show pictures of me wearing traditional Afghan clothes. They were incredibly comfortable and lightweight to wear. I had to wear a turban to cover my hair because it’s not common for local Afghan men to have long hair.
To most locations, we flew by plane as it’s much safer than driving on the roads. The views were spectacular as Kabul is one of the highest capitals in the world with an elevation of 1790 metres.
On our visit to the Friday mosque of Herat, we learned about the history of the mosque and saw how the mosque’s tiles were made by hand. We watched the whole process, from sculpting the clay into tiles , creating the paint for them and then baking the tiles in the oven. The last stage involved creating a mosaic pattern for the finishing touch. After seeing the entire handmade process, the mosque looked even more spectacular.
Another historic place we visited was the citadel of Herat which dates back to 330 BC. It was once home to Alexander the Great and was destroyed and rebuilt many times over the century. I felt utmost respect being in the presence of a prominent historic landmark that was once a part of the Silk Road.
One of my most memorable experiences was our drive to Mazar-e-Sharif because our flight got cancelled. Driving from one city to another wasn’t a safe choice because we would have to pass an area that was under the Taliban’s control . It was only a 10 minute drive through that area but to us in the car it felt like an hour. As we drove by, many trucks were stopping and going far into the field to pay their taxes to the Taliban. Our guide made every effort to keep us safe. We had one car driving 10 minutes ahead of us to keep us informed if anything suspicious was happening.
Upon arriving to Mazar-e-Sharif our driver invited us to his home for dinner. Dining with a local family was an exceptionally wholesome experience for us, and I had some of the best food there. On the next day, we visited the Blue Mosque and the 12th century gates built between the mountains.
My favorite place in Afghanistan was Bamyan, a city surrounded by mountains with an elevation of 2550 meters. It was so different from any other place we had visited because we could roam freely around the city, in the markets and interact with people. Bamyan was my happy place, I just enjoyed people watching and taking photos of the locals.
Afghanistan has its own version of the Grand Canyon, the first national park Band-e Amir. We were driving on a dusty path unable to see anything but rocks and mountains on the horizon. And then out of the blue, a lake appears. The contrast of the pristine blue water with the sand-colored mountains was unexpected and truly mesmerizing. I couldn’t believe something so beautiful existed and was largely unknown.
We shouldn’t judge a nation that is the product of actions carried out by a handful of people. I had the most positive experience traveling through the beautiful country of Afghanistan. People are kind and generous; their unwavering hospitality is something I’ll never forget.
Alen Tkalcec is a photographer, award-winning photographer, and founder of online travel magazine Nomadict.