An ancient fortress, Qala-i-Ikhtiyaruddin, has been built in 1305. Later it was besieged by both Genghis Khan and Timur. A photogenic construction, but it is occupied by the military now, and it is unlikely you will get inside unless you have important friends.
Friday Mosque, Masjid-i-Jami, is in the top condition. It was built in 1200. Come any time except when people pray there. You can enter through any door you find. Take your shoes off before the main yard. It is quiet and cool inside, and you can simply sit there and think. There is a giant bronze cauldron at the east entrance. It served as a cold drinks dispenser and as a money collection device at different times, but now it is plainly encased in glass for you to see.
Musalla is another well-known attraction of Herat. Queen Gawhar Shad, wife of Timur's son Shah Rukh, was fond of architecture and build many things in Afghanistan and Herat. In 1417 she has finished this construction, but not a lot of it has made it to our days. The British in 1885 and two earthquakes in 1931 and 1951 left five minarets and two mausoleums only, one of Gawhar Shad and another one of Ali Sher Nawai, a poet and a politician.
|Remnants of four minarets and Nawai's mausoleum|
The appropriately named Mowafaq Hotel is a foreign morons' demoneying center. They ask for 30 dollars, and you should pay 15–20. Rooms with three beds have showers with electric heaters, a ceiling fan, and a balcony. The hotel restaurant has good dishes, but they are, of course, overpriced two–three times. There are also too many journalists here, which is another nuisance. But the restaurant has cold Diet Coke, and you can put up with a lot for that.
If you do not get a fair price at Mowafaq, go west along the main street, and you will find a couple of caravan-serais where you can stay for two–three dollars in a clean room with beds on the floor. If you convince the staff to take you, that is. Many places are reluctant to let foreigners in. Also, you can sleep in the restaurants here for free.
Despite the extensive damage caused to the city during the wars, it was restored along the previous streets, and old maps are still useful.
Walking from Mowafaq to the west along the central street, you will see two good restaurants on the right side. Then there will be caravan-serais on the left and minibuses to Islam Qala on the other side of the street. There is a bathhouse behind the caravan-serais. Further along the street you can exchange money on its left side. Then there is an intersection. Turning left there you will get to the fortress which you can not visit anyway. Turning right you pass the bus station and eventually end up at Musalla.
|Gawhar Shad's mausoleum|
Walking from Mowafaq to the east, you will see nothing interesting except the trees that line up the street. There are a few kebab guys here who cook the meat right on the street. If you keep going in this direction, you will pass the Iranian consulate. If you turn right at the very first intersection, the side street there has a phone office and eventually takes you to Friday Mosque. You can also get to the mosque by going directly south from Mowafaq.
The Old City is four blocks organized in the same way as it is in Kandahar. Char Suq is their central square where four bazaars — streets with shops — join. There is not much interesting here.
You will probably spend two days exploring the city. Herat is different from other places: it has trees and lots of electric lights. It is interesting to visit it.
Minibuses to the Iranian border in Islam Qala leave from the main street, near caravan-serais. One dollar, three hours. The bus station is around the corner from there, on the way to Musalla.
To Kandahar it is 14 dollars, 10 hours. If you want to go to Lashkargah, you still have to pay the full fare to Kandahar but exit in Girishk and take another taxi to Lashkargah from there for another two dollars and one hour. The road to Kandahar is not bad. About three hours out of Herat, near Shindand, you will see the former Russian military bases on both sides of the road; they are abandoned now.
next: Lashkargah and Bost
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