Modern Kandahar has been built by Ahmad Shah Durrani. As a pre-planned city, it has a square-like shape. The Char Suq square is the geographical center of the old city. This is where four main streets — bazaars — join together.
Jame Mui Mobarak — the Mosque of the Hair of the Prophet — is on Kabul Bazaar, close to the central square. Supposedly, it has Mohammed's hair. The present state of the mosque and hair is unclear.
Herat Bazaar continues to the east and ends at Shahidan Chowk — Martyr's Square. This is where a small monument and a cannon have been installed in 1948.
|The Al Qaida Cemetery in Kandahar. A lady collects healing dirt from a hero's tomb.|
Coming up north along Shah Bazaar you will see the octagonal mausoleum of Ahmad Shah Durrani — the most, or the only, beautiful building of Kandahar. Right near it there is Da Kherqa Sherif Ziarat where the Mohammed's cloak is stored. Durrani has got the cloak as a gift from Amir of Bukhara in 1768. You can not have a look at it, naturally. Even the locals see it once in a few decades. The last time it was demonstrated by mullah Omar of the Taliban.
Four kilometers to the west of Shahidan Chowk along the main road is Chihlzina, Forty Steps. A forty-step staircase cut in stone leads to a cave carved in rock in 1522. The cave is not that high above the plains, but at least you can get some aerial view of the area.
The northern part of the city is where the cemeteries are. Among them are the Taliban Cemetery with classy graves decorated by bathroom tiles and the Al Qaida Cemetery. The latter contains the graves of 80 guys and one gal who have fallen in a particularly heroic way. None of them were from Al Qaida, naturally; they plainly were foreign members of the Taliban. Most of them fought at Kandahar airport to the very end, and six others defended a local hospital for two months after the city has been overtaken by the Northern Alliance and the Americans. Since all 81 people knew they were going to be killed and stayed anyway, their graves are now an object of pilgrimage by the locals. According to the newly created legend, a sick person should get better after eating a little bit of dirt from a grave.
The cemetery is thus turned into a sort of sanatorium where about a dozen of patients loiter around the graves. Two armed soldiers make sure everything is quiet. The white substance on the graves is salt being placed there instead of the withdrawn dirt. On the graves of males the tombstones are placed across a grave, the way it is done in the Western countries, and on the graves of females the stone is parallel to the direction of a grave.
Intercity taxis stop anywhere they please on arrival to Kandahar, but you need to get to Shahidan Chowk from there. It is a well-known place, and you can either ask the same taxi driver to give you a lift for a dollar or hire a motorickshaw for 50 cents.
|Mausoleum of Ahmad Shah Durrani|
At Shahidan Chowk itself there is a cheap hotel that can be easily located by a restaurant on its second floor. Rooms cost under five dollars there. Moving a little bit further west from the square, you will find a more expensive hotel on the left side of the street. And just a few more steps from it there is Noor Jahan Hotel.
Noor Jahan's owner is a young man — a pathological liar in anything that involves you paying him money. The staff has to go along with that, but once you have an agreement about the price of a room, they will treat you fairly after that. The locals pay five dollars per room here — you will be charged 15–20. But it is worth it.
The rooms are quite clean, and there is a hot shower, a ceiling fan, and an air-conditioner in each one. Free iced tap water is available at the reception desk. There is no restaurant in the hotel, but the staff will speedily order and bring any food you want — as soon as it is pilau or kebab — and of better than usual quality, although it is about two times more expensive here.
There is even a TV at the reception desk, and you can connect your camera to it.
The very same liar owns a motel further down the street. It obviously targets the foreigners, and the prices there are even more shameless. When you bargain at Noor Jahan, threaten to go to the hotel at Shahidan Chowk — they know that prices are much cheaper there.
There are many cheap hotels at the bus station, but foreigners rarely stay there, and the staff can plainly decline to let you stay. The location is not that convenient either.
Eat in Noor Jahan if you stay there or in the restaurant on Shahidan Chowk. Close to Noor Jahan, on the same side of the street, there is a food store with imported goods. East of Shahidan Chowk there is an ice-cream place on the left side of the street.
There is a private phone center at Shahidan Chowk, and you can call home from there. It is better to time the call yourself since the owners like to “joke” and double the time. A minute costs about 50 cents. They also exchange currency here, but the rates are not the best in the city.
Both sides of the street that goes east from Shahidan Chowk are covered by jewelry shops. Continuing in this direction, you come to the next square, Char Suq. It has a few exchange shops. You should compare the rates, but the first quote is usually more or less fair. If you go to Iran, it is easy to get Iranian rials here.
If you turn up north from here, you will get to the mausoleum of Durrani. The post office is somewhere after the mausoleum, and it can be easily recognized by a giant satellite dish.
It is about four kilometers from Shahidan Chowk to Chihlzina. The Pakistani consulate is also in this direction. You can walk this distance, but it is easier to hire a motorickshaw for a dollar one way. Do not go trekking in the hills nearby — they look attractive but can be mined.
To get to the Taliban and Al Qaida cemeteries you can hire a motorickshaw for two hours for two dollars. It is better to take a local friend with you since both the driver and the cemetery guards may be confused about what exactly you want to do there.
The bus station is not that close to Shahidan Chowk, and it is simpler to hire a motorickshaw to there.
In general, Kandahar is the second interesting place after Kabul. You can have a lot of fun here. Especially if you find some local friends for that. The security situation in the city and its environs on occasion changes one way or another. You should get the recent news before you go there, and not from newspapers or the UN/NGOs but from other travelers. Notice that this is the only easy overland way from Kabul to Herat; if passing through Kandahar is for some reason not recommended at the time of your travel, this will affect all your plans.
Kabul — 11 hours, 13 dollars. Ghazni — eight hours, 14 dollars. Lashkargah — three hours, two dollars. Herat — 10 hours, 14 dollars.
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