Friday, 27 July 2007

Kites, fighting partridges and graves

The enforced inactivity following the former king’s death has given us the opportunity to do some sightseeing around Kabul (and more shopping – the world’s stock markets may be reeling, but Afghan retail is booming).
On Wed. we headed to Asheqan Arefan district, in search of Noor Agha, the most famous kitemaker in Afghanistan. We didn’t find the cemetery where he lives, but his personally signed kites are readily available in the bazaar, for the princely sum of 150 Afghanis ($3).

I was feeling extravagant and bought five. I didn’t realise that the 6000m of string encrusted with powdered glass, essential for cutting rivals’ strings in kite fights, would cost as much as the kites put together. I’m sure I could’ve managed with a mere 500m. Needless to say, there’s not been a breath of wind since, and when I inquired about shipping costs, TNT quoted me a figure of $350 (including a 15kg metal case) to get them back to UK in one piece. I think I’ll resort to the ‘message in a bottle’ technique and see where the airstream takes them.

Yesterday arvo, we investigated another Afghan obsession – partridge fighting. The Ka Faroshi bird market consists of a warren of sewerage strewn narrow lanes, past huge woks frying offal and tomatoes over wood fires – hmm, tasty. A bewildering variety of birds are for sale – most are tiny, scrawny creatures which huddle pitifully on their perches. Prize partridges are kept in larger wicker cages, or in their masters’ pockets, to be unleased on unsuspecting sparrows or passers-by. Coupled with the national sport of buzkashi (a cross between polo and rugby, with a dead goat as a ‘ball’), you begin to get a sense of what Friday Grandstand / Sportscene programmes are like.
We rounded off the outing with a more tranquil assignment – a visit to the mausoleum of Timur Shah. TS moved the capital from Kandahar to Kabul in 1776, a prescient move without which we wouldn’t be here.
The recent spate of kidnappings in the south and east has prompted the Min. of Interior to ban foreigners leaving K without an armed escort.
That scuppered today’s planned trip to the Panjshir (Five Lions) Valley, which is to the north of K and safe… we’ve got one Friday left, but somehow I doubt the restrictions will be lifted by then.

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