Travel India Guide to Afganistan: tourist spots, road maps, monuments & climate

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Afghanistan's history as a country spans little more than two centuries, although it has contributed to the greatness of many great Central Asian empires. As with much of the region, the rise and fall of political power has been inextricably tied to the rise and fall of religions.
It was in Afghanistan that the ancient religion of Zoroastrianism began in the 6th century BCE. Later, Buddhism spread west from India to the Bamiyan Valley, where it remained strong until the 10th century AD. The eastward sweep of Islam reached Afghanistan in the 7th century AD, and today the vast majority of Afghans are Muslim.
Between 1220 and 1223, Jenghiz Khan tore through the country, reducing Balkh, Herat, Ghazni and Bamiyan to rubble. After damage was repaired, Timur swept through in the early 1380s and reduced the region to rubble again. Timur's reign ushered in the golden Timurid era, when poetry, architecture and miniature painting reached their zenith.
Timur's fourth son, Shah Rukh, built shrines, mosques and medressas throughout Khorasan, from Mashhad, in modern-day Iran, to Balkh. Herat continued to prosper under Sultan Hussain Baykara (died 1506), producing such great Central Asian poets as Jami and Alisher Navoi.
The rise of the great Mughal empire again lifted Afghanistan to heights of power. Babur had his capital in Kabul in 1512, but as the Mughals extended their power into India, Afghanistan went from being the centre of the empire to merely a peripheral part of it.
Following another short war, from 1878 to 1880, Afghanistan agreed to become more or less a protectorate of the British, happily accepted an annual payment to keep things in shape and agreed to a British resident in Kabul. No sooner had the diplomatic mission been installed in Kabul, however, than all its members were murdered. This time the British decided to keep control over Afghanistan's external affairs, but to leave the internal matters strictly to the Afghans themselves.
In 1893 the British drew Afghanistan's eastern boundaries along the so-called Durand Line, neatly partitioning many Pashtun tribes into what today is Pakistan. This has been a cause of Afghan-Pakistani strife for many years, and is the reason the Afghans refer to the western part of Pakistan as Pashtunista.

One of the most important holidays in Afghanistan is Nawroz (New Days), celebrated around March 21, on the spring equinox. It's an Islamic adaptation of far more ancient festivities, and was banned by the Taliban. Special foods are prepared and gifts are exchanged. Mazar-e Sharif hosts Afghanistan's biggest Nawroz celebrations. Revolution Day takes place on April 28, marking the mujaheddin's capture of Kabul, although many Afghans resent this celebration as it also marks the slide into the worst of the civil war. May 1 means Labor Day, followed by Remembrance Day for Martyrs and the Disabled on May 4. Independence Day (August 19) at least is celebrated with some fanfare. Ahmad Shah Massoud Day on September 9 is another equally martial - and potentially divisive - holiday.,
The four major Islamic holidays are celebrated according to the lunar calendar, so check the dates and plan ahead. Eid al-Azha, the Feast of Sacrifice, marks the beginning of the hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca). Those who can afford it buy and slaughter an animal, then share the meat with friends and strangers. Moulid an-Nabi, the Prophet Mohammed's birthday, is much more low-key.
Ramazan (known as Ramadan elsewhere) is the month of fasting. From sunrise to sunset devout Muslims who can physically handle it are asked to go without food, drink, cigarettes and just about everything else. It's very rude to do any of these things in front of people observing this important holiday. Eid al-Fitr marks the end of Ramazan, when friends and families gather to eat, drink and, if so inclined, smoke cigarettes.


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