Wednesday, June 28th, 2017

Did We Just Fly Over Afghanistan?!


“Ladies and gentlemen, if you look out to your left, you will see the city of Kabul.”

I sat up straight.  Kabul?!

“Once again, on the left side, we have great views today of Kabul, Afghanistan.”

We were flying over Afghanistan?!

I flew from Bangkok to London on Air India, stopping in Delhi on the way.  I had no qualms about this airline in particular (nor do I about any airlines), but it made me wonder…just how many airlines would fly over Afghanistan?

I looked out the window and wondered if this would be the only way I’d ever see Kabul.

Back in the day, Kabul was a vaulted destination for both backpackers and moneyed tourists.  It was a beautiful, romantic city, drawing people from all over the world.

Then, of course, everything came crashing down.  The tourists of back then never could have predicted Afghanistan to be torn apart by war and the Taliban.

Which great city will crash down next?

As we flew over the surrounding mountains — and I saw snow for the first time in months — it made me wonder about which destinations are most vulnerable to being bombed beyond recognition.  But they don’t have to be vulnerable.  None of us ever imagined 9/11 would happen.  Anything could happen anywhere.

The Taliban destroyed the giant Buddhas of Bamiyan, a UNESCO World Heritage sight.  Who knows how long we’re going to have the Great Pyramids?  Or anything — the Parthenon, Angkor Wat, Machu Picchu?

I don’t even want to think about it.

But who knows…someday, we might be flocking back to Afghanistan.

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27 Responses to “Did We Just Fly Over Afghanistan?!”
  1. Dean says:

    I would love to visit Afghanistan and Pakistan, they seem like such beautiful places from what I have seen/read. It’s such a shame that it’s just not safe to travel there. Maybe one day when I’m a middle aged backpacker things will be different 🙂

    • Djdesi says:

      Pakistan sure is a beautiful place and a few years ago it was a hot Mountaineering destination of the world and for a brave few it still is. Just do not believe everything the T.V tells you. Northern Pakistan is peaceful though.

  2. I would have never thought of writing something like this – but it’s completely true! You never know what might happen, either in Kabul, New York, Paris or Montreal.

    Carpe diem, then 😉

  3. Having done a few trips back and forth to Australia, I too was like “omg, I’m flying OVER AFGHANISTAN?!” when on a flight. I was thinking “woah, what if we mistakenly get shot down or something?” haha.
    Interesting you mention how cities go from being destinations regularly travelled to to complete no-go zones. I think Baghdad has recently reopened to tourism lately, I reckon that’d be an amazing city to check out.

  4. Jo says:

    Wow, that’s the flight I’ll be doing (but in reverse, London-Bangkok) exactly six weeks today! Glad you don’t have any qualms about Air India. I’ll keep an eye out for Kabul, it looks stunning!

  5. Runaway Brit says:

    Travellers will return to Afghanistan one day, just over 30 years ago people could not travel to Vietnam or Cambodia but now they are hot tourist destinations.

    Hopefully some of Afghanistan’s reputed beauty will remain for us.

    • Very true. A friend I met in Indonesia had parents who backpacked around the world in the 1970s — EXCEPT Vietnam and Cambodia. They finally went a few years ago, and they loved coming full circle.

  6. Giulia says:

    I had a similar feeling when flying over Saudi Arabia on my way to Singapore – not because of bombings but because it’s so hard to get in as tourists (especially for women) so I was wondering if that was the only way I would ever see that Country.
    Well actually I saw it from the other side of Red Sea too, and had quite the same feeling!

  7. Karoline says:

    I guess restoration is still on-going… someday Kabul will be brimming with tourists again.

  8. Miranda says:

    I really like this post. It’s something I think about for example in Latin America. Not long ago central America was a pretty rough place to be. Then it got a lot better. And right now Mexico’s a mess. These things cycle, they’re not permanent. I like to think that sometime during my life time places like Afghanistan will be ‘accessible’ once again. But then again, as you say, another place probably won’t be…

    • Mexico is not as much of a mess as the media makes it seem — I’m in Sayulita right now and it’s lovely. Most of the drug violence is concentrated at the borders and tourists are not targets. It’s primarily gang violence.

  9. Colehaber says:

    I think you always fly over Afghanistan to get to SE Asia. I flew Continental – an American airline to India last year and we flew over. I don’t think airlines get to pick their own routes. I think there is some international body that permits certain routes!

    I know what you mean though, as an American it will probably be a very long time before you casually tour there, though I think you’re technically allowed to!

  10. Kate, I think you’re being a bit melodramatic and shortsighted, and I don’t mean that in a mean way.

    Shortsighted because, how long do you plan to live? Another 50 years? What do you think this planet will be like in 50 years? It’s entirely possible there will be stability in Afghanistan in 50 years and you will be able to visit. Maybe soon. We both don’t know. (see Traveling Britt’s analogy for Vietnam and Cambodia)

    As for the tourists not knowing, that may be true. Yet if they didn’t know, then they didn’t know much about the feudal history of the region. They only needed to look to the Iranian Revolution in 1979 to get an idea of what might happen and who might come into power. You then had the Soviet war from 1979-1989, tearing the country up pretty dang well, for 10 years. You then had the Taliban come into power in 1996. I’d say any tourist from 1989-1996 who didn’t think the country might suffer more war was fairly ignorant.

    As for being bombed beyond recognition, that is not the case with the country. Go there and see if you can recognize it as Afghanistan for yourself. it has been torn up, that is for sure, and the loss of the statues to religious bigotry is a crime. That much is true.

    Maybe you have been there and my comments are unfounded. But if all you have seen is from TV and the like, it might not be as it seems. It’s a country at war, but all is not lost. Wars end, even the 100 years war did.

    • Hi, Peter — no worries, but I think you may have read it the wrong way — I wondered if I, personally, would ever get to see Afghanistan, not whether anyone would ever be able to. And I mostly thought about the hippies in the late sixties, when Chicken Street in Kabul was a mandatory stop on the backpacker trail!

  11. Carolyn says:

    Very interesting! I also had no idea that flights go over Afghanistan. I agree that it would be very interesting to visit and, as you point out, it’s hard to say what might change in the future. I would like to think it might return to being a tourist destination in the not so distant future . I was lucky enough to travel to Tunisia about 5 years ago and it was one of the most interesting trips I have ever been on. I would loe to travel more in North Africa and the Middle East.

  12. jennifer says:

    Ha. I’d be a little shocked too. Good post, and I love your window shots.

  13. Tom says:

    I hope Afghanistan is at peace some day, and that travellers can return there – and Pakistan, too. They look like such beautiful countries.

    When I flew with Emirates from Newcastle to Seoul, I went via Dubai and both over Iraq. I’m a twitchy flyer, so couldn’t help but wonder what’d happen if the Airbus got into a fight with a stray missile.

  14. Nicolas says:

    I don’t think it’s very uncommon to fly over Afghanistan…They don’t take the effort to try to shoot every plane that passes their airspace out of the air.
    When I flew from Belgium to Dubai, we flew over Iraq. But I must admit, I’ve done everything to try to spy some hidden Talibans.

  15. Sasha says:

    It’s pretty cool to be able to say you’ve been in the proximity of Afghanistan even if it was thousands of meters above, sounds pretty hardcore!!! It’s really a shame all the things that have gone down in that country, I’ve seen some docos and it has some pretty stunning scenery! I used to teach Afghan children and everything they would tell me about their home (besides the war stuff) really made me want to go!!! 🙂

  16. Nice views from the plane you seem to always get the best shots and how to do manage to always get the window seat! I think that all things do come to a end and sooner than later people will start coming back to Afghanistan in the future.

  17. Luke Johnson says:

    Afghanistan is a shithole. Beautiful mountains and valleys, but that’s about it. Sandstorms, freezing blizzards and IED’s is what you get. I’ve been here for 9 months and I can’t wait to leave.

  18. Alex says:

    This is a good reminder to get out and see the world… now!

  19. Great post Kate. I for one would be stoked to visit as soon as possible.

  20. My dad travelled to Afghanistan in his 20s. I blame him for my travel bug ;)… it’s in my DNA. His photos really make me hope that we will be flocking sooner rather than later. And I think it WILL happen. It’s just a matter of when…

  21. Krista says:

    I’ve been there…. all you have to do is work for the government and you can get a free trip. 😉 It is a very interesting and wild place.

  22. Indian says:

    I did hitch hike through Afganistan in 1970 from Kabul to kandar and Herat. From there on to Mashad and Teheran to Turkey via Erzerum.
    It was a very nice country then

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