City Landmark – Lonely Planet Afghanistan, Delhi’s Book Bazar and Bhogal
Book and land.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
You are so wrong if you believe that Delhi’s Sunday book bazaar is dispensable. That place is like a gigantic public library whose used books are oftentimes precious souvenirs of our vanished worlds. Recently, a paperback of Lonely Planet Afghanistan was unearthed from the bazaar. It was a rare copy, the first and the only edition published by the guidebook series. Days later, Afghanistan entered into a new history with the dramatic comeback of the Taliban. Here’s a review of the outdated but historically significant book, as a homage to what Afghanistan could have been (complete with its Lonely Planet-carrying tourists), and also as a pean to Delhi’s irreplaceable book bazaar.
Afghanistan for tourists
Here’s your chance to finally drive through Afghanistan’s highways, stroll through its cities, enjoy afternoon naps in its mosques, kill time in its chaikhanas, pluck pomegranates from its orchards, and hopefully return home—alive. Just pick up Lonely Planet Afghanistan, published in 2007.
Like a poetry anthology that spares you the nonessential prose, the guidebook goes straight to the land’s haunting beauty—the Ka Faroshi Bird Market of Kabul with its narrow lane lined with stalls selling birds, the minaret of Jam looming up high in the mountains, the 800-year-old tile-mosaic mosque of Herat, the orchards of Panjshir valley, the blue domes of Hazrat Ali’s shrine at Mazar-e-Sharif, and the dilapidated cafes of Kandahar decked with posters of Indian film stars. There are also snappy, succulent accounts of Afghanistan as experienced by authors like Christina Lamb and Tamim Ansary.
A most poignant destination, other than the ruins of Bamiyan Buddhas, must be Kabul’s OMAR Landmine museum. Exhibiting more than 60 types of landmines that litter the Afghan countryside, the museum gives the tourist a direct understanding of the nation’s enduring tragedy and also explains the presence of very many amputees walking in its wounded cities.
The travel naturally entails risk. The person helping you with directions could be a militant; the road barrier could be the work of bandits; the next step while hiking in the Nuristan mountains could trigger a landmine blast. Life is severely uncertain in Afghanistan.
This book warns: “Only you are responsible for your safety, so it’s absolutely essential that before considering a visit you assess the security situation from reliable, up-to-date sources.”
Perhaps you may want to use the guidebook only for armchair travelling.
Until Afghanistan—a mere two hours flying time away from Delhi—becomes a more normal country.
PS: Obaidullah Mobarez, a DU student, who arrived last month from Laghman, Afghanistan, holding the Lonely Planet Afghanistan near his home in south Delhi’s Bhogal.
The vanished Afghanistan