Almost two years on from the chaotic fall of Kabul, says Tom Robbins in the FT, tourists are starting to return to Afghanistan. Newly established tour operator Safarāt is about to take a group on a two-week trip around the country via Kandahar, Herat and Bamyan. Travellers with another firm, Untamed Borders, are halfway through a similar route in reverse. They are going in the face of “the starkest official warnings”. The UK Foreign Office says the country is “extremely dangerous” and recommends nobody visit. The US State Department warns “the risk of kidnapping or violence… is high”. They’re not kidding – three UK citizens, including YouTube “danger tourist” Miles Routledge, are in Taliban prisons.
But tour guides argue that the country is safer now that Western forces have pulled out. “The Taliban were responsible for the vast majority of the insurgency in Afghanistan,” says Safarāt founder Joe Sheffer, “so the minute they gained control of the country, security rapidly improved.” Getting there is surprisingly easy – there are direct flights from Dubai and Istanbul; visas can be issued at 24 hours’ notice. Sheffer, a veteran war photographer, says the idea to lead tours came from a pub conversation with someone arguing that media tales of Ukrainian resolve were being overstated. “I said, ‘OK, I’m going back next week, come with me and actually speak to people,’” says Sheffer. That trip never happened, but the idea of taking people “to see with their own eyes” stuck. Book here.