Mazar-e Sahrif, City of Friendly Faces

After a brief stop-over back in Kabul where we made our first abortive attempt to visit the Buddhist Stupa of Guldara, we took an early flight to the Northern city of Mazar-e Sharif.

My pictures show a traditional Central Asian Silk Road stopping place with exquisite blue domed shrines, thriving carpet bazaars and a truly amazing mixture people. They also show quite clearly how welcoming these Pashtuns, Hazara, Uzbecs, Tajiks, Kyrgiz and who-knows-who seemed to be. Of course, we were briefed to be ever vigilant to the security situation, with the usual stories of  violence, kidnappings and tribal murders. I’m not for a moment suggesting that such things hadn’t been taking place but they also happen in parts of South London not too far from where I live.

The monuments are:

04-57   Shrine of Hazrat Ali: 12th century mosque and reputed burial place of Ali Ibn Abi Talib, cousin of Muhammad and founder of the Shi’a movement in the 7th century. It is known as the Blue Mosque for its exquisite tiling (mostly restored) and revered by both Shi’a and Sunni Muslims.

58-63   Ancient walls of Balkh: birthplace of Zoraster and scene of Persia’s last stand against the Greeks in 329BC. It flourished during the Graeco-Bactrian dynasties but never recovered from the Mongol invasions of the 13th century.

64-69 Shrine of Khoja Parsa: 15th century memorial to a celebrated theologian and much admired for its magnificent octagonal design. It was badly damaged in an earthquake almost twenty years ago and restoration work continues.

70-72  Tomb of Rabi-a Balkhi: 9th century burial place of Persia’s most renowned female poet. After falling in love with her slave, it is said that she was bricked up inside only to write her final words in her own blood on these very walls.

73-87   No Gombad Mosque: a ruined, early 9th Century building of great historical and archaeological importance, it is widely regarded as the oldest Mosque in Afghanistan. It sits in a lovely, peaceful patch of farmland, where excavation and restoration continue at a glacial pace.

34-46  &  88-93   Mazar sightseeing, including the street of the Carpet Dealers

Categories: Central Asia


  • Elisabeth says:

    Hi Nicola and companions – I am so glad to hear you are back in Kabul. Flying to M-e-S is the way to go, even though you will miss the lovely Salang Pass and another hellish road! Thanks for trying to get to Guldara. Perhaps one of you will manage on her own after your trip is over? I am holding my breath.

    And… just out of curiosity – who is in your group? Any chance you can let us know? Safe travels to you all. ET

  • Nicola Ainsworth says:


    Thanks for following.

    We did not miss the Salang Pass, we “experienced” it on the way back from Mazar-e Sharif and I will try to find the words when I feel recovered enough.

    NO-ONE made it to Guldara Stupa but we did have a charming little detour to Guldara Village in the opposite direction where I got my head snapped off for suggesting that I had managed to identify both locations (and the fact that they are nowhere near each other) on Google Earth.

    No you can’t have any information about the group. In fact, I’ve had to spend hours editing out any reference to them or pictures by which our leader might be identified.

    Never mind: what I did see was probably worth all the trouble and I’m sure that I’ll appreciate having had the opportunity in years to come. In the meantime, I wholeheartedly concur with your observations about the country and am pleased to be able to tell you that my digestive system appears to be on the mend.

  • Elisabeth says:

    What is the context for picture 35 and what exactly does it say? ET

  • Nicola Ainsworth says:

    It was a little rug that was hanging outside of the Haji Eid Muhammad carpet shop and I think that it says “TO BRING PEACE IN AFGHANISTAN THE UNITED STATES BE CONTENTED WITH YOUR LOCAL LEADERS”.

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