My tour of Afghanistan with the country’s only female guide 

A brand new digital tour of Afghanistan offers would-be guests the possibility to see the sights and help a secret college for ladies

The British authorities advises in opposition to all journey to Afghanistan. But, right here we’re, below a piercingly-blue sky, venturing round what’s arguably Central Asia’s most important Islamic constructing, the Nice Mosque of Herat.

Laid out at the beginning of the thirteenth century, its excellent mosaic work is intricate and stylish. Embellished with great geometric patterns, the minarets rise in the direction of the solar because the gleaming white marble tiles – chilly in the summertime and heat within the winter, permitting the jama’ah (congregation) to stroll round barefoot – glimmer like diamonds.

“That is the place the mullah preaches,” explains Fatima Haidari, pointing in the direction of an area beneath the iwan (the vaulted viewers chamber). The 23-year-old information then reveals us the towers the place the decision to prayer takes place.

Besides, we’re not truly in Herat. The tour is digital. As Afghanistan’s solely feminine tour information, Haidari (foremost image) needed to flee the nation throughout the Taliban offensive in 2021. She at the moment lives in Italy however continues to guide excursions of her hometown on-line utilizing 360° movies, private pictures and her personal native perception.

“I dared to begin giving excursions [in Afghanistan] regardless of understanding its risks as a result of I strongly believed anyone ought to begin it, in any other case it is going to all the time stay an unaccepted job for ladies” says Haidari.

Self-educated and with a level in journalism and communication from Herat College, Haidari began out running a blog about Afghanistan. Finally she caught the eye of Untamed Borders, an journey journey firm, which requested her to run excursions of her hometown.


Haidari’s excursions name on the superb Nice Mosque of Herat. Picture: Sven Dirks

Untamed Borders specialises in taking travellers to among the world’s most inaccessible locations. Haidari ran her first tour with them in 2020, regardless of Covid-19 restrictions. Nonetheless, as soon as the Taliban began to take over the nation in 2021, she grew to become a goal.

“I had [a choice]: keep or reside,” Haidari provides. “I made a decision to reside however the one method [to do that] was to depart Afghanistan. I’ve fought loads, however I had goals that I wanted to struggle extra for.”

With assist from Untamed Borders, Haidari escaped Kabul. She bribed Taliban fighters who let her converse with international troopers on the airport. She then found that she was on a listing of people that have been allowed to depart the nation, and fled to Rome by way of Kuwait.

Haidari takes vacationers to a teashop earlier than the Taliban took over Afghanistan. Picture: Untamed Borders

Earnings from these new digital excursions are break up between Haidari and an underground college in Afghanistan that secretly educates women. The cash goes in the direction of shopping for books and stationery for pupils, and paying the academics.

“I’ve all the time fought to be a changer, not a sufferer,” says Haidari. “I’ve made it out, however now it’s time to assist different women who’re caught in the identical hell I’ve escaped from.”

Because the Taliban returned to energy, solely boys can obtain an training. Nonetheless, because of the covert college, 30 women can attend courses for 2 hours per day, six days every week. Many are refugees from areas which have a robust Taliban presence.

“We should stand by their facet and maintain their arms, regardless of how far-off we’re and the way small our contribution is,” Haidari provides.


The Musalla Minarets punctuate the skyline in Herat. Picture: Ali Mosavi

One of many academics from the underground college (who will stay nameless for safety causes), agrees.

“Women don’t have the correct to training, women aren’t free,” they are saying. “Some women don’t even have the correct to exit and play with their pals, [under the Taliban] they need to all the time be at residence doing the house responsibilities.”

Haidari says that folks from everywhere in the world have booked excursions along with her already. Not simply these interested by Afghanistan, however teams involved in historical past, tradition and artwork.

Again on the digital tour and we’ve got simply visited a caravanserai, an ornately-built roadside inn the place travellers would historically keep the night time. From there we head to the bazaar for a drink at an previous, conventional teahouse.

I’ve all the time fought to be a changer, not a sufferer

The store is small and stuffed with handwoven rugs. They cowl each the ground and the partitions. Steaming, amber-coloured tea is poured from adorned teapots into glass cups. Haidari is explaining that the proprietor was as soon as a jihadi.

“He has a number of tales, so that you simply go, drink a easy cup of tea… and hear to those tales this man will inform you,” says Haidari. “I want I might take you there [for real]. This would be the most pleasant a part of the entire journey. Possibly sooner or later.”

Haidari definitely hopes so.

“Peace, freedom, gender equality, humanity and love are my hopes for individuals,” she says. “A world with out terrorism and struggle. An Afghanistan with out Taliban, with open doorways of faculty to each women and boys.”

Haidari’s next virtual tour of Herat takes place on 15 November

Primary picture: Untamed Borders