After spending an entire month travelling across Afghanistan, Nuristan was easily one of my favourite places to visit. This mountainous province is not only a natural gem, but it is also home to people of a unique culture and ethnicity. Many of the local residents have blonde hair and blue eyes, and the pine forest scenery is unlike anywhere else in the country.
What makes Nuristan so interesting to visit?
Nuristan was in fact the last province of Afghanistan to convert to Islam, which happened just over 100 years ago after defeat at the hands of Amir Abdulrahman Khan, who supposedly forced local residents to abandon their ancient religious beliefs in place of Islam. Before converting, however, this region was known to outsiders as “Kafiristan”, which roughly translates to “the land of the infidels”.
Many local Nuristanis, until this day, resemble Europeans in race. Blonde hair, fair skin and blue eyes are not uncommon. Some people say that they are descendants of Alexander the Great and his army, while others say that they are descendants of the Arabs. I personally think the first theory is more plausible as Nuristanis don’t look like Arabs!
Nuristan is also extremely remote. By bird’s eye, it’s only 100 kilometres from Kabul. And yet it takes two full days to reach there by road. Hence, this isolation keeps the culture more intact and the region less developed. For a visitor, it gives you a unique glimpse of what the past looked like for much of Afghanistan.
How to visit Nuristan by public transport?
Firstly, it’s important to get travel permits as a foreigner to travel around Afghanistan, including to visit Nuristan. The rules are always changing but you can find up to date information on this website. Once you’ve got your permits, it’s possible to reach Nuristan by public transport, but there aren’t any direct routes. So, you’ll first have to go from Kabul to Jalalabad, and then to Asadabad, and from there you’ll be able to find a ride to Parun, the capital of Nuristan. The whole journey should take about two days. Here’s exactly how you can go about doing it.
- First, go to Pol e Mahmoud Khan in Kabul. Here you’ll be able to find shared taxis to Jalalabad. Here’s the location: https://maps.app.goo.gl/UkMXqe4RFv3CqWo5A
- After arriving in Jalalabad, go to this location where you can find shared taxis to Asadabad: https://maps.app.goo.gl/NyxVCvMu459VR8my6
- Now, you should spend the night in Asadabad, as you won’t find any transportation to Nuristan at this time. On one of the main squares in Asadabad, you’ll find many affordable hotels and guesthouses: https://maps.app.goo.gl/REF9vVYBdYoentSs9
- The following morning, go to this location: https://maps.app.goo.gl/kaky5N3i2Tb6UCXt5 . You will find many people shouting “Parun”, where you’ll have to wait for the car (or pickup truck) to fill up with passengers/goods. The ride to Parun should take around 7 or 8 hours, but it’s extremely scenic and you’ll enjoy the views on the way!
Where to stay in Nuristan?
There’s only one proper hotel in Nuristan, so unless you’re content with sleeping in a restaurant (many offer accommodation), then you don’t have much choice. Google Maps doesn’t show roads in Parun so I can’t show you where it is. The name is “National Park Hotel and Restaurant”. I’m sure your driver will know where it is. Below is a list of room prices and services offered by the hotel (auto-translated from Persian). Although we didn’t use it, the tour guide service seems to be very well priced!
How to travel around Nuristan?
So, once you’re there, how are you actually going to get around? There isn’t any public transport between the villages. So, we negotiated with our driver that took us to Parun from Asadabad to stay with us for three days, driving us around to wherever we wanted and basically acting as our local tour guide. He took us on a beautiful hike nearby Parun and drove us to some amazing locations (I’ll explain more about that soon).
You could also try hitchhiking. There isn’t much local traffic, but it seems like hitchhiking is very common in this region, especially on the back of pickup trucks. It could also be a very fun experience!
Finally, you could talk to the hotel so that they can arrange a guide and driver for you. If you’re a solo traveller, this might end up being quite pricey, but if you’re a group then it could be affordable!
What to do in Nuristan?
When visiting Nuristan, you might be wondering what there actually is to do there. Here’s a list of some of my favourite places and activities in the province:
Go on a hike!
I think this is an awesome way to experience the natural beauty of the province, and you’ll also be able to reach villages that are isolated and completely inaccessible by road. This was one of my highlights in the province. However, I think you should definitely get a guide if you plan to do this! And make sure to bring enough supplies of food and water.
Wama Alcohol Factory.
Okay this might sound like a surprise, but it’s not a real alcohol factory, at least not anymore! In the village on Wama, you can take a road to the top of the mountain, and under the trees, in a forest, you’ll find some historical ruins. These ruins represent an old alcohol factory, which was used to make wine and other drinks as recently as 150 years ago. The scenery in this area is also stunning, with some of the best mountain views you’ll get in Nuristan, with amazing Autumn colours as well. However, the road to get here is soooo scary!!
Drive to Shtiway:
This village is located at the end of the road, close to the border with Badakhsan province. The nature here is also gorgeous, but it’s arguably the village people that make this place so interesting to visit. Just wondering around and meeting the locals in Shtiway and neighbouring villages is so fun, and they are all so photogenic as well! Keep in mind that there aren’t any restaurants over here so you should bring some food with you from Parun.
Bow and arrow!
Shooting with bows and arrows in a popular sport in Nuristan, and you can do it yourself on the edge of Parun. However, we didn’t manage to do it because we were told that it’s only common in the summer season, and you won’t find many locals taking part in this tradition during the rest of the year.
What’s the Taliban like in Nuristan?
In general, they treated us pretty well. Actually one kind of funny experience happened during our hike, when we randomly came across a Taliban military base, which was a unique structure. It was basically a tree house complex. They actually invited us in and let us take pictures.
We did have one issue with the Taliban, though. When driving back to Asadabad after our trip, Anna (my travel partner) was feeling car sick so decided to take the front seat next to the driver. At most Taliban checkpoints this was no issue, except at one. This man got very angry that a woman was sitting at the front, and next to a non-related male! He called the intelligence services and made a big deal out of this. But after ten or fifteen minutes we were allowed to go, and no other checkpoints had an issue with it.
In the future, we may run tours to Afghanistan, as we currently do in Syria and Iraq, so be sure to check our departure dates by clicking this link. If not, are you’re still confused about how to visit Nuristan solo, then we can help organise a guide for you. Message me on WhatsApp at +447905681636!