The brave Afghan guys.

Neighbors: Peshawar

Peshawar is a pleasant city. You can spend many days here if you need to. It is a convenient base for preparing a trip to Afghanistan. It is easy to get to Islamabad for business from here: take a bus in the morning, come back in the evening. This way you do not even have to stay in Islamabad at all. You can even take a train, but buses are faster.

The most convenient hotel to stay at is Tourist Inn Motel. The convenience is in the fact that many backpackers that go to Afghanistan stay there. This hotel is located at the very beginning of Saddar Street, right where it splits from Sunehri Masjid Street. It is in the back yard behind Jan's Bakery. So, look for the bakery first.

There is only one separate room for two people; four dollars. But it is not good: it is too hot there, and the only window faces the yard giving you no privacy. All other beds — about a hundred of them — are in giant barracks-like rooms. But few people come to Pakistan these days, and the hotel usually has only half a dozen tourists staying there at any given time, so you can get one of these giant rooms for yourself if you want. A bed here costs $1.67. Windows are small but ventilation is good, and you can read during the day without lights turned on.

A free guard on the way to Torkham

Naturally, nothing is locked, and you should not leave expensive things in a backpack. But in Pakistan this is true for any hotel, even if you have a private room. You should be more concerned about theft by other backpackers than by the management. There was a report that a Japanese tourist has had two thousand dollars stolen from his backpack here. According to the tourist, it was taken by the son of the owner. According to the owner, the tourist was a moron and has misplaced the money himself. Whatever the actual story is, only a moron could leave two thousand dollars in a backpack.

The owner, Mr. Khan, provided his own extended version of the theft story, as well as of the number of private rooms he has. It can be read in the From Our Readers section.

In a big internal yard there is a kitchen, a refrigerator, two showers, a rope to dry your laundry, a bucket for doing laundry, maps of Afghanistan, a small library, and other useful things. Everything is free for you to use. The refrigerator has iced bottled water — not free. In the evening you can cook yourself a meal, eat with your friends at a big table, do your laundry, and take a shower.

The owner — a one-eyed old man — spends most of his time on a bed in the same yard. You have to see him; he is one of the most interesting things in Pakistan. He will not impose yourself onto you, but if you start a conversation, it can be quite intriguing.

If you plan to come back to Pakistan after Afghanistan, you can leave some things in this hotel for storage. On the other side, you should not pack in a way where you have unneeded things in the first place.

At the bakery on the street there is a good choice of pastries, sandwiches, pizzas. Rights across the street there is a small booth from where you can place an international call to your home. Ask about prices and how they change during the day, though. The difference can be as big as four times. Late evening is the cheapest time to call. To Europe you should expect to pay about 40 cents then. There also is a photocopier there, four cents per page.

Map of that part of Peshawar where you will operate.

Walking further west along Saddar Street, on the very first intersection you find Jan's Shopping Arcade — a Western-type supermarket you should visit before departing to Afghanistan to buy all the necessary things. Then there will be Dean's Hotel where foreigners can buy alcohol. However, it was under renovation, and who knows what will be there when it opens again. Then there are two internet cafes that charge 30 and 35 cents per hour. Guess which one has better computers and a faster connection. Then you will see a post office and lots of shops including a couple of bookstores on Arbab Street with a sizable collection of Afghan postcards. It is better to buy them here although there will be one more opportunity in Kabul.

On the same Arbab Street there is a cafe with a big choice of sandwiches and milk shakes. The buns they use are slightly sweet, but other than that the food is quite good. Try the milk shake with dates.

Following Saddar Street to the east, you will see the tourist information office. This is the place to get free maps and order a jeep to the border. Permits and other paperwork are included in the price. The very first turn to the left from here, another left turn, and you are at the Afghan consulate. Notice that they have moved from their old location in University City to here — older guidebooks do not reflect that.

There are two con artists in the city: Prince and Baba Jan. People with these names approaching you should be politely asked to get lost. They mainly offer to take you to the Smugglers' Bazaar.

The thing is, the so-called Tribal Areas in the North-West Frontier Province are not controlled by the government. The most it can do there is to go in with a large military force and shoot a little. The area is governed by the tribes living there. They do what they want. Part of what they want is mass-producing firearms and hashish. And the border of that area is right near Peshawar. In fact, you can take a local bus to the Smugglers' Bazaar, which is partially a plain market with many perfectly legal goods indeed smuggled tax-free from Afghanistan. And then at some point there is a barrier with a sign saying that foreigners can go no further without a permit. But in reality you can, nobody pays too much attention. And after the barrier are the gun factories, hashish factories, whatever you like.

Yes, you can buy any weapon there, including Kalashnikovs or M-16s. Or drugs. And when you get back to the “normal” part of Peshawar, you will get busted. If you go with a guide, you will get busted for sure because that was the whole point of bringing you there — to set you up.

Another danger is that freedom is double-sided there. Yes, it is fun to get stoned on hashish and test-fire automatic guns. But other people's idea of fun can be in some way damaging to your well-being. And you will have to deal with them yourself: the government can not protect you there.

The conclusion is: do not go. If you go, do not buy drugs or weapons.

Given this strange setup in Tribal Areas, the government insists on foreigners taking an armed guard on the way to the border. You can get both the permit and the guard for free. The presence of both is checked at the barrier. The permit is issued for specific people, for a specific car, and for a specific day — the day of issue only. Thus you can not take a bus to the border, although it is just $1.67. If you do, you will be taken off of it at the barrier.

Your choice is to make a private deal with any taxi driver for about $17 per car, or to hire a jeep for $37 through that tourist information office. The one-eyed guy at Tourist Inn can arrange it too, but he charges more. The advantage of the variant with the tourist office is that they will take care of everything, including the permit. If you do it yourself, you have to bring a taxi driver and present him for getting the permit. You also have to do all the paperwork yourself. Therefore, if you are alone, then a taxi is cheaper but takes more effort. If you have two or more people, it is better to let somebody else do everything for you.

On the way back from Afghanistan you apparently do not need a permit but need a guard.

In Peshawar it is possible to get a re-entry permit, which is just like a visa, but you get it within the target country itself. It costs slightly more than the visa itself and takes another page in your passport, so it is better to get a Pakistani visa with as many entries as you need in advance.

You can apply for an Afghan visa on Tuesday and Thursday. You need to bring photocopies of the pages of your passport that have your photo, your Pakistani visa, and your Pakistani entry stamp. You will need one passport-size photo for the application itself. The consulate opens at 9 a.m. Men and women are let in through different gates so that they can be checked thoroughly, but they are free to reunite after that.

Right after the men's gate turn right and ask for an application form. Fill it up, attach the photo, and run to the left of the gate, further inside the yard. There you will be interviewed by a consular officer. You should politely and clearly explain the purpose of your visit and say that you need a month-long visa and can depart for Afghanistan tomorrow. He will write whatever he decides on your application form, and then you go back to the original window with it. They will give you a paper for the bank to pay the application fee, $30. You can pay it in one specific bank only. To get to it you continue along the same street where the consulate is and then turn left. The bank accepts US dollars only, in cash, exact amounts.

You keep your passport during all these transactions and can postpone paying the fee for a few days. If you have some reason to stay in Pakistan longer, pay and get the visa right before the departure. If you are ready to go, pay right now, come back to the consulate immediately, give them the proof of payment and your passport, and you will get it back at 1 p.m. of the same day with the visa.

When you are ready to go, come to the tourist information office and order a jeep. A Land Cruiser can take three tourists with comfort and four without it. The tourist office will need the same set of photocopies of your passport as for the visa.

At 8 a.m. next morning you and your crew come to the tourist office packed and ready to go. They give you the typed paperwork, and a jeep takes you to the Home & Tribal Affairs Office. There you get the permit. Now you go to the Khyber Political Agent's Office and get your complimentary guard.

It takes two hours to get to the border. At the border pay $34 to the driver and do not give him any tips. The guard traditionally gets 100 rupees, less than two dollars. He will take you right to the passport office where you get the exit stamp. There is no customs check.

You can now walk to Afghanistan. It is right there, behind that gate.

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