Istalif: Into the foothills of the Hindu Kush

Turquoise Mountain Foundation Compound
Kabul Afghanistan 11:06 p.m.

Well, today was a fantastic trip out of Kabul, at last. We piled ten of us from Turquoise Mountain Foundation into a mini-van and rollicked across the fertile Shomali plains north of Kabul for the roughly hour and a half drive up to the town of Istalif, in the low foothills of the legendary Hindu Kush mountains.

I never knew that Hindu Kush meant Hindu Killer, but so I heard en route. What a relief to leave the big city behind—there’s so much more to explore, but I’m a country bumpkin at heart and the idea of a beautiful spring day in the hills was a dream come true, especially after so long scrubbing through the hot cities of northern India.

Istalif—a truly beautiful spot. Very small town, renowned for its rustic blue pottery, and reputedly a site of one of the Mughal emperor Babur’s famous gardens. We hiked for a bit less than an hour up the hill behind the main part of town, through the bombed-out ruins of the town, which was a fierce fighting area directly on one of the battle lines where Ahmad Shah Massoud fought against the Taliban (I believe this was in 1997). We walked directly amongst the destroyed area, which the Talib fighters eventually won control of. The Taliban came into the town and gave the town’s residents one hour to leave—after which they came in and ransacked the entire town, burning buildings and essentially razing the town down to the ground. It took five years for people to begin resettling their homes and neighborhoods.

TMF has been working over the last year or two to develop a visitor’s center and work space in Istalif, supporting the local crafts community, which is essentially the entire town. We got some great footage of one of the potters up on the hill throwing bowls on his kick-powered wheel, as well as some interviews with several of the old potter/shopkeepers along the old wild west-style main street (pretty much the only street, actually). Also shared lunch with the shura—the council of village elders, with whom TMF will be working as they integrate their educational programs into the local community.

While there we got sun, rain and hail—full on. We totally could have stayed up there for days soaking up the scene and shooting amazing footage. So much more to tell—but I’m so tired and another long day begins early tomorrow.

Briefly, we had an evening adventure too: after dinner, we accepted the invite of a couple of the TMFers to go out for a drink at one of the favorite expat watering holes: The Gandamack Lodge. Filled with journalists and assorted international aid worker types (and cigarette smoke), it was worth the trip—even though we had to willfully ignore the news that came across the transom earlier this morning: the main group that monitors and communicates the local security situation notified TMF (and others) this morning that there were rumors of some sort of Taliban attack to be aimed at symbols of western life here in Kabul somewhere in the next 48-72 hours. Gandamack certainly fits the bill, I’d say. But Allah was with us and all is well.


Every Wednesday 8-9pm ET
Free to all
All are welcome



See beyond existing perspectives
to open new options
for self-expression.


Learn to use one of the world’s
oldest living wisdom traditions.

To Register
Please fill out the form.

Thank you for registering.
Please check your email for details on how to join.