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Sunday Times: Tourists to invade Kabul on ‘axis of evil’ holidays:

“Seven weeks after the Royal Marines pulled out, the tourists are going in. Despite Foreign Office warnings and the threat of kidnap, landmines and US airstrikes, two British tour companies are offering holidays to Afghanistan. … The trips are the ultimate in a new trend dubbed hardship holidays. Booming numbers of western travellers are searching ever harder to find authentic off the beaten track experiences, and enterprising tour operators are answering the demand with trips to the slums of Rio, sweatshops in El Salvador and South African townships. ”

I doubt it’s the same. I’d love to visit Afghanistan, although I’m happy to wait a few years until everything’s settled down a little. Also, from the sounds of it, most of the visitors want to go for the same reasons, or because they visited in the 70s — like these folks did.

The Sunday Times

July 28, 2002

Tourists to invade Kabul on ‘axis of evil’ holidays

Tom Robbins

SEVEN weeks after the Royal Marines pulled out, the tourists are going in. Despite Foreign Office warnings and the threat of kidnap, landmines and US airstrikes, two British tour companies are offering holidays to Afghanistan. The first tourists leave Britain for the war-ravaged country on August 23. They will stay for a 10-day tour, taking in the sights of Kabul, Herat, Bamian and Mazar-i-Sharif. A second company is taking bookings for a bus tour in the spring.

Both companies are also planning tours to Iraq for September and October, in spite of concerns over possible American bombing raids. For those who still find their wanderlust unsated, the brochures offer Iran and North Korea, allowing adventurous travellers to complete their tour of the “axis of evil”.

The trips are the ultimate in a new trend dubbed “hardship holidays”. Booming numbers of western travellers are searching ever harder to find authentic “off the beaten track” experiences, and enterprising tour operators are answering the demand with trips to the slums of Rio, sweatshops in El Salvador and South African townships.

A Russian company is running what it calls “extreme tourism” trips to see the sarcophagus at Chernobyl, site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster; while an American firm is offering “reality tours” to Palestine and Belfast.

The Afghan government is keen to encourage tourism and in January the aviation and tourism minister, Dr Abdul Rahman, gave a television interview inviting “tourists of the world” to visit. The following month he was stabbed to death at Kabul airport.

Organisers of the Afghan trips insist they are not running “Tora Bora tours” for thrill-seeking young men who want to visit a war zone. Instead, many of those who have booked are enthusiasts of architecture and archeology and are in their sixties.

The first tour of Afghanistan is being organised by LIVE Travel, a Twickenham-based company. The seven people on the trip range from 33 to 65 and include a barrister, a retired banker, a former policewoman and a postman.

They will fly to Tehran, then take a connecting flight to Kabul. From there they will travel to Bamiyan, site of the giant stone buddhas destroyed by the Taliban.

Despite losing six of its eight planes to shelling, Ariana Afghan Airlines is now operating again, and the group will use internal flights to visit Herat and Mazar-i-Sharif, site of the bloodbath in which hundreds of Taliban prisoners of war were killed after an uprising.

“It’s not about the ego trip of being the first on the scene; it’s about seizing the opportunity while you can because the situation may well get worse,” said Gary Day, 42, a freight administrator at Heathrow who will be on the trip. “To experience things that are different, that’s the start and finish for me.”

Hinterland Travel, of Godstone in Surrey, is promising greater creature comforts by taking its own bus to the country and travelling overland through Herat, Kandahar and Kabul. The trip for up to 20 people starts on April 17 and costs £1,680, but places are filling up fast. Both companies say their detailed local knowledge minimises any risks.

Some who have signed up visited the country in the 1970s and are keen to return. Others want to visit after seeing the stunning scenery in the background of televised war reports.

“Obviously we are going against Foreign Office advice but we do brief our clients very thoroughly and it’s up to them if they travel,” said Geoff Hann, the company’s founder, who will go to Afghanistan next month to plan the trip in more detail. “Getting travel insurance can be a bit of problem, though.”

The Foreign Office strongly advises against travel to Afghanistan, saying: “The threat to foreigners (including British nationals) from terrorist/criminal violence remains high. Activity by armed groups continues in many areas.”

For Iraq, the official advice is a single stark statement: “British nationals should not attempt to visit Iraq.”

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