Hindu Kush Loop

Mazar, Samangan, Panjshir, Anjoman Pass,

Faizabad, Keshem and back to Mazar

12 Days from the Termez, Uzbekistan

2007 has seen the publication of a new travel guidebook (Lonely Planet), and for the first time in over a quarter of a century, the north of Afghanistan is once again considered safe for travellers.

As the most ancient of Silk Road cities, Balkh's importance cannot be overstated.  From Zoroastrianism to Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Islam, the world's major religions have been present in this metropolis.  Today, Mazar-i-Sharif continues to be an important Islamic pilgrimage site, and the city makes for a fascinating destination to visit.  We will loop around the forbidding peaks of the Hindu Kush, and will visit some of the country's most beautiful valleys.


This route starts at the Uzbek border (Termez) and continues to Mazar-i-Sharif.  From there you turn south, through the Salang Pass to the Panjshir Valley.  You travel the length of the valley, over the Anjoman Pass, to Faizabad.  From there you head to Keshem for some light trekking before returning to Mazar and the Uzbek border at Termez.

Day 1

After crossing the border at Termez, you will be met by our vehicles on the Afghan side of the Friendship Bridge, at Hiaraton.  From Hairaton we will drive through the northern desert past the sand dunes to Mazar-i-Sharif.  We will stay in a hotel in the centre, close to the shrine of Ali.

Day 2

The central square of Mazar-i-Sharif is dominated by the mosque and shrine for which the city is named. According to local lore, this is the burial place of Hazrat Ali, and it is visited throughout the year by countless pilgrims. The shrine, constructed in 1481, is decorated in blue tile and is the most beautiful building in Afghanistan.  As well as being an important religious centre, Mazar is famous for its rugs and carpets, which are sold in the shops around the shrine.

A short distance from Mazar is the city of Balkh, which some authorities claim is the oldest city on earth. Zoroaster preached here some time between 1000-600 BC and Alexander the Great used it as the base for his operations between 329-327 BC. Under the Kushans, Buddhism flourished here, and when the Arabs arrived, bringing Islam with them, they called Balkh the "Mother of Cities." The city was sacked by Genghis Khan but enjoyed a revival under the Timurids. The ancient city walls are still intact. One building of note is the Masjid-i-No Gumbad ("Mosque of the Nine Domes"), constructed early in the 9th century. Only a few examples of mosque architecture from this early period exist anywhere in the world.

Please note: If visiting on a Friday in the spring, we may have the opportunity to catch a Buzkashi match, the traditional Afghan "Polo" game.

Return to Mazar in the evening.

Day 3

Travel south from Mazar-i-Sharif to Samangan.  At Samangan, we will stop to see the Buddhist stupa known locally as Takht-i-Rustam ("Rustam's Throne"). At the base of the hill is a monastery complex consisting of five caves.  Local people prefer to believe that the mound and caves mark the location of the wedding of the semi-mythical Sogdian hero Rustam to the daughter of the King of Samangan, Takhmina. From Samangan we head south toward Pul-e-Khumri, where we will visit the site of the ancient city Surkh Kotal, where King Kanishka carved a giant staircase into the mountainside in the 3rd century A.D.   After a brief visit to the Bazaar at this bustling crossroads, and lunch at a local restaurant, we will head through the Salang Pass (3,363 m) to Jebel Saraj.  The Salang Tunnel, constructed by the Soviet Union (1958-1964), is 2.7 Km long with an additional 5 Km of galleries to keep the approaches free from snow. 

At Jebel Saraj, we will leave the loop road and , we will pass through the Lion's Gate of Panjshir, which is the furthest the Taliban were able to penetrate in their attempts to capture the famed Panjshir Valley.  Commander Ahmed Shah Massoud, who had confounded the Russians with his resistance in the valley during the 1980's frustrated the Taliban's efforts to conquer the valley, winning him the nickname "the Lion of Panjshir."  He was killed by two Al-Qaida operatives on September 9, 2001. We will stay at Massoud's old guesthouse where he entertained visiting journalists and dignitaries during the Afghan civil war.

Day 4:

We will visit his Mausoleum and see other important battle locations during our drive up the Panjshir Valley. After our visit to the Tomb of Massound, our trek up the Panjshir continues to the upper valley.  We will leave the paved road and ascend a steep gorge before emerging in the beautiful and dramatic upper valley.  We will drive past Kuchi nomads with their herds of sheep and camels and seasonal shepherds walking to the high mountain pastures.  As we ascend the gorge, the rugged rocky landscape again turns to green pastures, and vistas of the Hindu Kush peaks emerge.  Most of our day will be spent scouting the middle section of the river from Ostana to the Khawak River.  Time permitting, we will turn off the main valley at Khawak, and head up the famous pass where Alexander the Great led his army in a mid-winter forced march.  In the summer, the pass is still a rugged climb, but much tamer than what the Greeks experienced, especially in our 4x4 vehicles!  We will camp near the military camp for our overnight stay.

Day 5:

After spending the night at the military post, we will descend back into the main valley to head up to Parian, at the foot of the Anjoman Pass.  This pass still carried camel and horse caravans to the forbidden Nuristan Valleys to the East, as well as into Badakhshan to the Northeast.  This is also the route to Pakistan and the scene of many explorers' adventures during the late 19th century.  The day will be spent scouting the upper reaches of the Panjshir River.  We will camp at the foot of the Anjoman Pass.

Day 6:

We will cross over the Anjoman Pass, winding up the steep and narrow dirt track that was the lifeline of Massoud's troops during the civil war.  From the most ancient of days, caravans along the Silk Road have crossed this major pass through the Hindu Kush.  We then descend to Kuran-wa-Munjan where we will spend the night at a Guest House.

Day 7:

Drive from Kuran-wa-Munjan to Faizabad via Jurm.  We will stop for a picnic lunch along the Kokcha River and will be able to stop and see the famous Lapis Lazuli mines that have provided the world with this precious stone since the times of ancient Egypt.

Day 8:

Drive from Faizabad to Upper Keshem Valley.  This route takes us along the northern flank of the Hindu Kush, and up into one of the most beautiful and well-watered valleys in Afghanistan.  We will stay at the Guesthouse of the local chieftain.

Day 9:

Trekking in upper Keshem.  A walk through the friendly villages of Keshem, along the riverside to a beautiful picnic location.  The narrow valley is surrounded by snow-capped mountains and fertile fields along the narrow valley floor. 

Day 10:

Trekking in upper Keshem.  A second day of relaxed trekking in the upper valley.  Please note that neither day of trekking requires any equipment.  We will return to our Guesthouse each evening and you will need nothing more than a day pack and walking shoes or light boots.

Day 11:

Drive from Keshem to Mazar-i-Sharif.  This route takes us past the vibrant Bazaar town of Taloqan, most famous for its multitude of horse-drawn carriages that serve as taxis.  After that we will drive past some of the richest agricultural lands of the country, until reaching the charming city of Pul-e-Khumri and then go on to Mazar-i-Sharif. 
Day 12:
Early morning departure for Hiaraton, where you will cross back to Uzbekistan at Termez.


Great Game Travel puts a strong emphasis on security during out trips.  Travel in Afghanistan, if not done properly, can be risky, and there are areas of the country that are definitely no-go areas.  In order to protect our customers, we have a full-time security officer who has 18 years of experience in security matters in Afghanistan.  He is in constant contact with local power brokers and officials to make sure that we avoid any areas that might be experiencing difficulties. 

Further, our drivers and guides have all been trained in security measures as well as first-aid, and defensive driving.  We are careful in choosing only the safest routes and destinations.   If you travel with Great Game you can rest assured that we will take very good care of you. 

To note, our Security Officer reserves the right to alter your tour at any moment in order to protect you during your trip. Please note, taking pictures of women is a very sensitive cultural issue, and can cause the local population to react in violent anger.  We ask that you respect the local culture's sensitivity toward taking pictures of women.  In the past we have had customers disregard our guidelines, and have had serious problems with the local population and local authorities.  Please help us avoid security issues in the future by planning to be circumspect in your picture taking, especially of women.  Our guides have been instructed by our security officer to cancel the remaining part of the trip with no refund for anyone that is endangering their own presence or that of our guides by their behaviour.

Price Quotation

1 pax = $5500 USD pp
2-3 pax = $3999 USD pp
4-6 pax = $3400 USD pp
7-9 pax = $3150 USD pp
Single supplement (Mazar hotel only): $360
Normally we include the following services in our quotation:
  • All documentation and paperwork (visa support, registration, all government taxes and licenses for Afghanistan and Tajikistan).
  • Vehicles and drivers.
  • English-speaking guide/interpreter. (Please enquire for languages other than English).
  • Accommodation and all meals except for dinners while in Mazar-i-Sharif. 
  • Accommodation is in double occupancy, individual tents, or, in a few occasions in traditional tea houses where all on the trip women stay in one room, and men stay in a separate room.
The price does not include tips.