Northern Afghanistan

Mazar, Samangan, and Pul-e-Khumri
4 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.


This tour begins in Kabul. The route works its way north through the Salang Tunnel to Mazar-i-Sharif.  From Mazar, the tour continues on to Balkh. We will then travel back south to Kabul.

Itinerary Details

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 sometime 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 east from Mazar-i-Sharif to Kunduz.  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 back to Mazar.

Day 4

Early departure from Mazar to Hiaraton, where you will cross back to Uzbekistan.


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 = $1125 USD pp
2-3 pax = $750 USD pp
4-6 pax = $600 USD pp
7-9 pax = $550 USD pp

Single supplement: $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 breakfasts and lunch.  Accommodation is in double occupancy.
The price does not include alcoholic drinks, dinners, or tips.