The Intercontinental Hotel is a long huge hotel and maybe the oldest hotel still running in full swing, built over 50 years ago by the King who was forced to leave his country when the Russian took over. It is situated on a hill lock that looks over the entire of Kabul. Though it might be old, it has all the latest facilities that any rated hotel need to function –lifts, hot bath, clean towels and bed sheets, bedside lamps, arm chairs, spacious and comfortable. It has a wedding hall to the left of its entrance and some steps up to the right, is a beautiful park which looks over the outskirts of Kabul. The park is green with varieties of flowers, walking space and ample benches for family picnics.
The lobby a large comfortable sitting/ sitting area opposite to the reception area.
Hotel registration and hellos to the Colombo Plan officials who came from Colombo and the Afghan CP team, and I couldn’t take the chill anymore and kind of shouted at Jawed for not telling me to bring warm clothes when he mailed me. He said he meant I didn’t have to bring the traditional Afghan clothes. I couldn’t blame him because of his English standard.
My luck or the consideration of the hotel manager, I got one of the best rooms in the hotel. The best thing about the room was the view from its balcony. It looked over the whole Kabul and right underneath the verandah was a garden of beautiful red leafed trees. Little down the slope is a jogger’s park with beautiful gardens and further on the left side is a mosque. On the extreme right is a police watch post where security personnel are always awake and watching. For the next one week I would wake up at before 6 am at the call of the mullah from the mosque, which was something new for me because I haven’t woken up before 6am in a year back in Bhutan. I would go out and look over misty Kabul and enjoy the scene of joggers and early walkers.
The chill was getting to my bones, so Jawed took me shopping in Kabul. Traffic was heavy as it was Friday. Some shops were open and beautiful gowns in bright colours starred out of shop windows. Who wore all those dresses? Afghan women. When? During marriages Jawed said. ‘If an Afghan woman wants to wear one of these dresses, she has to get married and if she wants to wear it again, she should get divorced and marry again,’ I humoured. We went into shops after shops and I could find nothing I liked because they were either too bright or shiny or too big, designed for robust Afghan women. I saw some embroidered Afghan ponchos but they were too big for me. I tried on a traditional Afghan top but it was too big for me. I liked it and I was told it can be altered. No Afghan man would touch a woman not related to him, in my case Jawed being my friend and the only male I knew there, took my measurements.
Looking at the furniture in the shops I wouldn’t have mind settling down in Afghanistan. It was very overwhelming. The images shown in the media and what I saw there were different. People still lived in houses, drove on dusty roads and shopped despite the war and threats of bomb attacks; children pestering their parents for toys, young women shopping for beautiful dresses, young men studying fake Adidas and Nike shoes, mothers shopping for vegetables and beggars running after shoppers. Road side vendors sell shawls, CDs, food, everything like the vendors in Jaigoan. But it was sad to see little child beggars at the corners of streets. They would smile and ask for money. Like beggars everywhere, if someone gives one of them money, the rest swarms around the person. Jawed advised me not to give them anything, but the warning was too late. I was surrounded and followed around.
It was very amusing to see ‘walking banks’ –men and boys with bundles of money. 1 USD is equal to roughly 49 Afghanis and I never saw an inside of an Afghan Bank. The ‘walking banks’ also sell sim cards and recharge vouchers with exchanging money. They have lots of cash on them that I had found it hard to believe those banks were not robbed and that Afghanistan was that safe for men and young boys to walk around with bundles of money. When a car stops, they rush near the car and wait to start their business.
Tired and cold I returned to my room, ran a hot bath and settled to retire for the night in a war torn country.
To be continued…