Herat (Dari: هرات) is a big, relatively wealthy city in western Afghanistan.
Herat is the third largest city in Afghanistan, located in the western part of the country, close to the border with Iran. It is called Nagin Aseeya or Diamond of Asia in some literature. The city has an eventful history of more than 3,000 years. It was destroyed and rebuilt many times; perhaps most notably it was destroyed by Tamerlane in the 1300s.
The people are very friendly and hospitable to foreigners and are also more religious than people in Kabul. Many of the young understand English or other foreign languages. It is relatively safer than other provinces of Afghanistan except Kandahar.
The attempted revolution against the communist government in Afghanistan began in 1979 in Herat with demonstrations that exploded into something larger when government forces shot some people, provoking a group of young officers to distribute weapons from a military armory to the crowd. They soon conducted a massacre of both Afghan communist officials and Russian advisors. That brought first bombing of Herat that killed over 20,000 and then a Russian invasion of the whole country.
Ismail Khan, one of the officers involved, soon became the main mujahideen leader in this region. When the Russians finally withdrew in 1989, he ruled Herat until the Taliban takeover in the mid-1990s, and the city changed its face due to the many development works he undertook. He resisted the Taliban and even tried to attack their capital city, Kandahar, but they defeated him, then captured and imprisoned him until he escaped and fled to Iran. When the American-led alliance invaded, his forces liberated Herat before the invaders reached Kabul. In the Karzai Government, Ismail Khan became the governor of this province and built on his earlier works, but later he was removed from the governorship.
The Herat International Airport is 15 km south of the city just east of the road towards Farah. Daily flights from Kabul are available from Kam Air and Ariana for 3500 Afg. UNAMA and UNHAS operate flights between Kabul and Herat, occasionally via Bamiyan, available to staff of partner NGOs.
A bus service is available from Mashhad in Iran, buses are supposed to leave at 07:00 from the bus terminal but departure times are flexible, be there early. Arrival at the border is around noon and in Herat a bit after 15:00. Border procedures are relatively straightforward.
Overland travel by car can be both time-consuming and dangerous. The road from Kandahar has been rebuilt but is extremely dangerous as it passes through Helmand and Farah, both which are war zones. The roads from Iran and Turkmenistan are both in good shape, the later one being tarred, although with occasional craters. There are occasional security incidents on the road from Turkmenistan as trouble spills over from unstable Badghis province. Get up-to-date advice before attempting this route. The A76 highway connects to Mazar-e Sharif via Maimana. Upgrading of the road is not yet completed, largely due to the kidnapping of the construction team in April 2009. This route is not recommended. The central route to Kabul via Chagcheran and the Minaret of Jam is a very rough 3-6 day journey, sleeping in chaikanas along the way. However, from Bamiyan, the longer northern route to Kabul is safer than the southern route.
Ghala Ekhteyaradin, Takht Safar, Bagh Milat, Bagh Shaidayee, Masjid Jami, Howz Charso, Minarets, Poli Malan (Malan Bridge), Gowhar Shad Tomb, Gazer Gah Sharif, Sang Haft Ghalam, Dig Masjid Jami and tens of other beautiful places exist in Herat, and they are really worth a visit.
- 1 The Friday Mosque (Jama Masjid of Herat, مسجد جمعه هرات). More than 800 years old, full of life and incredibly beautiful. Be sure and seek out the craftsmen's shop behind the main entrance, where you can watch them cut tiles and lay out new pieces for the building.
- 2 Herat Citadel. On a hill to the west of the old city, with great views overlooking the city. It has reopened to visitors after being used by the military to store ammunition for the last few years, and is under restoration by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture. It has an eerie deserted feel, and you're free to roam and climb around all you want. However, be a little careful as some of the paths are slightly precarious. The guards generally demand a US$5 entrance fee, though bargaining can get you in for less, or even for free.
- 3 Herat National Museum. Housed in the Citadel the Herat National Museum, the collection is showcases the history of the region. However, many pieces have been either lost or looted.
- 4 Mousallah Complex. Once a mosque, a medressa, and a mausoleum, all that remains is a single, precariously tethered minaret and the large domed tomb of Gowhar Shad, who commissioned the original complex. If you have time, wait for the keeper to come unlock the tomb, this might involve asking the guard to call, he will ask for a few dollars it's worth it to see the interior. At the very back of the park behind the mausoleum, part of a second minaret, part of the madrassa, can be found with a rusting tank parked nearby.
- 5 Minarets of Sultan Baiqara (next to the Musalla Complex). The 4 minarets are all that remains of the medressa that he built. The new Iranian-built road cuts directly through them, two on each side. Most of the once beautiful blue tiling has vanished, though the floral outlines remain.
- 6 Tomb of Jami. Jami was a very famous 15th-century Sufi poet. His tomb is highly revered, and popular with local women. To get here, walk roughly a kilometre north from the Baiqara minarets along the main road. When you get to a junction with a large monument in the center, look out to the left and the large building that looks like a mosque is the one. Otherwise, there is a taxi stand near the junction.
- 7 Gazar Gah. A large and famous sufi shrine of Khoja Abdullah Ansari, tiled in blue with Kufic calligraphy. His tomb is the large blue structure at the back. There is no entrance fee, but donations are appreciated.
- 8 Takht-e Safar. A very old and famous park near the mountain close to Gazar Gah.
- 9 Military Museum (next to the US consulate). An overwhelming collection of weapons and military equipment left behind after Afghanistan's numerous invasions. Upstairs is a display in memory of the Soviet invasion.
- Take a shower in the huge subterranean Hammams.
- There are several antique shops on the north side of the mosque that sell jewellery, tea pots, old coins and traditional clothing. Sultan Hamidi (0774282153) will happily show his photograph in the Lonely Planet guidebook, demonstrate any instruments he has for sale, and direct you to the glassblowers' workshop where many of his wares are made. Bargain hard and in Afghanis.
- There is also a silk bazaar near Chahar Su and the Friday Mosque, where you can watch the weavers at their looms, and bargain on scarves and cloth.
- There are money changers near Chowk Gulha and along Bagh-e Azadi, north of the old city.
- Western Union. Bagh-e Azadi, near Da Afghanistan Bank.
- Afghanistan International Bank (AIB). Bagh-e Azadi. Has an ATM but is closed on Fridays.
- New Kabul Bank. Has a branch in Herat. It also has Western Union services.
- Bank Alfalah Limited, ☏ . Herat Branch, Ground Floor, Chamber of Commerce & Industries, Herat Blood Bank Street,
Herat has a mixture of traditional and modern foods. While in Herat do not forget to try Kichiri Goshti and Chainaki. Also Halwa Sohan Herat, Shirperra Zafarani and Dashlama Herati are the best sweets.
- Chaikanas are plentiful, and serve cheap local Afghani food.
- Shahiste Restaurant, jad-e Badmurghan, is in the Marco Polo Hotel and is the one of the best restaurants in the city. The menu changes daily, and usually features several Iranian/Afghani options. Meals from around 200 Afs.
- Arghawan Restaurant, next to the Nazary Hotel, serves kebabs and pizza, with a garden for hookah. Women may be assigned to a small "family room" at the back. Meals from around 200 Afs.
- Fardeen Supermarket, jad-e Ghomandani, about two blocks north of Bagh-e Azadi. A well-stocked supermarket with plenty of western and Iranian imports.
- 1 Thousand and One Nights, Near new US consulate (hill above University). Rice, kebabs, shisha. Waiters are dwarves in bright blue shirts, black trousers, and striped waistcoats. While this may seem patronizing, the restaurant offers them decent jobs where they would otherwise be unemployed.
- Jaam Hotel, in the old city west of Darb Khosh, +93 (0) 40 223 477. Has 30 basic double rooms, all sharing 2 squat toilets and 2 showers. Management speaks some English and are very friendly, and there is a restaurant on site. 300 Afs.
Guesthouses are recommended for longer stays
- Marco Polo Hotel, Jad-e Badmurghan, ☏ , , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. The most popular "western standards" hotel in the city. Internet access, breakfast, laundry and transport is included. US$30-40 per night.
- Park Hotel (Just south of Girdha Park on the road from the airport), ☏ . Oldest hotel in Herat, built in the 1930s, it reopened after being occupied by the military. Has a faded, grand old haunted house feel. Large, high-ceiling rooms have 3 single beds and large tiled bathrooms with western toilets. Surrounded by trees on secure grounds. From 1000 Afs per night, for three persons 2000 Afs.
- Baharistan Hery Hotel, Taher Fushanji Ave. (In the Arefi Business center), ✉ email@example.com. A western-style hotel on the same street as the Marco Polo Hotel. Internet and heating system available. Around 20 rooms and a terrace with views of the city. Staff are helpful. There is no restaurant inside but there are many nearby. Double room for 2000 Afs.
- 1 Nazary Four Star Hotel, Walatay St, ☏ , . A Dubai-esque tower block on the main east-west street. US$60 for an en suite double but discounts are available. Rooms have a/c, heating, satellite TV and LAN internet.
Herat is one of the safer cities in Afghanistan. However, there are sometimes small explosions attributed to political parties which are trying to make a point or create the impression that the city is not safe. Shootings are also common during personal disputes. Gun battles between the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police are not unusual.
Be quiet, respectful and dress appropriately when visiting mosques and shrines. These are holy places of worship and should not be treated as tourist attractions. Be discreet with your camera.
Chisht-i-Sharif is 177 km from Herat city. As you approach it across a plateau, you can see the two famous domes of Chisht. The town with its meandering bazaar street sits in the ravine between these plateaus. Winding down and up, you will find an avenue of pine trees leading directly to two ruined buildings now standing in the middle of an extensive graveyard. Experts argue as to the purpose of these buildings. Some speak of them as mausoleums. Others see them as parts of a grand complex of buildings.