It was time to say goodbye to my new friends and skoot off to Mazar-i-Sharif. I took a taxi to Sarai Shomali where I joined a minivan in the comfy front seat this time ($12). Sometimes I get special treatment because the locals think I'm a Saudi pilgrim.
The driver's side is on the wrong side of a lot of these cars and it makes passing very dangerous.
Not too far north of Kabul, we entered into a jagged mountain pass. It looked like the land had been raked over by a giant fork. We darted in and out of tunnels and "galleries", half-tunnels that are meant to thrawart landslides from blocking the road. At the top of the pass a sprinkling of powdery snow filled the gaps between rocks.
Several areas had signs warning of landmine danger just off the roadside. Rocks painted either white or red showed where it was safe to walk. Dozens of destroyed tanks littered the fields.
We passed through a narrow gap in the cliff and on the other side the landscape opened up in brown rolling hills, then to a flat desert plain. At one time there was a good electrical grid and big electric poles followed the road. During the civil war, thieves stripped the electrical delivery system of all the wires to sell as scrap.
When we arrived in Mazar around 4:30 PM, I was little impressed by the traffic, noise, and pollution. I trotted around the perimeter of the shrine of Hazarat Ali looking for accommodation in the market before finding the Aria Hotel for $6. I took a cold bucket shower and waited for the Hazan. I walked to the old market to the west of the shrine and found a basic restaurant. Everyone had already finished eating because they wait for that call from the mosque, fork in hand, then totally dig-in. I had a big plate of Kabuli rice, with a generous sprinkling of raisins and a portion of meat buried in the middle. I sat next to a heater contraption that used coal to heat the room and also to heat water in a reservoir for tea. There was a TV and someone switched between a Hollywood basketball comedy, a devotional music program, and Hindi films.
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