Travel: 192-Part Guide to the World - Part 1 Afghanistan

OFFICIAL NAME

The Islamic State of Afghanistan (though the self-proclaimed Taliban government prefer The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan).

POPULATION

About 20 million.

SIZE COMPARED WITH THE UK

Two and a half times larger.

ENVIRONMENT

Arid, rugged mountains, cold in winter, hot in summer, prone to earthquakes and desertification.

BEST MONUMENT

The ruinous Timurid architecture around Herat was favorably compared by Robert Byron (in his book The Road to Oxiana) to the mosques and minarets of Samarkand. Meanwhile, at Bamian, the world's tallest free standing Buddha still survives as a relic of the Silk Road. Much defaced - as a superstitious idol - since the arrival of Islam in the 6th century, the Buddha is at risk today of being entirely demolished.

MOST FAMOUS CITIZEN

The Islamic philosopher, mathematician and doctor of medicine Avicenna (979-1037). Although sometimes referred to as an Arab, he is claimed by the Afghans as their very own.

NATIONAL DISH

Aushak - flat dumplings stuffed with chopped scallions, steamed and topped with ground beef, yoghurt and mint.

BEST MOMENT IN HISTORY

The declaration of independence from the UK was 19 August, 1919.

WORST MOMENT IN HISTORY

The 1979 Soviet invasion, which has, so far, led to hundreds of thousands of deaths and 20 years of civil war.

ESSENTIAL ACCESSORY

For men: a beard and a flat Pashtun cap. For women: a full-length, all- enveloping burqa.

HOW TO BEHAVE

Act like a man.

HOW NOT TO BEHAVE

Ask for gin with your tonic.

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