Teetering on Crumbling Walls + Hash with a Baba in Ancient Bactria
Updated January 2023, Getting High on Old Balkh: Old Walls, Blue Tiles & Hash was originally written in January 2019
Welcome to Old Balkh.
First Stop: Haji Piyada
It’s almost unbearably hot, even in September as the dust settles. Today we left Mazar e Sharif with Madhi and Elyas leading the way to the first stop at Haji Piyada Mosque (also called Noh Gonbad Mosque. English: Nine Cupola Mosque). Or I should say what remains, Haji Piyada is the oldest known Islamic structure in Afghanistan. Carbon dating estimates the building being built around 794 AD and has been badly damaged over the years.
As we walk away from having a look at what remains of Haji Piyada we were stopped by an elderly man on the way out, I assumed he was either asking for a donation or to question where we were from and what we thought of Afghanistan. Once I heard the word ‘hashish’ enter the air, mixed in the string of Dari he spoke I knew what was coming.
Madhi looked at us and said, “he’d like to know if you want to smoke some hashish.”
بله (Baleh), I mean we are in Afghanistan after all
The frail turban-clad, bearded baba motioned us to follow him into the trees on a narrow scorched earth path.
Isn’t this the scene all those Taliban videos they showed us on the news when I was in high school warned us against?
Nah, I think he’s safe. There’s a dog and puppies following him. All dog people are good people right?
We arrived at his small home where he welcomed us to sit in the shade of the trees at the front step. He ran inside to grab his hashish and his bong so he could prepare the morning rip. Oh did I mention there were puppies? He also had puppies.
Our new friend returns with all his supplies in hand and begins preparing the hash, all the while telling us his life story. Apparently, his entire family was killed (I am assuming by the Taliban) and felt as though he had no other purpose in life aside from becoming an expert in growing hash. He even proudly showed us his plants and tried to gift us some to take for the road (I didn’t want to take any more from him than we already were, so I declined several times), good old Afghan hospitality at its finest.
Thinking About Visiting Afghanistan? Check Out My Giant Afghanistan Travel Guide
High On Old Balkh
After getting adequately stoned we said our goodbyes and headed for the nearby crumbling walls– the Bala Hisar of Old Balkh.
These are the old walls of the ancient Bactrian Kingdom. These walls have over 2,500 years’ worth of history.
From the alleged birthplace of Zoroaster and Zoroastrianism to the times of the Greco-Roman Empire led by none other than Alexander the Great. Later the ancient city came to be inhabited by Buddhists for a stint before Genghis Khan leveled the Bactrian Kingdom, only to have Timur come along later to decimate and rebuild the ancient walls yet again.
The Bala Hisar at one point in time was lush, green, and a major trading point on the Silk Road. Now it lies in desolate desertification 21 km west of Mazar e Sharif.
Can two girls really dress in hijab AND smoke the kush in the Kush? The answer is yes. Read more about what it was like to Travel Afghanistan as a Woman
Curious about traveling the Wakhan as a solo woman? I did. Read all about it here
Madhi grabbed our hands and yanked us up atop the crumbling walls of the remains of the Bactrian Kingdom (Did I mention, normal me has somewhat of a generalized but not paralyzing fear of gravity?).
We walked along the narrow remains of the walls giggling, squinting from the blinding sun, and asking Madhi every question we could think of given our state. At one point I realized that I’d be mildly panicking on the inside had I not already had a decent dose of hashish before climbing up here.
After we came down, off the wall I mean, we made our way past a dead petrified dog in the blistering sun and a giant swing set sat in the middle of the deserted land within the ancient walls on our way back to Elyas and the car to continue on our way through Balkh.
Khodja Parsa Mausoleum & Rabia Balkhi Mausoleum
Next, it was a quick stop for energy drinks (this was an emergency, we were so droopy after the hashish sesh), and next onto Khodja Parsa Park in the heart of Balkh. Khodja Abu Nasr Parsa was a spiritual leader of the Naqshbandi order from Herat who lived during the 15th century. In his memory, a mausoleum was erected in the center of what today is a tree-lined, shaded park.
Just a few steps away is the Mausoleum to Rabia Balkhi, who is a legendary figure in Persian literature, and one of the first (and possibly THE first) female poet in the history of new Persian poetry. Harith, her brother murdered her for having an affair with a slave named Bektash. She wrote her most famous poem in her own blood on a wall as she lay there holding onto her last moments of life in her basement.
An Old Zoroastrian Cave
Did you know that before Buddhism, and later Islam was introduced into what is present-day Afghanistan Zoroastrianism swept the land? In fact, it is believed that Zarathustra, the founder of Zoroastrianism was actually from the ancient city of Bactria (Balkh).
On the side of the highway in Balkh next to a sign there is a large cave, believed to be a Zoroastrian Fire Cave, and possibly the first of its kind (though, I’ve never stumbled across any citations proving this). This cave was a place where Zoroastrians practiced their ancient religion.
The Tomb Of Mullah Mohammed Jan & A Revisit To The Bala Hisar
Near a vantage point on the crumbling walls of Old Balkh, sits a small tomb set amongst agricultural lands at the wall’s edge. This is the Tomb of Mullah Mohammed Jan, a famous Persian scholar. A short climb back up the walls took us up to a vantage point where a troop of young men and boys welcomed us with a warm ‘Salaam Aleykum!’ and excitedly posed for photos.
Read the Mazar e Sharif Travel Guide + Photos
How To Visit The Sites Of Old Balkh On A Day Trip From Mazar e Sharif
- Hire a taxi for the day from Mazar, expect to pay about 1,500 AFS (about $20 USD) for the 5-ish hour trip
- I recommend hiring a guide, such as Let’s Be Friends Afghanistan to arrange your trip, especially if you’d like to learn about the history and facts about the sites you’ll visit
- You can arrange the trip on your own, but I’d recommend reading up on the history before departing so you understand what you’re looking at
- Guesthouses and hotels can arrange a taxi driver for you, just ask
- You will stop at: Haji Piyada Mosque, Bala Hisar (Walls of Balkh), Khodja Parsa Park & Mausoleum, Rabia Balkhi Mausoleum, Tomb of Mullah Mohammed Jan, and an ancient Zoroaster Cave. There are many small shrines and mosques in Balkh as well, so there is the possibility of additional stops
Where To Stay In Mazar e Sharif
- Budget: Barg e Sabz Guesthouse $20 USD/night, double
- Midrange: Arsalan Hotel $40-60 USD/night, double
- Splurge: Royal Oak Hotel (Renaissance Hotel) $70 USD/night, double
The Aga Khan Development Network with the help of several foreign groups are working to restore and preserve several of the sites mentioned in this article. If you’d like to help support the AKDN click here.
Have Any Questions About Visiting Old Balkh?
Ask in the comments section below.
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46 thoughts on “Getting High On Balkh: Old Walls, Blue Tiles & Hash”
Thanks for the info at the end. I’m planning to cross from Uzbekistan and head to Mazar-i Sharif. Have you done that border crossing before?
This is hilarious and you are absolutely wild, I love it.
I can’t believe you would condone this behavior, sickening
HAHAHAHA! I’m loving this!
Awesome blog post here!
Amazing! Love the combination of history, storytelling and photos.
OMG great post! You had me glued to the screen the entire time. Stay safe out there
Glad you liked it, thanks for reading!
Was just forwarded this post from a friend, great read!
Thanks for taking me back in a time warp! I was in Mazar e Sharif in the 70’s on a trip from London to Delhi, and Afghanistan was a highlight of the journey. You brought this old fart back to his youth.
Glad that it gave you a blast from the past! I’d be curious how it compares then vs now
You’re wild! This was a great read as I can’t think of many bloggers who would go to Afghanistan let alone smoke hash there
Haha I mean when in Balkh right?!
Thank you for sharing my home of Balkh with the world. It has been many years since I have been back as I live in the UK now.
I hope you get to go back for a visit one day soon!
I get why you cut your time short in Kyrgyzstan/World Nomad Games! Looks like you had an amazing time in Afghanistan
I wish I could have stayed longer at WNG, especially now knowing it won’t be in KG in 2020!
I visited Mazar i Sharif in 2009 and what a trip! We actually had some hash with a bloke at the walls. What a fun time
Oh we were offered there as well, seems to be the tourist thing to do in Balkh!
Great write up!
This was such a refreshing read. Not the typical travel blog bs
Thank you 🙂
I’m planning to do the Mongol Rally this summer and am beyond excited! We are debating ditching the car in Termez for a few days and hopping over to Mazar e Sharif and surrounding areas before returning to the junker and continuing on to Tajikistan for the Pamir Highway. I think this would be a prime opportunity to visit Afghanistan since we’ll be so close anyways.
That’s a great plan. It’s a fairly short drive from the border to Mazar. You can easily see the highlights in 2-3 days including Mazar, Old Balkh and Takht e Rustam. I’d recommend trying to get you Afghan visa before leaving home (especially if your team is American as the DC consulate has been a breeze to deal with). Otherwise it can get quite difficult as many consulates don’t want to issue visas to foreigners once you’re in Central Asia. You other option for visiting Afghanistan would be to grab a visa at the consulate in Khorog (they are still issuing them as far as I know) and cross into the Wakhan at Ishakashim, though I think you would want more time to explore the Wakhan as it’s a great trekking destination. Enjoy the Mongol Rally, there are some really cool places you could get into along the way, especially if you’re not in it to finish first!
We wait to welcome you again in Balkh, thank you for good words about our country
Bravo, great post! I think I am too chicken for Afghanistan, so I love reading posts like these- so thank you for bringing me to Afghanistan through your visuals and words.
Glad you liked it!
OMG I love this! You are such a bold traveler, I only wish to one day be half as brave as you 🙂
Hahahahahaha my cuz hitting that kush in the Kush. Proud of you Nick and all you’ve done
Hope you are doing well!
I’ve only been following your blog for about 2 months now, but this has got to be my favorite post of yours I’ve read so far. What a unique experience! Thanks for showing us the other side of Afghanistan and that it’s more than just terrorism like I see on the news here everyday in the USA.
Thanks for following along. This was definitely one of the more entertaining posts to write, and of course even more fun to experience.
You are just wild. I am planning to go to Afghanistan and thanks to your helpful information and guides I will plan to go with Let’s Be Friends. Keep up the good work, you’re one of the few bloggers I actually read
I know, I’m just over here giving everyone grey hairs! Happy to hear you’ll be visiting with Let’s Be Friends, they’re great
Okay this one got my attention! A funny story, to somewhere many of have never heard of (or at least me anyway!), with suspense, history, and insightful/useful information… My interest in travel blogs has waned over the last couple years, so much fluff that’s lost the spark of the storytelling all the while helping connect us with new faces and places. Thank you for introducing me to Balkh through the hash fog and showing a different note on Afghanistan than I typically see on the telly here at home!
Aww thanks James! I do agree with you, so many travel blogs are trash out there. But I do stumble across some good ones from time to time where people haven’t forgot about the art of storytelling.
You’re nuts and I love it! Two girls smoking hash in Afghanistan, you have quite the interesting life. I also loved your write up on the entire trip about you guys traveling all over Afghanistan. Please keep the posts like this coming because I am living vicariously through you for the next few months until retirement!
Thank you! I’ve got a few more from Afghanistan coming up. How exciting! Hope you have some great travels in your upcoming retirement.
Whoa! Hahaha! This is, possibly, the best and funniest and true-to-real life travel blog posts EVAR! I love it. I can’t think of another blogger that would so cheerfully and humorously write about traveling and ripping a bong! Great stuff! Your writing gets better all the time, I have to say and though I don’t comment on each posting that I read!
Hey, one thing though, it’s past not passed! (“After we came down, off the wall I mean, we made our way passed a dead petrified dog in the blistering sun…”)
I know it is too late for the email but on the site you can change it. (Or not, for that matter, right?)
I still think you may be mildly crazy (or high?) to go to Afghanistan but whatever, right? You’re seeing and enjoying different places and that is what it is all about.
Keep up the great work!
Wasn’t what I was expecting at all out there that day… but I mean I am a kid from Alaska, so when the opportunity presents itself right? Definitely too late for the email but the blog post is fixed thanks to you!
Most everyone thinks I’m a little out there for visiting Afghanistan, so you’re definitely not alone.