It is certainly fun and really interesting to go shopping in Kabul. There are two main shopping areas – Chicken Street and Flower Street – and both are great hunting grounds for souvenirs. Many places are selling what look like antiques but as these are not allowed to be sold, they are in fact reproductions. Many traders in these streets do speak a little English which certainly helps!
It is important to check when entering a shop whether other customers have removed their shoes in respect – if they have then quickly remove yours too!
Bargaining is the accepted way of shopping in the city and you need to aim to secure your chosen item for about 50% of the initial price – be warned though, the traders are seasoned bargainers in these two main shopping areas so you will have to be firm in your negotiations. If you are a woman, you could find that the trader may refuse to bargain with you so you will have to ask a male friend to do so or you can get your hotel to arrange for a professional translator to help you.
1. Consider a colorful Baluchi
Afghanistan is known all over the world for its beautiful hand-knotted rugs and a Baluchi is an ideal size to buy as it measures 1,2 meters (four feet) x 2.1 meters (seven feet) and is this size as it is made on a small portable loom. Carpet making is one of the country’s oldest traditions and most are made by the Baluchi and Turkoman tribes. The designs are beautiful and it is not surprising that they are often copied by craftsmen in other countries.
Take your time to learn a little about the rugs first. Look carefully at the number of knots each has as the more there are, the better the quality. Rugs are made in wool and silk and feel lovely and soft to touch, but there are some available in polyester and these do not feel good and although they are much cheaper, they are not a good buy. Interestingly, you may be offered some more expensive older rugs that look as though they have been used – and they have! Antique rugs are considered more valuable and an ‘antique’ rug is one that is at least ten years old.
If you do decide to buy a rug, it is worth going to Najeeb Zareb Market as the prices are much lower there than in Chicken Street.
2. Choose some Afghan jewelry
The beautiful blue lapis lazuli is the most popular semi-precious stone, but you will see reddish-orange carnelian and lovely turquoises. Most of the stones are set in ‘gelt’ which in reality is nickel as gold is both rare and very expensive, but you might be able to find some pieces set in silver. In complete contrast, you will see large and dynamic decorative pieces of tribal jewelry and talisman rings set with a large stone that is engraved with the Islamic central prayer.
3. Get a new outfit tailor-made
Awwsom on Danulaman Road is a name that is known across Kabul as the place for good tailoring. You can take your fabric along or choose some there and can have a blouse, shirt, skirt or suit made to measure in a western style. There are rails with a selection of lovely ready-made garments too.
4. Design your wallet or purse
If you like the idea of drawing a design for a purse or wallet to scale on a piece of paper and then watching it being made in front of you, the Ayobi handicraft Store is the place to go! The store is small and crammed with all sorts of different colored leather goods and pieces of leather for you to choose from and if you have a particular piece of fabric that you would like incorporated in the design, take it along too. If you are reading this before you travel to Kabul, buy a couple of zips if you like the idea of having a wallet, purse or even bag made just for you because the local zips are not good quality. Ayobi also has plenty of lovely leather briefcases, handbags and shoes in stock for you to buy.
5. Buy a Nooristan trinket box
If you are wandering down Danulaman Road, pop down the side streets too because in one you will find a small workshop where Afghan artisans are making beautiful Nooristan boxes which they then intricately carve. You will indeed see similar boxes in the markets, but most of these are from Pakistan whereas you know for sure that your chosen box has been handmade in Kabul. These boxes are cleverly made because they can be quickly dismantled and folded flat for your suitcase – what a perfect souvenir!
6. Keep warm with a Pakol
The Pakol is a traditional Afghan hat that is soft and round-topped and is handmade in either sheep or camel wool. This unisex hat is usually in its natural wool color of cream, grey or beige but can be bought in black too.
7. Admire the local embroidery
Kabul is known for its beautiful embroidery work which is painstakingly sewn by the women using patterns that they learned from their mothers. Along with pretty mats, there are tablecloths in various sizes and some of the work is decorated with beads too.
8. Select a beautiful piece of copper
In the markets, you will find stalls piled high with gleaming copperware including some attractively decorated copper plates of various sizes to buy plus some rather unusually shaped drinking goblets.
9. Taste the excellent dried fruit and nuts
Afghanistan is one of the world’s largest producers of dried fruit and nuts and you will find plenty to buy in the various markets. Amongst the popular nuts are cashews, almonds, walnuts and pistachios whilst raisins, and dried apricots are abundant too. The different fruit and nuts are sold by weight, or you can choose one of the mixed assortments – buy plenty though because they are hard to resist!
10. Pack some saffron
Afghanistan has been growing saffron for 2,000 years and the name ‘saffron’ is said to come from ‘zarparan’, in Dari – one of the languages spoken in Afghanistan. It is certainly a developing business and a lucrative one as saffron costs the same as gold to buy in the world market. Following years of war, the Ministry of Agriculture started to distribute saffron corms to farmers for them to cultivate in answer to world demands. The initiative has proved successful and today saffron is grown in 26 provinces. Saffron from Afghanistan is widely regarded to be of the highest quality.