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What Attracts Tourists To Afghanistan?


A minibus carrying foreign tourists in Afghanistan was attacked a few days ago, and the Taliban claimed responsibility. Several were injured, but no one was killed. The news that there are even tourists in Afghanistan took us a little bit by surprise. We wondered who goes to Afghanistan as a tourist. And given the obvious dangers, why do they go? It turns out there are actually several operators that run tours for intrepid travelers. We reached out to Marc Leaderman, director of Wild Frontiers Adventure Travel in London. Thanks so much for joining us.

MARC LEADERMAN: My pleasure.

CHANG: We should first say the minibus that was recently attacked was not one of your tours. But you have led groups in Afghanistan, and I just have to ask why.

LEADERMAN: I think everyone's got their own individual reason. For the people that have traveled with me - I've taken people who have been fascinated by the beautiful mountain ranges - you've got the Hindu Kush, you've got the Pamir range. I've got other people who have been fascinated by the culture and the history and want to see some of the legacy of the empires that have sat in Afghanistan. So I think everyone's got their own personal story for wanting to go and visit.

CHANG: Do you ever get some people who seem to be into it for war voyeurism?

LEADERMAN: Rarely, but yes. If we find that what they're wanting to do is, as part of an ego trip, travel to dangerous places, we tell them very frankly that that's not what we're about. We are trying to show people that for many, many Afghans, life goes on as normal. And for the most part, people are incredibly friendly and hospitable. That's the Afghanistan that we're trying to show. We're not trying to take people to give them an adrenaline thrill.

CHANG: How do you ensure people's safety? Can you ever take enough security precautions?

LEADERMAN: To be honest, we are faced with this, I mean, just in Afghanistan, but wherever we travel these days around the world. We're quite open with people that no, we can never guarantee people's safety. We encourage people to make their own decision.

And what we say to people is we as a company - obviously, in our interest, we want to take people there safely, show them an amazing trip, and bring them back safe and sound. We'll explain to them how we do that, the risk assessments that we make, but then we leave it up to individuals to make their own mind as to whether or not that is a risk that they are prepared to take.

CHANG: I mean, it is a country with an incredibly rich heritage. If you could just tell us - what are some of the specific things that you show people?

LEADERMAN: We've got two very different trips that go to Afghanistan. One is up in the very northeast of the country, the Wakhan Corridor. It's a very remote, very beautiful part of the country. And interestingly, it was a part of the country that was never taken by the Taliban, so it's always been a peaceful part of the country. They dress in beautiful, bold red colors. They're incredibly friendly. And people go to that part of the country really just to experience a beautiful mountainside of Afghanistan that is rarely seen in the news.

Then we have another trip that takes people to more famous places such as Kabul, Herat, Mazar and Bamiyan. In those places, you will see monuments dating back hundreds - in some cases, thousands - of years. Herat, for example, has got a citadel which has been recently renovated that dates back almost 3,000 years. And then you've got evidence of all the empires that have been through Afghanistan.

CHANG: Marc Leaderman, director of Wild Frontiers Adventure Travel, speaking to us from the BBC in London. Thank you so much for joining us.

LEADERMAN: My pleasure. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.