This village 50 minutes drive out of Kabul is a terrible reminder of the devastation caused by the bitter war fought for the area by the Taliban and the Northern Alliance. Today it is mostly in ruins, but a small artisan initiative is breathing tentative life into the place. The small handful of craftsmen are mostly potters and their creations have a compelling rustic beauty. The colours they use are mostly royal blue and deep turquoise. The merchandise ranges from salad bowls and plates to jugs and teacups and saucers.
To reach Istalif head out of Kabul on the Shomali road. After 45 minutes you will pass a white roadside petrol pump on the left and see immediately a turning to the left marked by NGO signposts. This dirt road leads up in to the foothills of the mountains that fringe the Shomali plain. Follow the road for about 20 minutes. As you climb, you will come across a sharp hairpin bend, shortly afterwards, as you continue along the road you will come up over the brow of the small hill you are climbing. Bear left at the intersection here and you will then descend in to a valley with a beautiful river at the bottom. On the other side of the river is Istalif.
The first thing you will come across as you enter the village is the ‘Chai Kana’ or teahouse. This is a good place for some biscuits, naan, green tea and gossip. This bit of the village is fairly intact, but continue up through the village and you will find devastated streets and derelict buildings just behind. On the old (now destroyed) main thoroughfare you will find the outlet for the local pottery made in Istalif. An old man is happy to let you browse and will explain local history for those with enough Dari to understand him. He is a keen businessman and you should haggle for any purchase you intend to make, but after having seen the ruins the people of Istalif live in, it feels right to pay a little over the odds. At the top of the village is the mosque and some large trees. The view of the plain is wonderful from here. As long as prayers are not going on, you are allowed to sit in the shade and contemplate the scene laid out before you.