Kabul: where entering your hotel is a daily battle
“I’ll just nip into my hotel for a sec”. There are a number of things you just don’t somehow say in Kabul. And that is certainly one.
A decade of nation-building has resulted certainly in a lot of wall building in the city centre. Places like the Defence Ministry and Interior Ministry rendered invisible by concrete blast protection. The US embassy? Well breathing within 500 metres of it will likely see you terminated with extreme prejudice.
Out of town, the lovely Shomali Plain is still fringed by the dazzling white peaks of the Hindu Kush. But the army bases here are now surrounded by the ‘NATO-Brutalist School of Architecture’: Hesco.
So it is that the snow-covered vineyards now back away onto vast fortifications of sand filled bags, each a couple of metre high and as many wide. You’ve seen ‘em in Iraq – you see ‘em now here. The Hesco company, continuing to do very well as Uncle Sam invades his way around Asia.
Setting your ‘daily goal’ low
Which brings me to our hotel in the centre of town, where moving from street to bedroom is, every day, a real accomplishment. If like me, you believe in setting your daily goal low, achieving it and putting your feet up, then this is for you too.
To gain access, you first stop your car at the outer barrier. A man in a black uniform with kalashnikov will come and look at you. You flash your cardboard accreditation on the dashboard which is essentially a permit to drive into the hotel you are staying at.
Photo gallery: Afghan war graffiti
You are now allowed inside the first blast wall. Now you can see the real blast wall of the hotel compound- a cream-coloured affair perhaps eight metres high at least.
Another barrier. This time the man with the mirror (and AK47) will inspect under the chassis for bombs.
You can proceed four metres to the outer steel gate. It eventually opens to reveal another even bigger gate the far side of the outer gate. Here at least eight more black-uniformed men (yes – fully kalashnikoved up of course) will search the car and then bring out the dog to give it all a nasal once-over.
Then the car can go through the inner steel gate and inner blast wall in to the courtyard and it has reached the hotel reception.
The final barrier before ‘Salaam’
But you have not. Nor has any baggage in the vehicle. Everything must come out and go through the airport scanner. Everything electrical must be switched on. Cameraman Stewart Webb’s kit will all come out and be gone through.
They know us of course. It’s “Salaams” all round and “Chito rasti?” “Sho basti” — “You OK?” …”I’m fine thanks” with which every Afghan conversation must begin in all but circumstances of near-death or extreme violence.
Doesn’t matter – everything must be gone through. Every time.
Why? Because they need to. There are very few major hotels in Kabul and each of them is very much a target. This one was shot up badly in a grenade and bomb attack not so long ago. Westerners were sought out in the gym here and shot dead as they exercised.
So the only critique I would make is that it’s needed – and these guys are good at what they do. And there are more men in black with kalashnikovs on the roof of the hotel too – just in case.
So my two handy travel hints for this part of Kabul?
Don’t even think of nipping quickly in and out of the hotel. And if you need the loo – leave plenty of time.
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