Discuss as:

In ancient bird market, Afghan troubles fade away

Sebastian Rich /NBC News

Merchants ply their trade in Kabul's bird market.

By Sebastian Rich NBC News

KABUL – In one of the oldest quarters of Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, there is an ancient bazaar that caters to a very niche market: the sale of birds.

The Ka Farushi bazaar, located near the Pul-e Khishti Mosque, is also known as the Alley of Straw Sellers.

The directions are a little hairy, but here goes:

Off a smelly traffic-choked street there is an alley barely wide enough for two men. Take that to a smaller alley that in turn winds almost impossibly to an even smaller one. The centuries old thoroughfare is lined with ramshackle, collapsing, mud brick buildings.

Sebastian Rich/ NBC News

A man gets a close shave on the way to Kabul's bird market.

After walking past an old man having a close razor shave, the hum of Kabul's endemic traffic will thankfully begin to fade away. If a small boy thrusts two fat white doves in your face, keep moving. Step past an aromatic bakery, and you've found yourself in Kabul's ancient bird market.

This part of the city is a warren of tiny lanes where no cars can enter. It’s the kind of area that makes you feel like you’ve gone back in time, to a period many centuries ago. The air is thick with deals in the making and the trill chirping of birdsong.

Sebastian Rich / NBC News

Cages in Kabul's bird market.

In tiny open-fronted shops, merchants sell doves, parrots, pigeons and a variety of songbirds. Plus the occasional rabbit for the pot.

When I last visited, three old friends, Abdul Samad, Deen Mohammad and Qalander Shah were passing the time chatting about everything under the sun.

Mohammad and his friends said they have been coming to Ka Farushi for over 18 eighteen years. Mohammad had one little bird for sale, a “Jal” for $23.

I got the impression that the sale of the bird was of little import. Good conversation and companionship were more the order of the day for the three friends.

Sebastian Rich/ NBC News

Birds for sale in Kabul's ancient bazaar.

In the late afternoon light, as the sun lost its intense summer heat, the beating of hundreds of small wings could be heard as flocks of doves gracefully rose over the Afghan city. 

Lost in the centuries-old winding alleys of Ka Farushi, the troubles of Afghanistan seemed a distant memory, for the moment.