Huge crowds have gathered on the streets of to join Nowruz new year/spring equinox celebrations, which in 2019 coincide with the country’s centenary of independence.
Security was tight during Nowruz celebrations in Mazar-e-Sharif, where hundreds of police and military personnel where deployed
Decked out in colourful dresses and carrying national flags and plastic trumpets, revellers filled the usually traffic-clogged streets and famous Blue mosque in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif. People from all over the country – as well as some neighbouring ones – have been joining in the fun to celebrate the year 1398.
Celebrations outside the famous Blue mosque in Mazar-e-Sharif, normally full of traffic, which is car free.
Children have joined their mothers on the women’s section of the Blue mosque
Considered a pagan holiday, Nowruz was banned during the Taliban era, but its traditions have been observed for more than 3,000 years and date to the Zoroastrian era. This year, Afghanistan also remembers the signing of the Anglo-Afghan treaty of 1919, which ended years of war and granted the country full independence.
With another four decades of conflict now shaping much of the country’s daily life, festivities across the city were heavily guarded by police and the military. A week ago, gunfire broke out in the city after the president, Ashraf Ghani, appointed a new police chief, disputed by the province’s former governor whose militia make up the majority of the police force.
Many visitors said they were not afraid of attacks and hoped to celebrate peacefully. At the Blue mosque, women in blue burqas wailed at the shrine of Hazrat Ali.
Women pray and cry at the shrine of Hazrat Ali, a pilgrimage site for Sunni and Shia Muslims. Many have travelled far to celebrate the new year and reflect on the hardships of the previous 12 months
I only hope for peace. It hasn’t been easy, but we’re choosing to celebrate this week
“Today is both a happy day and a sad one. I lost two of my children to the war,” says Fatima Sediqui, 60, who travelled to Mazar-e-Sharif from the Afghan capital, Kabul. She cries loudly, her hands pressed against the golden doors of the shrine, a pilgrimage site where the bones of Ali, the cousin of Prophet Muhammad, are believed to lie. Prayer beads rest on Sediqui’s lap as she prays. “My house was hit by a mortar during the Taliban times and it killed my daughter and my son,” the mother of seven says.
Like Sediqui, many of the hundreds of thousands of guests are visitors to Mazar-e-Sharif.
Children enjoy picnics and ice-cream during Nowruz celebrations
Rostam, 45, a Pashto dancer wearing the local shalwar kameez and a small turban, arrived from Sar-e-Pol, a province in the south-west.
Rostam, 45, from Sar-e-Pol Province, performs a Pashto dance in Mazar-e-Sharif to celebrate the new year.
“I’m here to dance,” he says. “During the Taliban times, we weren’t allowed to perform dances anymore, but it’s part of our culture. I grew up in war and this year, we’re celebrating our country’s independence. I want people to visit Afghanistan and experience our culture.” His group of about five men wave their hands to drum and flute playing, tapping their feet to the rhythm.
Men sit in the stadium, watching the the last buzkashi game of the season
Nowruz celebrations, which started at sunrise, also mark the end of the buzkashi season – a central Asian seasonal sport in which horse-mounted players attempt to place a calf carcass in a goal – drawing a throng of men into the outskirts of the city to watch the last game.
Buzkashi attracts large crowds of men – not a single female was watching
Behind the stadium, where the Hindu Kush foothills stretch across the horizon, families are enjoying picnics. Sitting on blankets on the grass, they listen to music from their car speakers. A typical Nowruz meal is a salad made from dried fruit, which is especially popular with children.
Families head to the foothills of the Hindu Kush mountains, just outside Mazar-e-Sharif city, where they have picnics and listen to music
Palau is a traditional meal of rice, meat and vegetables, while Nowruz is a salad made from seven dried fruits
While new year festivities remained calm in Mazar-e-Sharif, a bomb targeting revellers in .
Despite the attack, many have continued to celebrate Nowruz, with boys climbing the hills surrounding Kabul, joking and laughing as they fly their kites.
Boys take to the hills surrounding Kabul, where they fly homemade and shop-bought kites