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Friendly, beautiful Afghanistan was once well known on the backpacking circuit as the place to stop for unparalleled hospitality, fantastic food, great hiking, we'll say it, that legendary hashish. Things, sadly, have changed.

More than 20 years of war and Taliban rule left the dramatic countryside peppered with landmines and reduced many of the finest monuments and minarets to rubble. The poverty left in war's wake has taken an impossible human toll and encouraged the theft and sale of priceless national treasures.

Between 1996 and 2001, everyone was kept under close watch by a skittish and heavily armed military theocracy that could not find legitimacy abroad. Then it became the focal point for the West's wrath because of suspected involvement in the September 11 attacks. The dust has not yet settled, and nobody's burning their burquas just yet. So say a prayer to Allah (or the deity of your choice) for peace, and perhaps beleaguered Afghans will once again be able to welcome the backpacking masses.

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