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 Thursday, 23 January, 2003, 18:26 GMT
Kabul's bird bazaar takes flight
Bird handler in Kabul bazaar
Songbirds, fighting birds, pigeons - they are all here

In Afghanistan, the keeping of birds as pets has long been a popular pastime.

In one of the oldest quarters of the Afghan capital, Kabul, there is a bazaar that caters especially to bird-keepers.

This is how I make my living, but [the Taleban] would tell us to go and do something else

Baba Qadir
The bazaar is known as Ka Farushi - the "Hay Market".

Ka Farushi is a narrow lane, lined with ramshackle mud brick buildings.

It is located in a dusty quarter next to the Old City's Blue Mosque, near the main bridge across the Kabul River.

This part of the city is a warren of tiny lanes where no cars can penetrate, so the air is filled only with the melodious sound of birdsong.

In tiny open-fronted shops, shopkeepers sell canaries, bulbuls (nightingales), budgerigars and other songbirds.

Refugees return

One old man, Baba Qadir, has been selling songbirds here for many years.

Kabul bird bazaar
People attend the market from all over the country

He says that business is much better than when the Taleban were in power.

"The Taleban used to come here and create problems for us," he says.

"They'd tell us to close our shops. This is how I make my living, but they would tell us to go and do something else."

Another shopkeeper says the bazaar is much busier than even a few months ago.

"A lot of refugees have come back, so that's making more business for us."

Fighting birds are also popular among Afghans and there are hundreds here for sale - big fighting partridges and smaller fighting quails.

Kabul bird bazaar
Men bet large sums of money on bird fights

On a rooftop above the bazaar, a group of men gathers to assess two partridges.

They are kept in individual cages but are chuckling angrily at each other's presence.

The men will bet on the outcome of the coming fight, with bets sometimes rising to thousands of afghanis (local currency).

While some shopkeepers here depend on their earnings to make a living, others - particularly the younger men and boys - often see it as a hobby.

Family tradition

Keeping pigeons is popular - the graceful wheeling and circling of flocks at dusk is a common sight in every Afghan city.

One boy in his teens, with a large walk-in cage of pigeons, says he works here simply because he likes keeping them.

That's why they listen to these songs, just to relax and to rest

Baba Qadir

"People come here from all over," he says.

"Kandaharis, Heratis, Kabulis - they all like to keep pigeons. Some people just like to watch them fly, others keep them in their houses, and some people like to race them."

Many of those working in the bird bazaar are following a family tradition.

A young boy of about 15 cutting thin strips of bamboo to weave into cages is taking over from his father.

"I like working here in the bazaar," he says, "and I expect I'll work here for a long time to come."

Baba Qadir says the long history of troubles in Afghanistan partly explains the attraction of songbirds here.

"People like them because they help to rest your mind,'' he says.

"And that's why they listen to these songs, just to relax and to rest."


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13 Apr 02 | From Our Own Correspondent
31 Dec 02 | South Asia
02 Jan 03 | South Asia
10 Dec 02 | South Asia
13 Sep 02 | South Asia
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