The Shomali Plain begins just to the north of Kabul, a broad valley with towns tucked along the base of the mountains that line the plain. With a local NGO, I visited three towns, Guldara, Farza and Istalaf where they are developing woodlots and fruit tree production. Wood for house and furniture construction, such as poplar, mostly comes from Pakistan and Russia, but can be readily grown in Afghanistan. (Wood for heating and cooking seems to come mostly from oak and cedar forest in Eastern Afghanistan).
The hills above these towns are rocky and barren , but snow melt flowing from these slopes provides water for homes and irrigation for agriculture. In Guldara we visited a farmer growing grapes, plums, apples, cherries, woodlot seedlings, wheat, and many vegetables over a well-tended series of terraces. For water, the farmer was constructing and maintaining a Karez, an ancient system to channel groundwater. Deep pits dug to the level of the water table are lined with stones and then horizontal tunnels dug to connect each pit. The further up the slope, the deeper the pits and the more groundwater can be captured and channeled. To maintain the Karez someone has the extremely dangerous job of regularly clearing the underground horizontal tunnel's connecting the shafts. After touring the terraces fed by this system, the farmer, Samad, invited us to a lunch of yogurt, fresh bread and mulberries in front of a large, clear pool where the Karez emptied.
On to Farza we toured another series of woodlots and could see some of the snow remaining from the previous winter clinging to the mountains above town. Just outside of town, we visited Paghman, where the Royal family used to maintain a summer home (now in ruin) which looked out over the Shomali's green fields fed by the snowmelt. Across a narrow river valley from Paghman, lies the town of Istalaf. Like several towns in this area, during the past decades Istalaf was heavily shelled, but construction of homes and schools is occurring at a rapid pace. Istalaf is becoming an attraction for its production of pottery. Our group was invited in see a potter at work. He was happy to give us a tour of his workshop, but he insisted on his son retrieving his turban if we wanted to film him at work.