"Wings of joy" – Kabul's bird market
War and violence seem a long way off in the Ka Faroshi bird market in the heart of Kabul's old city. For some Afghans weighed down by decades of conflict, a little comfort and distraction can be found in the company of birds. Impressions by Mohammad Ismail
The Ka Faroshi bird market is located in the heart of Kabul's old city, a narrow lane with a few alleys off it, packed with small, mud-walled shops festooned with bird cages
Customers, most of them men, but some blue burqa-clad women too, squeeze down the crowded street, stopping to inspect birds on display, haggle with shopkeepers and buy bird seed and other supplies
Fighting cocks and partridges squawk in bell-shaped wicker cages, while finches, larks and canaries of all varieties hop about in cages, and pigeons coo in small aviaries made of wire
"In Afghanistan, it’s a passion to keep birds," said Rafiullhah Ahmadi, who sells fighting cocks at the market. "Some people love to keep fighting cocks, some love to have partridges and some love to have other kinds of birds. It's a custom in Afghanistan"
Most of the birds come from Afghanistan, caught in the wild or raised. Some are imported from neighbouring countries, such as Iran and Pakistan, but traders said business was down, with few birds being imported these days
Ahmadi said the best fighting cocks come from northern Afghanistan. The most expensive ones can bring up to 1 million afghanis ($14,000)
But the favourite of many Afghans is the chukar partridge, an elegant reddish-grey bird with a black band across its eyes and around its throat, a red beak and black stripes down its side
The partridges are bred for fighting. "Partridges are my passion, I’ve been keeping partridges for about 60 years," said Abdul Khetab, 80, another market trader. "I am Kabul's champion in partridge fighting"
Another trader, Mohammad Zahir Tanha, said birds helped bring relief from the stress of life in the Afghan capital – the countless militant attacks and armed confrontations
And are there any worries about bird flu in the market? "Afghan birds don’t have bird flu, Pakistani and Iranian birds have that," said Gawar Khan, who trades fighting cocks