Istalif sits nestled in the foothills of the Hindu Kush, around an hour’s drive north of Kabul. The whole district of Istalif has a population of around 25,000 people, made up mostly of Tajiks. Growing fruit and vegetables has been one of the main industries in Istalif for hundreds of years. On the slopes above the town, villagers still have small vegetable plots and orchards of pomegranate, mulberry, peach and apple trees.
The Kolalan, or pottery neighbourhood, is still a distinct area north of the bazaar, locatednext to the Ishan Sahib shrine. Today, 60 potters families reside here and continue a pottery tradition that has changed little over the last four hundred years – the secrets of the glazes and firing techniques have been handed down from father to son for generations. The whole family is involved in the production process; the family head is usually the master potter “Ustad” while his sons are his apprentices, Shagerd. The women of the family are involved in the incised patterns and designs that create the distinct decoration of Istalifi pottery.