Twice a month, Noor Agha Faqiri lights up the kiln at his small workshop around 50 kilometres (30 miles) northwest of the Afghan capital to fire a fresh batch of pottery.

Faqiri is one of dozens of potters in Qarya-e-Kulalan (potter's village) in the picturesque Istalif district, but many have ceased production since the Taliban's return to power in 2021 as the distressed economy has led to sales plummeting.

Faqiri, however, is determined to carry on.

"A business that your parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents have worked on should not be let go because it is particularly blessed," the 53-year-old told AFP during a visit.

"My children are also looking at the family business and want to maintain it in any circumstances and prevent it from going under."

Afghanistan has a centuries-old tradition of pottery across the country, but Istalif's reputation for craftsmanship and quality stands out.

The main street of Qarya-e-Kulalan is lined with pottery shops, at least half shuttered because of a lack of business.

- Scenic village -


But those still open display a dazzling array of jugs, pots, bowls and plates glazed with an eye-catching turquoise, aquamarine and earth-brown finish.

Most customers are day trippers from Kabul, who make the 90-minute drive to picnic in the hills or alongside the rivers surrounding the scenic village.

But wholesale merchants also occasionally show up with bigger orders for hotels and guest houses across Afghanistan -- and beyond.

"Previously, foreigners would come, and people from other provinces would come to see Istalif as it's one of the ancient, green places for tourism," said potter Abdul Hameed Mehran, 32.

The pottery is still made the same way it has been for centuries.

Clay from the surrounding mountains is thrown on wheels that are spun by the potter's feet as his hands deftly work.

"The work that I do is a matter of pride for me," he says.

"It is a source of pride for me that we make items like this in Afghanistan."

- 'Innovative work' -


Mehran throws around 70 to 100 different pieces a day, depending on demand, which are then carefully stacked to part-dry naturally before the monthly bake.

"I come here again and again because new items are always being made and they are good quality," said Shah Agha Azimi, 25, a customer from Kabul.

"They are innovative in their work."

Locals say only around 30 of 80 families involved in the business are still operating because of the economic downturn.

Still, traditionalists such as Faqiri would welcome the competition.

"When I see shops closing I feel heartbroken. I want every shop next to me to be open and our business to improve day by day," he said.

"One would be happy seeing the trade in the market. One feels warmth in their heart while working."