Jalalabad Stories and Tips

Seven Unforgettable Days in Afghanistan

The remains of the two Buddha statues of the Bamiyan Valley and the frescoes in its mountain caves are in the UNESCO World Heritage List. One of these two figures was the highest carved Buddha sculpture in the world before been destroyed by the Taliban.

I had one sabbatical year and wished to emulate the romantic hippie’s way of the sixties, when they travelled overland from Europe to Turkey and further East towards the Kathmandu valleys with the hope of reaching the "Samadhi." Afghanistan was one of the most pleasant stops along their way, especially Kabul, the town so loved by Babur, where the hippies rested for a while, enjoying the quietness. Unfortunately, in 1989 the circumstances had changed for the worse because of the war. I had just been denied the Afghanistan visa in Islamabad; nevertheless I tried to enter that country illegally to visit the Bamiyan Buddha statues. However, in spite of wearing a turban, wide afghan trousers, and having not shaved for one month, I was discovered in Towr Kham, just after passing some kilometres the border into Afghanistan, controlled by the Pakistani.

The Pakistani border officials forced me to back down to Peshawar, escorted by two soldiers until the Khyber Pass. But I was "un enfant terrible" those days and determined to try a second attempt, this time from the wild Kafiristan, one of the 31 Afghanistan Provinces. My plan was to arrive to Jalalabad, from where I would continue by jeeps to Kabul and then to the Bamiyan Valley. That long journey until the Pakistani post of Arandu, in the border with Afghanistan, mainly on foot, in winter, sharing for a time in the Bumburet Valley the form of living of the Kafir Kalash (believed to be the descendants of Alexander of Macedonia), visiting the fabled towns of Dir and Chitral, admiring the splendid Tirich Mir peak, crossing the treacherous high passes of the Hindu Kush, eating only some raisins along the way, "drinking" snow, sleeping in caravanserais crammed with contrabandistas and Patan bandits, and outwitting the Pakistani border posts was, indeed, a very risky one. Here below are some abbreviated impressions of my second entry in Afghanistan and the week that I spent with the mujahidins, as I wrote in my diary:

First Day, 5th January 1989, Thursday. BARIKOWT - NARAY.

Barikowt was protected by mujahidins carrying Kalashnikov AK 47. I met their "commandant" and offered him my Swiss knife as a present to allow me to enter Afghanistan. Then he explained me before a map: "Look! This is the present situation. After eleven years fighting we are about to win the war. Now our front is at the gates of Jalalabad, where you are heading. All Afghanistan is controlled by the mujahidins except Kabul, Herat, Mazar-i-Sharif and some small enclaves in the corridor of Waham, in the Pamir. But the communists only dominate the cities! The rest of the country is owned by the mujahidins!"

I walked until Naray where another mujahidin group invited me dinner rice plus a bread called nan. Suddenly all shot joyfully their Kalashnikov and laughed. I asked the reason and was informed that they had listened in the BBC of London transmitting in Pashto that the Russians would leave Afghanistan on 15th February that year.

Second Day, 6th January 1989, Friday. ASMAR.

That day, in my way to Asmar, I observed the miseries of the war: corpses everywhere with signs of having been pilfered the boots and other possessions, houses bombed, villages razed, women and children fleeing to Pakistan, etc. I will always remember that second day because I saw coming in my direction an armed old man together with a beautiful young girl with lovely green eyes and sensual long black hair, also carrying a rifle. I continued gazing at her and, when we crossed, I turned back and continued staring at her for her unusual appearance in that situation. Then, the man with her also turned his back and directed his rifle towards me. In that same moment one of the mujahidins accompanying me, caught me violently from my shoulders turning me in the frontal direction and yelled me: "Are you crazy? Never put you at the back of an armed man! Fearing to be killed, he will fire at you first. You are very lucky that he did not!

Third Day, 7th January 1989, Saturday. CHAGASERAI.

Charagaserai was a guerrilla stronghold with mujahidins belonging to fifteen different parties fighting against the Communist Government and, sometimes, fighting among themselves. The village was a festival; there were buzkashi games (two groups of horsemen disputing a lamb) and lots of food. I was introduced to the leader of a minor party who promised to send me in a lorry until Shewah, the gate of Jalalabad. There was a contest to shoot to some caricatures on cardboard representing Russian soldiers. When somebody hit the target, shouted: "One Russian less, ha-ha!" And everybody laughed, except me. I felt sorrow for the human being situation. The mujahidins were born in one part of the planet by chance, and the Russians in another part of the same little planet, and now they were killing each other. I went to sleep asking to myself what the meaning of all that foolishness was.

Forth Day, 8th January 1989, Sunday. NURGAL.

After breakfast I was called to embark in an old Russian lorry "Kamaz" going to the front of war, together with legions of mujahidins. Most of them walked. Having a truck was a privilege of the mujahidin parties receiving help from the Western countries or from the wahabbies of Saudi Arabia. I was not immediately accepted in Nurgal. A Hafiz, who was a kind of spiritual mullah directing the prayers (Hafiz is the one who has completely memorized the Koran), suspected of me as being a KGB agent and called me "duchman". Then a mujahidin started to talk to me in Russian employing elementary phrases the type of "kak delo tovarish, vse v poriadke?", but I answered in English that I did not understand. When the nice mujahidins brought me straw to lie comfortably on the floor of the ruins of the building where we all lived, or gave me a candle to write my diary when it became dark, or chai with nan for the dinner, the Hafiz observed disapproving it.

Fifth Day, 9th January 1989, Monday. SHEWAH.

After the first Muslim prayer I was asked: "This is the moment of the truth, engris (all the Europeans are called Engris in Afghanistan), do you come to the war?"

Finally I reached the gate of Jalalabad and could even see the city at the distance. Mujahidins took positions and started to shoot. After the dinner suddenly we heard noise of engines. There were the Russian airplanes flying twice daily from Tashkent to bomb the mujahidins mountainous places for one hour each time. We hid in subterranean holes and tunnels forming labyrinths in the mountains. Every bomb impact blew up several houses. Even in the tunnels the earth trembled around us at every blast and parts of earth fell in our heads. The mujahidins prayed in Pashto: "Kher Allah!" For me, that was more than enough, and gave up my plan to travel to Jalalabad. Surely after the Russians retreat there would peace and could then visit the Bamiyan Buddha statues in my way back to Spain

Sixth Day, 10th January 1989, Tuesday. JIBA. The schedule of the war was as follows:

- 5 AM Wake up. Toilet. First Muslim prayer
- 6 AM Chai and nan
- 7 AM Russian Good Morning: one hour of bombs
- 8 AM Shooting in the front
- 12 AM Break for the second Muslim prayer. Chai and nan
- 13 PM Renewal of hostilities, missiles SCUD and grenades throwing
- 15 PM Break for the third Muslim prayer
- 16 PM Clash intensification, bazookas and machine guns
- 17 PM Pause for the fourth prayer
- 18 PM End of the war journey. Chai and nan
- 19 PM Russian Good Night: one hour of bombs
- 20 PM Fifth Muslim prayer. BBC news
- 21 PM Toilet. Sleep

Seventh Day, 11th January 1989, Wednesday. BAR CHAMARKAND.

That morning I left Jiba to Pakistan surreptitiously together with many prisoners. Some of them asked me socks for their bleeding feet. There were all Afghanis; Russians prisoners were decapitated on the spot (most of the mujahidins used Russian belts that they wore with the communist star of the buckle put down). In our way up the mountains bordering Pakistan there were many women and children heading to the Bar Chamarkand Refugee Camp in Pakistan. In the way down came often many donkeys carrying enormous howitzers, heavy shells and other weapons. Of course, they had preference and we (refugees, prisoners and me) had to let them pass first through the narrow, winding and dangerous paths. That evening I entered Pakistan and some weeks later I travelled to India.

Been to this destination?

Share Your Story or Tip