Written by fallschirmhosen on 03 May, 2010
When you think of Afghanistan, you probably think of wars, maybe Al Qaeda, and maybe the Taliban. Basically, you probably think of bad things. The Wakhan Corridor, however, has historically been known as an area that was free from any of the troubles…Read More
When you think of Afghanistan, you probably think of wars, maybe Al Qaeda, and maybe the Taliban. Basically, you probably think of bad things. The Wakhan Corridor, however, has historically been known as an area that was free from any of the troubles the rest of the country faces (in terms of wars and violence). It was this historical fact that assured me that my visit to Afghanistan would be trouble-free. I wouldn't need to worry about the Taliban, who would reportedly kill a foreigner on-sight. Or, would I?After being in Afghanistan for more than a week, and my only problems being a little snow and a bad ankle, time was coming for my visit to end. The plan was to meet with another tourist on my last evening in Sarhad-e Broghil, then share a car back towards Ishkashim with him. So, after returning from my hike to the Broghil Pass that borders Pakistan, several people in town mentioned to me that this tourist, "Powell", was already in town. Great! A few minutes later I was talking to "Powell", where I then learned his name was actually Paul. We quickly introduced one another and asked how our travels had gone. His were fine, except for the part where he was shot at. Say what!?!?Apparently, just after he crossed the Darviz Pass on the first day hiking, a pass I had crossed a few days after him, and a place in which I had hiked alone on my return to Sarhad-e Broghil, he was shot at. It was most likely a warning shot, just to scare him. However, it was still a gun with a bullet being shot in his direction. He was hiking with a guide (who was scared for his life at this point) and his donkey's owner (who didn't seem to care what was going on). As they only had one place to go, they walked down the pass to the men who had shot at them.Based on Paul's account, he tried to ask them questions, but he did not get any clear answers. They motioned that he should not be wearing his beanie, as he was in Afghanistan and should be wearing a traditional scarf instead. One clearly looked to be in charge, and the other men were also the type you do not want to mess with. They claimed to be hunters, though by their appearance they did not fit the part. In the end, though, they told Paul not to go any further because the Taliban were there. Paul, even though he had never been there before, didn't believe them and kept going.Nothing else happened to Paul after that, and he was just as curious as I as to who it was that shot at him. A little later that night, as I spoke with my guide and a driver, I found out that the local border guards in the area had also spotted that group of men. And, they knew who it was: Taliban. I don't think I ever felt as scared on a trip as I was at that moment. I immediately went back to Paul's guest house and told him what I had found out, and he gave me a long, silent stare before saying, "Huh, I talked with the Taliban."Paul and I now tried to figure out why the Taliban were there. The only reasonable explanation we had was that they use the Wakhan Corridor as a way to smuggle themselves or supplies from Pakistan into Afghanistan, or to reach other parts of Pakistan without being noticed. I had heard that Taliban would kill foreigners on sight, so why didn't they kill Paul. Again, we only could assume that maybe it was because they didn't want to bring unwanted attention to that area, an area they used as a smuggling route.So, if you're thinking about going to the Wakhan Corridor, and are wondering about the safety situation, I can honestly say you will most likely have zero problems. Paul's incident with the Taliban was probably a one-in-a-million chance. I did not meet any other tourists, and have read of no other tourists with such an incident. If you're lucky, though, you may cross with Taliban on their smuggling route and get a chance to speak with them.Paul, the man I met in the Wakhan, re-told his tale of talking to the Taliban in the following article: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1225982/How-I-tea-biscuits-Taliban-British-novelist.html Close
Many tourists to Tajikistan pass by this border crossing as they tour the Tajik side of the Wakhan Valley, not thinking twice about whether or not they want to cross. For many, the name "Afghanistan" is enough to make them stay far, far away.…Read More
Many tourists to Tajikistan pass by this border crossing as they tour the Tajik side of the Wakhan Valley, not thinking twice about whether or not they want to cross. For many, the name "Afghanistan" is enough to make them stay far, far away. I, on the other hand, was not going to pass this border crossing.After getting dropped off by the shared taxi from Khorog, I walked over to the two, armed Tajik guards at the barbed wire fence (though I read recently they are actually Russian army guards). They asked to see my passport, then radioed ahead to the customs/immigration building set up a few hundred yards away. After getting some sort of confirmation, they opened the gate, let me in, and walked me across the bridge spanning the Oxus River to the customs/immigration building.The sight of a foreign tourist crossing into Afghanistan is not a common sight, but not rare, either. The Tajik guards know we probably have money and nice things in our backpacks. So, the first thing someone asked me was, "How much money do you have?" I gave them a rough estimate, which was probably stupid, but I figured they needed to know. They didn't...it was just because I was American and they wanted to know how rich I was. After that, in the hallway of this building, they asked me to empty my bag. So, I showed them everything I had. The Clif Bars I brought seemed to intrigue them. And, so they wouldn't take anything else, I gave them a Clif Bar and some cookies I had bought in Dushanbe.After this was over, I was led down the hallway to another room. This is where I'd get the exit stamp before moving on to the Afghan side. But, a different guard came in and made me empty my bag again. Ugh! This time he wanted my gloves, headlamp, and knife. With a good smile and sense of humor, I was able to not give him anything. Word that an American was there brought other guards into the room. In broken English, they would say things like, "Pamela Anderson: Hot!", and then flex their muscles and say, "Arnold Swartzenegger!" Soon after that entertainment, my passport was stamped and I was off to face the Afghan border patrol. A guard had told me to hurry up as the Afghans were about to take their lunch break.The first thing I noticed about the Afghan guards was that their uniforms looked identical to American desert uniforms. I have no doubt the American government helped pay for this. With their lunch break soon approaching, the guard gave me no trouble at all. He asked if I was Muslim (he said I looked like I was), and asked what nationality my name was. Soon enough, though, my passport was stamped and I was done.After crossing the border, I was starting to wonder how I would get from the border to Ishkashim town. It is several miles away. I had hoped to borrow a phone from a guard and call the Wakhan Tourism Company. But, before I could even ask, I found my guide from the Wakhan Tourism Company, and a driver, waiting for me. Apparently they had waited since 9am that morning, and it was now 1pm.Had I not had a ride waiting, it is possible to have the Wakhan Tourism Company transport you to town (with prior notice). The cost is $20, though. As an alternative, contact the Aria Guesthouse (there was a sign at the border with their phone number), and they will do it for less than half that cost.Side note: Although the Afghan guards gave me no trouble coming into Afghanistan, I got a lot of trouble from them when exiting. They told me I could not take my knife with me out of the country, and wanted to keep all of my medicines. I ultimately did keep my knife, but gave up some Tylenol and Pepto Bismol. Also, don't fall for the trick to have a guard carry your bags from the order gate to the immigration building. They will make you pay $20 to do this, and it is only a few meters walking. Close
There are two ways to get from Dushanbe to Ishkashim: entirely by road, or a combination plane/road route. Both routes have their pros and cons.The road route is a brutal two-stage run, first from Dushanbe to Khorog, and then Khorog to Ishkashim. The…Read More
There are two ways to get from Dushanbe to Ishkashim: entirely by road, or a combination plane/road route. Both routes have their pros and cons.The road route is a brutal two-stage run, first from Dushanbe to Khorog, and then Khorog to Ishkashim. The first stage is at least 17 hours; guidebooks and others say it averages 22 hours. If you leave Dushanbe around 7am (from the car park near the airport), you can be in Khorog by around midnight. Shared taxis/vans will do the first stage in one long day, which is brutally uncomfortable (unless you score the front seat), though if you hire your own car/driver you can break the journey into two days (stopping in Kalaikhum). Along the route, you will pass the Rogun dam, many small villages, and a high pass where the temperature drops considerably (and gets closed in the winter months due to snow). Most of the ride, though, is along one of most bone-jarring bumpy roads you will ever ride, preventing your car from ever breaking the 20mph barrier.From Kalaikhum to Khorog, the route follows the river/border separating Tajikistan and Afghanistan, offering amazing views of the villages on the other side (if you travel the road during the day). You will not see this from the plane. Be warned that the road may still have landmines along it. So, do not venture far from your car if you stop to take a break.There is an alternate route between Dushanbe and Kalaikhum that follows more of the Afghan border, though it takes longer.Once in Khorog, you will need to spend the night before doing stage two to Ishkashim. Shared taxis/vans for this stage leave from the car park across the river from the main bazaar in Khorog. See my description of this route below, after I discuss the plane option. In all, it will take you a minimum of two days traveling to reach Ishkashim with this option. In my case, it took three days, as the day after my Dushanbe-Khorog drive was the day the Afghan border was closed (Sundays)...so I was stuck in Khorog for a day.The plane/road route is (obviously) the quickest, and it is possible to make it to Ishkashim in less than a day from Dushanbe. However, it is also the hardest to make happen. Each morning there is a single flight from Dushanbe to the Tajikistan town of Khorog. The flight is only about an hour, and leaves at 8am each day. Tickets go on sale at 7am the day of the flight only, and the flight happens only if the weather is good and enough people want to fly that day. If the flight the previous day was cancelled, ticket holders from that flight will already be ahead of you for the flight. I did not make the flight, as the flight the day before had been cancelled, and the weather was not ideal. Based on other travelers' experiences, the flight is spectacular, and gets you up close and personal with the peaks of the mountains. There are YouTube videos of the flight.Once you land in Khorog, you can head straight for the border (2-3 hours away), or spend the night in Khorog. If you land early enough (mid-morning or so), head to the shared taxi area across the river from the main bazaar in Khorog (maybe 8 somonis from the airport to the bazaar). Here you can find a shared car/van to the Ishkashim border for 25 somonis (~$6 USD) per seat. If you land after 11am or so, it might be hard to find a shared car going to Ishkashim (most leave after the people do their morning shopping in the bazaar and head back to Ishkashim). If that is the case, you will need to rent an entire car (~$100 USD). The drive from Khorog to the Ishkashim border post is about 2.5 hours long with good weather, road conditions, and quick driver. The road follows the border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan, offering excellent views of Afghani villages and rapids of the river separating the two countries.Check with the Afghan Consulate in Khorog or your tour company regarding the hours of the Afghan border. They are limited and it is closed on Sundays. Close
Written by Overlander on 28 Sep, 2001
Mohammed the Bacha
While I was staying in Kabul, I came in contact with a lot people. Now, nearly thirty years later, only a few stick in my mind. They are the memorable ones, the ones I'll never forget. One was the bacha at the…Read More
Mohammed the Bacha
While I was staying in Kabul, I came in contact with a lot people. Now, nearly thirty years later, only a few stick in my mind. They are the memorable ones, the ones I'll never forget. One was the bacha at the Green Hotel, where I stayed for several weeks. A bacha is a young boy anywhere between 10 and 22 or so who acts as a jack-of-all-trades. This one, whom I'll call Mohammed because I don't remember his real name, spent a grueling day seeing to the wants and needs of the 35-40 odd Hippie travelers who stayed in the hotel at any given time. 12-year-old Mohammed was always up at the crack of dawn to pray before his working day began. It was he who would cook breakfasts for people and then serve them as well. He was responsible for what little cleaning took place in the building. He cleaned the toilets. He helped people move their bags outside when they were ready to leave. About the only thing he didn't do was assist with guest registration or accept payment for anything but food. But he was always smiling, often making jokes in his very basic English. He also spoke Pashto and Dari, the Afghani version of Farsi, not to mention Tajik and probably Uzbek as well. But he had never been to school; he had never seen a doctor; and he had not seen his family for five or six years when they brought him to Kabul and effectively sentenced him to years of indentured servitude. For all his labors he was paid a princely 120 ($1.40) afghanis a month, given a place to sleep, and food to eat for his being at the hotel guests' and the manager's beck and call almost twenty-four hours a day. How he managed to keep his sense of humor and his sunny disposition was beyond me. Then one day, he disappeared, which worried many of us. When he did reappear two or three days later, some friends of mine and I noticed a huge lump on his forehead. One was a nurse and she immediately realized that the poor kid had a gigantic boil. He told us it hurt a lot, but that he didn't have enough money to pay for any kind of medication since had been told that the tetracycline he needed would cost about $5 for a full course, representing some 4 months' wages. From our point of view, even as "penniless" Western Hippies, medication costs were minimal in Afghanistan. So what we did was to take up a little collection, and took him off to the doctor. They lanced his boil, we bought the medicine, and he was up and around almost immediately.
The Beggar Woman and the Little Boy
Another person I shall never forget was someone I never actually communicated with. But I saw her each time I walked to the general post office. There was a bridge across the usually dry Kabul River that I had to cross on the way from my hotel. On the opposite side of the bridge I would always see a little woman, crouched down on her haunches and leaning against the abutment, totally covered from head to foot in a filthy light blue burqa. She would put her hand out from under the folds of the garment and in a plaintive voice ask for one Afghani in Dari, which I could understand after a fashion. It was hard to fathom that inside that old, tattered, and dirty shroud hunched a human being. Sometimes I placed a coin in the outstretched hand, sometimes I didn’t. After passing her by, I would cross the road to the rather dilapidated post office building. On its veranda I would almost inevitably run into a little beggar boy of about seven. He was very friendly, but it was always a shock to look into his face because he had a hare-lip -- and probably a cleft palate -- which had never been corrected. The result was that he had a row or teeth that curved upward and then down again and looked rather like the outline of a scribbled cursive "I" without the "dot." One morning when I passed by the woman, the boy was sitting beside her with his head resting on her shoulder and sound asleep. I then realized that he had to be her son. I will never forget either one of them, for there but for the grace of God go we... In light of current events, I wonder if either one of them is still alive in a Kabul now laid waste and in ruin…
The Bamiyan Valley
I shall never forget the approach to Bamiyan. After hours of pitching and rolling our way along the way, we finally came down off a hilly plateau and off in the distance were trees edging a river, a sizable-looking town of mud-brick…Read More
The Bamiyan Valley
I shall never forget the approach to Bamiyan. After hours of pitching and rolling our way along the way, we finally came down off a hilly plateau and off in the distance were trees edging a river, a sizable-looking town of mud-brick houses, against a backdrop of buff-colored cliffs marking the edge of the plateau opposite. The town itself wasn't so impressive, though there was a shop or two with a few interesting items. Not that I could buy anything; at the time I was living on less than a dollar a day. What made Bamiyan extraordinary were the remains of the Buddhist monastery that once thrived in the valley. The cliffs were riddled with caves -- some natural, some hand-hewn -- where as many as 50,000 monks and their family had once lived. The walls of these caves had been frescoed originally, though there were only a few remnants of scenes from the Ramayana to be seen when I got there. The real point of any trip to Bamiyan, however, was the two gigantic statues of the Buddha. One was some 180 feet tall, reputedly the tallest Buddha on earth; the other was 15 or 20 feet shorter. They were both faceless, of course. Centuries ago, Muslim zealots had sliced off their features in a fit of religious fervor, leaving only the chins and the outlines of the heads. (The faces had actually survived longer than anyone would have imagined, however; Bamiyan was so isolated that it wasn't even found by the Muslim population until two or three hundred years after Islam had arrived in the region.) The Buddhas were remarkable in other ways, too. If you look at the photograph below, you will notice drapery covering the body. Closer inspection reveals that it is of the same style as that used by Greek sculptors at the time of Alexander the Great. Indeed, this Greek patina derives from artists who had stayed on after having traveled across Asia with Alexander the Great and his armies. This Grecian drapery overlies a stiffly static stance that characterizes other Asian and Buddhist sculpture. Originally, the statues would have been painted; all that was left of the color were some faded frescoes on the surface at the top of the stone niche where the Buddhas stood. These were being painstakingly restored at the time of my visit. The archaeological work made it impossible for me to climb up to the heads. Later on in the 70s before the Soviet invasion, that was possible for the lucky few who managed to make the trip. But beyond all this, there was a feeling that you got when you were there that was quite indescribable and intangible. The cliffs, the caves, and the statues felt holy, somehow. I got the same feeling there that I had when I later visited some of the shrines in Jerusalem, the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico, or the remarkable stupas in Katmandu. I only hope that the scum that has since destroyed the site suffers some singularly hideous fate in the Hereafter.
When I think of Afghanistan, I remember a poor but proud country that was just able to keep its head above water. In 1972 when I was last there, King Zahir Shah was still on the throne. The government controlled the main cities along the…Read More
When I think of Afghanistan, I remember a poor but proud country that was just able to keep its head above water. In 1972 when I was last there, King Zahir Shah was still on the throne. The government controlled the main cities along the main roads, but tribal chieftains, for all intents and purposes, were a law unto their own in the interior. People had just enough to eat in the countryside, but real hardship was never far away. They were not starving, however. And international aid agencies didn't have to supply the country with anything.
Oddly enough, one of my fondest memories of Afghanistan was the food. You could get wonderful fresh fruits in the markets. The many varieties of melons were especially good as were the apricots -- both fresh and dried -- as well as the grapes. Not to mention the dried goodies such as chickpeas, melon seeds, raisins, and mulberries. Then there were the kebabs, which, when the meat wasn't tough, were splendid. I still remember the smell of those skewers of lamb cooking over braziers filled with charcoal. But my favorite was something called "Ashak", which is a sort of giant pyramid-shaped ravioli some 6 or 7 cm on a side. This was filled with a superb minced meat, vegetable and herb mixture and smothered in a yoghurt sauce that was reminiscent of an Indian raita but not quite so tart or sour. But all of this must be gone now, for Afghanistan has entered a new Dark Age under the cruel, criminal, and oh-so-sanctimonious Taliban. But I don't want to launch into a polemical diatribe. I want to recall what Afghanistan was like when I was there.
In essence, Afghanistan had two varieties: superb and unspeakably awful. The good ones had been built by the Americans and the Russians in some perverse Cold War competition that the Afghan government happily took advantage of. The Americans built the route from the Iranian border to Herat. It then went south and east to Kandahar (more correctly spelled Qandahar) and on up to Kabul (pronounced KAH-bool and not kah-BOOL as so many mistakenly think.).
The Russians, for their part, built the road from the Soviet border south to Mazar-i-Sharif and on to Kabul via Kunduz. This route may have been considerably shorter than the American one, but it was infinitely more difficult, for it had to cross the formidable barrier of the Hindu Kush, the northwestern extension of the Himalayas. At its highest point, the Salang Pass, they built a very long tunnel (about 10 kms as I recall) that was also reputed to be the highest highway tunnel in the world as well. It was a remarkable bit of civil engineering and it cut hours off the trip between Kabul and Mazar. When I left, the plan was for the Russians to continue building the highway in order to connect Mazar to Herat. In effect, the plan was to build a system of highways that would encircle the country, connecting all the major population centers together. Whether that was ever fully accomplished, I don't know, because I lost track of those details. They may also have already had plans for the invasion that would eventually come in 1979.
The native Afghan roads were, however, something quite different. I don't think there were any that were paved. Certainly, the ones I was on were basically only dirt tracks. No gravel. No real roadbeds. Their only saving grace was that they were rarely muddy because Afghanistan was essentially a desert -- even in the mountainous heights. Once they got wet, though, villages could be cut off for days or even weeks from the outside world.
On the Road to BamiyanI remember with great fondness my trip to Bamiyan and Band-i-Amir. Together with a few friends from one of the cheap "freak" hotels I was staying in Kabul, we caught a ride around 5:30 a.m. in the back of a truck, which took us some 40 or 50 kilometers up the highway to Mazar-i-Sharif. This leg took less than an hour. Then we turned off the highway. This was a different story. I'm not sure if it was a road or merely a series of ruts that we followed. Ensconced as we were in the crevices between large burlap-covered bundles of God-knows-what, we were comfortable enough, save for the fact that the truck was almost never truly horizontal: we jerked, jolted, and rocked our way for the remaining 100-odd kilometers and it was to take some 18 hours to get the rest of the way to the Bamiyan Valley. We didn't proceed nonstop, of course.
Scenes from a Tea House
We stopped at two or three local chaikhaneh (tea houses), which were always a spectacle. Made mostly of mud brick, they were very basic: inside these little buildings there would be a few crudely hewn tables often with linoleum glued to the tops. Tea was served in little enameled metal teapots, which you poured into a small glass almost universally made by the French company, Duralex.
You would also get sugar cubes, but these were not the perfect and pristinely white cubes one usually thinks of. These had been chipped from a much larger block of sugar that had a slightly brownish tinge to it. I often wondered what else it might contain, but I never got sick from eating it, so it must have been okay. Anyway, the local tea etiquette involved dipping the sugar cube in the tea very briefly, placing it between your teeth, and then drinking the beverage more or less through it. Sometimes you sat on somewhat wobbly chairs, but more often the seating consisted of Indian-style charpoys, bedsteads made of lathed wooden legs and struts held together by hemp rope. Sometimes there would be a cotton-batting filled cushion, which was laid atop the hemp rope webbing in the center. Mostly, you just sat on the rope webbing. The customers were another story. There were, of course, no women to be seen, unless it was a Western woman traveler who happily flouted all the local rules dictating the separation of the sexes. In the villages the women were all in purdah, the religiously-imposed isolation that restricts women to their homes, allowing them out only in the company of a male family member, whether father, brother, or husband. When they did go out, they always wore the all-enshrouding burqa, which consisted of material gathered and sewn around a scull cap with a tiny 5x8 cm crocheted grill through which they could barely see. The men were dressed in what was effectively a uniform consisting of a pair of one-size-fits-all string trousers that, when flattened out, are about 1 1/2 meters across the waist. Cut rather like jodhpurs, the crotch is about at the knees, and the legs narrow to some 12 or 13 cm at the ankles. They are, clearly, extremely loose and baggy, but they're very comfortable. Above those is a shirt that is about knee-length and worn over the top. And since Afghanistan is often very cold, men will usually wear a very dirty, nearly worn-out Western-style suit coat. The crowning glory is, or course, a turban made from a length of (once) white cotton some 3 meters long and wrapped around a scull cap. One end of the turban is allowed to fall behind and usually hangs down below knee-level. Anyway, there would always be a few of these characters sitting around a chaikhaneh and almost to a man, they would be carrying a rifle, which they never let go of let alone lose sight of. But don't imagine them to be unfriendly. They would always greet you, and, if you spoke a few words of Farsi as I did, would try as best they could to carry on at least a basic conversation. Still, I always made sure I didn't cross them! I had no idea what might have happened...
Written by Vicel on 02 Mar, 2007
Panjshir is a famous, picturesque, narrow strip of valley northeast of Kabul. It is a heavyweight province in the Afghan political arena attributed to it being the home of Massoud, the national hero of Afghanistan. Panjshir, under the leadership of Massoud, was a haven for…Read More
Panjshir is a famous, picturesque, narrow strip of valley northeast of Kabul. It is a heavyweight province in the Afghan political arena attributed to it being the home of Massoud, the national hero of Afghanistan. Panjshir, under the leadership of Massoud, was a haven for the Mujahideen, an Afghan uprising which repelled the Russian invaders from their valley, and the only province in Afghanistan that the Taliban were unable to control.Driving up to Panjshir is quite an exhilarating experience. We drove on narrow dirt road beside a roaring river. On both sides rose cliffs of granite rocks and crumbly soil, making my heart skip a beat because I kept thinking that this is an accident waiting to happen. A slight tremor can trigger an avalanche out here. After going through this bottleneck entrance to Panjshir, I was greeted with an eerie air of battles fought and lives lost. As we drove by I saw rusting Russian tanks, some of them intact but most of them half-buried, supporting steep roadbanks; removing them would cause the collapse of the road itself. In the roaring river were belly-up Russian tanks and army truck chassis littered everywhere. Embedded on the walls of the villages were empty mortar shells used as scaffolding. We drove through skeletons and skeletons of Russian army jeeps, artillery shells, trailer barracks, armored gunner trucks, and villages of rock and mud houses bombed down.
Our driver Habib, who is from Panjshir, stopped me from taking pictures when I raised my camera. Ms. S. told me that he also stopped her when she tried to take pictures of the tanks when she first came to Panjshir, and that he was very upset about it. He’d let me take pictures of mountains and villages only, no tanks and remnants of the war. I never got to ask him why and how he feels about it; Ms. S. told me it is better not to ask. I suspect that it is a sensitive topic for him. I wouldn’t be surprised if he lost family and friends during that war or if he were a mujahideen himself. My guess is he wants the pictures to show the peaceful and beautiful Panjshir and would rather that people forget the suffering and the deaths in his hometown. But I can only guess.
Written by husain on 02 Oct, 2002
26th of august- we set off for a two week assignment to afghanistan. a shoot that would involve travelling to kabul and then to kandahar, where we were shooting with american troops at the military base for a 9/11 anniversary special...
i was part of a…Read More
26th of august- we set off for a two week assignment to afghanistan. a shoot that would involve travelling to kabul and then to kandahar, where we were shooting with american troops at the military base for a 9/11 anniversary special...
i was part of a 3 man crew from the american production company- CBN news. The cameraperson in that lot...
Written by jorgejuan on 12 May, 2006
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…Read More
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 SpainSixth 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. SleepSeventh 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.