A final trip

30 09 2010

 

First Glimpse of one of Band e Amir's lakes on the road from Bamian

 

My last trip from Kabul took me a day’s drive north-west to Bamiyan, the site of two 6th century Buddahs before the Taliban decided to destroy this UNESCO heritage site. Along with the lakes at Band-e-Amir, Bamiyan valley is the most beautiful thing I have seen in the region and  forms the country’s only tourist attraction unless you believe accounts in the Guardian or BBC’s Sandi Toksvig .

 

Arriving at Bamian Valley by small prop plane. One Buddah niche can be seen to the left with another to the right in shadow

 

Although the trip is drivable we flew from Kabul in a 10-seater that spirals down amongst the mountains to land on what seems to be a short, broad road cutting through the green valley bottom.

 

Looking across the Bamian valley from rooftops hotel to the cliffs where the Buddahs used to reside until their highly publicised destruction by the Taliban

 

The remains of the two Bhuddas lie in piles of crumbling stone and clay. The Taliban made no mistake and I remember footage of the pre-publicised destruction sending forward huge clouds of dust. Almost as big a travesty is that it took the loss of a piece of heritage, rather than a more human story to bring the world’s attention to the plight of the Afghan people. In a country where billions of dollars are spent on military action and mere millions go towards development and infrastructure the Japanese and Germans and Italians are attempting to stabilise the remains with a view to possibly rebuilding parts in the long run.

 

One of the larger lakes at Band e Amir. The deep blue comes from the high mineral content which also forms beautiful dams as the water flows from lake to lake.

 

Two hours further north-west lie the lakes of Band-e-Amir. These are more stunning than the valley at Bamiyan, with deep water providing a palate of blues that would make Van Gough green with envy. The water is clear and the blue sky does nothing to detract from the contrast of grey and red cliffs against the unbelievably striking tones.

 

Kabul restaurant owner Jerome riding on the gun-mount left by Russian forces. The bearings still run smoothly giving a spinning 360 degree view of the countryside

 

Nearer to the regional capital of Bamiyan, overlooking the 8-hour route from Kabul lies the Red Fort. This has been an important strategic position in these inaccessible lands and was occupied most recently by the Russians and is still heavily mined.

 

Prominent battlement of the Red Fort overlooking the riverside route from Kabul

 

The steep walk up from valley winds up through mud-brick battlements and past piles of unexploded ordinance.

Duncan DJ





Exit Strategy

12 07 2010

Overlooking the largest lake at Band-e-Amir. The magnificent blue comes from the minerals in the 150m deep water.

As the heat builds up for another dusty-blue day in Kabul I pack my things for my return to the UK. I sit recovering from the late conclusion of the world cup (2am Kabul time) and I can’t yet tell whether the time has passed quickly or actually this has been the longest year of my life. Although the country is fascinating and often beautiful it is definitely the people who have made it an enjoyable experience. As opening a British newspaper any day will tell you, looking in from the outside can be a little disturbing but conversely it can be easy to become complacent about the places and the experiences. My visit to the Russian Cultural Centre last month and occasional encounters with possible minefields are the most extreme of this.

View of the green Bamian valley seen from the caves beside small Buddha. The niche of the larger Buddha can be seen through the window.

My trips out of Kabul and Afghanistan have been essential breaks from the challenges of working here. Just returning from the ex-Buddhas at Bamian and the cliff-bound blue lakes at Band-e-Amir 200 miles from the capital I can say that these places are two of the most amazing sights I have ever seen. More beautiful photos to come on this and Darulaman Palace in Kabul.

I had planned a trip down to Lashkar-Gar to visit some historic buildings and the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) projects run by the British Army but plans change but the resulting extension to my Bamian trip made up for this.

I truss up my last two carpets that will join (by post) the 3 carpets already waiting for me at home. I take home calligraphy, jewellery and woodcarving; Three of the four TM crafts – I was kindly given a ceramic bowl for my birthday.

An inquisitive girl and her brother near the mosque of Amir at Band-e-Haibat

Afghaniman is a young girl pictured with her brother below one of the lakes at Band-e-Amir. The people in the Hazarajat region are some of the healthiest-looking I have met, mainly I think, because of a better-fed outdoor lifestyle that is hard to come by in Kabul. They talk proudly of peace and inter-tribal harmony in these green, crop-filled valleys.

Duncan DJ