Trip north to Mazar Sharif and Balk

25 05 2010

The demolished old covered bazaar in Tashkurgan, razed to the ground by the Russians in revenge for repeated attacks on convoys during the occupation


Making the most of Kabul’s unusually quiet life we took the chance to head to Mazar Sharif, a short flight north of Kabul on the way to Uzbekistan. Historically Mazar is not a significant place but Tashkurgan lies to the east which was the last covered bazaar in the country before the Russians demolished it during their occupation in retribution for attacks on convoys traveling north from Kabul. 

The towering Gorge of Takt-e-Rostum at Tashkurgan, northern Afghanistan


The dramatic shear-faced gorge is a natural ambush point and the only way south to Kabul. Pockmarks scar the road from stones that fall the 300 clear metres onto unaware travellers. More significantly, to the west lies Balkh which, for over 100 years was a major regional centre founded around 600 BC and part of Alexander the Great’s extensive travels in Central Asia. 

Playing with a tank at Tashkurgan. The turret still worked so we used it like a fairground. To the right of the picture in the distance is the top of the Takt-e-Rostum gorge


The six building sites in MK are progressing well however the infrastructure has taken longer to resolve. Getting approval is crucial to resolving issues with the municipality. More than most local government, everything requires a letter. This is most likely a throwback to running the system in the 10 years after the Soviet invasion. However this short period has not affected Afghanistan as much as the tight centralised control that the ‘Stans to the north still suffer from. 

Riding around the Bala Hissar in Balk


Still, 20 years after the collapse of Soviet control these dictatorships are smothered by oppressive regimes. In Uzbekistan’s case this has been sanctioned by US and UK in order to seal agreements to use airbases. Furthermore Uzbek President Karimov and Afghanistan’s General Dostum have a lucrative relationship where heroin crosses the border uninterrupted on its way to Europe and the US. 

Group of friends, guides and farmers in a village near Balk, northern Afghanistan


Afghaniman is one of the locals who joined us on our trip around the area of Balk.  Pictured left he is an interpreter for US forces in the north. When he spoke to us in English we were all dumbstruck by his broad southern states accept that he’s picked up from working with Americans. Nicnamed ‘Joseph’ by the soldiers, his mannerisms and phrases were straight out of a small town in Alabama. 

Duncan DJ