Afghanistan – Bamyan. The Buddhas and the City of Screams

Bamyan, Afghanistan

As we drove from Kabul to Bamyan, the road was new and perfect….except for every quarter mile or so there are small sections missing, or torn up. These are where roadside bombs, IEDs, or missiles hit the road during the war. Its crazy to see, and there are so many.

A sad reminder of where you are visiting what daily life must have been like. Along the route there are several castles in ruins. Locals don’t think they are very interesting but I found them fascinating. I asked my driver to stop, and I explored one of these castles. Abandoned, it’s a reminder of a forgotten age where villages along the silk route flourished, and people lived surrounded by walls which closed at night keeping everyone safe. Now they are abandoned and it’s possible to see the ruins, and explore the castles of a begone period.

The landscape changed dramatically on the road to Bamyan, passing through snowy mountain passes, roads which follow mountain streams through fertile green valleys. It’s not sandy desert Afghanistan which is depicted in all the western movies. The cliffs of Bamyan emerge from these mountains, and were bathing in the afternoon sun when we arrived. The dozens of checkpoints we passed seemed to get easier. However after a nice lunch in Bamyan I realized my local guide hadn’t given me my passport back after one of the checkpoints. I was required to carry my passport at all times, as an encounter with the Taliban without one would surely lead to arrest. To make matters worse, there is no American Embassies or consulate in Afghanistan to get a new passport. In fact, there are no embassies for any western country.

Thoughts of being in Afghanistan forever was an interesting though which crossed my mind. We hopped in our car and backtracked, driving to several checkpoints which we had visited earlier that morning. As we approached a heavily armed Taliban roadblock a smiling soldier approached our car and in his hand I could see my passport in its shiny red case. He grinned as he handed it over, knowing the trouble I would have been in. As it turns out, it wasn’t the soldiers fault but my forgetful guide. Earlier that day the soldiers had checked my permits and cleared us at the checkpoint. They told my guide we were good to go, and he took the permits but another Taliban solider had my passport and he left without it.

While exploring the ruins of the Buddhas we passed a grave with a woman sitting inside a small walled gravesite next to the tombstone of her husband. Nearby we met Two Hazara women who asked to take pictures with me. This is a bit of a risk as pictures of women are outlawed, even if they are the ones asking, but people seemed a bit gentler in Bamyan so I agreed. Speaking with these women, I found out they were part of the last class of women to graduate from high school, never able to pursue a college education because of the Taliban – Meeting them while gazing over the Buddhas of Bamiyan it’s hard to ignore the parallels and their eerily similar hope for the future. Two years earlier women in Afghanistan lost their ability to pursue education higher than the 6th grade. The battered, mostly destroyed UNESCO site in front of them was blasted to pieces in 2001 by the same Taliban, ending a silk road history which during the golden age championed the pursuit of knowledge, sciences, law, and math dating back over 2000 years.

The City of Screams.

Nearby the famous cliffs is another 2000 year old mountain of ruins named the City of Screams. The siege of Bamyan took place here in 1221 during the Mongol pursuit of Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, the last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire.Mutukan, son of Chagatai Khan and favorite grandson of Genghis Khan, was killed in battle by an arrow from the besieged walls, which led Genghis to massacre the population of the city and its surrounding region (the origin of the city’s moniker “City of Screams”). As I clambered around this ancient city there is a small building atop the mountain which once served as a stronghold of fighting during the wars. However, inside now it’s a haven for lovers. Forbidden love etchings cover the walls in a building once used as a tower for fighting. Outside on the ground I found several automatic bullet shell casing. These are the contrasts that define Afghanistan

On our last night in Bamyan we ate bbq kebabs and had fresh mango shakes. It was an incredible meal and afterwards the power in the town went out. A normal occurrence in Afghanistan. I climbed to the top of my guesthouse and in the darkness I could see a black sky almost white with stars while the gentle sounds of forbidden Afghani music echoed from one of the dark mud huts nearby. A magical place.

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