As per usual, most of the fun is getting there. The road from Kabul to Bamiyan in Central Afghanistan has got to be the epitome of this. Take a bunch of guys, stuff them into an old Toyota Van and go riding along a dusty track through the mountains with amazing stark mountains rising out off narrow valleys. Some of the most amazing scenery you are ever going to see anywhere. All the while weaving through upturned Russian tanks, potholes, the occasional mine field, heavily ladened oncoming trucks and the odd military convoy. The sound track to this is nothing less than Indian Bollywood music while the guys in the back clap along while emptying the cigarettes I gave them and refill them with hashish. I don’t need to go to Mars, I’ve been to Afghanistan.
This is also a part of the world where the Russians amongst others have tried and failed to take. Stark reminders of this are in the innumerable green and red flags that dot the roadside. One for each martyr that died in battle. Coming over the pass past another flurry of flags sits an old Russian armored personal carrier surveying the pass. The driver slows, points at the carrier on the hill and says “Taliban…..Taliban…”. A not so subtle reminder of what I am in the middle of.
This adventure brings me to Bamiyan, one of the oldest and most impressive Buddhist archaeological sites in the world. Well at least it was. Two Buddha statues were carved into the sheer cliff face in the 6th century. One measuring an impressive 55 meters high, the other 38 meters. Unfortunately the same decree that saw a hammer taken to the Kabul Museum I wrote about earlier, also saw the destruction of the Buddha statues in 2001. This of course was was a big job. When a line of tanks failed to do the job, a demolition team was called in from Pakistan to do the job “right”. What’s left is the towering caverns where the statues used to sit leaving only the feet and a pile of rubble to show for what was there. A German archaeological team is currently clearing and cataloging the rubble to evaluate if it’s feasible to re-assemble what must be the worlds biggest jig-saw puzzle. Their job is not made any easier buy the various explosives that are still hidden in the site, some pulled out the day I was there.
Still, the site is worth visiting. A myriad of caves through the cliffs lead to caverns that still bear some of the old Buddhist artwork, albeit with most of it chipped away or covered in Taliban graffiti.
In a sad way you might say this creates a new kind of history all of it’s own.