Afghanistan

When Gouging Out Eyes Isn’t Enough

You don’t have to be an adherent to any particular religion to appreciate the beauty of many sacred sites. I would argue as a strict Atheist, you kind of cut the bullshit and just look at places for what they are. You can admire the natural beauty, the history, and the human ingenuity that goes into a lot of these places. I personally wouldn’t make a pitch for the inherent good of ANY religion. I tend to agree with the late Christopher Hitchens that organized religions are equal-opportunity offenders for death and destruction. That being said, depending on where you’re coming from, it’s a little too easy, and totally unfair, to dunk on what amounts to minority religious groups. Criticizing self-proclaimed “Islamic” extremists (as an American) can quickly descend into Islamophobia. At that point, I might as well throw on a red hat and join the “All Lives Matter” cult. The day that those groups draw a bright line separating themselves from the white-nationalist Christian patrio-fascist terrorism that’s done in their name is the day that that disclaimer won’t be necessary. Anyway…

Bamyan – Caves adjacent to Buddha niches

If you’ve traveled anywhere that’s had any historic Islamic invasion and takeover, you may recall some changes that were made to historic monuments. Central Asia comes to mind. Beautiful, elaborate murals… with the faces scratched off. At a minimum, someone hundreds of years ago came through and scratched out the eyes of every single figure that was depicted on the walls. Those depictions are not permitted in Islam, so they were destroyed to varying degrees. It’s a real bummer to see. Most of the time these guys did a half-ass job. I’m speculating here… maybe they held back… or maybe it really is a ton of work and they did the minimum they felt was required. Either way, most of the time you could stand before these murals or statues and still get the full sense of the place. You also got a sense of the vandalism from these invaders which conveyed a passage of time and clash of cultures. On this trip though, we visited a place where the folks in charge didn’t tolerate doing things half-ass.

Just like all of the flights in the region, the flight from Kabul to Bamyan was stunningly beautiful. There were probably a half-dozen tourists scattered around on the flight. Bamyan was cold. A LOT colder than Kabul. Were we prepared for that… ummm, not entirely. We did ok though. The town of Bamyan is quite tiny. It’s basically a farming and sheep-herding village that overlooks the carvings into the mountain for which it is famous. Dating back to 544 AD, large statues of Buddha were carved within several pockets in the side of the mountain overlooking the town. After threatening to do so for a couple years, the Buddhas were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001. It sounds like it was quite an undertaking involving mines and antiaircraft munitions. So what is there to see now? Well, obviously there are the niches where the Buddhas once resided. Adjacent to these niches are networks of caves where monks once lived and worked. There are still some carvings and remnants of murals that remain. At the site of the largest Buddha there has been work for a number of years funded by Germany to rebuild. Unfortunately that work has been halted due to concerns over the quality of the workmanship. Of course, you can’t help but be struck by the natural beauty of the area that likely was the reason it was selected as a site in the first place. Afghanistan is a very mountainous country, so flat arable land would always be valued. If you’re visiting as a tourist, there is a lot to see in the area besides the Buddha niches…. castles, mountains, caves. We were there only a short time and hit a few highlights. 

Besides the Buddha niches, one of the more impressive sites we visited in the area was Band-e-Amir National Park. This also was a place I was able to fly a drone around with complete abandon, which was fun. Apparently in most places in Afghanistan you’re going to have military or police descend upon you with attempts at drone flights. Our visit to Band-e-Amir though will be remembered mostly for the difficulty in leaving the place as dusk descended. As I mentioned, the region is very mountainous. I also mentioned that it was very cold. By cold, I mean snow. With those two pieces of information, when I tell you that we were in a little front-wheel-drive Honda with summer tires, you might guess how things went trying to leave the place… uphill. It didn’t go so well. And that’s how we found ourselves stranded in a desolate snowy wasteland in Afghanistan as night descended trying to push a car uphill. Did you know that tires can actually smoke on ice? A Land Cruiser full of UN douchebags blasted by us. Thanks. And the thought occurred to me at some point that we weren’t exactly stranded in a “normal” place. Early in this little detour, our friend and fellow tourist that we met earlier came by with his guides and offered us a ride with him back to town. In hindsight, we probably should’ve taken it, but we would’ve been abandoning our guides. Anyway, eventually backup showed up and we took a really weird way home. It took us close to overhanging cliffs. We passed armored military vehicles on these narrow mountain roads. Lots of crazy shit. Eventually we made it back to our place though. And then we changed just our socks and went out for dinner. No big deal. 

Bamyan was definitely a highlight to our Afghanistan tour. If you’re visiting (and you should!), Bamyan is a must. I would recommend it in summer though. That, or maybe just don’t be a dumbass and be really ready for some bone-chilling cold. Apparently we weren’t even there in the dead of winter either. Well, this was our second stop, but we weren’t done with Afghanistan and Afghanistan wasn’t done with us. Until next time…

4 thoughts on “When Gouging Out Eyes Isn’t Enough

  1. They kept saying Mantu are dumplings. So you took a bite and you were like it’s good and gave me a huge bite in my mouth. I literally did not expect a sour taste, 🤢. Sorry to yuk anyone’s yum, but I’m sorry I excepted a savory, gingery spicy taste and I taste a sour, yogurt, tomatoey taste. I was thrown off completely

  2. And I pushed a car for the first time ever in Afghanistan and fell into the snow, that was exhilarating.

    Concern didn’t set in until we had been pushing unsuccessfully for over an hour, 3 unesco cars passed without giving a flying fuck, and it was starting to get dark. Our phones had no signal, it was cold and the inside of our shoes and socks were wet. Luckily, we had a rescue car. It was almost scary for a second.

  3. But the views from the mountain tops were just stunning. And domperidone quelled my mountain sickness nausea enough to let me enjoy it.

    I would consider visiting Afghanistan again in the summer just for the views from Bamyan.

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