Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Foliage Tour of Central Afghanistan

I should probably preface this post with an apology to the 24 followers I have now apparently accumulated for my delinquency in updating this blog. If any one of you is still loyal enough to check for new posts, I can guarantee that this post will make the wait worthwhile!

At the end of October, my coworker and I took a 2-day trip to Bamiyan province, which is in the center of Afghanistan, about a 30-minute plane ride west of Kabul. He came with me to monitor U.S. grants designed to assist disabled land mine survivors, and as my own monitoring only took about one hour, I had plenty of time to tag along to see his grant sites.

One of our first stops was a religious school for boys in the capital city of the province. Here, you can see the teachers and students of the school, where a ramp was just built for disabled land mine survivors.

Next, we drove down the valley to another, more rural school (and by 'drove' I mean we actually drove ourselves, which was fabulous!). On the way we saw women and girls washing their clothes in the river.

We also say some guys loading the last potatoes of the season onto a truck. Potatoes are a staple crop of Bamiyan, and apparently some are exported to Lay's.

This is a cemetery, with what appears to be an old fortress in the background. The fortress looks like it's been there for centuries, which means it probably dates to the Carter administration. The Afghan environment has a tendency to wear on things (and people, which is why I always wear suncreen here. Lots and lots of sunscreen.)

Our cars, headed down the valley...

When we arrived at the tiny schoolhouse, this boy was installing glass windows, which would stave off the cold and enable the students to study several weeks longer into the winter months.

The whole demining gang, with some of the teachers and students:

Me and Joey, with the beautiful fall foliage of Bamiyan:

Admiring the motorcycle in front of the school:

On the way back, we passed by these girls with matching UNICEF backpacks:

Just hanging out.

In the bottom left-hand corner, you can see the alcove that once held one of the two giant Buddhas.

A main street in the capital of Bamiyan

The Silk Road Hotel, which is almost the only game in town, is owned by a Japanese woman and her Afghan husband. It has great food and excellent views of the Buddha alcoves. Unfortunately, it shuts down during the winter, so if you come to Bamiyan for skiing, you'll have to find a hotel elsewhere.

On the morning of the second day, we had some extra time before our flight, so we decided to climb around the Buddha caves, which are now protected by UNESCO.

Me and Sunil, our gracious host:

Joey, pointing out a sign that shows where a land mine was found and removed.

On the way, we made friends with a local guide who was a native of Bamiyan.

The destroyed Buddha:

The first cave we visited was inside the cliff, on the right side of the largest Buddha. According to our guide, the Taliban brought local Hazara residents here and shot them. They then removed the shoes from the bodies and defiled the cave with their shoeprints.

Me and Joey, on the cliff next to the Buddha:

In another cave, the walls had been whitewashed during the mujahideen era. Afterwards, mujahideen fighters, the Taliban, and others had covered the walls with graffiti.

We basically climbed up one side and then down the other, visiting caves carved into the cliff on each side.

View of Bamiyan from a tiny overlook that sits just above where the Buddha's head would have been:

It was a long way down with very little railing...

The Taliban scratched out the faces of all of the Buddhas too:

Each of these caves used to hold Buddhas, but now they're all empty.

Driving back to the PRT one final time:

Waiting for our departure from the Bamiyan airstrip:

Happy Halloween, Bamiyan!


  1. Totally worth the wait. Have a great New Year!

  2. Such amazing photos - so lucky to be able to see and wander and learn about recent local events. I didn't realize that there were so many caves all around where the big buddhas stood.

  3. Thanks, I'm so glad you like the pictures!