On the 2nd day we left with a chauffeur-driven landcruiser for Bamiyan and drove through a valley with beautiful autumn colours. First stop: a climb to the “red city”, so called because of the blood of the inhabitants destroyed by Djengis Khan in the 13th century …. What a tragedy, but also what a beautiful view you have from there over the valley! We lunched at a tchaikhana (teahouse) with our own plates and cuttlery and reserved “yourts” (tents; these even had bathrooms) for the night. After dinner in Bamiyan we lost our way in the dark and were stopped by a soldier with a gun and we did not understand each other’s languages…. It appeared that we were too close to the house of the Governor (whom we had visited that afternoon!). The following day we got up very early to see the sun rise above the 2 famous Buddhas (35 and 58m high). Bamiyan was situated on the silk route and was then a well-known religious centre. We were lucky to hear that there was going to be a “bouzkachi” in the neighbourhood, which is the national sport of Afghanistan. The participants on horseback have to try and deposit a sand-filled calf (bouc) at a certain spot.
Beautifully described by Joseph Kessel in his book The Cavaliers. We very much enjoyed watching this spectacle: the spectators with their colourful turbans sitting on the slope, the important persons having seats in front, and brightly painted vans in the background. The fight started calmly but soon escalated so that some horses even landed between the spectators. The winner is treated as a hero. Then we went on to visit the Buddhas in their niches, carved out in the 6th century (and destroyed in 2001 ….).
We climbed up to and behind the smallest one. From up there the view over the valley is gorgeous. To my distress my Kodak Retina camera stopped functioning, but physically I started to feel much better (as I said before: I left Holland rather ill).
On October 15, we left at 06.45 hrs for Band-E-Amir and its terraced lakes, in my view the 8th wonder of the world! We walked for 5 hours around the 3rd, 4th and 5th lake! We then booked a room in a small hotel run by hippies: 4 matrasses on the floor and a stove in the middle whose pipe went through a hole in the roof! We were very well cared for by Afghans (stoned, said my companions) who cooked a delicious palao. The following morning our car was frosted; after having defrosted it we went to the other side of the 3rd lake where we picknicked in the sun with a beautiful view of the pink mountains (see picture above made by my Agfa Clack). So very peaceful ……The next day we left with a lot of food for a long journey through the King’s Valley ending in Ajar and “the house of the King”, along a first emerald-green and later yellow river with impressive rock formations in all colours of the rainbow. We passsed small villages with merry children who all greeted us with Salaam. We picknicked along the river at 25 degrees C. (but in the morning you see frozen dew). We had dinner with other guests with fresh trouts and slept for $ 20 in a dirty bed. There was only cold (unboiled) water, but a beautiful pink bathroom! The next day we drove through the valley in the other direction and went via Doshi to Pul-E-Khumri. On our way we met an Afghantour group whose guide gave us useful information. Our (very nice) hotel in Pul-E-Khumri smelled of jasmine and had a KLM poster in its lobby!
After a 9,5 hours‘ sleep and a hot shower (how luxurious!) and breakfast in the garden we drove to Kunduz over a bitumen highway (also luxurious). In the afternoon we visited Khanabad where the inhabitants looked at us with great interest, but also friendliness (and v.v.). Without our driver, who was also our interpreter, we could only order shiskebab for dinner! We completed the menu with delicious cake from the market and melon. After having washed our clothes, disinfected and boiled water (a daily ritual) we went to bed at 10 p.m. On October 20 – having been en route for a week – we went to the cattle market where we stared our eyes out to the very colourful visitors – Pashtus, Tadjiks, Turkmenes – with interesting faces and impressive turbans as well as the sheep with their “queues de Paris” (reservoirs of fat underneath their tails) and painted behinds (to keep them apart).
We discussed the rest of the programme:M.J. and G. wanted to go to Faizabad, I didn’t and S. was in doubt. But first we went the following day – with a guide – to the excavations which since 1965 French archeologists were executing together with Afghans near the Russian border and for which we were granted a permit, which was rather exceptional. It was a long trip through varying landscapes and many control posts (everybody wanted to see this permit and the people carrying it!). At 2.20 p.m. we arrived at the site and the barrier was opened; a special moment. One of the French archeologists – although having a day off –showed us around this old Greek town by the name of Ai Khanoum (the hill of Lady Moon), also called Alexandria on the Oxus River, dating from the 3rd century B.C.
A palace, a temple, a theatre and an education centre had been excavated so far. We roamed around the site for quite some time trying to imagine what life would have been like at this crossroad of civilizations…. (note: early 2008 objects from this site were shown at an exhibition in Amsterdam). After a long trip we arrived back in the dark at the hotel in Kajhawar where we had had lunch, which was full of Russian engineers who were working on a dam. A Russian (propaganda?) film was shown in the evening.
22 October: we got up at 6.30 hrs to discover a complete change of the weather with lots of wind. We drove to Kunduz where we split up: M.J. and G. with our excellent driver went off to Faizabad, the guide, S. and myself went back to Kabul by public transportation, firstly a taxi to Pul-E-Khumri. The taxi driver wanted to take another man as well with his party existing of his wife, 5 children, 4 chickens and a big bag….. S. and I stayed at the nice hotel in Pul-E-Khumri, where we took a shower, brushed all the dust from our luggage and dined with a French/Brazilian girl, who spoke so enthousiastically about Yemen, that that country became one of my next travel destinations… We advised her against taking the route North, direction Faizabad, because of the weather and the fact that she was travelling alone. The next day a horse-and-carriage brought us to a taxi stand where no taxis had appeared for the last two days. Nobody knew why: was the Salang Pass closed, where the drivers on strike or was the highway just blocked??? We prepared for a long wait when all of a sudden our guide appeared with an empty minibus,which brought the three of us very comfortably to Kabul; no blockage at all on the bitumen highway which connects the North with the South, with the 3500m high Salang Pass with a 3 km long tunnel. It is said that the Northern part was constructed by the Russians and the part South of the Pass by the Americans. At 15.00 hrs we arrived “home” in Kabul where after a cup of tea we went (in vain) in search of Chicken Street, the famous shopping street. The dinner at home had a menu with much more variation than we had grown accustomed to…. So nice to be in a comfortable home again with boiled water!