Remarkable Tour Of The Unexplored Afghanistan
I never once thought that I will be travelling to Afghanistan not even in my dreams. It was a surprise to me when I got selected to form part of a missionary team to teach handicraft livelihood to the poor families in Afghanistan. For three days our men’s team received briefing and training about the laws and rules of a country and their world which I know so little about. What we learned about their traditions and culture were just enough to get us out of trouble during our month long stay in this rugged country with many mountains. Reading and surfing on the internet also helped me gain valuable insights for my trip. Stepping out of my comfort zone on May 2012, I travelled with ten other guys to fulfill our noble mission in the deserts of Afghanistan. In thirty days we all learned a lot from the kindness of its people down to the harsh reality of life in a land that has more than thirty years of unresolved conflict.
We reached Kabul, the capital city of Afghanistan via a thirty hour Emirates flight from New York to Dubai on that sunny Monday morning. We got warmly welcomed by our contact person and made all our necessary immigration process just a breeze and within an hour we were on our way to our missionary office in the city. We also stayed here during our mission days in Kabul. In our first week we toured the city after teaching them how to decorate wooden gift boxes and bead accessory making. One of the first places we visited on the city was the Kabul Museum. The spacious museum was very near our place, it does not show much of its artifacts for fear of being looted and attacked by armed rebels. Instead of the actual artifact they show photographs of the piece in their exhibit hall. The historian and guide said they keep their valuable pieces hidden in a vault and display only the obscure ones. In the courtyard I was led to a fleet of cars riddled with bullet holes and punctured tires. I saw Buddhist statues, valuable broken potteries and memories of the Russian war. I commend the women caretakers of the museum who risk their lives to protect their history. Since 1992 the capital has been the center of a power struggle between rival groups within the country. Many thousands of refugees have fled the city because of destruction caused by the fighting.
The next place we visited was the Darul Aman Palace. From what is left of its ruins it is clear that this was once an imposing structure that overlooks the city. An impressive garden surrounds this attraction. We were not allowed to enter nor take pictures of its exterior. It was still worth seeing. Across from it stands the Queen’s Palace with nothing left inside but just rubbles of a once proud structure. There were armed soldiers guarding the palace and we only get to take pictures from afar to capture the whole mountainous backdrop. However, we had a good chance to view the whole of Kabul when we were allowed to climb the top of the Old Russian Officer’s Club. Located on top of a barren hill, this site was once occupied by the Russian Army during the 1970’s. There is a huge empty pool on top of it where the soldiers use to have leisure time. Some of their tanks are still present in its surroundings. Through a guide we learned that the buildings we see from our point were the Parliament Office which is now just ruins also. All government buildings were bombed on this area except the Russian Office Club because this served as an outpost of the American soldiers during the Taliban rebel insurgence.
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We found tranquility as we stroll and visit the famous Babur Tomb. This is the final burial place for Zahiruddin Muhammad a later ruler of the Mughal dynasty. A well maintained garden and mosque is adjacent to this peaceful marble graveyard. From here we take time to buy bird seeds to feed the doves that frolic along the two storey masjid called the Shah-e Doh Shamsira Mosque. A strict dress code rule welcomed us at the door and a little donation box for the maintenance of the yellow stoned mosque. Women were asked to cover their hair while men must have long pants to be allowed entrance to this beautiful mosque. We were all dressed properly and asked to take our shoes off to enter the sacred place. It was interesting to see Afghan women washing clothes in the nearby Kabul River. The food for pigeons can be bought at the nearby Ka Faroshi Bird Market just in front of the mosque. This shop also sells a variety of bird species for avian enthusiasts. At the market we shop for carpets from an Afghan who lays his wares on the ground. These brightly colored woolen carpets hand woven in both traditional and modern designs, are now a major export product of the country.
On our third week of stay we toured the Bamyan Region and had a great time teaching the livelihood skills to its villagers. Along the Bamiyan Valley we took time to have our pictures taken beside the shepherds with their huge flock of karakul sheep gathering on the lush greens of the valley. From them I learned that wool and sheepskins are some of Afghanistan’s most important products. The curly fleece of a young karakul lamb is highly prized for making coats and hats.
After a long drive on the dusty desert road, we reached the Cultural Landscape and Archaeological Remains of the Bamiyan Valley. Seeing how much the Muslim forces destroyed most of the Buddha statues was awfully heartbreaking because it totally desecrates the ancient history of the place. They left gaping bullet-hole marks on Buddha images inside the slopes and bomb blasted areas that tragically damaged the Buddha niche on the valley. The golden valley of Bamiyan is noted for an entire mountain range used by the Buddhist as a sacred place in centuries past. The whole mountain range has Buddhist caves on it. It is a tremendous religious complex in an Islamic country, what a diverse mix of culture. In the middle of the mountain is where the 175 foot statue used to stand but is now totally defaced along with the iconic paintings on its head. From the valley we have a good view of the fertile land that is richly planted with potato and barley. Efforts to restore it has been undergoing as I saw rubbles being carefully pieced together by master artisans on stone carving.
On a country that has relatively no industry, the locals really take chance to learn new things for additional income. That is the one admirable trait I loved about their people that self sufficient quality in the midst of conflict. Our foundation gives them salary for every piece they finished within the month. It is a miracle they have survived so long. Maybe if the 15th century Buddha attractions still exist and not destroyed by the Taliban dissidents, tourists will be interested to visit their country and its local communities and villages will earn revenues from the people who are interested to see their attractions. I have nothing but hope in my heart for this beautiful country that I have grown to love. I pray for peace and freedom for this country in the near future.