Monday, July 12, 2010

Shahr-e Zohak

For those of you keeping score at home, I'm now back in Kabul, so elections-intrigue posts will resume shortly. However, several posts' worth of Bamiyan photos remain. Continuing the travel-blogging:

Having already seen the most spectacular of Bamiyan's natural wonders, Afreen and I set out to explore some of its historical curiosities. Shahr-e Zohak, a 6th-century fortress built up into a 12th century city only to be destroyed by Ghengis Khan, offered a perfect afternoon of mountain-climbing and picture-taking.

The red-brick ruins sit perched over a green valley of potato fields about 12 miles outside of Bamiyan along the road to Kabul. As Afreen scrambled up the steep hill, Arif turned to check on me as I stumbled, winded and gasping, behind. "She's part mountain goat," I told him, but even as he nodded I realized he hadn't understood. Pointing my index fingers from my temples like small horns, I clarified my previous statement: "baaaa..." His laughter made Afreen stop long enough for me to catch my breath.

At over 8,000 feet, Bamiyan is enough higher than Kabul that my lungs noticed the lack of oxygen - at least when hiking. Pausing for another "please stop; I can't breathe" break, I looked back out on the valley from which we were climbing. Though the New York Times' reporting on mineral wealth in Afghanistan started a debate on whether this story was or was not a revelation, a simple glance at the bright bands of color streaked through these hills certainly hint at riches beneath.

Along the hillside, scattered white-painted stones mark a clear route safe from landmines, while a handful of warning markers appear to protect unsuspecting tourists from the few remaining threats. The hillside served a defensive role even as the Taliban came into Hazarajat, so the ancient fortress also serves as home to piles of scrap metal and more recent remains of war as well.

Most spectacularly, the highest turret still contains a battered green anti-aircraft gun, pointing out over the town below. Bamiyan today is one of the quietest, most stable provinces in all Afghanistan, but the memory of conflict is recent enough that certain scars still show.

(Additional photos of Shahr-e Zohak)

No comments: