Thursday, July 8, 2010

"Waging war on stones"

A pockmarked cliff stands protectively over Bamiyan city, visible throughout the town. For some millennium and a half, two large Buddhas - paired bookends to a network of shrines and temples carved out of the sandstone - overlooked this valley in central Afghanistan. Now, fragments of a third smaller statue and patches of fresco scattered throughout the caves hint at their ancient glories while children herd goats past the potato fields at their base.

After lunch at the New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction Team ("Kiwi Base") with a new friend of Afreen's and a short nap for my travel-weary eyes, it was time to pay a proper visit to these most famous victims of Taliban destruction. After a brief walk through the potato fields and past the large niches, we bought handwritten entry tickets from a small house before passing through a gate warning us of falling rock.

Climbing steep stairwells between rooms and balconies carved into the sheer cliff-face, we reached the full height of the smaller niche. A complete fresco of a serene, meditating Buddha adorned the archway of one entry, while a blue-sky panorama of snow-dusted mountains competed for my attention looking outward.

Alcoves behind the larger niche are filled with fragments of the exploded statue, patiently awaiting whatever fate may come. For all of Mullah Omar's declaration that "we are only waging war on stones," these particular rocks retain a powerful hold on both Afghan and international imagination. Though plans to reconstruct the statues are currently on hold, their traces live on in great fame.

(I took many, many photos while climbing the Buddhas. All images above link to a slideshow of my favorites for those who would like a more complete tour).

1 comment:

Sarah said...

oops - nevermind. hadn't seen these yet