I was not there for the safety, although that certainly didn't discourage a trip. I was there because I have heard of the beauty of the valley. With the river running through it. Snow-capped mountains surrounding it, and the views are sometimes spectacular. i have heard Bamiyan and its surroundings are supposed to be better, but that will be for another trip in the future.
"You will be safe there. No Taliban. I don't know about kidnappings, though. But I am sure you will be OK!" my host assured me. I felt assured. I think. The guy that had taken me around before, would get a taxi to drive us up there, and take us safely, I hoped, back to Kabul.
I got up at around 6 to make sure I was ready for whenever my guide would be ready. At around 8, he arrived. And we were off. First, we drove to a local university to pick up a fourth guy. He was a friend of my guide, and spoke much better English. A big relief for me who spoke but three words in Afghani, "tashakor" (thank you), "bale" (yes) and "ne" (no).
We talked a lot while driving through the madness traffic of Kabul. Soon the smell changed from thick exhaust to almost fresh. Although it never completely changes here. The car's aren't exactly factory fresh, so leakages seems to be the norm rather than the exception. So I often sit in the gas fumes while driving. Not too bad in this car though.
As we drove on and talked, I looked outside and was greeted by the view of the snowcapped mountains around us. It was beautiful. "We are in the valley now?" I asked. "Not yet. It is a while before we get there". I was excited. This was really looking up!
|Pakistani lorries with loads of artwork|
|Reutilizing containers left behind|
|Old soviet tanks|
After a while, we arrived at something that looked like a checkpoint, with an arch across the road. "This is the start of the valley" I was informed. In front of us, the mountains rose up. With brownish, dry mountain sides in the front, and jagged, snowcapped peaks in the background. We drove on, and came to another arch. "This is where the real Panjshir starts". We had to get out. The soldiers wanted to check my passport. I was happy. I got to look around, and take some snaps. Below the road was the river. One the other side of the road, a rockface with a lot of loose rocks rose straight up. And the winding road between the two. I took a lot of photos before one of the soldiers came up to me and waved his finger. "No photo!". I nodded and put down my camera. I had no intention of deleting the photos I had already taken. And he didn't ask me to.
|Entrance to Panjshir. Portrait of Masood on top. War heroes all over.|
"Lets go!" my guide said, and we all got into the car, drove approximately 200 meters before we reached another checkpoint. "Give me your passport", he said. The same routine. I didn't mind. I got to enjoy the scenery. Simply beautiful. A few minutes later, they had jotted down all my passport info, and we were off again.
"The people here are in incredible shape!" my English speaking guide told me. "They run as fast on the mountains as we do on the road. So nobody can chase them up here!" I was starting to theorize why the valley was known for its fierce resistance. Imagine trying to pursue someone who runs like a mountain goat across the rocky terrain. You would be outrun in an instance. Gasping for air while they would barely notice.
As we progressed through the winding roads of the narrow canyon, the landscape slowly opened up. And more sloping hills climbed up to the steep mountains above. Strewn with houses, small farms, mosques, army camps and fruit trees of different kinds. I tried to take photos of the beauty, but as always, it is impossible. You just have to be there to know. At one point, the road turned as we came to the top of a hill, and we were greeted to a beautiful open valley as far as the eyes could see, and with a gorgeous mountainous backdrop. It was so stunning I forgot to take a photo.
As we progressed through the valley, I also got to see the one of the things I had seen on photos on the internet. Old rusting soviet tanks. Yeah, I know. Taking photos of the same things that everyone else? But it is like when I do astrophoto. I cannot beat the Hubble telescope, but it is something about taking the photo yourself. I can say : I was there. I did that.
Sooo. Enough talk (or writing). Here are some of my images. Not even close to giving you any idea of how it is to drive through the valley itself. So I hope the war and terror ends, so more people can enjoy this beautiful place themselves.
We turned around when we arrived at the "mausoleum" for Masood. The mujahedeen many here regard as a national hero. Others, not so sure. But anyways, he was assassinated 2 days before 9/11. No connection, just a weird coincidence. The area around the mausoleum was spectacular. With loads of old russian tanks and artillery stuff. And the mountains? Phew! What a view!
I let my two guides play with my compact as I walked around taking photos of the surroundings.
|Great framing inside the mausoleum|
|Old soviet tanks|
|War taken over by art|
|My guides took this image of me while playing around with my camera|
All the way back to Kabul, I sat with my camera on my lap, and shot countless photos of the surroundings. From the car. As we drove by.
We stopped on the way to get some lunch. When they asked what I wanted, I said "Kebab". They probably thought I had no imagination. Which probably is not too inaccurate. The others had some other course consisting of meat and rice and veggies. Looked delicious. But I was happy with my kebabs and afghan bread.
|Deliscious kebabs and bread|
On the final leg back to Kabul, my guides stopped at a small shop. They went in and came out with big bottles of something that looked like milk. It was actually made from milk. But it was a "waste"-product from making cheese or something. "You just have to taste this" they proclaimed. "I can drink several bottles of this!". I took one of the bottles and took a large sip. Salty milky taste. Not as bad as I feared. Not my favorite drink, but I survived. So I was happy about that. Have tried local stuff before where I felt mostly like vomiting. So this was a nice surprice.
Back in Kabul, the noise, the pollution and the traffic made me want to go back to the valley of the five lions. My English speaking guide admitted : "I want to move there. Life seems so simple. So slow. So relaxing. Here in Kabul you live in constant threat. Constant hustle and bustle. This trip was a breath of fresh air. Literally!"
I knew what he was talking about...
With a breath of fresh air