Nov 242013

It was April 2011, just after dusk, and we made our way to a restaurant in central Baghdad along Abu Nawas Street by the River Tigris. This area is well known for serving Iraq’s favourite fish dish…the “mazgouf”.
Our "mazgouf"; fish grilled over an open fire of burning lemon/orange tree wood. We chose the live fish that we wished to eat and the fish were then stunned, gutted, seasoned then slow grilled for our pleasure. It takes about an hour to cook the fish. This resaurant was next to the banks of the Tigris in Baghdad, Iraq. Photo taken in April 2011.

The restaurant, although having a roof, is open to the elements and was filled with many customers; obviously a popular place.

Having selected our live carp (allegedly from the adjacent Tigris but more probably from a fish farm), the cook removed the fish from the tank and then stunned them with a stick, gutted them by cutting along the back, applied some seasoning, and then impaled them to be slow-grilled next to an open fire of burning fruit tree branches such as from lemon trees and orange trees. What we didn’t realise was that it takes about an hour or so to cook the fish, so we had a lot of time to chat!

Carp are bottom feeders and if they were from the Tigris around Baghdad then I’m not sure that I’d have too many fish dinners; there has just been too much dumped in the river following the recent war. Once I’d got past wondering where the fish came from, I did enjoy the meal. I’m not a real fish eater so I can’t say it was a fantastic meal. It was good for sure but I certainly wasn’t jumping up and down in delight. Many would disagree with me and defend the fish. That’s fine. We all have different tastes, literally!

But the mazgouf is an important dish to the Iraqis and the Iraqi diaspora, and it helps to unite them through social gatherings and reinforce their identity and uniqueness; something that’s very much needed in these trying times.

Nov 202010

Further to the original batch of photos from Afghanistan, I’ve now posted an additional set at:


And, of course, the original batch can be found here:

Article by Kulvinder Singh Matharu – 2010

Nov 032010

Further to my article, further information can be found here:

It certainly seems a fiasco.

Article by Kulvinder Singh Matharu – 2010

Nov 252009

Afghanistan? What? Where? You mad?!

Afghanistan Most of our travels within the country were through central and northern Afghanistan. The trip was quite exhausting and security concerns increasingly played a part especially during the elections with the risk of rocket attacks, suicide bombs or IEDs. However, I did think that the security forces were over enthusiastic in protecting us…we tried to avoid them whenever we could. The reason being that they invariably curtailed our movements or detained us for our “protection”. They obviously were very sensitive about ensuring that we didn’t attract undue attention from the Taliban. There was one point when we were escorted by several armed vehicles to get to the next town; what a day that was as we travelled from checkpoint to checkpoint and waited hours while the roads ahead were checked. Being flagged down by masked gunmen was taken in its stride, especially in light of being roughed up by armed guards at one checkpoint. We only had a couple of real security concerns during the trip and what appeared to be a direct rocket attack that made me dive for cover!

This wasn’t really a holiday…more of a photographic assignment for me! Still, it was an excellent trip. We were roughing it quite a bit sleeping on floors and went several days without washing. But we had our sleeping bags, roll-mats, med-kits, emergency rations, water purifiers, etc so we didn’t suffer too much! But you can imagine the toilet facilities…there wasn’t much! Using the bushes or the nearest wall was the order of the day!

We basically travelled from town-to-town hiring a driver with a 4×4 mini-bus each time to get us to the next town; we changed our route several times dependent on security and the willingness of drivers to take us through Taliban or bandit country. The heat was constant except along the spine of the Hindu Kush such as the Salang Pass and Bamiyan province. But the dust…the dust was everywhere. We breathed dust all the time. It was in our lungs, in our hair, in our clothes.

Most of the people were really friendly and they were curious to find out who we were. Most initially thought we were part of the NATO-led ISAF force, or that we were journalists or working for the UN or NGOs…they were most bemused to discover that we were holidaying in Afghanistan! Just outside of Kabul we bumped into a security team from the British Embassy…they were not too happy to see us there. But with the recent spate of killings and kidnappings of foreigners in Afghanistan you can understand their concerns.

Despite the armed convoys, military checkpoints, and helicopter gunships flying overhead I did manage to have some relaxing moments. One of my favourite moments was at a Sufi shrine in Gazargah near the town of Herat where a family invited us to share their picnic. Despite the recent road-side explosion that had killed 12 people in Herat, and despite the language barrier, we felt their genuine pleasure at meeting us. This was a special moment for me; not the serenity of the blue lakes at Band-e-Amir, not the majestic Buddhist caves at Bamiyan, and not the rugged beauty of the landscape. It was this touching gesture from a family who allowed us to share their food and gave us the warmth of their friendship.

When we got back to Kabul we were interviewed by a journalist regarding our trip. She was curious about the type of people who would holiday in Afghanistan. I do wonder what she thought afterward…”Crazy people”. Indeed.

Photos can be seen at:

I accidently dropped my 70-300mm camera lens down a cliff into a lake in the middle of Afghanistan so that seriously compromised the types of photos that I could take for most of the trip. Still, I was up for a challenge and I hope to have captured the essence of the place.

Article by Kulvinder Singh Matharu – 2009