Afghanistan? What? Where? You mad?!
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