Sunday, April 5, 2009

A Quick Trip to Bamian (aka a HUGE Pile of Scenery Photos) Part Two

Vic left on one plane just about an hour before a whole bunch of bigshots arrived via helicopter. Between all of the general officers there were five stars that landed all at once and it was time for the PRT folks to show off all of their efforts for the VIPs. Mixed in with the crowd was the Dutch admiral that runs my branch of the headquarters staff. I'm not sure why, but he decided that I needed to stay with him and his entourage while he toured the area. So I ended up getting an extra day in Bamian. Not that I'm complaining.

Once they were given their initial briefing, the senior officers all went off to have lunch with the governor and discuss what we could do to help her maintain the safest province in the country. I stayed behind and ended up joining a crowd of folks that were driving into town during the dead time.

While we were waiting for the VIPs to tour the area I got to wander around in the local park where they had a bunch of war trophies parked all over the place including this Soviet T-55 tank:
Abandoned Soviet Tank

This is also where I found the world's most disgusting public restroom:
Public Restroom

The upper row of holes are windows for ventilation (which were sorely needed) and the lower row of holes are there so that the effluent can be shoveled out from underneath. Inside there's a squatting hole in the floor and a little trench to carry away urine. In the picture above and below you can see the darkened areas on the mud walls where the piss-tube passes through and they've been soaked through with urine:


In that same field there was a herd of goats grazing, so here's some cute little kids to balance the ick level in this blog post:
Kids Cute, huh? Okay. We're even now.

Once we were back in the truck, we caught up with everyone else's vehicles and I got as close as I was going to get to one of the holes where the giant buddha statues used to be before they were destroyed by the Taliban in March of 2001:

Buddha hole
The statue that used to be in the hole was a 180-foot tall standing statue of Buddha. For a rough idea of the scale, the Statue of liberty is a 151-foot tall figure standing atop a 154-foot tall pedestal.

The statue itselfe was carved directly from the sandstone of the cliffs. There were stucco details added as well which had long since been worn away by long exposure to the elements. The vertical rows of holes along the right side of the space were actually where giant wooden poles were mounted to stabilise some of those stucco details.

This statue was built in the middle of the 5th century and it was the largest standing Buddha statue in the world. It stood through 1,500 years, the invasions of Genghis Khan, Mahmud of Ghazni (who conquered all of Afghanistan and much of Iran and Pakistan), and Nader Shah (the Napoleon of Persia), the Dark Ages, the Age of Exploration, the Rennaissance, the Industrial Revolution, and countless regime changes before the Taliban decided that they were an insult to Islam and destroyed them with rockets, artillery, and dynamite.

The other holes in the cliff-face are actually people's homes. At one point, this was the site of one of the world's most important Buddhist monasteries. There were over 2,000 monks who lived in these hermit-holes in the wall. Now it's considered the cheap side of town, Bamian's equivalent of a trailer park.

I tried my best to get more decent photos, but it was tough to do from the backseat of a pickup bouncing along gravel roads:
After bouncing around for the day, it was time to take a helicopter tour of the rest of the province:
Valley south of Bamian Town
Here's the local radio station rebuilt with help from the New Zealand PRT:
Less than 0.5% of Bamian Province is flat, level land, and barely 1.7% is considered semi-flat. So wherever there's a river valley that's anything like flat wedged into the mountain ranges you can find tiny little villages.

The mountains themselves so colorful that they almost seem fake. It's clearly no coincidence that the word "Bamian" comes from the Sanskrit word "varmayana," which means "colored."

Bamian Mountains2

But I'm still amazed at how the locals manage to cling to every square inch of useful land:



Bamian Mountains

Somewhere along the way we flew over the coal mines in the northeast end of the province:
Bamian Coal Mines
Coal is actually one of the three main, potentially profitable mineral deposits in the province. There is also a sizeable iron ore deposit and a less significant copper deposit. While there is a lot of money to be made from these resources, the governor is wise enough to recognize the importance of the local ecological wealth as well. So far they're only mining by hand with picks and shovels, so the impact is minimal. With any luck they'll be able to industrialize the mining operations in a responsible manner so as not to destroy the natural beauty of the region.

Once we'd done a lap of the region we headed back to the airstrip so everyone could say their good-byes and the crews could refuel the birds:
Blackhawk in Bamian

As we set off for our next adventure, a group of local kids came up to the wire at the perimeter to see us take off:
Local kids in Bamian

Next stop: Bagram Air Base in Parwan Province...

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