A Lament for Bamian (Bamiyan)
Here, as a small personal lamentation for the destruction of the great Buddhas of Bamian (also spelt Bamiyan) by the Taliban in 2001 (after terrible damage to the whole fabric of that country by the Red Army during the Russian occupation), is a photo-reportage from my trip in 1976, just before the Russian invasion. The country was already full of Russian military ‘advisers’ and their tanks, wearing the livery of the Afghan army, but it was still free, a merry place, rich in every kind of enterprise.
The great Buddha statues (Buddhas of Bamiyan) were carved out of the solid sandy rock of the valley walls. Many caves were also hollowed out, forming whole monasteries where the monks prayed and meditated.
The size of the statue can be appreciated from the little streets of Bamian. Tiny human figures can just be seen at the foot of the Buddha.
The village bakery under the peaceful gaze of the Buddha made bread and cakes for locals and visitors alike. Few tourists have come to Afghanistan since 1977; fourteen years of Russian bombing and violent resistance by the Afghans in defence of their homeland reduced the houses to rubble, smashed the canals and irrigation systems, filled the fields with mines and forced much of the population to flee.
Brass samovars glitter in an Afghan tea-shop, also known as “Chai Khana.”
From the high rocky edge of the Band-i-Amir valley, the lakes shine preternaturally bright in the pure clear air.
The lakes lie not in hollows but atop their own natural dams, precipitated tufa from the mineral salts in the water that runs over and constantly builds up the edge.
Beautiful waterfalls stream over these dams, past little stone mill-houses whose owners have plentiful water-power in this dry land.
In a Kabul hotel, the guests relax and listen to the evening’s musicians drumming and playing under coloured electric lamps on rich red Afghan carpets. Incense burns; hashish and opium appear.
In the morning the tourists have tea and cakes. There is a brightly-coloured pot for everyone. A tall Pashtun and a Punjabi negotiate some business; it takes a little while to realize the medium of commerce is English.
No tourists taste tea or opium in Afghanistan today. The tea-house, if it still stands, serves Taliban men. The women stay at home, uneducated. The great Buddhas of Bamian are desecrated. Say a prayer or at least lament for Bamian.