Afghanistan 2012 Day 4: Bamiyan
Our driver arrived early so we on the road by 6 am. The way to Bamiyan is now far easier as the old gravel roads have been tarmacked. What used to take 12 hours can now be done in 6/7, depending on security checks. The scenery was wonderful – tall canyons, green, lush valleys and clear blue skies – but our driver was apprehensive because we had to pass through Taliban areas. We’re all dressed in local style and the men definitely could pass for Afghani at a distance but it’s more difficult for us women because we look so different. We’re wearing baggy trousers and large shawls to cover us but we can’t carry off the look properly.
Our driver wants to make good time because the Taliban have been using the convenience of new roads to make afternoon visits to towns to “persuade” people to vote for them in the locale elections. However, we keep getting held up at police checkpoints because they cannot accept that we are tourists. The few who do come here fly to Bamiyan – even the NGOs and Government officials fly – so we’re considered to be very suspicious. I begs the question, why spend 10s of millions of dollars on roads that are only used by the Taliban?
G started to lose his cool at the second checkpoint when they started to search our bags. The police are typically young, bored men who find us fascinating and they all want to look through our passports to look at our (collectively) impressive range of global visas. A’s Iranian visa causes most interest.
We finally got to Bamiyan at 2pm and it’s even more impressive than the photos. Very atmospheric. We hadn’t got a hotel booked because part of G’s safety strategy is to make sure that no-one can plot our course in advance, so reducing the chance of a hostile intervention. Even the Tourist Ministry and the British Embassy don’t know our exact plans.
We drove on for a few minutes to a place above the town, guesthouse that used to be owned by the Government. It’s seen better days but the welcome was genuine and we’re staying with a Ministry team who are here to survey locals without employment. They are charming people, especially a young woman who speaks delightful English. A Doctor from Helmand also offered his hospitality to us, as guests in his country and asks if he can practice conversational English with us.
Our rooms are comfortable but shabby and we only have electricity after sunset (that we watched from the extensive flat roof). We’re sited on a bluff overlooking the vacant Buddha niches. There’s no sign of any wildlife, not even a cockroach. Dinner is pulao rice, chicken, okra and chips. We were the only guests in the restaurant.
Just when we thought we were all acclimatizing well, Q asked to speak privately to G as she doesn’t feel fit enough to continue the journey. The heavy dust has affected her breathing and she’s asthmatic. G now had a dilemma because it’s too dangerous for her to travel back to Kabul on her own, he wasn’t sure if it was possible to book a flight from here or if it was safe for her to stay on her own in Kabul to wait for us.