The men were picked up early to go to Mes Aynak and us girls piled into J’s car for an excursion through the beautiful green Panjshir Valley to visit Ahmad Shah Massoud’s tomb. Massoud, the Lion, led the resistance in this area against the Soviets and forced them to retreat 10 times from the valley. His tomb is visited by pilgrims from all over Afghanistan. We’ve seen his portrait everywhere we went and he is still hugely popular.
The Valley was lush with market gardens amongst a towering mountain range. The mines are slowly being cleared by the Halo Trust and we saw lots of the white “clear” stones along with the red “danger” areas. The narrow road runs beside a fast running river, white with cataracts. The small towns and villages look prosperous and we saw a lot of children (male and female) in UNICEF uniforms on their way to school.
Massoud was assassinated in 2001. His tomb is on a promontory overlooking the Valley – the most spectacular burial site I’ve ever seen. It’s being rebuilt in local white stone but the interior has been completed in pure white marble with flowing Koranic inscriptions picked out in gold around the tomb.
A group of heavily armed young militia were also visiting but they were happy to see us and used their mobile phones to take our photos.
Outside, the gardens were dotted with the remains of 8 battle scarred tanks and anti- aircraft guns amongst the flowers. It was quite surreal.
When we got back to the Hotel the lads told us about their visit to the fantastic Mes Aynak.