30-Apr-2010 -- High Adventure in Taliban Turf on Tuesday, May 25, 2010
My colleagues and I are involved in assisting the Ministry of Mines within the Afghan Government to set up a mineral property ownership system (internationally called a mineral cadastre). Over a recent long weekend (28-30 April 2010), one of my colleagues (Vaughan Smith) and I were visiting the Bāmīān Province to see the carved Buddha statues and visit the Band-e Amīr Lakes with our two drivers.
Two years ago my son and I visited a confluence in Zimbabwe, and I reckoned that this confluence could be reached mostly by vehicle with some hill walking; landmines permitting! So, on Friday 30th, the day planned for our return to Kābul, we detoured north to visit the confluence.
After a short drive (36 km) on unpaved roads; from Bāmīān Town towards Dushi; we reached the village of Ghandak. The last 12 km were through the famed Hindu Kush mountain range, following the Darreh-ye Shekārī river. We then drove along a winding track, running west from the main road, for one and a half kilometres or so, along a the Darreh-ye Ghandak stream; a green strip visible on satellite images. When the GPS registered the arrival on Longitude 68 we stopped; immediately gathering a crowd of interested onlookers. They told us we could not proceed by foot without permission; then quite fortuitously, the local headman appeared, walking back to his homestead, and on listening to our desire to visit the confluence agreed to shepherd us to the foot of the hill that lay to our north. A young man was delegated to go on with me, carrying the camera, whilst I held the GPS. It was a very steep climb, culminating in a razor back ridge, beyond which was an almost vertical cliff down to a tributary of the Ghandak stream. Somewhere on the north face of this ridge, only a couple of seconds away, lay the confluence, unreachable from there (as the south cardinal photo shows).
My guide and I returned to the group, and the vehicle, and we drove a short way downstream, before turning North West and following a rough path along the Espīsang watercourse. We soon crossed the Longitude again, this time to the north of the confluence, so Vaughan and I (each carrying a GPS) walked to the bottom of the same cliff that I had been on top of earlier. As the general east view photograph shows, there was now no way we could ascend to the final magic zeroes, anymore than I could descend to it earlier. So we took the photos as close as we could get to it, only about 20 m horizontally north of the confluence.
We stood at the base of the cliff, now to our south, in a dry riverbed, pock marked with shrubs. It was hard to photograph the South cardinal direction due to the steep cliff with the sun so high. To the east we looked downstream along this hidden valley, to a towering snow capped mountain. To the North the foothills of the Hindu Kush Range rose steeply to the sky. To the West we could see a short way along the rising Espīsang Valley before the near horizon cut off the view. The cardinal photos were taken with the lens set at wide angle in order to capture the sky, so the sense of enclosure is lost; in fact we were completely surrounded by bare rocks, rising up in every direction. The GPS recorded an elevation of 2173 m.
The worry, concern and impatience from our drivers was palpable, even more so after Headman told our drivers that a Taliban warlord had been arrested here by the NATO forces a month previously. He wanted to remain anonymous and not photographed and for us to depart before news got around that two westerners were in the area; who could be kidnapped and used for ransom purposes. We left!
After nearly two hours of traveling towards Tāleh va Barfak, we were prevented from continuing north to the nearest paved road leading to Kābul (which would take us over the Sālang Pass); at a roadblock manned by the police. He informed us that the day before, the Taliban had attacked a convoy on the road ahead, killing a fellow policeman, before escaping on motorcycles. We turned back!
The rest of journey back to the capital, albeit long and bumpy, was without further incident.