Afghanistan / Places We Go

Bamiyan – Part 2

As we arrived in Bamiyan in the afternoon, we decided to walk across the valley (a short walk) to where the giant Buddhas (now only niches) had been:

bamyan

bamiyan

I thought this was an interesting alleyway:

bamian

Bamiyan became a front line between the Taliban and Northern Alliance in 2001/2 and the modern town was almost destroyed.  Below are just a couple of pictures of the devastation:

bamiyan

bamiyan-ruins

The colossal Buddha statues were created in the 3rd, 4th and 5th centuries and fanning out around the statues were thousands of ornamented caves, inhabited by monks.

The Kingdom of Bamiyan fell to Muslim conquerors who captured it in 871. Then, Genghis Khan destroyed Bamiyan and completely exterminated its inhabitants in 1221 – an event from which Bamiyan has never recovered:

best-bamiyan-picture

I thought this guy in front of the Buddha niches and caves was exceptionally photogenic:

hazara-farmer-bamiyan

As the valley is so small, agriculture extends right up to the base of the cliffs:

bamyan

Fighters have frequently used the cave complex as bunkers and so one will see many martyr’s flags around the cliffs and caves as this was an area of intense fighting:

bamiyan

And is still heavily mined in some areas.  Rocks painted red indicate a minefield, while white rocks indicate that an area has been cleared:

bamiyan-mines

Although I was curious about the caves that had been mined, I entered this one instead which had supposedly been cleared:

bamiyan-caves

The cave I entered above leads to a labyrinth of caves behind the Buddhas.  Here is a picture looking out over the Bamiyan valley from where the larger of the two Buddhas used to reside:

bamiyan-valley

And the picture below is a view looking straight down to all that remains of the giant Buddha – part of his feet…

There were two main Buddhas, one 36 m and the other 53m high. As I mentioned above, the cliff walls that these niches are part of are honeycombed with caves and monasteries. There are also other much smaller niches which also had Buddhas. There is still evidence remaining of some of the stucco work and paintings in a few of the caves. Some of the best frescoes from the valley were taken to the Kabul Museum, but alas were destroyed when that institution was ransacked.

It took a large amount of tank fire and explosives for the Taliban to bring the statues down. Today some of the remains have been collected in sheds at the foot of the niches:

bamiyan-buddha-ruins

These pictures taken by Soviet military personnel in the 1980s provide a sense of what was lost:

soviet-military-pictures-of-bamiyan-buddhas

soviet-military-bamiyan-buddhas

High up on the cliffs… Views from the caves.  Don’t go up here if you are afraid of heights:

bamiyan

bamiyan-cliffs

Back down on the ground, gazing up to where the larger Buddha used to be:

bamiyan-buddha-niche

Evidence of combat is still everywhere you walk around:

bamiyan-fighting

I scrambled up behind the niche where the smaller Buddha used to be to get this picture below.  Engineers were concerned that the entire cliff face could collapse at any time and so this reinforcement was placed in the niche.  This is not the start of a restoration effort (yet).

As an interesting – “oh by the way” – there are rumors of a giant reclining Buddha buried somewhere in the Bamiyan Valley. However, no one is really in a rush to go out and find it because if it is found and the Taliban return to power, there is the very legitimate concern that it would be destroyed:

bamiyan

After exploring the cliffs and Buddhas, I walked through the town of Bamiyan to interact with the locals and get some pictures.  Bamiyan feels like a real “Wild West” town – dirt streets, guns everywhere, no electricity… I loved it:

bamiyan

bamiyan-village

bamiyan

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4 thoughts on “Bamiyan – Part 2

  1. Pingback: Visiting Pul-i-Kumri, Afghanistan « The Velvet Rocket

  2. Hope for one of the Buddha statues blown up by the Taliban

    Scientists may be able to reconstruct giant sandstone Buddha in Afghanistan’s Bamiyan Valley

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    * Associated Press
    * guardian.co.uk, Monday 28 February 2011 18.56 GMT
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    To match feature Afghan-tourism The remains of the giant Buddha destroyed by the Taliban in March 2001. Photograph: Ahmad Masood/Reuters

    German scientists say it may be possible to reconstruct one of two giant 1,500-year-old Buddha statues dynamited by the Taliban in central Afghanistan 10 years ago. Their destruction prompted a worldwide outcry and left behind only towering cliff caverns.

    Researchers have studied several hundred fragments of the sandstone statues that once towered up to 180 feet (55m) high in Bamiyan province, and found that they were once brightly coloured in red, white and blue, said Erwin Emmerling of Munich’s Technical University.

    The professor of restoration and conservation science, who has visited the Unesco world heritage site about 15 times since 2007, says research has shown that the smaller of the pair – some 125 feet high – could be reconstructed using the recovered parts, even though there are some “political and practical obstacles” to overcome.

    “Conservation of the fragments would require the construction of a small factory in the Bamiyan Valley – alternatively some 1,400 rocks weighing up to two tonnes each would have to be transported to Germany,” the university said.

    Emmerling is to present the findings at a Unesco conference on the Buddha statues’ future starting on Wednesday in Paris. The Afghan government, whose representatives will attend the expert meeting, will ultimately decide on the statues’ fate. The Taliban destroyed the towering Buddha statues in March 2001, less than a year before international forces toppled their government.

    The Bamiyan Valley, about 260 kilometres (160 miles) west of Kabul at an altitude of some 8,000 feet, once formed a branch of the Silk Road, which contributed to the diffusion of Buddhism from India to the region.

    Emmerling’s team says mass spectrometer tests have allowed them to better determine the statues’ age. Organic material in the fragments’ clay layers were found to date from between 544 and 595 for the smaller Buddha and between 591 and 644 for the bigger one.

    The fragile sandstone fragments of the statues are currently either covered on the site or stored in a warehouse in Bamiyan province, awaiting the Afghan government’s decision.

  3. Pingback: Visiting The Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves | The Velvet Rocket

  4. Pingback: Visiting The Afghan National Museum (Kabul Museum) | The Velvet Rocket

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