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:
I thought this was an interesting alleyway:
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:
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:
I thought this guy in front of the Buddha niches and caves was exceptionally photogenic:
As the valley is so small, agriculture extends right up to the base of the cliffs:
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:
And is still heavily mined in some areas. Rocks painted red indicate a minefield, while white rocks indicate that an area has been cleared:
Although I was curious about the caves that had been mined, I entered this one instead which had supposedly been cleared:
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:
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:
These pictures taken by Soviet military personnel in the 1980s provide a sense of what was lost:
High up on the cliffs… Views from the caves. Don’t go up here if you are afraid of heights:
Back down on the ground, gazing up to where the larger Buddha used to be:
Evidence of combat is still everywhere you walk around:
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:
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: