The drive from Kunduz to Mazar-i-Sharif took us far away from the Hindu Kush mountains and into the desert regions. The landscape was different, the people were ethnically different, the culture was different – I felt like I was on another continent rather than in another part of Afghanistan.
We stopped at a police station along the main road. The policemen were excited to have some Westerners visiting and showed me around a Buddhist ruin that the Taliban had converted into a military bunker complex (from which they could control traffic on the road below).
The Taliban took over the ruins first, but now it is the policemen who sleep here at night (And if things continue as they are, perhaps it will be the Taliban who are sleeping here again in the future).
I took this picture from the top of the former Buddhist ruin. The pipeline on the left was constructed by the Soviet Union to siphon natural gas back to Russia. The men on the right are washing carrots next to the abandoned pipeline.
We visited the ruin pictured below on the way to Mazar-i-Sharif. The fields surrounding the ruin are used for the cultivation of marijuana and, as it was the harvest season, marijuana plants as big as Christmas trees were stacked by the thousands against mud-brick homes, curing in the sun. Villagers scrape the gooey resin, which is pressed into blocks and exported along the same routes that move the opium used to produce heroin.
I thought the little girl in the picture was painfully cute. And I don’t use the word “cute” very often.
There was a beautiful stand of giant old trees surrounding the ruins and it was pleasant to stand in the shade, out of the scorching sun, while sipping tea and listening to the wind whisper through the trees.
This guy has his priorities straight. He has a bedroll and a plastic jug of water. That’s all he owns. And, really, what more does one need? He spends his nights camped out under the stars, next to lovely ruins, and his days hanging out with goats and the occasional Afghan visiting the area.
The kids love to have their picture taken and so I captured one last picture before we departed.
Getting closer to Mazar, we stopped at another former Taliban bunker site I noticed along the road. The Taliban tank pictured below was eviscerated by a U.S. missile in 2001 (according to the locals).
And the fortified bunker didn’t fare well either.
We soon attracted the attention of the children in the neighboring village and were quickly surrounded by enthusiastic youths, fascinated by the presence of Westerners.
The boys started showing off to us by sliding down this hill. So, of course, I challenged them to a race. I tore my pants up, but at least I came in second – and there were a lot of competitors in the race.
To see inside Mazar-i-Sharif click here.