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Bamiyan – The Mined Buddha

War and Peace. This is the first impression of Bamiyan Buddha I saw back in 2003

War and Peace. This is the first impression of Bamiyan Buddha I saw back in 2003

This is still re-visiting trips of what I have visited three years ago. The devastated Buddha statues of Bamiyan are still quiet empty niches on the hill surrounded by green farming land. It was extremely quiet this morning, as children were already in the school and men started working. No other obvious ‘tourists’.

But it was not that quiet either. This time there were many workers working in the area. There were two groups of them. First, those with yellow helmet, working near the big niches of the Big Buddha (55 m) and further on the Small Buddha (38 m). The Buddha niches are both fenced now, requesting visitors to pay for ticket to enter (I don’t know exactly about the ticket stuff as it seems it was OK to wander around without ticket, and the ticket office was always closed). Actually the workers just started working today. Their task is to remove the rubbish stones from the area. A worker told me that they wanted to re-build the Buddhas, but I didnt believe him. There have been many organizations saying so, but it never came to reality. The view was exactly the same as three years ago, except now it’s clean from the rubbles, and visitors cannot enter the caves around the Buddhas anymore.

The blue sky, the remnants of what used to be a high civilization, and stones of thousands years old, Bamiyan always brings my fantasy flying through time machine.

The blue sky, the remnants of what used to be a high civilization, and stones of thousands years old, Bamiyan always brings my fantasy flying through time machine.

Since the fall of Taliban era, UNESCO hold responsibility on the historic site

Since the fall of Taliban era, UNESCO hold responsibility on the historic site

Between the two Buddhas, there was a distance of about 100 m full of caves on the surface of the hills. It is learned that there might be another Buddha, sleeping, with much bigger size than this two demolished standing Buddhas, hidden under the hill in between the two standing niches. Now UNESCO historians are also trying to discover the secret of this marvelous giant Buddha statue, which of course if it is true, will replace the Afghan lost heritage gem.

The caves on the hills were once full of cave-dwellers, the poor people hiding after the wars. The cave dwellers now are much less than what I have ever seen three years ago. UNESCO had declared the area as heritage site, and all cave dwellers should move out. There are still some now living between the two standing Buddhas.

How it was back in 1970s

How it was back in 1970s

It was already damaged, as portrayed on 1950s postage stamp

It was already damaged, as portrayed on 1950s postage stamp

And now, the niche is empty. The giant Buddha has been turned to rubbles

And now, the niche is empty. The giant Buddha has been turned to rubbles

There are always rumours about what to do with this devastated heritage. A traveler I met in Peshawar told me that the Japanese government planned to use high technology of lazer ray to create the visualization sensation of the shape of the previous Buddha statues exactly in their niches. It sounds like ‘Disneyland’ization of the place.

The second working team was, this is more interesting, the de-mining team. Suddenly, I saw the field in front of the hills was scattered with red and white stones, indicating that the area was heavily mined. I was surprised, I ‘played’ around in that area three years ago with my British friend, we even climbed to the top of the hills, playing with the Russian snippers and collecting bullets from the hill, and the scenery from the top was breathtaking. I was really surprised, and thanked God for my good fortune, after hearing the story from this de-miner staff from Kabul.

Some weeks ago, a man from the house very close to the Buddha area, had to be amputated after being blasted by a mine on the way between the Small Buddha and Big Buddha. The Buddha statue area is heavily mined, and it was just found recently. The de-miners team came to the area two weeks ago, and the plan was for two or three months (another team told me that they might leave to Kabul tomorrow, as there is another area to be demined in northern Kabul, and if they do they have to suspend deminization of Bamyan Buddha – it was just the case of mismanagement which is still common in newly estabilished Afghanistan). The top of the Buddhas (where I played three years ago in action with some war memorabilia) was extremely dangerous. Visitors were not even allowed to get close to the hills unless following the single big path. Thus visiting the small caves around the big niches was completely impossible.

Even, its's mined now. The red stone shows that mines are found in vicinity. Dangerous!

Even, its’s mined now. The red stone shows that mines are found in vicinity. Dangerous!

Where the mine came from? It is said that due to the heavy snow, mines from the hills came to the valley, closer to the community area of Bamyan village. I bet that hill areas also include the area on the top of the hills where the Buddhas stood. The area was heavily mined by the Russians about ten years ago, and then Taliban some years after. The suffering people now is the Hazaras of Bamyan.

This man who recounted their project is a Tajik man from Kabul. Besides telling me about the mining situation, he also told me that ‘playboy’ is getting legal in Afghanistan. Don’t imagine the playboy magazine of Indonesia. What he meant by Playboy was ‘man who plays with boys and men’. I told him that in English it was called as ‘gay’, but he insisted that the correct term was ‘playboy’. Well… up to him. He was playboy, he had done with two or three boys. I asked whether he had married, he said yes. But now, with the de-mining work, it’s quite ‘dry’ life for him here, so he needed sex (actually he was giving me signals…, and even offered me Vaseline if I am afraid of the pain. I just said Allahtobah, haram haram, then he stopped signaling me). I asked him that there were so many men around him, working in his team. But he said that he was only interested with smooth and skinny boys (like me….)

Deeper about the story behind this, was about sexual surpession in this conservative country. He said that ‘playboys’ are common in Kandahar (mostly Pashtuns), Mazhar e Sharrif and Kunduz (with Uzbek and Tajik population). It’s very difficult for the men to have fun with girls. In Afghanistan, to marry with a virgin is still an important thing for the men. He said, “If a girl is foolish enough to sleep with a man, than she cannot marry. If she married and she doesnt have blood in the first night, the husband might be very angry and he even might return the wife to the family.” He admit that he was lucky that his wife was bleeding in the first night, if it had been not, he would have been very angry. A typical patriarchal view of marriage. But it was not typical as it ‘legalized’ the men to be ‘playboys’.

But I didn't know about that. In 2003, my travel companion and I were having so much fun as war tourists here. We even collected some bullets as souvenir and brought them home!

But I didn’t know about that. In 2003, my travel companion and I were having so much fun as war tourists here. We even collected some bullets as souvenir and brought them home!

The de-mining team is exposed to high risk due to their profession. The Tajik man works as doctor for the team, so he has among the least risk. But those who work in the field, scanning the mined area, have to play with their life every single minute. They earn 7000-8000 Afghanis per month. For Abdul, a Pathan man from Kabul, it was about faith, faith to God, as He is the only to protect the people.

Later on that day I was invited by some schoolboys to their dormitory near the Buddha. They are students of Bamyan Univeristy, studying management and English. They are all Hazaras. The Hazara people have very strong Mongoloid appearance, and they are the biggest minority in Afghanistan. The dormitory was big and clean, with 12 people in a room. They also cooked in the room. The students only speak Farsi with very limited English, but in Bamyan (as well as many other parts of Afghanistan) there are many Urdu speakers so my Urdu still survive me. The Hazara were Buddhists, but now are Shia followers, and much surpressed by the the Taliban Sunni rule. They hated Taliban very much, as many of them were killed and the Taliban also destroyed the Buddha in their valley. The women are quite visible in Hazarajat, and often they dont wear the burqa, just veil. But they are also deeply religious: the women are touchy with photography. I was told by my Malaysian friend when she attended a wedding party, she was warned not to use her camera at all. And at that time, all women were wearing their best clothes and it was colourful. Hadi from Radio Bamyan said that the people don’t allow their woman to be seen by other man, and that’s due to the religion.

The local children live in the caves of the mountain and play here

The local children live in the caves of the mountain and play here

4 Comments on Bamiyan – The Mined Buddha

  1. Adam Alexander Smith // June 19, 2006 at 3:03 pm // Reply

    Glad to hear you are back in Bamiyan. It must feel nostalgic being there 3 years later. Internet connection in Bamiyan? Wow. Weird. Not sure if that is a good thing or not. If it costs $600 to keep that going, that money could be put to better use helping the local folks. Glad to hear that Mama Njaf’s still exists.

  2. Great to read about Bamiyan statue, specially after demolished by the Taliban. How’s the people reaction about these ?

  3. Hi,Shocked to hear that the place where you took so many wonderful pics are heavly mined.

    I planned to leave for Laos in July 4th. I have applied visa to the Lao PDR embassy. Followed your route 2 years ago , just you are clockwise and I am in the opposite direction :Laos-Cambodia-Vietnam :)

  4. Hi all,
    Sorry for late reply. Now I am not staying in Radio Bamiyan anymore, so my access to Internet is from the internet cafe (60 Af/ hour, with 1 US$=50Af).

    In some days recently, I had made several important contacts from the de-mining team, so I have more detailed information about the mines around Buddha. I will update my blog when I get fast and cheap internet access, e.g. from kabul.

    Adam
    You know that many organizations in Afghanistan, esp those financed by foreign countries, had spent much money inefficiently. If you see how the people work, both Afghan and foreigners, the quantity of work is much less than in China or Indonesia, for example, but they earn double or even ten times more. The 600$ internet might be essential for news agency, but it also depend how they utilize that 600$ budget for internet. as there are not so many news also that being covered by the sole journalist in that office.
    The top of the hill when we played with those bullets and bombs are heavily mined. Even the ground in front of the Buddhas is. They just found 4 mines recently, in the area where we took pictures of the tank in front of the buddhas. And today I got chance to revisit the place on the top of the hills, and I saw by my own eyes the mines being exposed from the ground. So we were extremely lucky at that time, playing with our life 😀

    Ambar:
    people in Bamiyan, the Hazara, still regard that Buddhism was the religion of their ancestors, so they do respect the statues. The Taliban are much hated here, for many reasons. The Hazaras are Shia and they were much surpressed by the Sunni Taliban. And currently the mines due to the prolonged wars (put by Taliban, Russian, Mujahiddin) just added the list of reasons why people here said ‘Taliban is halal (to be slaughtered)’.

    Jian Lian:
    The UNESCO was about to start a restoration of the Buddhas, but they found a mine in their area of working. That’s also the reason why the deminer team come here. Actually the mines were there already since longer time ago, and eventually there were some victims from the local villages.
    Good luck with your first international backpacking trip. dont rush and enjoy the calm Indochina.

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