Bam – The Flattened Civilization

From what is left, you still can be amazed by the grandeur of an advanced ancient civilization 27 December 2003, the small town of Bam – located in southeastern Iran, about 300 kilometers from Kerman – was shocked by 6.8 Richter-scale earthquake. More than 40,000 were killed. Asides of the human casualty, Iran has another thing to grieve, as one of its civilization jewels was nothing but flattened. The ancient mud city of Bam used to be one of the strongest tourism magnets in Iran. People claimed it has 3,000 years of history, at least from the Sassanian period. Thousands of interesting old mud houses, sprawl under a giant mud citadel, giving exotic fairytale impression. I adore the old pictures of Bam, which are still hanged everywhere to remind how majestic the place used to be. But, the view of Arg-e-Bam (the ancient citadel surrounded by the mud city) today makes me weeping. The place is in severe desolation. The citadel which was appraised by Marco Polo and other ancient travelers now turned to be rubble. The old town become sad crumbling remains and debris. Workers are everywhere, hoping to restore the old town to its ancient glory, but not [...]

June 14, 2008 // 0 Comments

Kabul – Welcome to Ariana Flight

The boarding room of Kabul International Airport. Everybody is ready to fly … The first encounter with Ariana – the Afghan national carrier – is not always thrilling. It might be a unique experience from the Afghan land. In last several months I have been working as a consultant for UN. This, more or less, has changed my preference in traveling. Probably I got spoiled already with those amenities, facilities, and luxuries. Today, the first day of me turning back to be a backpacker again, I feel a sudden shock. Usually I prefer to take overland trip, but this time, on my way going to Iran for a short holiday to change the routine in Kabul, I chose to fly Ariana. The Kabul – Herat’s 1000 kilometer distance can be reached through three different routes. The northern route, through Mazar-e-Sharif, takes at least four days, killing unpaved road full of dust of the desert Dasht-e-Laila at the end of its leg. I have experienced this in 2006 and am not so keen to try again. The second option is the Central Route, through Bamiyan, Ghour, and Heart provinces. Most of the roads are unpaved, hitchhiking is required, and in my [...]

June 9, 2008 // 3 Comments

Kabul – Massoud Day: An Unfinished Speech

“Massoud never left his country, and sacrificed his life for the fatherland” – President Hamid Karzai The supporters of Massoud remembering the 6th anniversary of the martyrdom Two day before the 9-11, a significant event happened in Afghanistan. On September 9, 2001, Ahmad Shah Massoud, one of the greatest and charismatic Afghan’s commanders, was assassinated in a suicide blast by Al Qaeda agents posing as journalist and photographer. He died on September 14, 2001 after few days in comma. This was the first time Afghanistan saw suicide bombing, which in later years become more popular. This was also the beginning why cameras are treated with full suspects as sensitive and possibly dangerous item in Afghanistan. But the most significant of all was Afghan-nation-in-struggle its great leader. Massoud was regarded as the hero who defeated the Red Army and successfully slapped Islamism fanaticism exactly in the face. His unexpected assassination by two Arab religious extremists was mourned by millions of Afghan. In 2002 the American-raised new government of Afghanistan declared Ahmad Shah Massoud as Afghan’s National Hero, as celebration of victory of Mujahiddin over communism. September 9 is then remembered every year nationwide as ‘Massoud Day’, to remember the spirit struggle [...]

September 9, 2007 // 0 Comments

Kabul, My Black Day

The police who slapped me, checked my camera, and slapped me again I cannot reckon any day worse than today. In the morning, there was another bomb blast in Kabul, in Mikroyan area. The suicide bomber was a young man in Western dress, who planted the bombs on his body, and blasted himself. There were 6 casualties. Two days before there was another bomb blast in front of the ministry of interior, which killed 16 people and wounded 50 others. Now is the Muslim’s holy month of Ramazan. But why are there bombings now? The extremists urge their followers to do the suicide bombings; for them it is jihad, as being a martyr in the holy month guarantees their place in heaven. Secondly, the winter is coming soon, and in winter terrorist actions would be more difficult to conduct. The extremists were in a hurry to complete their mission. The situation in Afghanistan is getting worse. Security is tightening up. But I still cannot accept the justification of what happened to me today. 4:30 p.m. I went out of my office to buy some postcards. My office is located near to the Ministry of Interior, where the blast happened two [...]

October 2, 2006 // 9 Comments

Lal o Sar Jangal – Coach Day

They promised to take me along with their trucks Cheragh was his nickname, literally means ‘lamp’. I don’t really know why he was called like that. He was a fat Hazara truck driver whom I talked with yesterday. He was agree to give me a lift up till Panjao, in Bamiyan province. Cheragh had interesting history. He spent 2 weeks in an island near Jakarta, of which he ever didn’t know the name. North of Jakarta, there are hundreds of small islands which are called as ‘thousand islands’. He, together with other 400 Afghans, was in a ship to Australia from Malaysia, their adventure for getting a better life, a dream from their warring country, 6 years ago. “The Indonesian government didn’t give us permission. Australia also didn’t give us permission,” They failed to get refugee visas even from Indonesia, and the archipelago government just allowed them to stay in an isolated island for two months. The government provided them food anyway, and the Indonesians they saw were only army who sent the food to the island. Thus Cheragh had not much other impression of Indonesia but its good weather and abundant water. Cheragh was a truck driver, who got [...]

September 18, 2006 // 0 Comments

Peshawar – Sexual Innuendo (Again???)

June 6, 2006 Man-to-man body contact is very normal here I was looking for a cheap transport to go to Khyber Pass, as foreigners are not allowed to take the public transports. So a friend of mine introduced me to a travel guide. The travel guide was very friendly, visiting me to my hotel almost every night and yesterday took me to his office. It was night. He said, “Dont worry, you are my friend, I will give you cheap price…” bla bla bla. It didnt matter for me. He liked to touch my shoulder which is for me OK, but in his office he tried to rub my ear, then I thought I should keep the distance. When he took me back to my hotel with a taxi, he even gave me a chain of flower. Not until 3 minutes, I was already in the hotel, climbing the stairs to my room. Two guys, one fat one slim, both in shalwar qameez, both moustached, started to stare me and kept following me. They wanted to chat with me but they didnt speak Urdu well, only Pashto. From what I understood, they wanted me to go to their room. I [...]

June 6, 2006 // 3 Comments

Lahore – Heera Mandi

April 26, 2006 It’s just next to this holy mosque “Larki marki dekaun?,” asked a man, when I passed the famous red light area of Heera Mandi on my way to the biggest mosque of Mughal dinasty, the Badshahi Mosque. What he meant was whether to show me the girls. Without me asking, he said that the price was 300 Rs only, very cheap. “Mujhe dilcaspi nahin!” (I am not interested) I said after quite a while he kept following me and trying to “sell” his comodity. “Accha!” he left me alone. The red light district of Heera Mandi, had been the place of dancing women, transexuals, and prostitutes since the era of Mughal kings. And in modern Lahore, the area is still notorious for the similar things. I was interested to learn more about this area and the life behind, but it was too risky to do research here. Heera Mandi itself looks quite normal during the day, old bazaars with small alleys, women in purdah, males wandering along the ways (some are pimps). I was in Badshahi Mosque, just few meters of walking distance. Actually it was bizzare to consider the location of this great mosque just next [...]

April 26, 2006 // 2 Comments

Darra Adam Khel – The Gun Factories

April 16, 2006 They have known bullets and guns since childhood Darra Adam Khel is a village 38 kms south of Peshawar, on the way to Kohat. It looked like a normal village of Pakistan border, but somehow resemble Afghanistan villages also. It looked normal along the way: mud square houses, green field, boys wandering around, shops with their glass windows, and Pathans with their distinctive caps. But the name of Darra has something else to proud about, it’s the gun factory of Pakistan. The people in this area, if may say, all do the same business: gun making and selling. The factories are hidden in the rooms in the small alleys and bazaars, and gun shops are widely open. Pen-shapped pistols It’s obvious that this kind of place was not supposed for tourists to wander around. In fact, before the area was open for tourists, many tourist buses came here to visit the gun shops and ‘check’ the local made AK-47, guns, snippers, pistols, etc etc. Since Benazir Bhutto era, this area was closed for tourists. It was still in Pakistani teritorry, but now the procedure is similar to visiting a tribal area: a permit is needed, and not [...]

April 16, 2006 // 1 Comment

Peshawar – Smuggler Bazaar

April 13, 2006 Refugees children Karkhana Bazaar, or smuggler bazaar, was quite among the most famous time in Peshawar memorabilia, due to its proximity with its infamous border, Afghanistan. But the smuggler bazaar today is no more than row of shops selling daily needs. It was Friday anyway, so the shops were closed. And we were there to buy beauty cosmetics… sigh. The bus we took to smuggler bazaar threw us away two kilometers before the place. But it was good. I had the chance to observe some children working along the river collecting garbage. The garbage collectors, mostly children in the Asia subcontinent, are among the most distinctive life of the grass root of the countries. The children, boys and girls, were happy with photographs. Some even posing with their meaningful garbage sack. Many children end up as garbage pickers Not far from there was the Afghan refugee’s camp. It was a very condensed shanty town, but now, the Pakistani government had given them the deadline and by force sent them home. There were 30,000 Pashtun refugees from Afghanistan, mostly from Jalalabad and surrounding. But now there were not more than 20,000 people. Still a lot. Their living condition [...]

April 13, 2006 // 0 Comments

Lahore – Not an Ordinary Valentine’s Day (Riots in LAHORE)

Anger in the name of God The day started very quietly in Lahore, Pakistan, today. The restaurant at the basement of my hotel didnt do their business. I asked why, they said hartal (strike). Tried to find internet, but everything is closed in my area. Went to Regale Inn where most of foreign backpackers stay, and I was sure I could get internet connection. I asked the Pakistani guy working there what special day today was, as most of the shops were closed. He said that today was Valentine’s Day, and it was day of love in Pakistan, and it was national day nationwide. :question: He even asked me to go to park where I could see couples showing love each other. I thought there should be a little bit mistakes in his information. Later on I found on newspaper that today is strike day, the whole city is recommended to stop their business. Yes, indeed today is ‘hartal’ day, to protest the Dannish blasphemical cartoon, in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. I just questioned myself, protesting the Dannish cartoon by stopping own business? I bet many people couldnt earn food for today, and the Danmark government wouldnt feel anything [...]

February 14, 2006 // 7 Comments

Rawalpindi – Welcome to Rawalpindi

Guys having fun in Rawalpindi January 27, 2006 Hotel Al Hayat Hotel, Liaquat Chowk, Pindi, 130 Rs/nite The gruelling 20 hours bus journey from Gilgit, which I regretted to take, at last finished. The regret came from to my anxiety of getting the ticket since the road block, that I thought the ticket can be difficult to get, so I booked earlier. The bus I booked started at 3 pm yesterday, and I booked the ticket at 12. When I lingered along gilgit road, I was invited by Pathani truck drivers to go with them in their truck to Pindi. But I had the bus ticket already, and they couldnt wait for me to cancel the ticket. What happened next was I attracted so much crowds on the streets, as I tried to explain to the drivers that I would like to go with them but I need to cancel the ticket I got first (650 Rs, not that cheap to throw away). Then the owner of their truck coming, and saying I had to pay 400 Rs if I hitch the truck, which I think more like a polite refusal and suggested me to take bus still. So I [...]

January 27, 2006 // 2 Comments