AFGHANISTAN – 1974 … part four

After more or less having digested the weird appearance of this “ghost”, we continued the way direction Bamyan, which lies on the “Silk Road“, about 230 km west of Kabul, at an altitude of 2.500 meters (8,202 feet) … located in Koh-e-Baba range of the Hindu Kush montains. In the middle of this vast and almost unreal wilderness the last thing I had expected was to find a lusciously green valley – but that as exactly what I found.

The most stunning view in Bamyan was most certainly for every adventurer – you guessed it – the two monumental statues of Gautama Buddha, 55 and 37 meters (180 and 121 feet) high, the smaller one having been constructed in 507 AD, the larger one in 554 AD.

The main bodies were hewn directly from the sandstone cliffs, but details were modelled in mud mixed with straw, coated with stucco. This coating, practically all of which was worn away long ago, was painted to enhance the expressions of the faces, hands and folds of the robes; the larger one was painted carmine red and the smaller one was painted multiple colors. The lower parts of the statues’ arms were constructed from the same mud-straw mix while supported on wooden armatures. It is believed that the upper parts of their faces were made from great wooden masks or casts. The rows of holes that can be seen in photographs were spaces that held wooden pegs which served to stabilize the outer stucco. They were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001.

One of my most vivid memories of this area is having climbed up one of those Buddhas (I think it has been the tall one, am not 100% sure anymore though) and sat – cross-legged and happily enjoying the incredibly beautiful view of the Bamyan Valley – on the top of it’s it’s head. There was an opening, kind of a “door” between the short legs from which one was able to climb up stairs directly to the head. I can not recall anymore though where exactly I re-emerged … I believe to remember it was in it’s neck, thus having had to clime up a very short distance to reach the ultimate destination, the top of the head. I guess no-one who hasn’t done the same, can possibly estimate what feeling it was to sit there .. and look, just look and enjoy. Words can’t possibly do justice … as if I sat on top of the world, a majestic and most powerful, almost overpowering sensation!

The entire cliff on each side of both sides of the Buddhas was covered with what looked from the distance like pockmarks. Monks at the monasteries lived as hermits in small caves carved into the side of the Bamyan cliffs around 630 CE. Many of these monks embellished their caves with religious statuary and elaborate, brightly-colored frescoes.

Our next destination was Band-i-Amir, the “Jewel of the King“, 2916 m (9567 feet) elevation, an approximate two hour drive to master the ca. 75 km (47 miles) distance to the west of Bamyan, even deeper into the Hindu Kush Mountains.

The beauty of this place is impossible to describe with words … pictures will do the talking for me. I am talking about five “Holy Lakes”. Nobody will be able to put into words the unreal scenery better than Nancy Hatch Dupree who describes it with the words … “Before long a vivid splash of blue appears on the right, and then, in a few moments, another flash, both being portions of the lake called Band-i-Zulfiqar. Deep sapphire blue in the center, fringed with turquoise, it seems most incredible. Nothing prepares one, however, for the sudden blaze of Band-i-Haibat lying at the foot of sheer pink cliffs, just a few minutes later (16 km; 10 mi; 30 min. from fork). To describe the scene more fully would be to rob the uninitiated of the wonder and amazement it produces on all who gaze upon it — be it for the first time, or for the tenth time.” I could not agree more … thanks Nancy!!


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