(Notes for the Abu Dhabi Bar Mitzvah)

The Buddhas of Bam(i)yan — بوذا باميان

Afghanistan: Part Three

بت های باميان

[The following are adapted excerpts from the much fuller account of the town of Bamyan. For the complete story (with history! and emotion! and the account of the world’s oldest oil paintings!): send an email to INGULFED at GMAIL dot COM with a sentence including the words “Buddha”, “kebab”, and “space shuttle launch”.]

Once, the world’s tallest buddha stood in Bamyan, along the Silk Road at the foot of the Hindu Kush. In 2001, the Talbian drilled the many statues hewn from the sandstone cliffs with holes, razing them completely with dynamite. Eight months later, the Taliban regime fell.

The town’s name comes from the Sanskrit, varmayana, “colored”.

A rocky hilltop is always in plain sight from anywhere in town, bristling with the ruins of an ancient citadel where all of Bamyan (also: Bamiyan) once lived: this is Shar-e Gholghola, “City of Screams”, where in the thirteenth century, Genghis Khan massacred everyone in the city because he was really, really pissed off. From the top of the hill the whole valley unfolds, not narrow and angled like the ravine of a canyon, but round like the basin of an empty lake, like the top of a custard pie with the crust rising in all directions.

Every day in central Afghanistan, wild wind and rain rage for a brief moment, usually around 2 p.m. A few children ran for cover. Everyone else seemed to already be inside.

Many of the people of Bamyan are refugees, returned to their homeland after much — or in some cases most — of their lives. They are all nationally Afghans, some Dari-speaking, some Pashto-speaking, many ostracized by other coteries of local society. Mokhtar, my tour guide and source of most information, was born in Tehran and has, he says, the accent to show for it. “And we have better style,” he says. The speakers of Dari (almost exactly Persian) were born or lived in Iran; their skin is lighter, their features more Caucasian. The Pashto-speakers (who also speak Dari), the Afghan Pashtuns, look no different than Pakistani Pashtuns and lived in refuge in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province, now known as Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Afghanistan’s quarter million square miles have seen an almost equal number of dynasties rise and fall and become other things — there is no one look to the populations indigenous to this land. Whatever we may envisage as Persian or Patan or Parsi or Tajik or Mongolian or Uzbek, all of this is Afghan.

All the pictures from Afghanistan here.

Among the world's oldest oil paintings, circa 5th-9th century — many centuries before the earliest known from Europe.

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