Kabul: A Visit to the Monuments

Friday is the official holiday in Afghanistan. Everything is closed; people relax and take it easy. We did not take a break however, since my time here is limited. Yes Dave, read that again, my time here is limited. :-)

After that day’s training, I got a quick tour of the city. We went to the tomb built by King Zahir Shah, Babur-i-Bagh (Babur’s Garden), and King Amanullah Khan’s Palace. Since they are spread out around the city, it also was an opportunity to see most of the city. Almost three decades on unceasing war in the country has taken a heavy toll on its capital city and evidence of it can be seen everywhere.

Since I keep talking about the protracted state of war, here is a quick summary. First, it was the Russians who tried to occupy Afghanistan. This saw the rise of many tribal, regional, and ethnic groups that engaged in a bloody revolution to free their country. Once the Russians left, there was an extended period of civil war among the many revolutionary groups. Then came the Taliban. They managed to wrest violent control of most of the country, except for those territories controlled by the Northern Alliance. And until two years ago, battles were between Taliban and Northern Alliance, both trying to grab each other’s territory. Since the capital is the coveted price of all those wars, Kabul stands today as a scarred city.

In some of the areas, where houses filled with families stood, there now stands ruined shells. They are poke-marked with artillery fires and bullet holes of all shapes and sizes. People who lost their houses fled as refugees to Pakistan and Iran. The past two years of relative peace and stability has brought some of them back. Those with resources are rebuilding their houses. Those without resources either choose not to come back or come back to live in temporary dwellings, either inside those shell houses or on the sides of the mountains around Kabul. This is also the case with most of the shops in the city.

The situation is no different in the three monuments I visited. These are no longer the monuments of an ancient civilization that Afghanistan was. Instead, they are bombed and burnt monuments of what some deluded minds had turned Afghanistan into.

King Zahir Shah’s tomb sits on a hillock, so they bombed it from below. But it managed to remain standing and has now become a picnic spot for city dwellers. Babur-i-Bagh, with its once pretty gardens, trees, pools, and fountains stands bare. Thankfully, the Agha Khan Foundation has selected the site as one of its cultural heritage projects and is just starting to renovate it. On a side note, Babur-i-Bagh’s architecture and landscaping are so identical to many of the Mughal gardens we see in India. Even in its bare and ruined state, the resemblance is strikingly evident.

Of the three, King Amanullah Khan’s Palace is the one worst affected and therefore, disturbs one the most. It is a huge three-story edifice set on a mountain. You are unable to take your eyes off the structure with its once grand entrances and impressive domes. The numerous doors and windows seem to hint at the bustling social life inside those walls in the not so distant past. Surrounded by barbed wire fences, it is now off-limits to everyone. “Military Installation, No Photography” proclaims a sign outside. However, even in its devastated state, it seems to retain a sense of majesty. And it is this majesty that moves you.

As we return to Karwan Serra, the rest-house I am at, we see communities of people rebuilding their houses with bare-minimum tools. There seems to be lots of helping hands around, and one assumes they are friends, families, and neighbors. Further down the road, we see a market bustling with activity. The containers that once brought in Russian tanks and missiles have now found a second life – as shops. These containers are even used inside shelled houses to hold the structure up and/or to provide living space. ?(Someone from Beaconfire please let ILWU know how the containers that they move everyday are finding refreshing new uses in Afghanistan. :-))

Many wars and battles later, people in Afghanistan have become masters of resilience and hardiness. After every major blow, they rebuild!

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One Response to Kabul: A Visit to the Monuments

  1. Katrin says:

    Usha — Jeff told me about your travels and voolunteer work and the blog. I have been rapturously reading all entries. It sounds like an amazingly wonderful experience. Love to hear more about the trainings and the women students — who are they and what are their hopes and dreams? Keep blogginf, safe travels, and looking forward to re-connecting when you get back!KatrinAspiration

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