A refugee from Afghanistan who now calls Australia home, photographer Mustafa shares with us some stunning scenes from Bamiyan, Afghanistan. Finding himself in this province out of sheer coincidence, Mustafa fell in love with the beauty of its landscape and the generosity of the locals.
Photography and text: Mustafa
Most often when we hear about the part of the Earth called Afghanistan, we hear about chaos, killings, bombings and other man-made or natural calamities. While no day passes in Afghanistan without causing some grief to the people there, one will find some of the most scenic, secluded, serene and stunning landscapes in the Bamiyan province in central Afghanistan.
Band-i-Amir, a series of natural lakes situated in Bamiyan
Adventuring into these areas, however, is a very dangerous pursuit because the main routes to Bamiyan are controlled by the Taliban. The only safe way in is to fly there. Once inside Bamiyan, it is easy to travel around and the local people are very helpful, kind and generous.
Upon entry into Bamiyan, the empty niches of the Buddhas and cave surroundings can be seen. The Buddhas and any visible Buddhist remains of the caves were destroyed by the Taliban in February – March 2001.
In its glorious days, Bamiyan used to be a magnificent city, as described by a Chinese traveler named Xuanzang who traveled to the area around 630 CE:
“To the northeast of the royal city there is a mountain, on the declivity of which is placed a stone figure of Buddha, erect, in height 140 or 150 feet. Its golden hues sparkle on every side, and its precious ornaments dazzle the eye by its brightness.” – Buddhas of Bamiyan
Panoramic view of the Bamiyan Buddha niche
New dwellings built in the vicinity of the Buddhas
For a traveler it may appear that the people of Bamiyan lead a simple village life. Although they do, it is fraught with fear, discrimination, and at times, genocide and continued targeted killings on the roads to and from Bamiyan.
Passing through Dara-i-Ajdar, I recalled a story I had heard as a child. The locals and Hazara folklore describe how a dragon, killed by Ali* was turned into stone:
Dara-i-Ajdar (the Dragon Valley) in Bamiyan featuring a rock formation at its very end
“Bod na bod, bod yar bod”**
“Once upon a time there lived a tribe of people somewhere close to Ko e Qaf.*** They had mountains rich with gold and jewels, wilderness full of gazelles and wild horses, and valleys with fierce bears and vicious wolves. They were famous for their beautiful women, whose almond-shaped eyes and enchanting smiles mesmerised men, even angels. They had men as strong as bulls and agile as eagles, and the best horsemen and archers of their time.”
“Despite all these blessings, the people were cursed with a red dragon who lived in one of their valleys. The dragon was asleep and would only wake up once every 40 years. During the harvest it would come out of its valley and demand its share of the harvest and 40 of the most beautiful girls, otherwise it would burn everything down. Their king provided these tributes personally and bowed to the dragon in shame.”
“In one of those years, Hazrat Ali (AS) sher e khuda, shah e doldhol sower**** came to the aid of these people. The king complained about the dragon and pleaded to Ali for help. Ali went to the dragon’s valley and asked the dragon to leave the people alone – or die. The dragon resisted and attacked him, but Ali split the dragon in half with only one strike of his sword called Zulfiqar. Legend has it that the dragon bled for countless years before turning into stone. His wounds turned into spring water, which healed all ailments and repelled evil magic.”
*Ali, the son in law of Prophet Mohammad.
**Opening line of every Hazaragi story.
*** In Hazara folklore, Ko e Qaf is an imaginative land, inhabited by humans alongside fairies, angels and beasts.
**** Sher khuda = loin of God; Doldhol sowar = the rider of doldhol (his horse).
Check out more of Mustafa’s work on instagram.