After talking to some locals in Kabul throughout my time there, one place that seemed to crop up more often that not was the Panjshir Valley. I was told its a beautiful place with great scenery alongside the river and has Massoud's* tomb but for me it would also bring to life some of the books Id recently read about the history of Afghanistan and the geographical significance of this valley when fighting the Russians.
As we drove through it we followed the valley floor alongside the river. I could straight away see why it was once
a tourist destination and also see by all the old tanks everywhere why it had became a symbol of resistance to the Soviets whom Massoud had fought there for 20 years before his was assassinated in September 2001 by Al Queda. There were green fields everywhere with maize and wheat growing due to the clever way the irrigation canals had been sculpted by mud to surround all the fields, above the height of the water table and river.
I visited Massoud's tomb (where every male from the Panjshir Valley attended his funeral) which was set up high
above the river with great views along the valley. Many Afghani's also still visit the tomb which does not surprise me as his presence is clearly not forgotten along the valley, I saw a number of his portraits on taxi's and other various places.
I also stopped at a beautiful spot by the river, it was a quiet spot and when I got down there I saw some other Afghani's were picnicking. Most off them looked over and stared at me and then one guy approached to say hello. I extended my hand to shake his and greeted him with Salam - alikam
, he replied wa alkim salam
and then said
hello, how are you in perfect English, which surprised me, it turns out he was visiting his family after he fled many years ago and it was his first time back in the country. He had been living in Ashford and Coventry so we had a good chat and joke, he could not believe that I was here, as he himself was worried about coming back and he spoke all the languages and was an Afghan, he said so me, so are your armed guards back at your car? I explained I didn't have any and he thought I was crazy. Some of the other intrigued men wondered over and said hello and even one women shyly walked by and said hello, I obviously said hello back
and one of the other Afghan men did not like this, he approached me with an angry look and I thought I may be in trouble so I grabbed his hand and shook it, using both of my hands to cup his and then touched my heart (which is a nice Muslim way to show respect and be polite). This seemed to defuse the situation but he was still not happy, the other guy explained that he was 'very Pashto' (meaning he had a temper and was fiery). The guy who spoke English translated to Dari that I meant no harm and reassure me Id done
nothing wrong, he was just a proud man, didn't get out of his village much and very set in his old ways and did not like any other male seeing his female relatives. I had a wonder up the river to a secluded spot for a swim and when I returned the women were out of sight and all the men gave me a friendly wave goodbye. We stopped further up the river and actually parked in the river so the man could wash his taxi.
* Ahmed Shah Massoud was known as the 'Lion of the Panjshir' for the ferocious way he defended his country from the Soviet invaders, repelling superior forces from his ancestral Panjshir Valley nine times evacuating the entire civilian population then attacking them with brilliant guerilla warfare tactics. Beloved by his supporters and despised by those who lived through his brutal siege of Kabul (when it was reduced to rubble during the 1990's) he was his country's Che Guevera.
And for Osama Bin Laden and his apocalyptical emissaries, the nineteen mostly Saudi men about to board American airliners carrying box cutters, Massoud's death meant that the one leader most capable of uniting northern Afghanistan's warlords around the American military was toppled like the Twin Towers about to fall half a world away.
On the way back I decided to stop at Bagram. This is the site of an ancient city and modern airbase now containing around 10,000 mainly American military personnel. A bit different to around 7 years ago during the American led war when its possession was fought over by the Northern Alliance and the Taliban. Having seen many other Silk Road towns on my travels I thought this may be interesting as it used to be one of the most important stops. I had a wonder around looking for a market that was suppose to have lots of US army
supplies (anything from army issue sunglasses, ration packs to grenades?) that had been 'lost' on the battlefield. I couldn't find it and didn't stay for long as got a bad feeling about the place. Anyone who saw through my disguise would stare and this was very normal being Afghanistan however these bearded men with guns seemed different, they didn't seem to look with the same interest as others did. I cannot explain it in words but I didn't get a good vibe there and
my gut instinct told me to get out of the place. I later found out that since the war Bagram has acquired a black name and is the notorious detention facility in the 'War on Terror' as a way station for the US prison at Guantanamo Bay.