Yesterday was one of the most interesting days for me in Afghanistan so far. After a long and dusty week in Kabul (July and August are apparently the hottest, dirtiest months here), I decided to get out of the city and take a day trip to the Panjshir Valley, a scenic three hour drive from the capital.
The Valley was the sight a lot of the fighting between the Soviets and the Mujahedeen in the early 1980s. It is also the home, and tomb, of one of Afghanistan’s greatest heroes, Ahmed Shah Massoud, a former warlord and martyr who was murdered by Al-Qaeda operatives posing as journalists only days before September 11th. Massoud is a very famous figure here in Afghanistan, and his picture is posted in almost every storefront and bus windshield.
We started off early in the morning, but made very slow progress leaving Kabul. Saturday is a work day in Afghanistan and it seemed like the entire city, along with a convoy of ISAF tanks, was on the northern road out of the city. Soon, though, we bypassed the traffic and were on our way.
After a few hours we entered the Valley. It is amazing how beautiful many parts of Afghanistan are. The Panjshir Valley, or Valley of Five Lions, is a long, narrow valley that is surrounded by steep mountains. I was told that it is practically impassable in the winter due to the snow and poor conditions of the roads.
There is a large river that runs along it, which is startlingly blue. We passed several small villages and could see men working in their workshops, children playing in the river, and donkeys carrying huge mounds of wheat on their backs. Many of the children would run up to the car and shout, “hello!”, to us. Children in Afghanistan are adorable, and incredibly friendly. They seem to love foreigners, and having their picture taken.
The trip was a very slow one, because the only road through the Valley is a single-lane dirt road on a mountain ledge. It was frightening to look over the cliff to the river below, especially since the driver, Abdul, drove in typical Afghan fashion of driving as fast as possible and swerving to avoid potholes or other vehicles.
One of the most fascinating things about the journey was the dozens of rusty Russian tanks that littered the road. Many had been destroyed and were scattered in pieces along the road, or were lying overturned at the bottom of the valley near the river.
Tank parts were used as bridges over narrow parts of the river, or were used as the foundation for houses or stores. I read that the Soviets had launched a big campaign in the Panjshir Valley from 1980-82, but had been defeated by the “Lion of Panjshir”, Massoud. I couldn’t help but wonder how the Soviets believed they could conquer such a country, with its narrow mountain passes that were perfect for ambushes by the local Mujahedeen.
We arrived at Massoud’s tomb in the late afternoon and spent a few minutes wandering around the area. He is buried on the top of a hill (know as Martyr’s Hill) that overlooks the valley. Besides the small building that houses the tomb, there was only a small souvenir stand, a few overturned tanks, and a couple of soldiers guarding the hill.
Tourism has not caught on yet in Afghanistan. But it was interesting to see the tomb of such a famous Afghan hero. After looking around the tomb and surrounding hill for a few minutes, however, there was nothing to do but begin the long journey back to Kabul.
Posted By Sarah Schores (Afghanistan)
Posted Jul 10th, 2004