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jorgesanchez Jalalabad - A travel report by jorge
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Jalalabad,  Afghanistan - flag Afghanistan -  Nangarhår
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jorgesanchez's travel reports

Three attempts to reach the Bamiyan Buddha statues

  34 votes
Page: 1 2 3 4
The remains of the two Buddha statues of the Bamiyan Valley and the frescoes in its mountain caves are in the UNESCO World Heritage List. One of these two figures was the highest carved Buddha sculpture in the world before been destroyed by the Taliban.

Buddha statue in the Bamiyan Valley
Buddha statue in the Bamiyan Valley
I had one sabbatical year and wished to emulate the romantic hippie’s way of the sixties, when they travelled overland from Europe to Turkey and further East towards the Kathmandu valleys with the hope of reaching the “Samadhi”. Afghanistan was one of the most pleasant stops along their way, especially Kabul, the town so loved by Babur, where the hippies rested for a while, enjoying the quietness. Unfortunately, in 1989 the circumstances had changed for the worse because of the war. I had just been denied the Afghanistan visa in Islamabad; nevertheless I tried to enter that country illegally to visit the Bamiyan Buddha statues. However, in spite of wearing a turban, wide afghan trousers, and having not shaved for one month, I was discovered in Towr Kham, just after passing some kilometres the border into Afghanistan, controlled by the Pakistani. The Pakistani border officials forced me to back down to Peshawar, escorted by two soldiers until the Khyber Pass. But I was “un enfant terrible” those days and determined to try a second attempt, this time from the wild Kafiristan, one of the 31 Afghanistan Provinces. My plan was to arrive to Jalalabad, from where I would continue by jeeps to Kabul and then to the Bamiyan Valley. That long journey until the Pakistani post of Arandu, in the border with Afghanistan, mainly on foot, in winter, sharing for a time in the Bumburet Valley the form of living of the Kafir Kalash (believed to be the descendants of Alexander of Macedonia), visiting the fabled towns of Dir and Chitral, admiring the splendid Tirich Mir peak, crossing the treacherous high passes of the Hindu Kush, eating only some raisins along the way, “drinking” snow, sleeping in caravanserais crammed with contrabandists and Patan bandits, and outwitting the Pakistani border posts was, indeed, a very risky one. Here below are some abbreviated impressions of my second entry in Afghanistan and the week that I spent with the mujahidins, as I wrote in my diary:

Favourite spots:
Listening to the BBC news in Pashto
Listening to the BBC news in Pashto
First Day, 5th January 1989, Thursday. BARIKOWT - NARAY. Barikowt was protected by mujahidins carryings Kalashnikov AK 47. I met their “commandant” and offered him my Swiss knife as a present to allow me to enter Afghanistan. Then he explained me before a map: “Look! This is the present situation. After eleven years fighting we are about to win the war. Now our front is at the gates of Jalalabad, where you are heading. All Afghanistan is controlled by the mujahidins except Kabul, Herat, Mazar-i-Sharif and some small enclaves in the corridor of Waham, in the Pamir. But the communists only dominate the cities! The rest of the country is owned by the mujahidins!” I walked until Naray where another mujahidin group invited me dinner rice plus a bread called nan. Suddenly all shot joyfully their Kalashnikov and laughed. I asked the reason and was informed that they had listened in the BBC of London transmitting in Pashto that the Russians would leave Afghanistan on 15th February that year.

What's really great:
Refugees fleeing the country
Refugees fleeing the country
Second Day, 6th January 1989, Friday. ASMAR. That day, in my way to Asmar, I observed the miseries of the war: corpses everywhere with signs of having been pilfered the boots and other possessions, houses bombed, villages razed, women and children fleeing to Pakistan, etc. I will always remember that second day because I saw coming in my direction an armed old man together with a beautiful young girl with lovely green eyes and sensual long black hair, also carrying a rifle. I continued gazing at her and, when we crossed, I turned back and continued staring at her for her unusual appearance in that situation. Then, the man with her also turned his back and directed his rifle towards me. In that same moment one of the mujahidins accompanying me, caught me violently from my shoulders turning me in the frontal direction and yelled me: “Are you crazy? Never put you at the back of an armed man! Fearing to be killed, he will fire at you first. You are very lucky that he did not!

Captured mujahidins
Captured mujahidins
Third Day, 7th January 1989, Saturday. CHAGASERAI. Charagaserai was a guerrilla stronghold with mujahidins belonging to fifteen different parties fighting against the Communist Government and, sometimes, fighting among themselves. The village was a festival; there were buzkashi games (two groups of horsemen disputing a lamb) and lots of food. I was introduced to the leader of a minor party who promised to send me in a lorry until Shewah, the gate of Jalalabad. There was a contest to shoot to some caricatures on cardboard representing Russian soldiers. When somebody hit the target, shouted: “One Russian less, ha-ha!” And everybody laughed, except me. I have a little daughter in Siberia, and moreover I felt sorrow for the human being situation. The mujahidins were born in one part of the planet by chance, and the Russians in another part of the same little planet, and now they were killing each other. I went to sleep asking to myself what the meaning of all that foolishness was.

Kabul Times. I offered a Press Conference to the journalists. I wear turban
Kabul Times. I offered a Press Conference to the journalists. I wear turban
Forth Day, 8th January 1989, Sunday. NURGAL. After breakfast I was called to embark in an old Russian lorry “Kamaz” going to the front of war, together with legions of mujahidins. Most of them walked. Having a truck was a privilege of the mujahidin parties receiving help from the Western countries or from the wahabbies of Saudi Arabia. I was not immediately accepted in Nurgal. A Hafiz, who was a kind of spiritual mullah directing the prayers (Hafiz is the one who has completely memorized the Koran), suspected of me as being a KGB agent and called me “duchman”. Then a mujahidin started to talk to me in Russian employing elementary phrases the type of “kak delo tovarish, vse v poriadke?”, but I answered in English that I did not understand. When the nice mujahidins brought me straw to lie comfortably on the floor of the ruins of the building where we all lived, or gave me a candle to write my diary when it became dark, or chai with nan for the dinner, the Hafiz observed disapproving it.

Sentence to 5 years captivity in the Hell
Sentence to 5 years captivity in the Hell
Fifth Day, 9th January 1989, Monday. SHEWAH. After the first muslim prayer I was asked: “This is the moment of the truth, engris (all the Europeans are called Engris in Afghanistan), do you come to the war?”
Finally I reached the gate of Jalalabad and could even see the city at the distance. Mujahidins took positions and started to shoot. After the dinner suddenly we heard noise of engines. There were the Russian airplanes flying twice daily from Tashkent to bomb the mujahidins mountainous places for one hour each time. We hid in subterranean holes and tunnels forming labyrinths in the mountains. Every bomb impact blew up several houses. Even in the tunnels the earth trembled around us at every blast and parts of earth fell in our heads. The mujahidins prayed in Pashto: “Kher Allah!”. For me that was more than enough, and gave up my plan to travel to Jalalabad. Surely after the Russians retreat there would peace and could then visit the Bamiyan Buddha statues in my way back to Spain.

Black stone figure made in Pul-e-Charkhi. I wrote in it: “BORN TO BE FREE”
Black stone figure made in Pul-e-Charkhi. I wrote in it: “BORN TO BE FREE”
Sixth Day, 10th January 1989, Tuesday. JIBA. The schedule of the war was as follows:
- 5 AM Wake up. Toilet. First muslim prayer
- 6 AM Chai and nan
- 7 AM Russian Good Morning: one hour of bombs
- 8 AM Shooting in the front
- 12 AM Break for the second muslim prayer. Chai and nan
- 13 PM Renewal of hostilities, missiles SCUD and grenades throwing
- 15 PM Break for the third muslim prayer
- 16 PM Clash intensification, bazookas and machine guns
- 17 PM Pause for the fourth prayer
- 18 PM End of the war journey. Chai and nan
- 19 PM Russian Good Night: one hour of bombs
- 20 PM Fifth muslim prayer. BBC news
- 21 PM Toilet. Sleep

Red Cross premises in Kabul. Writing to my daughters
Red Cross premises in Kabul. Writing to my daughters
Seventh Day, 11th January 1989, Wednesday. BAR CHAMARKAND. That morning I left Jiba to Pakistan surreptitiously together with many prisoners. Some of them asked me socks for their bleeding feet. There were all Afghanis; Russians prisoners were decapitated on the spot (most of the mujahidins used Russian belts that they wore with the communist star of the buckle put down). In our way up the mountains bordering Pakistan there were many women and children heading to the Bar Chamarkand Refugee Camp in Pakistan. In the way down came often many donkeys carrying enormous howitzers, heavy shells and other weapons. Of course, they had preference and we (refugees, prisoners and me) had to let them pass first through the narrow, winding and dangerous paths. That evening I entered Pakistan and some weeks later I travelled to India.

Other recommendations:
I receive apples the day of my release. Look at the Najibullah portrait.
I receive apples the day of my release. Look at the Najibullah portrait.
Although the Russians had left Afghanistan the war continued and again I was refused a visa in its Islamabad Embassy. Then I travelled to Quetta, in Beluchistan, bought Afghan clothes, including a silk turban, and entered the uncontrolled country. But I was discovered in Kandahar and sent by airplane to Kabul, where the authorities locked me up. There followed a Press Conference to the journalist accredited in Kabul to explain why I entered the country illegally. Nobody believed me when I said that my only purpose was to visit the Buddha statues in the Bamiyan Valley; all they were convinced that I was a spy. Then came the trial and I was condemned to five years imprisonment in the infamous Pul-e-Charkhi jail (when the judge uttered the verdict in Dari language “Punch Shar” a shout of indignation passed through my mind). The day of my release I felt as if I was born again.

Published on Saturday August 6th, 2005

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Fri, Apr 09 2010 - 08:36 AM rating by sujoy

Gud to c ur report . The most inspiring point is ur untiring attitude . Hats off.

Fri, Mar 09 2007 - 04:21 AM rating by quikflikchiq

wow. this is amazing.

Mon, Jan 01 2007 - 05:27 PM rating by mrscanada

I wanted to see where the Canadian troups are. Thanks for the information and the photos. I believe I saw the Buddha statue in the Bamiyan Valley in a magazine tho'! I guess when you are there people stand very close to where others have taken photos. :)

Sun, Apr 02 2006 - 01:28 PM rating by marcosfonsec

Great work. Congratulations!

Thu, Nov 24 2005 - 12:29 AM rating by alemala

Guau! es una gran historia, Jorge, gracias por compartirla. Que pena lo del tiempo en prision. Fueron los cinco años?

Sun, Aug 21 2005 - 01:05 AM rating by gwynspekes

Wow Jorge....please write a book. This is truly a remarkable story, but I am very sorry that you lost so many years of your life. Gwyn

Sat, Aug 20 2005 - 02:25 AM rating by mkrkiran


Fri, Aug 12 2005 - 02:43 PM rating by isaacmolina

unbelievable !

Thu, Aug 11 2005 - 12:01 PM rating by magsalex

A very special report - fascinating!

Tue, Aug 09 2005 - 01:47 AM rating by ravinderkumarsi


Mon, Aug 08 2005 - 04:23 PM rating by britman


Sun, Aug 07 2005 - 11:38 AM rating by bear495

This is a wonderful story, Jorge. Thank you for sharing with us.


Sun, Aug 07 2005 - 10:25 AM rating by marianne

Hi Jorge,
The pictures go very well with your story. It is an amazing story.

Sun, Aug 07 2005 - 07:26 AM rating by mistybleu


What an amazing account; it brings a new meaning to travelling, you are definitely adventurous.


Sun, Aug 07 2005 - 05:20 AM rating by davidx

Bravo! Magnifico
Cheers, David

Sat, Aug 06 2005 - 05:27 PM rating by rangutan

Travel extreme, shocking and almost unpleasant to read!

Sat, Aug 06 2005 - 05:16 PM rating by eirekay

Jorge - You are amazing!

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