Part One: In a light aircraft, feet high from land, closer to sky where some people believe God exists - at least it had been always my own childhood believe - and now being so close to sky to God’s abode, I was experiencing a sense of having Him somewhere near me. Certainly invisible indeed, sensible and such a strong sense that my heart jumped with delight as if today his mercy has directly touched my life; and nature around had been ordered to pamper me.
It’s not that I am flying in a plane for the first time, but this trip certainly looks much different.
In very short time, we were crossing high mountains full of white snow, sparkling with the Sunshine touching its face. Between these high mountains, small valleys and villages appear to have been sparkled, with only few houses and agricultural lands, each village separated by huge distance from one another.
I wondered how these people could connect to big cities, to hospitals and to the world we live in. Every time, while talking of medical facilities, I am reminded of a Turkmen community I visited across Amu River and Gulnar’s voice smilingly complaining about corrupt doctors who would come to village clinic only once in a while and will check people who would bring milk, eggs and other such household products of the village.
My love for snow and mountains is endless, and after three years stay in India for education, seeing snow had brought back peace at my heart. A sense of cleanliness, a sense of purity, a sense of possibility of starting a new life and forgetting painful memories, the same way that snow covers all dirt of earth and makes a new beginning.
Witnessing combination of both snow and mountains, my current state of mind was similar to that of Tarzan when he first visited the city. My eyes were stuck to the windowpane of the tiny plane, my jaws dropped in surprise, and had a sudden desire to jump on to the peak of the mountains, breathing with fresh air with them.
My heart beats suddenly became faster, as the pilot, who was eating my favorite chocolate (being a light air craft we could see him) announced that we will be landing in few minutes. My eyes, which had momentarily fixated at the chocolate, which from distance appeared even yummier, now noticed that clouds had gradually disappeared and gave way to earth.
And Here I saw the King of City: The Great Buddhas, two of them with little distance from each other standing still, long and pride, looking towards the city like caring parents guarding their sons, but alas his sons could never guard them and now our generation would only live with its memories, with imagination of its beauty, it is greatness, with the mere memory of lost glories of the old Silk Route that once passed from here.Our generation and generations after me, all of us will take this shame to grave, a shame that will never be removed that we could not protect our history, our legacy.
Ghulghula: City of Screams
On a morning walk towards Ghulghula or City of Screams, taking a shortcut path, I am almost gasping for breath, as I inquisitively look to every passing human, hoping that finding me stranger, he/she could show me the way to the city and accompany me there, so that I could clear all my confusions, bombarding him with my questions. It seems, however, that I am too innocent to even think that I would appear innocent.
Ghulghula in Bamiyan is a mysterious name and a city hiding many secrets in its heart. The city of Ghulghula is a fortified urban site dating from Sasanian period in the 6th century AD, through to Ghori period 12th – 13th AD. The Citadel on the hill site became the heart of the Islamic city of Bamiyan following the decline of Buddhism here from 8th century onwards. After Islam spread in our part of the world, this city was built on top of hill while the statue of Buddha remained on its right side and Koh baba (Father Mountain) on the left. There are still remains of mosques and high culture of the time.
An old man working on his field and listening to music in his old black Nokia mobile phone, attracted my attention. Technologies’ outreach in the country surprises me and the fact that people now have rights and options to choose means of recreations, made me happier. He guided me to the city but was too busy to answer my questions.
My walk towards this mysterious city of Ghulghula reminded me of mastery going on in Kabul, mastery about future, about life after 2014, life of millions of people who have just learnt to live a normal life despite all security and economic issues. Perhaps it is the biggest mystery of our history that in every corner of the country, in every path, in every home, questions and tensions about it is echoing.
Here I can finally see Ghulgula city, just a few miles away from me, crossing the agricultural land just few miles to be in Ghulghula. I abruptly turned back as felt that someone is pulling my scarf and they were my young shepherd friends, three of them together with their sheep and asking me to click their photos. These are the same children whom I met the other day near airport and had clicked their pictures.
Once a proud city on top of a hill, with thousands of citizens, may be also a king, a kingdom, a civilization but today ruined, with empty rooms, destroyed paths, broken walls and less discovered history. I wonder how proud civilization, ignorant to immortality, turn to what they never think of, to mere history.
There are many stories behind the name of Ghulghula or ‘City of Screams,’ many of which appear as fable. Some say that once Genghis Khanhad ordered to massacre every living being in the city, including the animals, and since then it was called the ‘city of screams.’ Another version is that Genghis was in love with the king’s daughter (although the way history has been written and Genghis presented as ‘brutal savage,’ the love version appears strange!), who betrayed her father to marry him. However, Genghis developed suspicions about the girl, when he learned that the king loved his daughter a lot and wondered that a princess who has betrayed her father could betray him as well; and killed her.
Many other believe that this name was given because of the culture of ‘screaming’ of the inhabitants of the city every early morning when the sunshine directly touched Buddha’s face. Even today when sun comes out in the morning, the first light directly falls on Buddha, but unfortunately there is no more his face, but his broken remains, every part laid down.
Some elders in the area, however, argue that as the city was over populated at one time and noisy and hence named so.
Whatever be the story behind the name, the history of Bamiyan has been very painful, Bamiyan had always been the city of Screams, not once but repeatedly at every juncture of history.
Neither Genghis was merciful on Bamiyanis, nor Taliban and not even the weather! Genghis apparently killed every mortal being, even the animals were not forgiven, while besides bringing down Buddha, Talib “brothers” massacred hundreds of men in Yakaolang, leaving the district without any man or food, and women and children moaning and crying, and screaming.
Autumn in Bamyian
After two busy days of workshop at our provisional office of Bamiyan, I got impatient and could not wait for the three day workshop to end to visit the ancient city of Bamiyan and Buddha. I woke up early morning with awakening call of Azaan from nearby Masjid. After performing the Morning Prayer, waited for darkness to dim little and give space to light and then walked towards Buddha located just 15 minutes away from the hotel I was staying.
Weather was cold, on way I was playing with my foggy breathes, hands locked in my pockets enjoying its warmth no longer, than my colleague started pushing me to click his photos.
I entered the road that was leading to Buddha. I had never seen such beautiful path, and autumn or maybe I had never felt autumn as I sensed it today with all what they call 5 senses.
Suddenly all those poets describing autumn as decay, comparing it to loneliness, to pain, to old age looked blind aged men who had lost their senses. I wonder how they had locked many minds and blinded many eyes to unlimited beauty of this season. As I was walking through the poetry of nature myself, was wondering if I need to go back and find a poem in favour of autumn. Or should I write one myself!
Some of these poets had described autumn as season beholding lives and liveliness, but life is here in these tall trees and their brownish cloths, their long branches like soldiers standing high guarding the city, in cold breeze shivering me from head to tea, making my fluffy hair fluffier, nose red, hands cold, and cheeks senseless. Smoke coming out of Samawar (long metal kettles), with boiling voice of water, and fragrance of green tea , hard working labors rushing to tea houses with certitude of earning livelihood for the day.
Small Gunjeshkas (birds), sitting on dusty stairs and veranda near small rooms next to Buddha statue, leaving their footprints behind, flying with fear as I near them, voice of their wings with sudden movement echoing and breaking loneliness between me and Buddha. My hands touching small footprints of birds on muddy floor that now looks like a valued expensive art work.
What makes Bamiyan and Buddha more precious is the neutrality and originality of area around. Bamiyan is still kept natural, and wave of modernization if narrowly defined as high cement houses, the way it is in Kabul now, with little equal to no green space has not touched Bamiyan. In fact walking near Buddha’s cliff one feels as if going hundred years back.
In front of the cliff there is huge agricultural lands, farmers working on it, shepherd kids brining their sheep and playing entire day. Early morning as I was walking, frozen waterways between these lands, were looking like white crystals with combination of yellow and green grasses as expensive jewelry of gold and diamond.
Small shepherd kids with their long sticks running in joy, making best of their friendships that reminded me of my own loneliness and desire of being one of them.
Oh life is beautiful here, my eyes are wide open to capture its every minute, save it forever there and whenever back to my city among dozens of emails and deadlines, I close my eyes and with wings of these memories fly back to Bamiyan (perhaps again in autumn) and relive it.
I know who broke you down
A little closer to Buddha, when I was looking towards Buddha, rejoicing and feeling proud of our history, sense of belongingness to Silk Rout and joking with my friend about our forefathers crossing this path and how in today’s world we are called “uncivilized” and regarded as “extremists”, while we ignore our less discovered old civilization and history at own peril.
But this feeling of pride didn’t last for long, and had changed 180 degrees as I saw remaining marks of bullets laid down just few meters from Buddha Statue.
Some locals said that these are remains of same bullets with which “brothers” tried to destroy Buddha, but parts of it still appeared to stand resilient.
As I proceeded, I realized that may be for me and for many other Afghans sense of feeling proud is very temporary and so quickly and sharply feelings of embarrassment and regression covered my heart so much that even marks of our previous feelings completely seem to vanish.
I was humming these words sitting next to Shahmama and witnessing sun rise from behind Koh baba (Baba Mountain) and looking at its first rays on Shahmma’s face who really didn’t exist anymore but the mere fact that for hundreds of years she had been there was making me feel better and I thought that I know who broke down Buddha.
Salam Shamama Buzurg( Great)
I have come so far to have a glimpse of you
Of you and your Salsal
Of your face shining with morning sun shine
Rays of sun so kind, with winds of baba (Baba Mountain)
Beautifying your golden treasuries of your eyes
Your eyes, blinded since years
By whom and when is a fact too unknown, too mysterious
But I know who broke you down
Down to feet and to pieces
Indeed you were strong enough
Hundred alien bullets, gifts of our neighbors couldn’t tear your heart
You intended to live,
Live for us
But I know who broke you down
Neither he neither him, nor those in command here or beyond those far lines
And your patience’s stone
Witness to screams
From city of screams, Ghulghula
To deep sigh of daughters of Yakwlang
All together swell your heart
And you blasted from inside
And I know who did this