Saturday, 21 July 2007

Salang side-trip

One of the pluses of spending more time in K than we anticipated was the opportunity to drive up to the Salang Tunnel, 122km to the north. The tunnel was generously built by the Soviets in 1964, and then used less altruistically by the Red Army in 1979 when they invaded Afghanistan.
The debris of that war still litters the valleys on both sides of the tunnel – a huge abandoned army base at Qalah-e Surkh, the overturned, stripped carapaces of tanks, hillsides littered with mines, graveyards of prisoners and mujahideen.
Half way up, on a hairpin bend is a shrine to a different form of martyrdom – that of a bus-conductor who threw himself under the wheels of his bus as it slid towards a precipice due to dodgy brakes. I suspect that few of us in the West would be so self-less.

Our first stop was for mulberries, down by a gushing stream; on the other side of the tunnel, we ate deep-fried trout for brunch, and then stuffed ourselves with peaches near Doshi, a village on the edge of the muggy plain leading north to Mazar-e Sharif and central Asia.
Back on the K side of the Salang, we made a detour to visit the Kushan site of Begram, famous for the ivories which the French excavated 60 years ago. There’s little to see there these days, and you have to stick to the worn tracks, due to the mines, which still do not deter looters. (Photos of Naqshband and DCT, and U-shaped valley courtesy of Fiona Kidd).

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