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Afghanistan 2013

13. July 2013

Greetings all

Where has the first half of 2013 gone??

Early this year my Slovene friend Dusko Duswami emailed to advise he was planning a trip into Afghanistan and was I interested. That question did not need any pondering.

Dusko’s plan was to travel through Iran, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan so I flew into the beautiful Iranian city of Esfahan on 24th April to join Dusko, his son Inan and Tina.

Some great sightseeing over the next couple of days from Esfahan to Qom and then onto Tehran to drop off Inan and Tina and meet the new team that were arriving from Slovenia.

We then headed south in the trusty Landcruiser and a 2nd vehicle driven by that well known Yazdi, Majhid.

Yazd, Kerman, Mahan, Minab, Bizharb, Bam, Shafiabad, Birjand, Nashtifan and Karat provided some fantastic sights steeped in history. Silk Road citadels, caravansaries and minarets over 1000 years old and Arg-e-Bam or citadel of Bam dating back to 550BC.

Bam had the huge earthquake on 26th December 2003 leaving 30,000 dead. There was massive damage to the mud/brick structures of the citadel but it was still easy to see what an impressive and magnificent structure it had been. Thankfully it is being restored.

A great trip down through Iran and as usual with Dusko we were always well off the beaten track. Fantastic sights, no tourists and best of all the Iranian people; they just do not come any friendlier than these folk.

The trusty cruiser was left at the Afghan border and we piled into a local van for the 100km to Herat. All our troops were relaxed but our Afghan driver was somewhat nervous and constantly looking in his mirrors. The first 30 km from the border supposedly has a Taliban presence.

The city of Herat was thriving and although there was a heavy police presence driving around in pickups mounted with machine guns and international forces 30kms away the city felt very safe.

The Afghan jewel of The Blue Mosque, The Musallah Minarets and the Citadel constructed in the 3rd century and used by Alexander The Great and other invaders were all great sights. But once again the main attraction was the friendly people.

A visit to the Gazor-Gah Shrine of Sufi poet Answari and sitting in a chanting room full of Afghan men paying their respects to Answari was a unique experience as was just walking around the streets of Herat amongst the friendly Afghans and their thriving little businesses.

I left Afghanistan thinking that if what is happening in Herat is replicated around the country then there is great hope for this nation that has been so embroiled in war.

Back into Iran and the city of Mashad before the border into Turkmenistan, a rather strange country built on gas wealth and under successive dictatorships since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Not far from the border is the country’s main city and capital Ashkhabad which is immediately striking with its superb looking buildings, huge and glamorous opera houses and multiple academies along with the cities manicured gardens. The city icon though is the gigantic Presidential Palace of the current dictator Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow who must have an ego the size of Texas with all the gold statues of himself around the city, portraits in buildings and a portrait in all the cities taxis.

30km outside Ashkhabad was a very different picture. The roads deteriorated rapidly with extreme potholes being prevalent making travel rather slow and bumpy in rural Turkmenistan. Apparently the good dictator closed all library and medical facilities in the rural areas and certainly everything we saw suggested the rural sector was severely neglected.

After a few hours of these fine Turkmen roads we arrived at the Dervasa gas crater that was formed by the Russians looking for gas in the 1960’s. Sufficient volume for commercial viability was not found so a match was struck and the crater has been burning ever since.

A good nights sleep under the stars then another long drive to Konye Urgnch, another important point on the silk road where Genghis Kahn arrived in 1220. Genghis couldn’t defeat the villagers so he diverted the Amu Darya River (one of the largest rivers in central Asia) and flooded Konye Urgnch to drown the villagers.

Across the border into Uzbekistan and the town of Nukus. Next morning it was onto Muynak and a walk down to the now stranded ships of the Aral Sea (lake)

In the 1960s the Soviets decided to increase cotton production in the area and diverted the Amu Darya which fed the Aral Sea to provide irrigation. These diversions have resulted in the Aral Sea receding 135km in the last 30 years and it is predicted to be dry by 2025.  The stranded vessels were a sad sight.

Another long drive to Khiva and Ichon Kala (The Old City) constructed in the mid 1800s by the local Khan’s which ruled until the October Revolution in 1917, the end of the Tsarist autocracy and the birth of communism.

The back roads of Uzbekistan had us at the Uzbek/Turkmen border and then the long haul back to Ashkhabad.

Many thanks to Dusko, Jasminka, Ales, Meta, Marko and Neza for a great trip.

There are a few pics of the trip posted in the gallery. Thanks to Dusko for the team pics

Anyone interested in travel to such places should take a look at Dusko’s webpage http://www.overlanddreaming.com

Cheers

Ross


date Posted on: Saturday, July 13, 2013 at 12:24 pm







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