My most significant pilgrimage outside of Kabul occurred very shortly after I arrived in Afghanistan. It was to see the 5th-century Buddhas of Bamiyan carved into the side of a mountain in the Hazarajat region of Central Afghanistan, 149 miles northwest of Kabul. We drove on pot-holed, bumpy dirt roads through beautiful river valleys and the 10,000-foot-high Shibar Pass, arriving just before nightfall. The tiny village inn was a welcome sight after a very long and torturous journey. As tired as I was, I wanted to step outside to breath-in the final light of the day. With no electricity, only a few candles flickered here and there, creating a magical, peaceful quality. My breath was taken away as I looked up and saw the giant Solsol Buddha towering protectively over the village. It was so peaceful.
I arrived back in the hotel in a blissful state, when an armed soldier entered and asked to see my passport. Being new in the country, I didn’t realize I had to keep it with me; it was back in Kabul. The soldier said I’d have to leave town immediately and began to march me up the dark street. A dramatic and scary event ensued which you can read more about in my forthcoming book, Modern Nomad: Into the Heart of the Silk Road, Afghanistan 1977. There are many more adventures, heartwarming and beautiful, to be discovered in my forthcoming book.
A final note on being “kicked out of Bamiyan”: My bus ride back to Kabul was horrible and I suffered the entire way, crossing those same awful, pot-holed roads of the day before. I choked on the powdery dust and exhaust fumes that billowed up through the many holes in the floor, and I could barely breath. Hours later, I arrived at my studio and collapsed. It was the first time I got sick in Afghanistan. And, although this journey was filled with major challenges, my short-but-rigorous visit to the Bamiyan Valley to simply be able to glance at the magnificent Buddha still ranks as an experience I treasure. After all, even a glimpse of something of such magnificence is a wondrous gift to behold and remember. I was there and touched the sacred ground. Bamiyan and the great beauty and peace imbued in the two ancient Buddhas of peace are a part of me forever. I am grateful.