The ancient Minaret of Jam in Afghanistan, 2009. It does have a significant lean but there have been efforts to stabilise the tower. This quote from the Lonely Planet Afghanistan Travel Guide (1st Edition, published 2007) is what really got me interested in going to Afghanistan…
Crossing the centre of the country along the spine of the Hindu Kush is one of the most remote and adventurous journeys it’s possible to do in Afghanistan, but one that rewards travellers with a continuous parade of stunning mountain scenery. Travelling from Bamiyan, the route travels through the Hazarajat over a series of high mountain passes to the heart of the medieval Ghorid empire. This is a land of tiny villages, marginal agriculture, and nomad caravans with their camels and yurts. At its centre lies the fabled Minaret of Jam, hidden from foreign eyes for centuries, and even now is accessible to only the hardiest travellers.
We had made a very early start to the day, it was well before sunrise, for our journey to some fields near Hpa An in Myanmar. Traipsing across the fields, surrounded by the irregularity of the karst landscape, we soon reached our objective where we saw a handful of women hand-cutting the crops. Here, an older woman greeted us with a smile, perhaps somewhat surprised that we wanted to take photographs of her and her co-workers.
We headed up into the hills in our van, hoping to come across remote Padaung villages. The dirt track, however, proved too much for the poor vehicle, and we couldn’t proceed much further. There was a road construction crew that we had passed a few minutes earlier and we were able to negotiate the usage of one of their “tractors” that is normally used to haul raw materials.
We jumped into the back of the tractor, and upward and onward we went into the hills, following dirt tracks that we hoped would reach some interesting villages. Even the tractor found the going tough, and we had had to dismount several times to give the thing a fighting chance to negotiate through the rough terrain. Shake, rattle, and roll; sitting on solid metal was pretty uncomfortable!
After a while we were soon at our target, the tractor chugging its way into the centre of a Padaung village. The villagers informed us that we were the first foreigners they had seen since the British left Burma in 1948. I took that with a pinch of salt though. But the journey was worth it, as the village still practised many traditional techniques. This is a photo of a young schoolgirl from the village.
However, we were filled with dread of the return journey in that tractor.
But the pain of the return trip in the tractor was short lived as we, instead, soon ditched the tractor and hiked through the hills heading in a direction that we thought would lead us to a road. The hike was memorable as it enabled us to take in the wonderful scenery and interact more sociably with the people we met along the way. A good day!
In the Omo Valley, Ethiopia. Towards sunset, the goat herders of the Kara tribe were bringing their goats back to the village. With the red of the sunlight filtering through the dust, I jumped straight in with my camera, sometimes through thorns on my hands and knees, but was fortunate to have captured some beautiful scenes.
Bamiyan, Afghanistan. The place where two giant Buddha statues, the Bamiyan Buddhas, stood for over 1,500 years before being obliterated by the Islamist group known as the Taliban in 2001. I managed to get there in 2009, and explored the area for historically significant sites.
The valley is quite fertile with many small farms. On our long walks between the Buddha statue niches and our yurts, it was quite common to cut across these farms. I encountered this young boy who had been looking after some sheep. He was quite a happy lad and enjoyed having his photo taken.