Central Afghanistan

There we were, travelling along the Hindu Kush in Afghanistan. A journey through mountain passes and dry valleys, along dried river-beds and empty places on lonely roads, with nothing more than dust-devils keeping us company. Low temperatures and the glare of the sun added to the harshness of the landscape.

However, it was a challenge that I enthusiastically seized in my quest to reach the fabled Minaret of Jam, a place that only a few travellers reach. But here, in the middle of nowhere, there was human activity; a rest-stop for truck drivers hauling their goods across the country, a place to stretch the legs and take shelter from the elements.

Although it was August, the place was cold, and I couldn’t imagine what this place would be like in winter. A hardy landscape creates a hardy people. This man tendered to our needs with chai and food, his face betraying the challenges of the environment.

Joy and sadness in Iraq

In southern Iraq, just a few miles from the Iranian border. It was another hot day, and I was standing outside the structure called Ezra’s Tomb. Nearby, three kids were peeking through a doorway, their faces in obvious delight at the interest being shown to them by my camera. But the countless horrors of people killing other people will touch their lives in countless ways, and I wonder if they still smile. But I have hope.

Man and rice

I was here to experience the Karen New Year festivities in a rural village a few miles from Hpa An, Myanmar (Burma). During the day, much work was being undertaken by the villagers in preparation of the festival, and I went for a walk around the village and soak up the atmosphere.

Everyone seemed to be enjoying their tasks, including this man cooking the rice . The celebrations continued long into the night and, with the music, you can forget about sleeping! Photo taken in December 2014.

Old man drying corn

Chin State in Myanmar provided much welcome relief from the heat of the plains. Remote, mountainous, and forested, the region has allowed the people to develop and retain their own unique customs. A surprise can be found in every village. Here, in a small hut, an old man enjoys a cup of tea whilst allowing corn to dry over the heat of the fire.

The chowkidar

Northern Afghanistan, near the ruins of the ancient city of Balkh, in the region once known as Bactria.

Balkh was once a majestic city, and one with an illustrious history. It was likely a base from which the Aryan civilisation spread through the region. Zoroaster is claimed to have been born here, and it is where Alexander the Great married Roxanne, a local Bactrian. A place once renowned for its Buddhist monasteries and stupas, a place the Arabs called the “Mother of all cities”. But after centuries of war and climate change, those days are long gone.

The remains of probably the oldest mosque in Central Asia can be found here, itself having been built on the ruins of Buddhist and Zorastrian temples. This is where I came across the site’s caretaker (chowkidar). He allowed us access to the ruins and to roam the area.

The chowkidar

Kids racing down the path

It needed a small truck to get here but, up here in the hills of Kayah State (Myanmar), there was plenty to like as we experienced a wonderfully foliaged landscape interspaced with small villages. In what seemed to be the most substantial local village, we were warmly welcomed by the Padaung, and we had the chance to explore the area by foot. Outside the village, we came across some children who were clearly enjoying each other’s company! Afterwards, we decided to forgo the truck and return to base by hiking down through the hills, which added magnificently to the experience.

Kids running