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 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!
Wandering around the small village of the Kara tribe in the Omo Valley, Ethiopia, this old man appeared with striking paint markings, piercing eyes, and beard. It was an interesting look to say the least!
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.
The annual Lake Turkana festivities see around a dozen tribes, mainly from northern Kenya, take part in cultural exchanges and traditional dances. It’s quite a fascinating couple of days and provides opportunities to see local tribes who are not normally on a safarist’s bucket list. For example, I found one local El Molo village to be just a few rudimentary huts loosely strewn together, surviving largely through fishing. A dwindling tribe, the El Molo may soon disappear through assimilation and intermarriage with other local tribes.
With the day’s festivities finished and with the onset of twilight, a few miles from the nearest village, the tribes of the Turkana and Samburu dance well into dusk on the windswept shores of Lake Turkana. Seeing the tribes enjoying each other’s company, it can sometimes be difficult to remember that cattle-stealing is causing much strife between the different tribes. But initiatives such as the Lake Turkana festival will help promote trust and understanding.