Pottery in Afghanistan

Istalif village in Afghanistan is high up in the mountains, and surrounded by pleasant lands. It’s also rather famous for its colourful and somewhat rustic pottery. I bought a few pieces of pottery here 10 years ago. The people then were very happy to have their photos taken and to show-off their pottery. The village itself has been through quite a few traumas over the years, and its heritage and livelihood are at risk. Construction and security can certainly help, but it needs visitors, or a way to get its pottery to a wider market. Here, a young lad took me into his store and was very keen to show me the brightly coloured ceramics.

Minaret of Jam, Afghanistan

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.

Girl in Padaung village

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.

A young girl in a fairly remote Padaung village in Kayah State, Myanmar (Burma). Photo taken in December 2014.

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!

Goat herder at sunset

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.