Sunday, December 19, 2010

Gazar Gah

By William Darlymple, *Incredible journeys* - Financial Times - London, UK; Friday, December 10, 2010

Herat, in western Afghanistan, is one destination in that tragic country that is still safe, or relatively so. It is one of the most spectacular cities in the entire region and, for a brief period after the death of Timur in 1405, was the capital of the Timurid empire.

Here Bihzad illuminated his miniatures; Babur wrote some of the most telling passages in his memoirs; and the Timurid princess Gohar Shad built one of the great colleges of the world. Today there are occasional reports of kidnappings and hold-ups between the airport and the town. But inside the city, there is no sense of tension or danger, and no one looks at you askance as you wander through the mosques, the ruins and the fabulous covered bazaars.

Instead, it feels welcoming, gently prosperous and, by Central Asian standards, surprisingly middle class. On the outskirts, on the hillside of Takht Safar, where the bright young things of Herat gather to watch the sun going down, to picnic, sip tea and listen to music under groves of cedars, mulberries and umbrella pines, you can grasp what Afghanistan would be like if peace were miraculously to break out: it feels not dissimilar, and no more threatening, than inland Turkey. In some ways, Herat feels as if it is high on the Anatolian plateau not far from Ankara; but here, you have the place, and the ruins, to yourself. There is not another traveller to be seen.

When Robert Byron was here in the 1930s he loved not just the grand ruins but also the eccentricity of Herat, and much of that still survives. When our plane touched down on the tarmac, the passengers were not taken into the old 1950s terminal, as the man who had the key had gone off for noon prayers. So, instead, our luggage was delivered by tractor, and dumped on the edge of the apron. It seemed an unsurprising fate for bags carried by an airline, Pamir Air, which at check-in had given me a boarding pass marked “Kabul-Riyadh” and when I pointed out that I was going to Herat, replied that it didn’t matter: “They’ll let you on the plane anyway.”

No less eccentric was the Museum of Jihad: a collection of objects left behind by the various foreigners who have tried to conquer Afghanistan, ranging from British cannons from the first Afghan war to Russian tanks, jets and helicopter gunships.

My favourite place was the Gazar Gah, a gorgeous Sufi shrine on the edge of the hills that surround the city. A tall arched gateway leads to a cool, peaceful courtyard full of calligraphed tombs and shrines, with housemartins swooping through the pine trees and ilexes. Old men lay asleep in the shade, using their turbans as pillows. Elsewhere in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the return of the Taliban has meant the banning of gentle, heterodox Sufi devotions: the shrines have been closed or blown up; yet here, the Sufis survived intact.

In one chamber a group of devotees had gathered, kneeling in a circle, and as a long-haired cantor sang a hymn to some long-dead saint, his followers clapped and chanted the zikr: “Haq! haq!” – Truth, truth, “Allah! Allah!” faster, deeper, pitch rising, hands waving, before reaching their mystical climax, then falling backwards on the carpets with an ecstatic sigh. Amid the gathering Taliban storm, the survival of the peaceful Gazar Gah Sufis seemed a small sign of hope.

Details: Wild Frontiers offers a 16-day Afghan explorer trip, Sept 24-Oct 9 2011, including Herat, Bamiyan, Mazar-i-Sharif, Balkh and the Panjshir Valley, from £4,750, full board, not including flights.

1 comment:

SATI KARAMAT said...

سلام سلام، قد نعمة الله معنا جميعا. آمين

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Gazar Gah
By William Darlymple, *Incredible journeys* - Financial Times - London, UK; Friday, December 10, 2010

Herat, in western Afghanistan, is one destination in that tragic country that is still safe, or relatively so. It is one of the most spectacular cities in the entire region and, for a brief period after the death of Timur in 1405, was the capital of the Timurid empire.

Here Bihzad illuminated his miniatures; Babur wrote some of the most telling passages in his memoirs; and the Timurid princess Gohar Shad built one of the great colleges of the world. Today there are occasional reports of kidnappings and hold-ups between the airport and the town. But inside the city, there is no sense of tension or danger, and no one looks at you askance as you wander through the mosques, the ruins and the fabulous covered bazaars.

Instead, it feels welcoming, gently prosperous and, by Central Asian standards, surprisingly middle class. On the outskirts, on the hillside of Takht Safar, where the bright young things of Herat gather to watch the sun going down, to picnic, sip tea and listen to music under groves of cedars, mulberries and umbrella pines, you can grasp what Afghanistan would be like if peace were miraculously to break out: it feels not dissimilar, and no more threatening, than inland Turkey. In some ways, Herat feels as if it is high on the Anatolian plateau not far from Ankara; but here, you have the place, and the ruins, to yourself. There is not another traveller to be seen.

When Robert Byron was here in the 1930s he loved not just the grand ruins but also the eccentricity of Herat, and much of that still survives. When our plane touched down on the tarmac, the passengers were not taken into the old 1950s terminal, as the man who had the key had gone off for noon prayers. So, instead, our luggage was delivered by tractor, and dumped on the edge of the apron. It seemed an unsurprising fate for bags carried by an airline, Pamir Air, which at check-in had given me a boarding pass marked “Kabul-Riyadh” and when I pointed out that I was going to Herat, replied that it didn’t matter: “They’ll let you on the plane anyway.”

No less eccentric was the Museum of Jihad: a collection of objects left behind by the various foreigners who have tried to conquer Afghanistan, ranging from British cannons from the first Afghan war to Russian tanks, jets and helicopter gunships.

My favourite place was the Gazar Gah, a gorgeous Sufi shrine on the edge of the hills that surround the city. A tall arched gateway leads to a cool, peaceful courtyard full of calligraphed tombs and shrines, with housemartins swooping through the pine trees and ilexes. Old men lay asleep in the shade, using their turbans as pillows. Elsewhere in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the return of the Taliban has meant the banning of gentle, heterodox Sufi devotions: the shrines have been closed or blown up; yet here, the Sufis survived intact.

In one chamber a group of devotees had gathered, kneeling in a circle, and as a long-haired cantor sang a hymn to some long-dead saint, his followers clapped and chanted the zikr: “Haq! haq!” – Truth, truth, “Allah! Allah!” faster, deeper, pitch rising, hands waving, before reaching their mystical climax, then falling backwards on the carpets with an ecstatic sigh. Amid the gathering Taliban storm, the survival of the peaceful Gazar Gah Sufis seemed a small sign of hope.

Details: Wild Frontiers offers a 16-day Afghan explorer trip, Sept 24-Oct 9 2011, including Herat, Bamiyan, Mazar-i-Sharif, Balkh and the Panjshir Valley, from £4,750, full board, not including flights.

1 comment:

SATI KARAMAT said...

سلام سلام، قد نعمة الله معنا جميعا. آمين