After a healthy breakfast with chickpeas at a street stall near the citadel, we charter a tricycle to take us out of the city, to the shrine of Ansari in the suburb of Gazar Gah. When we arrive, we see others arriving too, and an armed guard oversees the entrance. A short walk takes us to the entrance, a square facade with arches and a huge entrance portal, still partly covered by the blue tile decoration typical of Timurid buildings. We put our shoes in a bag, and walk inside. We pass through a small arched entrance hall which is decorated all over. More soldiers keep an eye open here, and direct men to the left, and women to the right. The path for men is on a carpet laid out amidst the tombstones in the middle of the courtyard, and on the sides. The soldiers have claimed a small room for themselves; apparently, even this sacred place needs to be protected against potential attackers.
We walk the carpeted aisle, past white tombstones of various sizes, until we reach a very old ilex tree. Behind it, a small building: the tomb of Ansari, the 11th century Sufi saint and poet. A glass case around a marble pillar on the left. Standing closer, the floral decorations and inscriptions become visible. In front of the tomb, and partly under the branches of the tree, lies a carpet, where men perform their prayers. Behind the tomb, another enormous portal rises above me, with fine decorative tiles still partly covering the walls. Tombstones are placed even here. There is a clumsy fence made of cardboard: behind it, the women gather. I just sit here, watch the men stand in deep admiration. It seems that one of them is a fanatic: he keeps on talking to me, then talks to others in an excited voice, pointing to me with an unfriendly face. But I have already spoken to some of the others, and they gently push the guy away from me.
One of the worshippers lies down on the floor, writes something on the marble stone at the base of the tomb. Cats jump on the wooden balustrade of the tomb, peeking inside. At the side of the tomb, I find some bigger tombstones. One of them belongs to Dost Mohammed Khan, emir of Afghanistan in the mid-19th century. More nobles of Herat and surroundings are entombed in the courtyard, most of their tombstones bear beautifully carved inscriptions and decorations. At the entrance, we sit down again. An old man with a white turban is dozing off next to the decorated wall. The soldier guarding the entrance directs men and women in the right direction. There is a steady flow of worshippers. Some stay long, say prayers, stay on the carpet under the tree for a long time, taking all the time on this sacred spot. Others, however, just walk in, take a few moments at the tomb, and are gone.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Gazar Gah (Afghanistan). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Gazar Gah. Read more about this site.