It is a windy morning in Mazar-e-Sharif when we reach the western entrance to the Shrine of Ali. The air is hazy: dust blows through the streets of this northern Afghan city. It does not seem the best time to visit the Blue Mosque, as this place is also called, but we cannot resist ourselves now that we are so close to this famous building. We are thoroughly checked, I have to take a picture with my camera to show it actually IS a camera, and then, we are inside. A silver dome appears before us: part of a new mosque that is still under construction. Behind it, a blue-and-green beauty seems to float in the air: the Blue Mosque, hovering over a white marble floor. We walk through the gate, take off our shoes, and walk clock-wise around the shrine. The wind plays with the indigo burqas of women; with the richly decorated building in the background, the flurry of their dress adds an unexpected playful touch to the scene. Our eyes are now fixed on one of the jewels of Afghanistan. The original shrine was destroyed by Genghis Khan in the early 13th century, the current domed building dates back to the 15th century.
Afghans approach us, ask us the obvious questions, are curious. Most are shy, some boys just cannot stop staring at us, and follow our moves. We look up at the western side of the mosque, which is now basking in the sun. Some tiles have been replaced, breaking the pattern and colour. At the north side, we find another entrance gate with two towers. Some of the boys walk up the stairs, and I follow: it takes us to the madrassa. A kind man shows up, and when I point up at the stairs leading further up the tower, he seems embarrassed to say no. A pity: I would have loved to see the shrine from above. Outside, beggars have now found us; some are not easily turned down. The small museum only lets us in after a local asks them to do so. It has a surprisingly rich collection of old korans, even miniature ones, shards of pottery, and jewellery. We continue on the east side of the mosque until we reach the entrance of the shrine. After entering, we are immediately sent back out in a rather unfriendly way - the site is not open to non-Muslims. Inside lies Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of the prophet Mohammed - according to many Afghans. It is what makes the shrine a sacred destination for many pilgrims from around the country. Most non-Afghans believe Ali is buried in Najaf, Iraq.
When we arrive the next day, the sun is not even up yet, and it is pretty chilly: walking with only socks on the cold marble floor makes us feel even colder. We are too early: the sky around us is grey, and when we see a bright orange disk appear above the horizon, it almost immediately disappears into low hanging clouds. When it pierces through the clouds, it casts a warm light on the marvellous building, setting the blue-and-green tiles afire. We marvel at the decorations all around the towers and walls, from all corners on the east side. We are back again late in the afternoon, when there are more people. A group of older men walk out of the shrine, with impressive turbans and white dresses: it turns out they just came from their hajj. I lie on the floor, which is now pleasantly warm, to see the Blue Mosque from a different perspective, its blue domes rising high above me. No matter at which angle you look at it, this shiny and sparkling shrine remains a beauty to behold.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Hazrat Ali Shrine (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 Hazrat Ali Shrine. Read more about this site.