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Afghanistan: Shahr-e-Gholgola

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Shahr-e-Gholgola | Afghanistan | Asia

[Visited: October 2017]

Our first surprise view of Shahr-e-Gholgola is just before we land on the airstrip of Bamiyan airport: on our right, just beyond the wings, we see a hill covered in rubble. It is visible from the Buddha rockface as well, and after visiting the Red City at the entrance of the valley, we head to the City of Screams as it is often called. We do so in the footsteps of Genghis Khan who, when he heard his grandson was killed here, came to Bamiyan for immediate revenge. First, the Red City was completely destroyed and all its inhabitants killed, before he laid siege to Shahr-e-Gholgola. The city was well defended and protected, and it took a secret liaison with one of the daughters of ruler Jalaludin to discover the secret entrance to the city. The girl herself did not get any preferential treatment: she was slaughtered together with all the other inhabitants of the city - hence the name.

Picture of Shahr-e-Gholgola (Afghanistan): The City of Screams in hazy morning light

There are no screams when we arrive, but a few locals who pay their entrance and walk up the ruined city. Genghis Khan and his hordes did a good job: like the Red City, it takes fantasy to make out what used to be rooms, houses, buildings. After the Buddhist period of Bamiyan, the Ghorids took over; the region converted to Islam. We see the remnants of a mosque, where further down are caves where presumably Buddhist monks prayed before the Ghorid period. After the destruction by the Mongols, the City of Screams was never rebuilt, just like the Red City. There are some parts of Shahr-e-Gholgola where we get an idea what houses must have looked like, but other parts that appear just to be ruins. The higher we climb, the better the views, and when we walk past the half-remaining tower, we find a roof to sit on.

Picture of Shahr-e-Gholgola (Afghanistan): One of the towers of Shahr-e-Gholgola

From here, we have unrestricted views of the ruins, the surrounding valley, the fields, the mountains, the town of Bamiyan, and the wall towards the north in which the Buddha niches are a painful reminder of a richer past. The warm sunlight makes the wall stand out - oh, what view this must have been when they were still intact, and covered in gold and jewels - as noted by Chinese traveller Xuanzang in the early 6th century! The sun slaloms though the clouds, and whenever we are not in the sunlight, we feel the cold creeping in. Men climb the ruins on horseback. Birds fly over us, the sky turns red and then grey: darkness falls over the ruins and the town, and night gradually squeezes all the light out of the sky, so it is time to walk down, head back to the new town, and enjoy another Afghan dinner.

Picture of Shahr-e-Gholgola (Afghanistan): The City of Screams towering above empty fields
Picture of Shahr-e-Gholgola (Afghanistan): Ruins of Shahr-e-Gholgola, of City of Screams, destroyed by Genghis Khan
Picture of Shahr-e-Gholgola (Afghanistan): View of City of Screams, just before touchdown
Picture of Shahr-e-Gholgola (Afghanistan): View of the City of Screams from below
Picture of Shahr-e-Gholgola (Afghanistan): Looking out over Bamiyan valley with the ruins of Shahr-e-Gholgolain the foreground
Picture of Shahr-e-Gholgola (Afghanistan): Ruins of the City of Screams
Picture of Shahr-e-Gholgola (Afghanistan): The mosque of the City of Screams

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