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Afghanistan: Shahr-e-Zohak

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Shahr-e-Zohak | Afghanistan | Asia

[Visited: October 2017]

The drive through Bamiyan valley is pleasant and easy, with only one checkpoint on the way. We see the ruins of a large caravanserai, and mountains looming high above us. When we reach the crossroads from where it is straight ahead to Kabul on a newly asphalted road, or left on the old and much longer one, Shahr-e-Zohak rises above us on our right. Often called the Red City, its deep red colour immediately makes clear how it got its name. We walk up through fields in which men and women work and cows walk, and then take on the steep gravel path on the northern slope of the mountain. Ruins of towers stand above us, slowly crumbling away with the passing of time. After passing through the city gate, we come to the lower part of the citadel. We are walking in sunlight again, and now have better views over the surrounding landscape. We walk through ruined buildings, past defensive towers: the agricultural fields below are now patches of green in an otherwise barren, brown landscape.

Picture of Shahr-e-Zohak (Afghanistan): The lower part of the Red City

Leaving the lower part behind, we make our way up the steep path towards the top of the mountain. These used to be the quarters of the royals. It is now easy to see how Shahr-e-Zohak was the fortress that was supposed to protect the entire Bamiyan valley against intruders. Two valleys come together here, cutting through much higher landscapes and rugged terrain. Genghis Khan himself came galloping over the mountains to our north, after he heard of the killing of his favourite grandson. We all know what happened when something enraged him. The Red City was destroyed, all its inhabitants killed without mercy, before he stormed to the Shahr-e-Gholgola near Bamiyan, which was also destroyed. Despite its strategic location, Shahr-e-Zohak was never rebuilt, Erosion is still eating away at the structures here. We find Soviet military at the royal quarters: they surely appreciated this spot for controlling access to the valley of Bamiyan.

Picture of Shahr-e-Zohak (Afghanistan): Tower on the north side of Shahr-e-Zohak

Clouds are sailing through the sky where just before it was spotless blue. The light changing, the views of the valleys and mountains around us are getting more intense and spectacular. So we stay, we see from above how the citadel blends in with the landscape, try to imagine the guards at this highest point when they saw the army of Genghis Khan warriors emerge from the mountains, how they would try to warn their men further down the valley. Asking ourselves if they knew their fate once the Mongolians conquered the city. We walk down the path again, walk through the ruins down to the fields again where the men and women are still working. It is harvesting season, winter is around the corner, so a lot still needs to be done. Are they descendants of the Mongolian army that swarmed the valley? Looking at the Hazara people here, you could certainly think so, even though this is contested by some scientists. We get a last glimpse of Shahr-e-Zohak when we drive way: on the markers at the roadside, I see the distance to Kabul is around 120 km. I would love to do this roadtrip through the mountains, but it is deemed too dangerous for foreigners because of Taliban presence in the mountains. Our guide himself tells us he was almost killed on one of his journeys to the capital. Will it ever be safe to do it?

Picture of Shahr-e-Zohak (Afghanistan): The royal quarters were located on top of the hill
Picture of Shahr-e-Zohak (Afghanistan): Tower of Shahr-e-Zohak sticking out above  the rest of the lower town
Picture of Shahr-e-Zohak (Afghanistan): View of Shahr-e-Zohak from above
Picture of Shahr-e-Zohak (Afghanistan): The north side of Shahr-e-Zohak with ruined towers
Picture of Shahr-e-Zohak (Afghanistan): Ruins of octagonal tower and walls of the Red City
Picture of Shahr-e-Zohak (Afghanistan): Looking out over the ruins of the Red City towards the direction Genghis Khan came from
Picture of Shahr-e-Zohak (Afghanistan): Building in ruins at Shahr-e-Zohak
Picture of Shahr-e-Zohak (Afghanistan): Ruins of the Red City
Picture of Shahr-e-Zohak (Afghanistan): Looking over the Bamiyan-Kabul road from the top of Shahr-e-Zohak
Picture of Shahr-e-Zohak (Afghanistan): View of Shahr-e-Zohak from the top of the hill
Picture of Shahr-e-Zohak (Afghanistan): Inside view of a circular buildig of the Red City
Picture of Shahr-e-Zohak (Afghanistan): Ruined tower of Shahr-e-Zohak
Picture of Shahr-e-Zohak (Afghanistan): Ruins of a building in the Red City

Around the World in 80 Clicks

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