11.08.1966 - 11.08.1966
Crossing Afghanistan last time was hell. Freezing temperatures, sickness, dilapidated transport and the appalling condition of the unsealed roads made it day after day of torture. But this time it will be different. We are here at the right season for one thing, and since we have decided to take the south road again, the now completed cross-country highway should ensure that the road is good all the way to Kabul. Provided I don’t get any tummy bugs I think I am really going to like Afghanistan this time.
We wandered around the town today and had a good look, especially at the Great Friday Mosque, which is very impressive.
Herat is a particularly interesting city, not only because of its ancient history going back to before the days of Alexander the Great, but because so much of it today still seems mediaeval. We turned off the main thoroughfare into a side street where all the artisans were and wandered along past the ruins of the massive Citadel, which dominates the city. Looking into the craftsmen’s mud-walled booths was like looking at the displays in an ethnological museum. The weavers and spinners in particular fascinated me; the apparatus they used was really primitive, though absolutely ingenious, and I imagine they have been using the same system for hundreds, maybe thousands, of years. One old bloke let me come in and watch for a while and I was really wrapped in it. We walked on to where there were a lot of stalls selling melons and other fruits of the region, and had a pot of chi in a local tea shop.
In the evening I climbed up onto the ruined wall behind the Hotel Beyzard to watch the sunset. It’s part of what remains of the old city walls but is just a huge mound of earth now. The view from there was magnificent. From the north a strong wind was blowing down from the Russian Steppes. To the east was the desert of Afghanistan; to the west, Iran; and spread out below me was Herat, with its imposing Citadel from the Middle Ages, the six remaining minarets of its ruined Madrassa, its Great Mosque and its thousands of hotchpotch, mud brick houses. Many others throughout history must have stood in the same spot gazing at much the same scene.
The mediaeval Citadel of Herat - Qala Iktyaruddin
The minarets of the Musalla Complex, the ruins of the Gawhar Shad Madrassa, stand at the edge of the city
The Great Friday Mosque rises above the mud dwellings of Herat