Michael's Dispatches

The Mysterious Well: Part II of II

31 Comments

Farah-Well-Fort-14-web1000Axe Handle Cam

Events from Farah Province, Afghanistan
Published 24 April 2011

The previous dispatch ended with Kris LeBoutillier lowering his camera into the mysterious well at Kafir Qala, which is believed to be more than 2,000 years old.

The depth and contents of the ancient well were unknown – that was a big part of the mystery.  So Kris brought 1,000 feet of steel fishing leader.  He secured the camera and a flashlight to an axe handle using tape, thus making the Axe Handle Cam.

They wondered what surprises were in store.  Snakes, bats, animal or people bones, maybe even treasures – consisting of anything from the helmets of Alexander’s men to Bactrian Gold – no one knew but there was much anticipation.  Anything that could fit into the well might be there.  If something of interest were found, the next step would be to send a man.

Matthew Goldthwaite, who accompanied Kris, would write to me:

“…the site is rife with folklore, among which, that the fort was under siege for 50 years and the large boulders at the base were thrown down at the invading army from the citadel.  According to the legend, the well was dug during the siege as a combo source of water and escape route.  Furthermore, the legend says that the king left his treasure, (this is why the Afghan Minister of Cultural Affairs and Antiquities sent a rep, just in case we found something).  When you look at the well, if you look up to the top, you will see a level at the very top of the mountain.  This was alleged to be where the kings lived...”

Farah-Well-Fort-10-web1000Photo by Kris LeBoutillier

As Matt unreeled the steel fishing leader, the Axe Handle Cam oscillated and twisted in the darkness, challenging the autofocus to keep pace.  The video sensor captured clues to the construction.  Ancient architects of the Citadel were highly skilled, and so nothing was random, including the shape and dimensions.  This was not a haphazard hole shoveled without foresight, but a plan chiseled through stone.

Screen-shot-2011-04-23-at-11.49.21-AM-web1000From Axe Handle Cam: Ribbing inside the well

Around the walls there is ribbing, which could have been used to hold planks for working platforms, or merely for climbing.  A series of single bamboo poles lodged diagonally from corner to corner, with the bottom of each pole lodged on a rib, could make for easy climbing and workspace.  The ribbing may look small, but to a skilled climber, those ribs are huge.  In a culture where a father’s, father’s, father probably was digging wells or karez, a skinny barefooted kid could climb up and down that shaft like a spider.

The deepest known hand-dug well in the world is nearly a quarter-mile deep. An account of the construction of the Woodingdean Well mentions tiny platforms cut into the side:

“Winchmen stood on tiny platforms cut into the side of the shaft, passing spoil up and bricks down as the shaft continued forever downwards. One winchman actually plunged to his death.”

Screen-shot-2011-04-23-at-11.48.47-AM-web1000

And so lowered the Axe Handle Cam, twisting, swaying, trying to keep focus:

vlcsnap-2010-11-23-17h40m59s179-web1000The camera reached bottom at about 200’

vlcsnap-2010-11-23-17h38m52s219web1000No bones or treasures on the surface of the bottom of the well.

The find was a little disappointing.  But it’s not surprising that nothing noteworthy was found on the surface at the bottom.  Afghanistan is rife with skilled tunnel and well diggers, and it’s possible that many people have ventured to the bottom to have a look, especially given the legend of treasures.

At the end of the day, the mystery remained.  The legend of a king under siege, hiding his treasures down the well, remains a real possibility.  A people who were smart and skilled enough to build Kak Kohzad would not just toss treasures down a well, knowing that they, themselves could enter and exit the shaft as if it were a staircase.  No security is purchased by tossing a king’s treasures into an unlocked basement.

Had they intended to use the well for temporary security, they may have chosen to   excavate side shafts, with tiny entrances. At least one shaft might be a decoy, containing sacrificial treasure, only a few hundred feet down. The real treasure cache would be secured closer to the bottom.  Then you would refill the well to buy time and to avoid casual thievery.

It’s possible that buried down there, far below the 200’ reached by Axe Cam, are hidden tunnels and chambers.  Legends of tunnels and underground cities -- and real tunnels and underground cities -- are in abundance around the world. Cappadocia, in Turkey, is a classic example.

Afghanistan is abundant with mystery, much of it staring you right in the face.  Time, peace and prosperity – and trained scholars – are key to answering many questions that remain.

End of Part II of II

---

Addendum with unused photos, and notes.

MVI_6871-web1000Men love to toss object into wells

Kris and Matt had lowered the camera in November 2010.  In March 2011, as I set up the GigaPan robot on the tripod, Afghan Police who accompanied us occupied themselves throwing several large stones into the well.  Each time they prepared to toss, they smiled broadly, made sure everyone was watching and listening, then tossed and acted like they had just swallowed happy pills.  The only thing man likes to toss into wells more than stones, is other people.

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Alan J · 7 years ago
    Impressive pictures of a strategic location
    lost in time, be interesting to do a 1000 foot core bore from the current "bottom" to know how far down it goes
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Mary Waldner · 7 years ago
    So much mystery left to investigate. Photos from cockpit look a bit like smaller version of Masada I climbed. No telling the stories this place could tell.
    I took a trip from my laptop, thanks to your fascinating report in words & photos.
    Gratefully, Mk
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Paul Fitzgerald · 7 years ago
    Your words captivate. Your photos...WOW.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Violette · 7 years ago
    my easter bunny egg...and it's not a Rohrsach's test:

    IMAGE 8 : THE KING LYON ON THE MOON !
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Steve · 7 years ago
    Truly an impressive fort...one can see why they built it there. As impressive as it is, it could only hold out as long as they had food and water, hence the need to the well/tunnel. Would be interesting to excavate it, but that will have to wait.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Ron Peery · 7 years ago
    I climbed to the well in May 06. Lost a good knife up there somewhere. My team members tell me that there are some well preserved murals in the ruins at the top. No photos, unfortunately. Thanks for the great post. I am now more curious that ever.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jbadgph04 · 7 years ago
    Your pictures and words always take me back to when I was there. The historical pull and magnificent desolation of Afghanistan can be quite a pull, even given the dangers that are present.

    My son just got back after his year there. Quite a year, wounded in an ambush but returned and finished it out.

    Thanks and stay safe.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Peter · 7 years ago
    Michael,
    great, great, great. Stay low. Keep out of trouble.

    What is going on in Japan? What do you see the news is not telling us?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Rob Jacob · 7 years ago
    Incredible sites you get to see and experience. How the MSM has not offered you a fortune in job offers I will never understand - maybe they have have?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Leyla Najma · 7 years ago
    Fantastic photos.......as usual!!
    Would love to go check it out that is when peace reins supreme!!
    Thanks for giving us a little taste of what you see!! ;-)

    Blessings,

    Leyla
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Ron Handke · 7 years ago
    I truly envy your endevors to provide photos of places and action that most will never see, another job well done, thanks
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Juan · 7 years ago
    Those pictures from the plane are so cool! I'd love to explore that place.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Scott · 7 years ago
    This series is great. I'd love if you took picutures of some of the other forts in Afghanistan like the medieval one at FOB Ramrod.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    mad dog · 7 years ago
    [quote name="Peter"]Michael,
    great, great, great. Stay low. Keep out of trouble.

    What is going on in Japan? What do you see the news is not telling us?[/quote]

    I agree this is a great article, as always. However, the Japan comment left me a bit empty. I live here and somewhat close to all the problems, so my concern is pretty palpable. Even so, i found that all the information is out there and one can do a daily reading of radiation levels in all areas surrounding Fukushima, almost from day one. Never found the gov. to be pulling punches, but do find them to be overly cautious at times...for good reason IMHO. Gov. gets a lot of flack for a situation they did not create. All this stuff was built by the LDP, the DPJ being newcomers to the party. That is where attention should be directed. Still, this was a massive natural disaster and hopefully you will be a part of reporting what is going on here!
    As always, stay safe!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Kristine Grimes · 7 years ago
    :-* Very cool. Thanks so much for sharing!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Andrew · 7 years ago
    It looks like another planet. Was there any life on those rocks? Plants, reptiles, bugs, anything?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    gsarcs · 7 years ago
    I am going to show this post to a high school student of mine. Her brother is currently in Afghanistan. And to remind the other students that Americans stand in harm's way, every day, half way around the world - Don't forget about them.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    TerriLPN · 7 years ago
    God Bless You, Be Safe..Thank You for showing me places of the world outside of Ohio I could Never Adventure to!! Prayers for You and Our Military in Harms Way, Also!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    J.Hansford · 7 years ago
    Afghanistan, it sure is a desolate place.

    As for the nuclear lies in Japan... That would be Media lies.... According to our bizarre and pathetic excuses for journalistic excellence.... The Japanese helicopter pilots will be sloughing off skin an muscle from their very bones and bleeding out internally for flying over the nuclear power station.... All rubbish of course. The Fukushima earthquake and tsumami damage reactors have not killed anyone, will not kill anyone and in all probability will not make anyone sick... Chernobyl is about as bad as a nuclear reactor accident can get and only 68 people died during and since.... Whereas, the earthquake and tsunami killed probably 25000 Japanese straight up.... That's the real tragedy as far as I'm concerned.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Michael Yon · 7 years ago
    [quote name="Jbadgph04"]Your pictures and words always take me back to when I was there. The historical pull and magnificent desolation of Afghanistan can be quite a pull, even given the dangers that are present.

    My son just got back after his year there. Quite a year, wounded in an ambush but returned and finished it out.

    Thanks and stay safe.[/quote]

    Please convey my respect and thanks to your Son! I get strength just being with our troops.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Michael Yon · 7 years ago
    [quote name="J.Hansford"]Afghanistan, it sure is a desolate place.

    As for the nuclear lies in Japan... That would be Media lies.... According to our bizarre and pathetic excuses for journalistic excellence.... The Japanese helicopter pilots will be sloughing off skin an muscle from their very bones and bleeding out internally for flying over the nuclear power station.... All rubbish of course. The Fukushima earthquake and tsumami damage reactors have not killed anyone, will not kill anyone and in all probability will not make anyone sick... Chernobyl is about as bad as a nuclear reactor accident can get and only 68 people died during and since.... Whereas, the earthquake and tsunami killed probably 25000 Japanese straight up.... That's the real tragedy as far as I'm concerned.[/quote]

    J. Hansford,

    Nobody knows how many people died or will die as a result of Chernobyl. Likewise with Fukushima.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Adam Neira · 7 years ago
    Great photos and words. Thank-you very much. Prayers for the good people of ISAF and Afghanistan.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Tanya Fleenor · 7 years ago
    Love it! Thank you so much for sharing this with us.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    mr. smith · 7 years ago
    i am curious. what is so special about afghanistan? for centuries, countries/people have attempted to conquer (or liberate) a land that seems to be devoid of anything of value. meaning gold, oil, etc. so what continues to drag people there? i am going to throw out a question that may be considered and conspiracy theory, but is there something hidden there that people have been trying to fide for hundreds of years? some mystical something or other?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    mr. smith · 7 years ago
    i am curious. what is so special about afghanistan? for centuries, countries/people have attempted to conquer (or liberate) a land that seems to be devoid of anything of value. meaning gold, oil, etc. so what continues to drag people there? i am going to throw out a question that may be considered and conspiracy theory, but is there something hidden there that people have been trying to fide for hundreds of years? some mystical something or other?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    mr. smith · 7 years ago
    i am curious. what is so special about afghanistan? for centuries, countries/people have attempted to conquer (or liberate) a land that seems to be devoid of anything of value. meaning gold, oil, etc. so what continues to drag people there? i am going to throw out a question that may be considered and conspiracy theory, but is there something hidden there that people have been trying to fide for hundreds of years? some mystical something or other?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    mr. smith · 7 years ago
    sorry for the multiple posts. dang internet. please delete a couple of them.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Former Navy · 7 years ago
    Incredible images as always Michael! I play a lot of video games now and the Fortress of the Infidel looks like something out of Assasin's Creed. Places like that are so far removed from the average American reality that some find it hard to believe places like that exist. My first moment like that was seeing the Rock of Gibraltar for the first time. Yes it really does look like the Prudential logo! Simply amazing!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    BR Hobbs · 7 years ago
    Great story. (Better than Geraldo and Capone's safe). Incredible pictures and a truly fascinating place. However, it makes me think the same thing I think everytime I see pictures of Afghanistan: Why the heck would any one want the place? There doesn't seem to be enough grass to feed a skinny goat and no water in sight!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Ben Barnard · 6 years ago
    I'm staying at camp Sayar(ANA base) among the Afghan Soldiers(not in ETT or PRT US camps)since 2009.
    On New Year's day(01 Jan 12)me and my Afghan team took 2 x sheep up to Kafir Qala and had a great barbecue on the spot ....what a view!! Needless to say that it was a mission to get all the wood,water,chairs, tables etc..etc up there,BUT it was worth every drop of sweat. We'll do again next year(God willing)....!!! Come join us(we are 1 x Expat and 50 Afghan locals...no security...no weapons)
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Frank · 4 months ago
    While in the area in 1971, I was told that in Firdausi's The Book of Kings, Rostam tracked down his son, who had run off with Rostam's new wife, to this fort. The son strode out, and in a battle to the finish the son killed the father.

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