The Mysterious Well

IMG_8086-web1000Kak Kohzad

21 April 2011

In Afghanistan, there is a mysterious and ancient well.  Nobody knew how deep it was, or what might be down there, but some locals thought it might contain bones of their ancestors.  My friend Steve Shaulis came upon the well while working in Farah Province, and decided to launch a team to unravel its mysteries.

1-Kafir-QalaGreen pin denotes Kak Kohzad aka Kafir Qala. Alexander’s Army marched through here.

Man comes and goes with his temples, forts and armies.  One day here and then vanished.  Cause unknown.  Entire languages, arts and bloodlines seem to evaporate without a trace, while others leave scratches in the ground, or echo through generations in legends and tales, or syncretic mythologies from sources glowing with mystery. In some places, as in parts of Southeast Asia, a jungle can reclaim and "disappear" a fantastic construction such as Angkor Wat with the ease of a python swallowing a rabbit.  At another extreme, in Afghanistan, archeological wonders such as the Citadel of Alexander the Great in Farah, are practically mummified.

3-Kafir-QalaThe immensity of human space and time in Asia overloads the imagination.

The difficult marches of ancient Greek Emperor, Alexander the Great, are well documented by historians and archeologists, allowing us to trace them reasonably accurately.  Alexander was one of the first of many august conquerers to blow across Afghanistan.  Back when the known world was separated by vast expanses and cultures unknown to each other, his journey was like something out of Star Trek – discovering peoples and practices unknown in ancient Greece.

Alexander, like Captain Kirk, landed in one strange world after another. In each, he had to use quick judgement to decide whether to set his Army on stun or high power.  Alexander could have been swallowed by the vastness of Asia as easily as the Starship Enterprise could be devoured by a blackhole.  His explorations pushed into the unknown and he came home to tell about it.  (In a twist of cosmic wit, 2,000 years later Canadian actor William Shatner played Alexander the Great, and then Captain Kirk.)

Along his journey, Alexander must have come across Kak Kohzad Citadel, only eight miles away from the Citadel Alexander would build in what is today Farah City.  Both Citadels are about 75 miles distant from the current Iranian border.  Today the United States and Italy share a base about three miles from the Alexander’s Citadel, and six miles from Kak Kohzad.

4-Kafir-QalaKak Kohzad (Kafir Qala) is under the distant green pin.

If the hydro topography 2,300 years ago was similar to today’s, Alexander made camp closer to water, whereas Kak Kohzad is high and dry.

IMG_6655-copy-web1000Our friendly police escort in front, and Kak Kohzad at the 11 o'clock.

On 10 March 2011, Kris LeBoutillier and I loaded up with some Afghan police to visit the ancient ruins.  Kris already knew what was at the bottom of the well because he lowered a camera down there in November.

Who were the people in Kak Kohzad?  References are vague, speculative, and to delve into available literature might involve great research in darkly lit rooms by scholars literate in various languages, who are familiar with the old words, place names, and history.  The seemingly vast enterprise of the internet is in reality paper thin.  It cannot deliver that which was never recorded, never uploaded, or rendered in a backwater or forgotten language. Much of recorded history is simply lost.

Alexander built his Citadel just eight miles away from here, so it’s possible that his scribes recorded much about the local people.  But the Library of Alexandria which may have contained the descriptions, was burned.  Some believe that Julius Caesar destroyed the library, but nobody knows.  One thing is certain: whoever burned the library should have their bones scattered across the face of the moon.

image011Route to Kak Kohzad from Farah city. (Captured by Trackstick.)

IMG_7300-copy-web1000Better to have backup

The day before publication of this dispatch, two outstanding and highly experienced war correspondents, Chris Hondros and Tim Hetherington, were killed in Libya, and three other journalists were wounded.  The price for such images and insights is severe.  Risks can be mitigated but never eliminated, and often they are high.  During our journey to Kafir Qala, the risks were moderate to low.  Nevertheless, even a 1% chance is severe when you take it a thousand times. 

As this dispatch goes to publication, my heart is sad for the loss of Chris and Tim.


It’s possible to travel through much of Afghanistan with little or no security, but it’s good to have a few guns around to keep opportunism at bay.  Our security would be nearly hopeless against a serious attack, but they could keep the mosquitoes away.  There is much organized crime in the area.  In April 2011, it was reported that 15 people, including Iranian engineers, were kidnapped together in Farah, and the crime was apparently not conducted by the Taliban.  Hours before this was published, it was reported that the Iranians were released.  (Probably after ransom was satisfied.)including Iranian engineers, were kidnapped at once in Farah.


# Rob Jacob 2011-04-21 15:42
Michael - you tease. As always you are proving yourself to be among this nations finest journalists. Can't want for Part II.
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# Mike Robinson 2011-04-21 15:56
1st Post!
Ack! A cliffhanger.
This is like a Steven Spielberg screenplay, w/o the rampaging locals, thank goodness.
Great pics & history background. Can't wait for part 2
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# Mary Waldner 2011-04-21 16:06
"A wall is never stronger than the people defending it."
So too, our liberty.
Thank you, Michael, for your always informative, courageous & fascinating articles on places, people & events we can only imagine from the distance of our lap tops.
Godspeed to you & all our heroes!
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# Tommy Barrios 2011-04-21 16:08
And please quit calling Michael a journalist, writer, war correspondent, pen warrior, soldiers scribe, but not a stinking journalist!!

Beg forgiveness and we won't send camel fleas to your 10-20 8)
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+1 # Kenneth Tin 2011-04-21 16:09
:-) I really enjoyed the story. It really brings the history to life. Keep em coming!
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# Tommy Barrios 2011-04-21 16:16
"A wall is never stronger than the people defending it."

I agree Mary, 100 percentile :-)

I shall start using that on my political websites 8)
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# whamprod 2011-04-21 16:17
I have to wait?!?!?!? Aaaaaaaaaarrrrr rrrgggggggghhhh hhh! :-*
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# David 2011-04-21 16:19
On the edge of my seat Michael!
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# Peter 2011-04-21 16:22
Back to the future!! You can always get a job as screen play writer!
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# Tanya Fleenor 2011-04-21 16:23
You are a RAT! LOL! :P

That said, I love this, on so many levels. Thank you!
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# Ron Handke 2011-04-21 16:27
If I miss the ending, you will shurly have the blessing of many camel fleas. plus your camera lens will fog over for many moons. :sad:
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# Barb Mungovan Koch 2011-04-21 16:29

Prayers are with you everywhere you go, but most especially during Holy Week, as you seem to epitomize the Matthew 7:7, verse..."Knock & the door shall be opened, Seek & ye shall find."...Well, Yon 'found it.'..Blessings on your journey!! Blessed Holy Week! Love wells.. Thank you. Can't wait to read the rest!!!
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# lisag@warmingwipes.c 2011-04-21 16:40
This is awesome Michael, Blessings to you on your travels. Matthew 7:7 . Incredable. Lisa Gradzewicz
Quoting Barb Mungovan Koch:

Prayers are with you everywhere you go, but most especially during Holy Week, as you seem to epitomize the Matthew 7:7, verse..."Knock & the door shall be opened, Seek & ye shall find."...Well, Yon 'found it.'..Blessings on your journey!! Blessed Holy Week! Love wells.. Thank you. Can't wait to read the rest!!!
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# BSJ 2011-04-21 16:48
Key terrain, is always Key terrain!
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# KK 2011-04-21 16:57
I can't believe you ended this dispatch mid-stream. Not fair! What a tease. :cry::
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# Robert 2011-04-21 17:10
Love the stories and all the pictures. I am a US Marine stationed in Pax River Maryland, and i'm from a town neir you. Sebring! I preordered your book Iraq: Inside the Inferno. i have recieved orders to South Carolina to report in July and am interested in when we should be getting the books. Will i recieve it before i leave. Do you have a date when they will be distributed? Thanks and stay safe. Semper Fi!
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# Tommy Barrios 2011-04-21 17:16
Uh this looks suspiciously like commercial troll spam, i.e. putting your email address with your company domain name in the NAME block!

IT could be a simple mistake as it would be normally foolish to put your business email address out there for all the spam bots to read and then send you joyous tidings of all the products and services you thought would never use or need, along with any malicious programs that tend to travel in such company 8)

Mr Moderation pls take note :eek::
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# Derrick 2011-04-21 18:27
Dude!! The least you could do is not keep us hanging too long. ;-)
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# rappini 2011-04-21 19:04
Everyone in my address book is going to get this, Kudos Michael.
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# Ken Flauding 2011-04-21 19:13
A nation is no stronger than it's borders or the will of the government tasked with defending them.
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# Kathy 2011-04-21 19:28
Thank you, Michael ~ I feel as if I'm right there with you and your men. I keep all of you in prayer, knowing that your lives are constantly in danger. Please keep up the good work.
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# Ken Flauding 2011-04-21 19:29
These are awesome photos and stories about this remote place. For most of us, it may as well be on the moon. But, to know that civilizations were able to establish this type of fortification is incredible, given the scarce resources.
Perhaps as a highpoint in the region, it was like a tower in the middle of the desert. They could see movement for many miles all around, therefore serving as an early warning system against intruders entering the fertile lowlands, long before they could arrive.
Granted, more speculation, but the turrets appear to be watchtowers to me.
Is there water at the bottom of the well? Guess that remains to be found in part II… 8)
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# Wanda Yon 2011-04-21 20:24
Quoting rappini:
Everyone in my address book is going to get this, Kudos Michael.
Look forward to them,hope all is well Michael?One day when you're back in the states again we will have to meet.Meanwhile as always,stay safe.Wy.
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# RogerS 2011-04-21 20:31
Hey Michael,

Thanks for another great story and the *incredible* gigapan of the Citadel! I learn so much from your dispatches and have been following you since 2005.

I ran across this 2004 photo of a castle taken at the Citadel with US soldiers on wikipedia:

but I couldn't find the castle (Maybe Alexanders?) anywhere in the gigapan.

Anyway, I am sorry about the loss of your fellow war correspondents Chris Hondros and Tim Hetherington. Even though I put you in a class way above the "mainstream" war correspondents, I suppose that respecting any and all journalists who endanger their lives to bring us the news is the right thing to do.

Godspeed to you and everyone around you!

-Roger in Northern Ca. (bay area)
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# Ryan 2011-04-21 21:01
I say Indy finds, at the end of the rope, a floor covered in snakes...

Keep up the great work! Sharing your experiences is a privilege.
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# Ralph Greenhow 2011-04-21 21:02
Thanks Michael The GigaPan and the internet were meant for each other!
You are taking full advantage of such great capabilities. There is so much intrigue in searching in the details.Then your writing opens up a world that at first glance is other worldly desolate, the Google map makes that bareness like a gigantic swirl of rock,the way you identify each location gives me an appreciation for the distances and isolation. It may be Alexander's idea of great trip, but it was no weekend romp. Stay safe
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# Dave 2011-04-22 00:05
It's the same as what Geraldo got out of Al Capones Vault...
NOTHING!!! in abundance.
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# Orion 2011-04-22 03:23
Ummm Jimmy Hoffa? ;-)
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# DeAnna Dutton 2011-04-22 06:01
along with Jimmy great way to tease for the follow up story by the way
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# Violette 2011-04-22 08:11
Today is "Vendredi Saint",remember ing me of ALL THOSE who "disappeared"in the WELL OF HISTORY for the LOVE,LIFE,FREED OM "WE" enjoy,advancing MANKIND .
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# Orion 2011-04-22 13:08
Quoting DeAnna Dutton:
along with Jimmy way to tease for the follow up story by the way

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# Christopher Hopper 2011-04-22 13:16
I love that ingot history lessons, not just news on the war. You're incredible.
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# Leyla Najma 2011-04-22 15:37
I think everyone following you is on the same page! We all feel you are the best photographer out anywhere, period!! I always look forward to your blog, photos!!
Thanks for sharing!

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# Lorene 2011-04-22 16:44
Nice one Michael! Can't wait for part II. Be safe!
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# Spool32 2011-04-22 17:38
I hate to nitpick, but a 1% chance will still just be 1%, no matter how many times you take the chance. If you flip a coin 5 times and get 4 tails, the chance of tails on the 6th flip is still only 50%. If you take a risk with a 1% chance of disaster and repeat it 1000 times, the 1001st time still has only a 1% chance of disaster.
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# Michael Yon 2011-04-23 02:15
[quote name="Spool32"] I hate to nitpick, but a 1% chance will still just be 1%, no matter how many times you take the chance. with a 1% chance of disaster and repeat it 1000 times...

Thank you for that. Actually, what I wrote is correct. (I took same math class. :-) ). Your analysis is correct, but your analysis did not actually analyze what was written.
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# Doug 2011-04-23 05:10
Someone must have some idea who built it and when it dates to, based on the architecture. Castles have distinctive features. The Assassins were weird enough to have perhaps had a refuge in such a God-forsaken location. It looks like Mordor!
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# John F 2011-04-23 18:17
Michael, I just watched a show on TV "The Exodus Decoded" by "Brad Meltzer". In his show he says there was a natural spring at the top of Mount Sinai (On Moses road to the promised land). Was this well you are talking about near the silk road? Man likes to build things and imitate (eg Tower of Babel) Do you find this an interesting analogy? Thank you for helping bring these things to life through your photos as well!!! A fan JF
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# Victor Caton 2011-04-23 20:30
This kind of stuff is very fascinating and important to document. Thanks from myself and anyone interested in history/archeol ogy.
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# Gil Ceniceros 2011-04-24 03:45
This is amazing. I can't wait to see what you found, (or didn't find), as it is a great story and will help settle some legends.
Fantastic background and photos, too.
Thanks! 8)
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# Gil Ceniceros 2011-04-24 03:48
name correction, Indy :oops:
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# Spool32 2011-04-25 06:31
Quoting Michael Yon:
[quote name="Spool32"]I hate to nitpick, but a 1% chance will still just be 1%, no matter how many times you take the chance. with a 1% chance of disaster and repeat it 1000 times...

Thank you for that. Actually, what I wrote is correct. (I took same math class. :-) ). Your analysis is correct, but your analysis did not actually analyze what was written.

You wrote "...even a 1% chance is severe when you take it a thousand times.". It might be severe but no more so than the first time you took the chance. Severity of a chance doesn't grow with repetition!
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# James 2011-04-26 01:01
Oh way to leave us hanging Mike.
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# Fred2 2011-04-26 23:06
The weird thing is not wanting a well, a well is understandable for all the usual tactical reasons.
A fortress like that is big investment of time and resources, and normally people build stuff like that :

A. to defend something ( block a pass , stop up a river crossing, for ex.)
B.Collect & store taxes - e.g. Rhine Castles, caravan "taxation"
C. Serve as a symbol of Authority ( castle in a city, local military base HQ, etc...)

None of which holds here, (your're miles from anything useful), so I'm left to conclude this is a "Patrol base" something you dragoon the hostile locals in to building while your army is around, before you leave a small contingent behind that's well protected that keeps up recon patrols and general order maintenance in "Hostile Country".
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# TerriLPN 2011-04-26 23:25
Michael you are Awesome.. Your Travels, your dedication to our Bravest and Finest..But Your Dispatches and Photos take me Round the World.. :-) Thank You!!
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# Michael Yon 2011-04-27 10:39
Spool32 -- again, your analysis is correct, but does NOT analyze what I actually wrote. Although a 1% chance remains a 1% chance for each iteration, if you take a 1% chance a thousand times, over the span of that thousand rolls of the 100-sided di, your chances of rolling the wrong number one time is VERY high. If you take that same chance a million times, your chances are converging to near certainty that something is going to happen. (Btw, given all the ambushes I've been in, I think the actual chances are much higher than 1%.) In some places and times, the chances were probably more like 50-75% (we got hit all the time).
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# William 2011-04-30 08:38
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# Steve 2011-05-04 01:02
Well, that's a deep story Michael!
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# kel 2011-06-08 23:47
do tell us that youve got at least one real and serious archeologyst and one real serious hsyttorian there with you, alexander the great... that is like saying last month for that piece of land time line history...
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