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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.