One of the coolest things about travel is wandering into a place that time seems to have truly forgotten. These days, locations like that are few and far between — but they still exist. One of the most special to me is Bamiyan, Afghanistan. I went there earlier this year for the Afghan Ski Challenge. At first, I was very nervous. After all, it’s Afghanistan: It’s war-torn and medieval. And I kept wondering, “Will I have to wear a burka?”
Well, yes and no. It is no longer war-torn. In fact, northern Afghanistan is considered peaceful — the Taliban was very harsh to the local Hazara people and blew up the famed, ancient Buddha structures in 2001. But when the United States troops invaded in 2002, the Taliban was swiftly routed and kicked out. They have yet to resurface there.
And yet, the city, once a critical hub on the Silk Road, is still medieval. It just got (spotty) electricity last year, thanks to a solar power plant built by the New Zealand government, and sharia law still rules on the outskirts of town. But there is some modernization. Among the donkey carts are cars and people still dressed in the embroidered clothing and salwar kameezes that their ancestors wore but also carrying cellphones.
In the fields lie the ruins of Shahr-e-Gholghola, also called The City of Screams, which was razed to the ground by Genghis Khan, who killed every last man, woman, and child in the city. Hence the name. It has not been touched since it was demolished. And you can almost hear the screams if you climb to the top of the once-fortified stronghold.
And no, not all women wear burkas. Some do, but most don’t. In fact, Bamiyan is a small, liberal stronghold, sporting some liberation. The member of parliament for Afghanistan from the region is a woman, and the local women have a ski race every year called the Afghan Ski Challenge. But for all intents and purposes, the year could be 2014… or 1014. Because not much has changed. And it’s fascinating.
So today, while you’re celebrating the end of combat and contemplating adventure, watch the video above, and get a little slice of ancient life. It may make you cuddle your remote, iPhone, and Roomba a little harder.