Reminiscing The Valley Of Resistance – Afghanistan Part 3

I’ve already told you about my pre-Taliban takeover entry into Afghanistan and my encounters with this troubled land’s beauty and blown-up Buddha statues. Now it’s fittingly time to drive directly into what was and always had been — up until very recently — the valley of resistance. There we’ll visit a couple assassination destinations before hopping on a mask-free plane and flying out west for a brief visit to an old Silk Road city. Finally, we’ll return to Kabul and leave you with parting thoughts on Afghanistan.

You ready? Let’s go.

First Back in Kabul

We had left off at the end of Part 2 traveling all around the Bamyan region of Afghanistan. The following day, we began with a four-hour drive back to Kabul.

When we arrived, I rested a little in and did some work while my travel buddy Jannis saw the mosque and bird market that I had visited before when he was in bed sick with food poisoning from the bad kebab. 🤢

I should mention that most nights throughout my trip I took consulting calls. The internet in Afghanistan was so-so. I could work in the big towns, although the internet connection was quite bad. Luckily, my Google Fi worked, so that helped to make phone calls.

That afternoon we visited a British military cemetery.

The British cemetery

Then we went to Kabul’s lake, which had a lot of pedal boats and Afghan families having fun.

A leisurely afternoon on the lake

We went to a nice restaurant and enjoyed a great meal of pizza and some other things that were not kebab, which we were quite literally sick of. We watched the sunset before going back to the guest house and preparing for our drive the next morning to the famed Panjshir Valley.

Not a kebab in sight 😋

Of course, I have been following the situation in Afghanistan very closely ever since my trip. I made quite a few contacts there and I really enjoyed traveling the country. I was surprised that the Taliban took over so quickly after we had visited just a few months prior in May. I didn’t expect things to change so quickly because security seemed quite strong when we were there.

It’s a shame more people can’t visit this beautiful country. I’m glad I had the opportunity.

Road to the Panjshir Valley

We were going to visit the Panjshir Valley the next day after our night in Kabul. The same afternoon we would take a flight to the old Silk Road city of Herat.

In the morning, we woke up very early to drive almost three hours from Kabul to the Panjshir Valley. We drove along the backside of a big U.S. airbase, which has since been taken by the Taliban.

Heading off toward the Panjshir Valley

A bit further along we found the entrance to the Panjshir Valley. There is only one paved street leading in from Kabul, which was very narrow. It stretched on for about five kilometers, and then we saw a big checkpoint maintained by the Pajshiris, who had control of the valley at that time. It seemed to be an amazing valley with some very interesting history. Unfortunately, a less pleasant history is being made there at this moment as well. 😔

Welcome to the Panjshir Valley

There were some difficult mountain passes that would be very hard to access as well. The narrow road was easy enough to blockade, and snipers can be hidden strategically in the hillside to shoot down anyone who tries to enter. Looking at the photos, you can see why the Taliban had such a hard time getting into this valley.

A narrow road with natural protection

A History of Resistance

The Panjshir Valley was the last holdout of militants fighting the Taliban. It had never been conquered before — not by the very powerful Soviets, nor the Taliban in the past, nor any other invading armies. They stayed strong there for as long as they could. The Panjshiris attempted to carve out a corridor to their Tajik motherland, but just a few weeks ago, the valley finally fell to the Taliban.

I was lucky to see the valley while I had the chance

Besides its strategic regional position, the Panjshir Valley was famous because of the warlord Ahmad Shah Massoud. He was assassinated by Al-Quaeda, who sent suicide bombers posing as Belgian journalists with a bomb hidden in their camera equipment. The assassination happened just two days before September 11, 2001. Some local people say that Ahmad Shah Massoud was actually killed by the Americans who wanted to get rid of him before starting a war just a couple of months later. 👀

His son is Ahmad Massoud, leader of the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan, who led the defense of the Panjshir Valley until its recent fall. He stood alongside the remaining members of the Afghan government, including the vice president and special forces of the army who had all sorts of equipment including tanks and helicopters. They used the last twenty years of peace in the valley to build a lot of bunkers and to stockpile weapons, ammunition, and food. I had hoped that they would be able to maintain control of the valley, and it was sad to see that they recently lost their fight against the Taliban.

Sightseeing in the Panjshir Valley

The main reason for us to visit the Panjshir Valley was to see the tomb of Ahmad Shah Massoud. They built a big mausoleum for him in his hometown, which is an important cultural site for Panjshiri and Afghan people to commemorate their fallen hero.

Next to the tomb of Ahmad Shah Massoud was a tomb for Burhanuddin Rabbani, a politician who was assassinated by a bomb hidden in the turban of a guest on his birthday in 2011. Clearly, Afghanistan is not a safe place for political figures.

The tomb of Ahmad Shah Massoud on the left and Burhanuddin Rabbani on the right.

We saw and took photos of some derelict tanks. We also took in beautiful views of the valley and the Hindu Kush mountains that provide natural protection to the region.

Defending freedom in the valley or resistance

We had lunch at a riverside restaurant. The people around seemed quite relaxed. It was less traditional than many other parts of Afghanistan that we had visited. The Panjshiri people are ethnically Tajik, and they had been receiving some support from Tajikistan. It was interesting to see the culture there, even though we only had a quick stop to visit the mausoleum and hear about the history. Then we took off to catch our flight to Herat.

A beautiful lunch by the river

Touring Herat

We made it to the airport right on time, went back through the heavy security controls, and flew to Herat. Interestingly enough, in Afghan airports and airplanes, we were not required to wear masks. I was thrilled to enjoy mask-free flying once again.

As we neared Herat, we could see from above that it was a big flat plain near the mountains. We finally made it there just at sunset and drove to a hotel in town to sleep. We looked forward to visiting Herat the next day.

Landing in Herat at sunset

The next morning, we drove to a big prison on the outskirts of town. They used to keep a lot of ISIS members in there, but now they are all free. We went to town to visit the beautiful mosque of Herat. Then we went to see some pottery next to the mosque.

Good morning Herat ☀️

After that, we went to the old citadel of Herat which had a nice museum. We climbed to the top of the citadel, a la in Aleppo, and enjoyed the nice vantage point where we could see views all around Herat.

Views atop the citadel

We continued to visit other parts of the city, including an old shrine and a famous mosque with many high towers. We went to a museum that showed a lot about Afghan history and all the wars against the Soviets and some against the Taliban. There was a huge room where they had a replica including sound effects and light effects, which was pretty impressive.

The old shrine

We also went and walked around a cemetery inside of a nice old Persian-style mosque.

An unusual cemetery

We went back to the central part of Herat where we slept for one night. Early the next morning we would fly back to Kabul for one last day in the capital.

Final thoughts

Back in Kabul, I visited the lake again with the fancy restaurant we had eaten at a few days before. We also went to see a lookout point at a castle in Kabul. We drove around a bit more before going out that evening for our final dinner.

Back at the lake

The next morning I had a nice flight from Kabul to Baghdad via Dubai. My ex-warzone excursion would then pickup in Iraq, to which I brought my newly tailored suit as well.

Although I had a great time traveling Afghanistan, I felt kind of relieved to leave the big city of Kabul behind. Every day driving in Kabul we were stuck in traffic jams for several hours, which became a bit frustrating.

There were some tranquil places away from the traffic of the city

Despite having come across some foreboding signs, I never expected that this beautiful country would fall to the Taliban so quickly after my visit. Even the Panjshir Valley, which stayed strong for so long, has finally fallen, and my heart is with the people there.

Back when we were in the Bamyan region and Mazar-i-Sharif, there was a Canadian woman with us accompanied by an ethnically Hazara female guide from the same company. Apparently, she was some kind of Bamyan ski champion. She was very young, maybe eighteen years old, and very outspoken. She chose not to wear a headscarf. I think (and hope) that she is safe in Pakistan now because she escaped just in time. Many of the women I met along the way in Afghanistan are sure to be oppressed by the Taliban for years to come.

One last glance back at Kabul

All things considered, I’m very grateful that I made it to Afghanistan just in time to see what the country was like, less than three months before the Taliban takeover. I am very appreciative of those who made this trip possible, and I plan on helping the people who assisted me and who have since fallen on hard times in this beautiful and historic, yet troubled land.