Whenever I read a book depicting real locations, actual places I can find on a map, a novel in which genuine artwork is described, and tangible, concrete buildings I know I can also visit are part of its setting, I tend to be more immersed in its story-line. The storytelling becomes more credible and, if by chance or choice, I visit those place I find myself immersed in that particular book again and, often, I pick it up and read it again.
On researching location for my latest novel, “Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for” I discovered a few sensational places; some new to me, secrets buried by history and war, others I have heard of but had not known how inspirational and amazing they were. I know, now, that I’d like to visit them all, one day when traveling to Afghanistan for tourism will be a safe endeavor once again.
1. Buddhas of Bamyan
“The Taliban did not succeed in wiping out the two Buddhas, but they became unrecognizable as the figures they once were. A cultural, religious, historical and entomological symbol and landmark.( Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for)
It was a bleak day in human history when something that watched over the valley for 1 500 years was destroyed in a matter of weeks.”
The Buddhan of Bamyan were two colossal statues carved during the 6th century into the side of a cliff in the Bamyan valley, once along the Silk Road, in the central highlands of Afghanistan, 230 km NW of Kabul, its capital city.
The bodies of the Buddhas were carved in the mountain cliff, while delicate details have been modeled out of mud and straw and coated with stucco for resistance. The faces, hands, and folds of the Buddhas’ robes were painted for an enhanced effect. The big Buddha, 53 m tall, was painted carmine red while the smaller Buddha, 35 m tall, was painted in multiple colors. They represented the Buddhas Vairocana and Sakyamuni.
“Taliban forces operating in Afghanistan had destroyed these colossal statues in March 2001. They started by damaging the Buddha with anti-aircraft firearms and cannons. Yet the damage inflicted was not enough for the Taliban. They returned with anti-tank mines that they placed at the statues bases. When sections of rock broke off, the statues suffered further damage.
And still, they did not stop here.”( Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for)
“The Taliban dropped men down the face of the cliff. They had placed explosives into the various grooves found in the Buddhas. The plan was clear, to completely destroy the facial features of the two statues. Maybe a bad understanding of the Quran: Islam condemns idolatry. When one of the blasts could not destroy the facial features of one statue, a rocket was used in its place. It left a hideous gap in whatever was left of the Buddha’s head.”( Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for)
But there is hope.
7 June 2015: Xinyu Zhang and Hong Liang , a Chinese adventurist couple, created a 3D image of the Buddhas and donated projector used for the installation, worth at $120 000. The 3D projection was able to fill once more the void cavities where the two majestic Buddhas once stood.
2. Qala-e Bost Fortress
“Qala-e-Boost or Bost Fort is the remnant of Alexander the Great’s Fortress in Afghanistan. What still stands today from this millennial old fortress is an impressive ruin. Helmand’s crown jewel is located on the east bank of the Helmand River, near Lashkar Gah, a city in southwestern Afghanistan and the capital of Helmand Province.”( Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for)
Lashkargah, or Lashkar Gah, means “army barracks” in Persian language.
“The stones of Qala-e-Boost have seen wars as well as the joys of celebrations. They have known wealth and ruin. Early hymns of the Zoroastrian religion, one of the oldest religions in the world, were once performed here. One of them was the Nowruz, the famous ceremony dedicated to the Sun and marking the Iranian New Year and the Spring Equinox. Along the years Bost fortress has been used as a guard post for the traditional caravan trade from Iran to India. The Mongols, then the Persians have been here too, then the Arabs, even the Russians. Leaders and warriors came here as attested by the terracotta figurines, the inscribed seals, and the many coins discovered here, and then they left. Still, Bost remained.”( Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for)
” At noontime, the sun spat yellow venom over the desert surrounding the ruins of the Qala-e-Bost fortress, over this war-cursed land where a misconceived culture and an overpowering international necessity to meddle fatalistically merged, long-stalling the Afghan peace process.”( Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for)
What is amazing about Qala-e-Bost Fortress is not what is visible above the ground, but what is hidden underneath, the entire Bost castle, 5 levels, being in the shape of a well hidden underground.
“As an eerie glow spread over the flat expanse of sand, from his high point Marcos caught a glimpse of what Qala-e-Bost’s crumbling walls would have been in its time of glory. No longer a ghostly silhouette, a mere reminder of an existence long forgotten, but a castle again.”( Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for)
I researched so much about this underground castle that stood the test of time. It would be incredible to walk its corridors, to see the light bouncing from the walls of its shaft, to hear the echoes of history as it was buried in its secret rooms.
3. An Afghan garden
Gardening says a lot about the nurturing abilities of a person. When an entire population has a gift for gardening it means that they have peace in their hearts and know the value of life.
I was amazed to discover how much gardening means to the Afghan people and how connected they are to their roots, to the soil of Afghanistan, nurturing or arid. How inventive the Afghans proved to be, making the best out of each situation, when it comes to gardens.
I tried to depict their nurturing nature in the pages of “Silent Heroes“.
“Afghans are gardeners at heart, did you know? Before they are mujahideen or insurgents or Taliban-bloody-criminals, they love to garden.”( Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for)
4. A Military Base in Afghanistan
During the two years plus it took me to research and write “Silent Heroes” I researched in depth the living conditions of the US Marines deployed in Afghanistan and of all the military fighting there.
What is outstanding is the level of organization and, at the same time, the little comfort these amazing soldiers put up with every day in order to do their duty towards their own countries and to keep peace for us all.
And anything reminding them of home is treasured. Like the small American flag in the image below.
“Between the building and the sheet of the tent was a corridor-wide enough for a human to pass through, two would have to negotiate. From a drain pipe facing the main door hung a small size American flag, the one civilians wave on the 4th of July, its sole purpose of connecting them with home.”( Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for)
5. A field of poppies
In Afghanistan, poppies – opium poppies – mean death and poverty. I, “Silent Heroes” I tried to explain the vicious cycle that poppy cultivation in Afghanistan means. It was fascinating to learn how it started, why, and what its consequences meant for the Afghan population as well as internationally.
“The hamlet’s reputation of frightfulness came from the complete lack of vegetation. As if the poppy field that once flourished nearby sucked away any drop of water that might have concentrated in the adjacent earth, like some type of incongruous alien.”( Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for)
International affairs and their local implications are never as simple as they appear at the beginning.
“So ‘The Golden Triangle’ (Burma, Thailand, Laos) was soon replaced by ‘The Golden Crescent’ (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran).”Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for)
Still, there is something magical about a field of poppies. I think that poppies seeds, with their ability to remain dormant throughout the years, are a fantastic representation of what hope and resilience is all about. Never give up.
Maybe because poppy has a long association with Remembrance Day. Why? Scarlet poppies (popaver rhoeas) grow naturally in conditions of disturbed, arid earth throughout the world. Poppies grew naturally after the Napoleonic wars of the 19th Century and again on battlefields of WW1.
In Flanders fields the poppies blowLieutenant Colonel John McCrae, “In Flanders Fields”
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
I hope you enjoyed reading about the five locations that inspired and amazed me while writing “Silent Heroes“.
Do you have a favorite place you read about in a book?