Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Mountains of Afghanistan - An essay

"Bring me men to match my mountains" wrote William Blake. Had he visited Afghanistan, it is likely he would have found an answer to his question. There he would have found a hardy, resilient and romantic people who match the mountains of Blake's poetic imagination. A country where poetry and beautiful roses disguise the toughness of the people whose imagination, spirit and culture have been shaped by the mountains. This book is an attempt to describe the mountains of Afghanistan and the relationship between people who inhabit them, and the significant role these icy barriers have played in world history. Mountains shape the people, people shape the mountains. One tunnel through the mighty Hindu Kush shaped the modern history of Afghanistan, the Soviet invasion in 1979.

Mountains dominate the landscape of Afghanistan and these massive ramparts have shaped the lives, culture and the minds of the Afghan people for thousands of years. People and carpets are named after mountains, poets write, artists paint, novelists fictionalise, legends and folklore abound and conquering Kings and Khans fall homesick for their grandeur and beauty. At the opening of Radio Kabul in 1941, a commitment was made to broadcast regularly the songs of shepherd bards who inhabit the antique mountains.

The sons and grandsons of those bards are still there tending their flocks

Wherever you are in Afghanistan it is impossible to escape the influence of the mountains. The success of crops depends on adequate winter snows, millions of sheep, goat and cattle rely on the lush summer alpine grazing for their survival, the country's economy depends on the gemstones lodged in deep mountain recesses, transportation is reliant on the condition of the alpine passes, avalanches, spring snow melt and the resultant floods can wipe out a village and its total crops with a flick of its icy tail.
And, with the heavy deforestation and overgrazing up to the snowline all year round, local eco-systems and the biodiversity have been so impacted that the mountain habitat is degrading so quickly that landslides, flooding from bursting natural dams caused by blocked rivers, have wreaked havouc in mountain regions. Local mountain inhabitants complain that changing weather patterns are affecting their lifestyle. The result is a major ecological disaster occuring in the Hindu Kush. Part of the purpose of this articleis to publicise the degradation of one of the world's important mountain habitats.

Festivals pay tribute to the live-giving winter snows. One famous one is the jandah bala kardan," raising of the standard", held on Nauruz ( the start of the Persian New Year) in Mazar I Sharif at the tomb of Hazrat Ali. When the standard is raised people race to touch it in order to gain religious merit. This pre-Islamic festival has fertility associations and songs and poems allude to the importance of the winter snows which are the life blood of the northern perrenial rivers.

Therefore it is not surprising that the influence of the mountains permeates every aspect of Afghan life when 75% of the country, or 653 000 sq. km, is covered by mountains which dominate the central and eastern parts.

The names of the mountain ranges roll musically off the tongue; Parapomisus, Hindu Kush, Firoz Koh, Kohi-Baba, Speen Ghar, Pamirs, Sulaimans, Tirband-i-Turkestn, Hazarajat Each part of the mountain complex of Afghanistan is different, but probably the most fascinating is the Wakhan corridor. Here it is a spectacular elemental region of rock, snow, ice and desert where the Hindu Kush and Pamirs, made of a common pre-Cambrian rock, abut and comprise an intricate maze of glaciers, mountains and steep sided valleys. Yurts, camels and drug peddling midst stunning scenery are all part of the Wakhan. Its borders have been levered back and forth by early Pashtoon leaders and later by the key players in the Great Game, Russian and Britain, with some influence from China.

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