National Geographic : 1946 Oct
Back to Afghanistan Then followed a visit to the Chief of Protocol, an amateur photographer of real talent, who helped me in my desire to see as much as possible of Afghanistan. This was not simple. With suspicion rife and the police watching every move of foreign visitors, with gasoline almost unobtainable, my return to Afghanistan was badly timed. When I learned my fate, it was better than I had hoped. I could go to Bamian and could traverse, in the opposite direction, the route we had followed from Kandahar to Kabul. With winter threatening the moun tain passes and, incidentally, forming deep, painful cracks in my heels, I had a cowardly feeling of relief that my original plan of cir cling the land in infrequent mail trucks must be abandoned. Treasures of Past Unearthed at Begram My first trip was to Begram, where M. and Mme. R. Ghirshman were continuing the archeological work of my dear fellow traveler in Central Asia, the late Joseph Hackin. On a high mound overlooking the moun tain-circled valley in which the Ghorband and the Panjshir unite, the archeological site reminded me of the mound of Carchemish, where, in 1913, I saw Woolley and Lawrence unearth huge blocks of basalt picturing Hit tite priests and soldiery.* Although all Iraq and Iran lie between Carchemish and Begram, both lay close to the victorious route of Alexander the Great. Ten years ago, ancient Greek coins were common tender in the bazaars of Balkh (Wazirabad). But that vast ruined city has not yet revealed such treasures as has Beg ram, where were found Indian ivories the like of which has never been discovered in India itself. In the Kabul Museum I photographed these delicate carvings under the direction of M. Hamelin (page 524). Working in a room whose bright Afghan costumes and rich embroideries were worn by women who hide their faces from the world, I looked through my camera at narrow-waisted Indian goddesses, round of breast, wide of hip, scanty of costume, and voluptuous of pose. In the same excavations were discovered ancient plaster medallions on which the straight-nosed, curly-haired portraits might have been those of Alexander's Macedonians. Alexander and the Greek rulers of Bactria also brought double-died coins of rare beauty to Gandhara, ancient district near Hadda and Peshawar. Shortly before our arrival, the Ghirsh mans had discovered a soft-gold bracelet, bright as new, circled with square-cut rubies, behind each of which was mounted a sheet of gold foil to add luster to the gems. Mme. Ghirshman also showed us her copies of some Persian mosaics, made by a method so logical that it is a wonder it is not more widely used. A special paper, similar to that used for taking a squeeze of inscriptions, was beaten down onto the mosaic when damp, so that each cube was clearly marked. Then, matching cube for cube, the original colors were copied in all their richness and charm. For me, this visit to Begram had a peculiar appeal. With the warm sun on my back and a jovial company about folding luncheon tables loaded with pilau and mast (Persian curdled milk), I sat on one of the Expedition campstools which had served us on our 315 day trek from Beirut to Peiping. Before sitting down, I washed in one of the same basins which we had used until Mongolian cold turned all water to ice and made face-washing a lost art. Led by M. Ghirshman, I inspected the royal city where tile drainpipes 2,000 years old re main unbroken, and stood in the military camp-rectangular as those of the Romans which commanded this valley route to India. Begram, the ancient Kapissa-yesterday an obscure earthen perch for legends by Ptolemy and the Chinese pilgrim and explorer, Hsiian Tsang-is now yielding evidence of unsus pected cultural relations. It was probably in Afghanistan rather than in India that Buddha became the central figure in Buddhist art, and through Afghanistan Buddhism moved to China, Korea, and Japan.t In Afghanistan pilgrims from the East, de serting the fabulous Silk Route to Rome, turned south in search of authentic texts and documents of their new-found faith. Road Links Russia and India The next day, in a bright new Studebaker sedan, I left for an even more famous Bud dhist site-Bamian-at the crossing of the T where Silk Route and pilgrim route were joined. The road is the best in Afghanistan. Crea tion of the late King Nadir Shah, this highway crosses a break in the Hindu Kush, unites oft separated Afghanistan, and, despite bad stretches at both ends, joins Russia and India. Having united Afghanistan's Turkomans, Uzbeks, and Tadzhiks with the many-tribed * See "Archeology, the Mirror of the Ages," by C. Leonard Woolley, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, August, 1928. t See "Jap Rule in the Hermit Kingdom," by Wil lard Price, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, October, 1945.